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Archive for the ‘Cooking’

ala Nilda

February 03, 2010 By: admin Category: Blogging Dinner, Coal, Cooking, Family, Food, Happiness, Health, House, Humane Food, India, Love, Michael, Molly, Mom, Recipes

Before I go another back-breaking minute of transcribing a long interview for my coal film, I’ll pause to tell you about a treasure I just found…

When Mom died I did three things: gathered all her clothes and jewelry and farmed them out to family, friends, and charities; brought home my third of her ashes (morbid, I know, but I really wanted “her” near me); and collected as many of her cookbooks as I could find. Specifically, I searched for books that had her writing in the notes and margins. Mom thought in recipes all the time and when she had an idea, she’d write it down. Everywhere. There are bits of loose paper, newspaper articles, notecards, and books written all over in Spanish and English. Names of spices and proteins, temperatures, and cook times.

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Today, as a break from the transcribing and in the name of finding something yummy to make for dinner, I pulled out one of her stacks of random recipes clipped together with a metal binder and looked through them. What I found are recipes and memories:

“Chicken Curry, Juthica.” Juthica is an old family friend and a good one to begin this list with. Mom and Juthica met through their Yale connections in New Haven, CT in the 60s and became good friends. Mom always liked strong, independent, and smart people and Juthica was certainly that. One day while I was in my sophomore year in college in NYC, I got a call from Mom telling me to come home immediately, that she had someone she wanted me to meet. It was in the middle of the week and so I reminded my usually VERY academically-minded mother that I’d be missing a day of COLLEGE if I came home. “I know. It’s worth it. Come tonight,” is all she said. I got on the commuter train early the next day and met Juthica that afternoon. Like my mother before me, I was instantly entranced by charismatic Juthica–a native Bengali of Calcutta–and resolved to help her with the humanitarian aid project she’s started only a few years before. Little did I know that this would be the first spark in a film career that would have it’s first international accolade (“Soma Girls”) because of Juthica.

“Alfajores.” These are basically the cookies to end all cookies. Think of an oreo where the chocolate cookie-part is a butter cookie and the middle squishy part is half-hardened caramel spread. My brother would beg for these.

“Roast Pork ala Nilda.” Nilda was my mother’s name and almost nothing in her repertoire of savory dishes would exclude cumin. That’s where the “ala Nilda” bit comes in, I think. Not surprisingly, therefore, this dish has a bunch of fun spices as well as cumin and on the notecard includes the instruction: “Let sit for ten minutes, then serve with the pan juices.” Neither my mother nor I have ever met a pan of juices we didn’t like. The theory is that if it’s slurpable with bread, it’s “FOOD.”

When I was much older and had only a modest number of recipes that I could cook well, my mother bemoaned her former strictness in the kitchen. Even though she came from a traditional culture where women were suppose to learn the “domestic arts,” she hated having me underfoot when she cooked. True, I did have an annoying habit of grazing as things got prepared (something I also plagued Molly–another fabulous cook–with), but that wasn’t it. I think she just needed her space clear. The kitchen was her church, her fiefdom, her production studio and she needed it controlled in order to create her masterpieces. Thankfully, I have a very good sense of smell and memory for the flavors and dished she created and so even though she made me stand at arm’s length, I saw most of what she did and how she did it.

Today I still cook only a few of my mother’s dishes–I’m slowly building up the amount that I memorize–but the ones I know have their impact. Recently, I made Mom’s Bolognese sauce for Michael and Laura. Michael flipped when he tasted it. I saw the memories and joy fly across his face. It must have been almost ten years since he’d last had it with pasta. That sauce has a Molly memory too: her family loved it so much that they used to commission it. Or, sometimes, when I was making it for just Molly and me word would get around that “Alexia is making meatsauce,” and before we knew it we’d have many more at the table for dinner. :)

Mom’s meals used to feed armies of children in New Haven, mostly Michael’s friends who, if they became “regulars” soon saw themselves being cooked-for specifically. “I’m making the pie for David,” Mom would say of Michael’s best friend. I’d have to have children in order to have those kinds of numbers of people climbing through my house, but when there’s a group event that I’m either hosting or contributing too, I always make something of Mom’s. It’s an easy way to make people happy and introduce a whole new crop of devotees to “ala Nilda.”

