*RAINBOW CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES – A GOOD WAY TO SAY THANK YOU

Her kindness astounded me. First she buys me dinner when she’s struggling herself and then she strategizes ways for me to stay in Los Angeles and continue to fight for my dream of working in entertainment industry. That one dinner changed my life.
___________________________________________________________________

I like food. I was a foodie before being a foodie was trendy. I’ve baked cookies or big meals to stuff my dates (or potential dates) in an effort to show love. But, like your Italian grandmother, stuffing friends and family with food has been a way for me to show love too.

TV Trenches and I met in college and bled for the various TV organizations we belong to. Like Multi-Cam Maven, she and I were hungry for a career in TV and these organizations satiated that hunger. While in our Los Angeles, “semester abroad,” I learned two important things. To survive Los Angeles, you need a Thomas Guide and a good friend.

TV Trenches was that friend.

Oakwood ApartmentsDuring our semester, students in the L.A. program lived at The Oakwood Apartments in Burbank. While a lot of colleges use it for their “semester abroad” housing, real people live there too. Most of these people are traveling professionals and child actors accompanied by their families. TV Trenches lived in a double with her best friend and long time roommate. I was living in a quad with girls I met the day I moved in. I was on the shy side and lacked lots of life experience. They had lifestyles of excessive drinking, drugs and sex. One roommate sold ‘shrooms and liked dropping acid or E depending on the circumstance. Another would have sex in our shared bedroom while I tried to sleep. Heck, they almost got us kicked out of the student housing for throwing a wild party and serving alcohol to child actors! We had a disciplinary hearing. I was in tears and the only reason we didn’t lose our housing is because the head of the program didn’t have the heart to punish me with the three roommates.

I was adrift.

I didn’t understand my roommates and I understood Los Angeles even less. TV Trenches recognized I was struggling. She had recently become acquainted with a local church and invited me to go with her to the college and young professionals service on Sunday evening. It was very different than the small New England church I was raised in. The room for the young professional service was cavernous and the exposed steal beams reminded me a lot of Costco. Despite lacking two things I needed, liturgy and hymns, the praise and worship band provided an element of Church Camp.Church - Pasadena

TV Trenches and I sat next to each other almost every service. Despite the differences from my New England church, Rock Band church soon felt like home. After we “graduated” the L.A. semester, we continued to go, but rarely sat together since we were commuting from different parts of the city.

One March, the minister announced a community dinner to encourage members to commune as “a body of Christ.” We could pay whatever we wanted or could afford. I was depressed with my financial and career struggle and intended to sneak out.

TV Trenches found me. With her limited funds she dropped money in the basket for me and then for herself. Over dinner she gently said, “Sarah, you’re broke. You’ve worked hard to get here. You need to do something to stay in Los Angles.” She pointed out Linens-N-Things (LNT) was opening in Pasadena and doing a massive hiring. She worked at another LNT and said I should use her as a reference.

Even though she was a friend, her kindness astounded me. First she buys me dinner when she’s struggling herself and then she strategizes ways for me to stay in Los Angeles and continue to fight for my dream of working in entertainment industry. That one dinner changed my life.

Linens-n-things-towelsWith her reference and key words to use on my application, I got the job. It took a team of eight of us over four weeks to unpack boxes to stock the Bath Department. We even learned to fold towels in the proper LNT way.

There was a lot of refolding.

I hated it less than the job I had for a day selling cheap merchandise at Pavilion’s under the auspices of child advocacy, but all that folding dried my hands, lint got caught in my throat and it was over eight hours a day standing on a concrete floor. Days became more difficult when the store opened and I had to wear fancy shoes with no support while being nice to rude customers who were frustrated by the largeness of the new store, abrasive when I asked the required, “What can I help you find today,” and unsympathetic when I had difficulty running a new register system.

Despite the cons, the relatively steady paycheck made the woes of retail less bad. Besides, Sonodoro and I had just met through Yahoo Personals. Our routine after-work phone calls were a reward for a difficult day. We officially started dating in late April and that’s when the inevitable layoffs began. The employees knew it was coming; when opening a new store, it’s customary to hire a big batch of people and then systematically release them. I made it through four rounds of lay-offs before I lost my job. They handed me my last paycheck and then handed me a severance check. I was blown away.

PlatedShortly after the layoffs, TV Trenches had a game night. I needed something to show my love and appreciation. She guided me through a crazy semester and guided me to get my first legitimate job in Los Angeles. During times of financial struggle, I was often regulated to the 99 Cent Store for party food, where spending a little over $2 on chips and salsa was normal. This time, I could splurge on chocolate chip cookie ingredients! I decided to make them extra special by adding M&Ms.

Whenever I make chocolate chip cookies with M&Ms, I think about that batch of cookies and their significance. Often you hear creatives reminisce about struggles during their early Hollywood days. While I use food to show love, the night of TV Trenches brainstormed ways for me to stay in Los Angeles and fed me dinner stands out in my mind. She gave me a big push to continue to fight for the dream.

UPGRADED CHOCLATE CHIP COOKIES
Ingredients
*Inspired by the Original Toll House cookie recipe from Nestle.

INGREDIENTS
1 cup (2 sticks) margarin, softened
2 large eggs
1 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 16 oz bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 16 oz bag plain (FROZEN) M&Ms

STEP-BY-STEP INSTRUCTIONS

  1. CREAM TOGETHER margarine and sugars. Add eggs and mix again.
    Cream
  2. Gradually add flour and baking soda.
  3. When thoroughly mixed add in chocolate chips and frozen M&Ms.
  4. Refrigerate for at least an hour.
  5. Preheat oven to 350° F.
  6. Cover your sheet trays with parchment paper.
  7. With your cookie scoop drop your cookie rounds.
    Sheet Tray
  8. When the oven is up to temperature, bake 10-12 minutes.
  9. Transfer baked cookies to a wire rack.
  10. Repeat.

INSIDER’S TIPS:
*Keep cookie batter in the refrigerator while you’re waiting for one round of cookies to bake.
*Wait 1-2 minutes after you take the sheet tray out of the oven before transferring cookies to the wire rack. (They will hold their shape better.)

*GAMEBOY & THAI GASTRONOMY

While quirks and questions outweighed things I liked, it didn’t seem like reason enough to end it. I figured I’d date him until he did something that was reproachable and warranted a breakup or until we fell madly in love and got married. He was okay, so I decided I could cook him dinner.

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In the spring of 2003, I was living the Hopeless Romantic life. Joe Millionaire and The Bachelorette catered to my thirst for love. I would watch both regularly on my T-VCR. It was the days when those AOL dialup discs were everywhere, enabling us to get online for free. It was also a time when many didn’t multi-task like watch TV and surf the internet simultaneously, neither did I. Like many things at that time, Yahoo Personals was also free. I did my searches before or after these two shows.yahoo personals Yahoo Personals did what it promised; it provided prospective people that could be The One. Overall many people were leery of online dating, probably because of the newness of it. Despite people still relying on traditional dating modalities, there was still a good assortment of potential future boyfriends.

I guess this is the benefit of living in a city as large as Los Angeles.

Among the assortment, I met Gameboy, a Scientologist. He was witty and smart (enough). It wasn’t until a couple dates, I learned he liked Halo, a military first-person shooter game. I’m  not sure what the object is besides shoot stuff. Gameboy loved inviting friends over for a multiplayer Halo Party. This was before flat screens TVs were readily available; most TVs still had a picture tube, which made them bulky. People would load their TVs and gaming consoles into their cars and schlep across town to play video games. I suppose it was more interactive than staying at home and logging on at a specified time, but barely. All the effort to play video games seemed ridiculous. I would have been okay if he didn’t invite me, but since he extended an invitation, I thought I had to accept. While it was interactive for them, it certainly wasn’t an interactive date. Gameboy made a half-hearted offer for me to play. I declined; I was already getting motion sick, besides I didn’t want to make him lose. I didn’t care if it was a dating faux pas, I turned down future Halo Parties.