Happy Monday

January 18, 2010 By: admin Category: Abandonment Journal, Blogging Dinner, Body, Cooking, Faith, Family, Fatblogging, Food, Happiness, Health, Humane Food, Living, Love, Molly, Valet Battleship Parking

This morning it’s hard to tell why I feel so good. Was it the reasonable and delicious “all food groups represented” dinner; the fact that we went to bed fairly early; the sex; the exceptional comfort and relief that comes from the feeling of our skins together in sleep; homemade French toast for breakfast? Or is it the combination of all of these things as well as the talking honestly in the middle of the night when she got scared that’s making such a difference?

holding hands

I used to be able to tell so much about my emotional state from the reactions of my body. Time was if I was bloated or constipated I was likely overwhelmed and needing some time to relax and center so I could eat properly again. That would also have been a sign of unaddressed depression or fear because when I get ahead of myself I tend to reach for any old meal instead of what I know is good for me. The phrase “we are what we eat” is sooooo true for me, but now that in concert with the settling of this honest, raw and beautiful new thing results in a greater ease than I’ve ever felt before, and so I feel somewhat compelled to identify it’s details lest I lose the ability to repeat it. That said, I also appreciate the mystery of “letting it happen,” so don’t you all flip out that I’m being overly analytical. 😉

The simple fact that she and I can be confident about living our own lives without the classic dyke drama of needing to micromanage each other brings a relief I can’t describe. But sometimes I think it’s her big, brown eyes that make me so happy. Her eyes can’t hide anything and so when I look at them I know exactly where I stand and that’s new and wonderful for me. It’s been this way with her since the beginning: me learning all the ways in which my last relationship was deficient, the ways I was hurtfully neglected. This new squeeze is so open and attentive and loving and respectful that she is showing me to myself–HOW BITCHIN’ IS THAT????? I get to see the very good and very bad of me and, moreover, have a chance to correct the bad before it gets worse.

When it comes to just about any kind of relationship, it’s amazing the kind of shit we’ll let happen to us, the red flags we’ll ignore. If we’re lucky we get out of those situations before too much damage has been done, and if we’re really, really lucky we’ll have friends and family around to help us rebuild and tell us the truth so we don’t ignore any warnings the next time around. And if we’re really, really, really lucky we are sent someone like my new squeeze who shows us that our instincts are intact and that we deserve all the love we’ve been wanting for so long… :)

Happy Monday, everyone. :)

The Christmas Crazies

December 27, 2009 By: admin Category: Coal, Cooking, Filmmaking, Food, The Film, Video

Ever since arriving on the Vineyard for this year’s holiday I’ve been transcribing interviews for my coal film, The Dirty Truth About Coal. The only interruptions have been meals, walks, and occasional readings of “The Sum of Our Days” by Isabel Allende. It is Isabel, in fact, who will write this post. Or, well, who’s writing I will copy here for your enjoyment.

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The scene in the book takes places in Isabel’s house in northern California. A camera crew and two chefs arrive with 14 boxes of material in order to film the preparation of a meal described in one of Isabel’s books, “Aphrodite.” Isabel’s designer daughter-in-law, Lori, oversees the event, while Isabel and her husband Willie, wait impatiently to eat the fruits of the chefs labor.

“The dishes were produced with mind-numbing slowness; they (the chefs) placed each lettuce leaf as if it were the feather on a hat, precisely in the angle between the tomato and the asparagus. Willie got so nervous he had to leave, but Lori seemed to comprehend the importance of the damned lettuce. In the meantime the artistic director replaced the flowers in the garden, which Willie had planted with his own hands, with others more colorful. None of this appeared in the magazine, the photos they used were all close shots: half a clam and a lemon slice. I asked why they had brought the Japanese napkins, the tortoise-shell serving spoons, the Venetian lanterns, but Lori shot me a look that said I should keep quiet. This lasted the entire day, and since we couldn’t attack the meal before it was photographed, we put away five bottles of white wine, and three red, on empty stomachs. By the end, even the artistic director was stumbling. Lori, who had drunk nothing but green tea, had to carry the fourteen boxes back to the van.”

MERRY CHRISTMAS, everyone. 😉

The Stripped-Down, Common Sense Genius of Michael Pollan

October 23, 2008 By: admin Category: Blogging Dinner, Body, Cooking, Food, Health, Humane Food

“Don’t eat anything that won’t eventually rot.” This is Michael Pollan’s best advice so far. It comes on the heels of “Stay on the perimeter of the grocery store,” which was preceded by the subtitle of his book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, “Eat Food. Not to much. Mostly plants.”

I watched a 1-hour talk on YouTube (below) Pollan gave at a symposium for authors sponsored by Google. He was pimping his latest book, In Defense of Food, but spoke at length about food as a whole and why he chose to write this last book. Mostly, he said, it was because people kept approaching me saying they couldn’t finish The Omnivore’s Dilemma because they were afraid that they’d starve after reading about all the foods they couldn’t eat anymore.

I encourage everyone to carve out an hour to watch this. You’ll feel very glad that you did. Reawakening our perspectives is healthy, and, with built-in “information overload” systems  we can’t really get too much of it…

I’ve Just Been Mizrahi-d

May 01, 2008 By: admin Category: Blogging Dinner, Body, Cooking, Family, Fatblogging, Food, General, Health, Randomosity

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If you’ve never seen it, fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi’s website is a MUST VISIT. This is a link to his videoblog which I think is absolute genius. I’ve always said that you can’t have a video blog if you are a) forced to hold things back and/or, b) you’re not famous. But even though he’s famous, Mizrahi has a way of being Everygay–his vlog feels like how I would do a vlog if I ever got the guts. I’d just talk about all the things I hate about myself in a funny manner so everyone could empathize and we could all feel better together.

Universality, baby. It’s what it’s all about…

Blogging dinner: Molly’s dad, John made the famous family stew/roast. DELICIOUS. I’m never disappointed by anything this man cooks, but the stew is a real wow-er. The meat melts away and the potatoes and carrots swim lovingly in a broth made of wine and beer and whatever-the-hell-else he cares to throw in there. He just has the touch, this man.  Anyway, I managed to avoid wine and an extra helping and was rewarded with a compliment from our guests: “You’re looking skinny.” I’m not, but it’s still fun to hear it. 😉

The Zen of Great Rice

February 21, 2008 By: admin Category: Blogging Dinner, Cooking, Food, Health, India, Mom, Recipes

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DOVER SOLE WITH MAYO AND MUSTARD GLAZE
I got the ingredients for this dish from Mom’s copy of “The Spice Cookbook.

Filets of Dover Sole for 2
Mustard (of choice — I used a French kind with those big, brown seeds in it)
Mayonnaise
Thyme
Pepper
Salt
Lemon juice

Heat large skillet on Med/High.

Mix about 2 teaspoons of mayo with 1.5 teaspoons of mustard. Add 1 teaspoon Thyme, .5 teaspoons of Pepper, and dashes of Salt & Lemon Juice to taste. Stir’em up good so they’re mixed together very well. Lather the fish in this concoction and place filets into the skillet. Cover and immediately turn heat down to Low. (Sole cooks very fast!) Cook one side of filets for about 2 mins., then turn over and cook opposite side for 2 mins. Turn heat off, cover skillet, remove skillet from cooling burner. let sit. 2 mins. on each side should be enough to cook the fish through. If not then the cover-and-let-sit action will do the trick. It will also enhance the moistness of the fish.

*****

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I’m a simple girl. Easy to please: you work hard, I’ll get off your back; you treat my nearest and dearest well, I’m your friend for life. So then it’s little wonder that I’m in awe of great rice. Great rice can make a meal, and as Mom used to say, “It’s not easy, Ah-lehck-SYA!”

Tonight and last night I made killer rice. Molly had requested fish for dinner and when I went to the store I couldn’t resist getting dover sole AND whole brook trout. She’d only asked for fish for the one night, but when a Prichard sees a deal ($4.99 a pound!!!)… and we had to have rice because if you’re avoiding potatoes in a pathetic attempt to lose some of the weight you inexplicably gained in your recent trip to the third world, there aren’t that many choices for something to balance to plate, especially if you’re also having salad. I don’t know about y’all, but I need something grainy or starchy with my fish because for some reason fish with only salad fucks with my stomach. It’s like I need something in there to “bind” with everything else.

Anyway, so I have a little bit of a gift with fish but have always burned, undercooked or overcooked the rice. It’s never a total disaster, but it’s always rarely as good as it could be. So you can imagine my delight when Molly produced HER RICE COOKER.

People…

All I can tell you is that if you’ve been slaving over a hot stove trying for the perfect Oryza sativa, STOP. Stop, and run to the nearest kitchen store and get yourself a goddamned rice cooker. The tastse of rice from a properly used rice cooker is like the first time you had an orgasm: you just won’t believe that anything could be this good.

Happy cooking. :)

Late Night Salad

December 03, 2007 By: admin Category: Blogging Dinner, Cooking, Fatblogging, Food, Living, Mom, NewsQuake!, Randomosity, sustainability, Video

Sneezing is my body’s way of flushing tension. Once, when I was really high on mushrooms and freaking out, I began crying uncontrollably–runny nose and everything–because I was terrified that I would stay this way forever. Then I wiped my nose and a lightbulb went off: “That’s how it’s going to leave!” I shrieked with joy, and began blowing my nose furiously.

I’m eating an organic salad–red butter lettuce and green leaf lettuce–because I think i might be coming down with something. I’m exhausted…

I’ve never been mistaken for a rocket scientist. Just another pretty girl in the room who’s destined, in everyone’s mind except mine, to be second. Standing in line for the ice cream truck once at age 7, I asked my mother: “Mommy, am I second?” And she said: “No. You’ll never be second at anything.” Somehow, even coming from a rough childhood in socially backward 30s Peru, Mom knew just what feminist vibe to deliver to her young first-generation daughter. Not much has changed. Except that now I have to make up what she would say.