microsoft-previewed-a-new-halo-game-out-next-year

While Gameboy’s love of first person shooter games is the thing I remember most, it was our first date that won me over. We went for Thai food in Pasadena. Similar to what I did with the Redheaded Italian, I met Gameboy at the restaurant. It was raining in Los Angeles, but we braved the big spring storm. (As I came to learn, to the local population, driving in rain is a big deal and shows you like a person.)

Gameboy didn’t change the plan like the Redheaded Italian. I didn’t need to translate like I did with Mucho Gusto. And, as far as I knew, he didn’t take comicbooks like Comicbook Crook. We drove our own vehicles to the restaurant and had a conversation in English while we waited for our dinner to arrive. It was perfect. Then the restaurant lost power.

He wished for a Mini Maglite. I hadn’t been out of college for a year and was still giddy on TV production advice I received, “If you want to work in TV production, the two things you should always have are a Mini Maglite and an 8 inch crescent wrench.”

I have both in my purse.

I rummaged in my purse and pulled out the Mini Maglite. Gameboy was pleasantly shocked. Then, he disassembled it, turning it into a candle.

maglite_candle

It was unique and romantic. I was enraptured by his ingenuity. (I didn’t know at the time, that this is a well-known feature of the Mini Maglite.)

The first date was great. The subsequent dates, not so much. Prior to the Halo Party, parts of future dates included watching him play video games with his roommate. I thought I could learn to love the quirk.

His gaming was chronic.

While quirks and questions outweighed things I liked, it didn’t seem like reason enough to end it. He didn’t care I attended church regularly and I didn’t care he had separated from the church of Scientology and that his parents and sister still attended. The me of today would see that lack of compatibility is reason enough, but again, I was an unskilled dater. I figured I’d date him until he did something that was reproachable and warranted a breakup or until we fell madly in love and got married.

He was okay, so I decided I could cook him dinner.

During dinner, somehow Gameboy and I started talking about a future family. It wasn’t our family per say; it was an amorphous family. Since he had disconnected from the church of Scientology, I didn’t think twice about letting him know what I thought about the religion he was raised with.

“If I have kids, under no uncertain terms,will I raise them with Scientology. Further, I can’t get behind a religion that started based off a bet some science fiction writer made.”

To my surprise, his hackles went up. “L. Ron. Hubbard is a great man. I don’t care that he used to write Science Fiction; his writing helped develop a lot of concepts that are important to Scientology. I might not currently practice, but it’s important to my family. I want to raise my kids with the same religion that made me me. Besides, if it’s so bad, why do so many people practice it?”

He left shortly after dessert. We hugged each other goodnight. He said he’d call, but he didn’t. I didn’t even need to break up with him. I just had to offend him.

I was so excited about my first Thai iced tea from our memorable first date, I wanted to recreate the memory. In lieu of a pre-dinner cocktail, I  made Thai iced tea. I’ve tried different recipes since then, but my favorite is from  Thai Table.

THAI ICED TEA

INGREDIENTS 

  • 1 cup hot water
  • 1 teaspoon milk
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon sweetened condensed milk
  • 1-2 tablespoons Thai tea to taste

STEP-BY-STEP DIRECTIONS
1. Add sugar and sweet condensed milk to a glass or cup.
2. Put one tablespoon of Thai tea  in a tea sock or lose tea bag.
3. Place the tea  directly above the glass.
4. Pour hot water over tea.
5. Set the tea aside.
6. Steep for 5 minutes and remove.
7. Stir until the sugar and sweet condensed milk are dissolved.
8. Add ice and top the tea with milk.

Thai Iced Tea

*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.