I too, like my new idol, Elizabeth Gilbert, will travel the world. I don’t know if it’ll be on my own or for a company, but the time will be mine to do with what I want. I feel the need for this coming soon, and am so moved by the warmth from my father’s voice whenever we talk about me going back to India. I grew up with my parents being afraid of me traveling. Or maybe it was just Mom, I don’t know… But Dad’s not fearful now. He’s encouraging, and sprinkles his reactions with touches of awe.

It’s 1:00am and I’m still working. I know… But I really feel a sense of responsibility to finishing these videos on time. I set the schedule for myself, but it’s not about that–I really want to ‘show up” for those few folks who are actually “watching” this series. Who knows how many they really area, but even if it’s just me, it’s enough.

Angus The Turkey

November 22, 2007 By: admin Category: Angus, Blogging Dinner, Cooking, Fatblogging, Food

There once was a turkey named Angus
Who was terribly fond of French mangos,
He flew all the way
In one long-ass day
And ended up dancing six tangos.

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Soup For Bean

November 20, 2007 By: admin Category: Blogging Dinner, Cooking, Food, Recipes

CHICKEN
2 packages of chicken tenders (cubed)
Olive oil (enuf to cover bottom of frying pan)
Soy sauce (1/3 amount of oil)

Heat oil & soy sauce.
Add chicken, turn heat down, cover. (You want to make sure you are moistening the chicken)
When chicken is full cooked, turn heat off and set aside.

SOUP
Water (fill 3/4 of a pot)
Salt (approx. 3 tablespoons–shouldn’t overwhelm)
Onions (2 medium-sized)
Garlic (5-7 cloves, coarsely chopped–large pieces)
Celery (1 bunch, chopped)
Bok Choy (1 bunch, chopped)
Potatoes (3-4 large potatoes)
Taragon (approx. 1 tablespoon, to taste)
Thyme (approx. 1/2 tablespoon, to taste)
Pepper (approx. 1/2 tablespoon, to taste)

Heat water and add salt, potatoes, onions and garlic. Bring to a boil.
Turn heat down and add celery and bok choy.
Add spices.

The Battle of the Bulge

October 25, 2007 By: admin Category: Body, Cooking, Fatblogging, Food

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I’m bloated again. My Chinese herbologist tells me this will happen every other month. She says my ovaries are different–one is completely normal, and the other is given to regularly disrupting my life. I hate my ornery ovary.

“It’s a constant struggle,” my father says flatly. He’s a 70+year-old who has kept his weight steady since his 50s by eating rich foods, drinking like a sailor, and traveling the world. “Thanks for the encouragement, Dad” I reply through clenched teeth. Don’t men just sometimes have a knack for belaboring the obvious? The only time I remember be able to snigger when a man got fat was my first High School reunion. Dave Fallon, the former school dreamboat who I somehow (in some vague iteration of heterosexuality) had the incredibly good social fortune to finagle as my prom date, returned not only fat, but really, really fat. At 19 Dave was a porker, sporting several chins and a beer belly that hung decidedly low over his belt. In one, short year Dave had become one of those guys you wonder about how they tie their shoes.

Anyway, so I’m premenstrual again and just about ready to do serious damage. Reminds me of a post-it Laura used to have on our fridge in Carlisle: “I meditate, drink green, burn candles and still I wanna kill someone.”

Men will never know what this is like, this constant forced re-evaluation of the psyche. It’s why they can go on thinking like Neanderthals: they haven’t evolved through PAIN. I remember my friend, Linda Kennedy (one of the coolest names and chicks EVER), freshman year in theatre school… We were studying “method” (or “masturbatory”) acting and she was doing an exercise called “sense memory” that involves working on recreating a feeling you’d felt in the past–hot, cold, like that. She had her eyes closed and was sitting in a chair on stage, writhing back and forth, flipping her long, dirty-blond hair, and moaning rather loudly with an unmistakably frustrated tone. The teacher, in all his optimism asked calmly: “What are you feeling?” “Angry…” replied Linda through clenched teeth. “What’s going on?” came the teacher again. Linda’s response? A full-throated “I’M BLEEDING!!!!!!”

If I had to do sense memory again today I’d go back to the year of my first period. The year my cramps were so bad I thought my brain would explode. Specifically, I’d go back to the day the class bullies–all five of them–cornered me on the recess field, menacing me for some reason I can’t now remember. Emboldened, or perhaps made intimidatingly distracted by the uncomfortable soaked pad between my legs, I pulled out the small pocket knife I’d carried since my brother had brought it back from a trip to France several years before. As the bullies took one step forward I opened the knife without hesitation and asked “Do you seriously want to fuck with me?” It was one of my most favorite days ever. :)

Right now, sadly, there are no bullies to battle, only this growing gut.