Defragging the Fridge
July 30th, 2003

Since Mathra is working in New Jersey for the summer and coming home only on weekends, it's just me and the cats keeping each other company. But that's okay, we've settled into a nice routine. They wake me up at 6 AM because they are clearly being starved to death. I fight a losing ignore-them-and-they'll-stop-walking-all-over-me-and-nipping-my-fingers battle for precisely two hours before Hunca Munca systematically knocks over every trash bin in the apartment -- one would think a 1 bd w/stdy wouldn't need two bins for every room, but what do I know -- and drags out whatever will make the most noise when he taps at it. It's usually paper. I wasn't aware HammerMill even made Premium Laser Paper, 24-lb., 106+ Brightness, with Extra Crackle.

Later in the day I make a few half-hearted attempts to get back at them. As they laze in patches of sunlight I pull at each paw until they spread their toes reflexively, I ruffle their ears and poke at their noses, and I roll them back and forth across the floor. Problem is, they don't really care. They just let me play with them, then they stretch, give their sides a few frenetic licks, and then close their eyes again. Our boy is so implacable when he sleeps that we've taken to calling him The Late Hunca Munca. You can even clip his nails as he snores with his mouth partially open and he barely twitches a whisker. I'll do my irritation attempt several more times during the day, even going so far as rub my face in their bellies, but eventually I give up, pop in some music, and wander into the kitchen.

In an effort to get rid of random bits food before we make our big Bay-to-Bay move, I've been making lots of creative quests through my not-quite-full-size-and-really-badly-lit fridge. Just last week, I roasted some fairly tasteless summer tomatoes -- that's all they deserve when they still can't summon up the energy to taste like the Real Thing -- and turned them into a tangy red sauce with roasted garlic, thyme, rosemary, bay and caramelized onions. It came out having tremendous depth and I made so much of it that I've jarred the remains and will be dolloping it on anything that moves over the next few weeks. Tons better than Newman's, but then, none of my proceeds go to charity.

Today, I made quadruple batches of "My Perfect Oatmeal Cookie" and "The Picquante Mexican Chocolate Chip Cookie" to send to some generous friends who are in need and deserve some special treats. I wanted to send them more elaborate delicacies but I figured the U.S. Postal service isn't great with fragile things. I should show you the state of the box my laptop was mailed in. We took pictures. But hey, I'm just contented that I can perfect my cookie recipes.

On a roll, I baked up some artichoke hearts and pureed them with garlic, goat cheese, and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Good for either spreading on crackers or stuffing in ravioli. I love pureeing stuff. You just toss odd bits in, taste, and keep tossing in a few more things until you are satisfied. Or throw up. On that same idea -- the pureeing one, not the vomit one -- I got rid of some aging basil by turning it into pesto, and some olives and walnuts by making up Zaitun-e Parwadeh.

Last week our friend took us to Russo's in Watertown where I grabbed up some Jerusalem Artichokes and farm fresh sweet corn. As some of you might know, Jerusalem's aren't artichokes at all -- they're a kind of tuber related to the sunflower. Sometimes called sunchokes. And yes, you are all geeks for knowing that. I skinned and pureed the little nodules with shallots, champagne vinegar and olive oil and shook up a really tasty vinaigrette. I jarred that as well.

Do you know how you figure out if corn is good? You rip back the husk and silk to expose the kernels, then you pierce a kernel with your fingernail. If the liquid makes a milky pop, buy the ear. Just a little something I learned from Alton Brown. Well, not him personally. I have his book. I went to a stripclub. Any Simpsons fans out there so my parents don't get really, really scared when they read this? After slathering themselves up with rosemary and olive oil, some fingerling potatoes were roasting in their pale skins, so I sliced my milk-popping corn off the cob and threw in the kernels to keep the fingerlings company. Then I tossed the lot in a red wine vinaigrette and let it cool off. When I got home from dinner with friends that night, Mathra had cleaned the bowl.

A few weeks ago, I stumbled across a really nice recipe for Cobb Salad and I became completely obsessed with it. I started dreaming about putting it together. What things I had in the fridge and what stuff I needed from the store. Basically, I couldn't concentrate on anything until I made it and ate it. I broiled the chicken breasts, fried and chopped the bacon, diced the perfect avocado, crumbled the blue cheese, and dressed the tomatoes and greens with a vinaigrette that had the barest hint of Worcestershire Sauce swished in. Then I ate it. I ate all of it. Very fast.

After satisfying that particular craving, I decided to give it a Southwestern spin. Before I broiled the breasts, I rubbed them down with cayenne, paprika, and cumin made sure they were fully encrusted. I then de-kernalized a cob of corn, threw the yellow and white pellets in a skillet, and tossed some of the spice rub in after it. No oil, no butter. I'm trying to perfect my skillet toss. You know the one I mean. Last time I tried it I got too excited and got mushrooms all over the floor. I was a bit more controlled this time and I didn't lose any corn. Mathra keeps telling me it's an elliptical motion, and I keep telling him that knowing the mathematical term doesn't help me keep the floor clean. Over gentle heat, the kernels plumped slowly and sweated enough to get the spice rub to cling to them. After assembling the rest of the salad, the corn went in hot and on top. It was damn good. I made it four more times just that week.

The best thing about everything I've been making is that, except for the cookies, I'm not using really recipes. I'm just throwing stuff together. Often, when I have an idea of something I want to make, I will consult several recipes at once to get a general idea of how others put things together. However, what comes out on my is an amalgamation of what I absorbed plus what I add for good measure. Sometimes I make good decisions: corn with pesto and strips of proscuitto? Goooood. Putting avocado on a pizza and baking it? Baaaaad. Mathra's always after me to keep notes when I "invent" stuff. But you know, I just can't be bothered especially when I know that I can recreate it again when I feel like it. The drawback to that is that I can't give out the recipe to anyone else because it's all upstairs in the little gray cells. However, a lot of chefs feel that's not such a drawback after all, and have shaken a spatula in my face about being protective of my recipes. I haven't decided how I feel about that. On the one hand, I can see the reasoning -- I know several chefs who have been burned. They generously gave out a recipe to a friend who then took that recipe, called it their own, published it, and made money off of it. Some even become famous because of it. It's a nasty business. It's foodiarism. On the other hand, it just seems mean. So, if you write me for recipes, I may or may not give them to you -- it depends on my mood. Also, if I do seem genial enough to write them all out and give them to you, you should consider the idea that I might have sabotaged any one of them by leaving out ingredients or putting weird things in. Fair warned is fair Armagnac'd.

I've been beating out the Coltrane, Monk and Us3 as I cook. I went through a stage of listening only to opera but that was when I was doing lots of baking. Large amounts of cream-stuffed pastries, custards, fat stacked cakes with horns -- it seemed to fit. Now, I'm doing a lot of "What is in the fridge about to go bad and what can I make of it?" and the jazz works well with that. Sometimes during "In Walked Bud", I get a little carried away and, knowing that I'm the only person in the house, I dance around bit. Swing my hips. Use my spoon for emphasis and unintentionally fling off bits of food. This is when Poppadum and Hunca Munca decide to walk in from the study. I don't know what's more embarrassing -- turning around mid-riff to see them looking at me or actually stopping because they're looking at me.

Check this out, I examined all my various body products and found a weird trend:

Item 1: I wash my hair with clove and

Item 2: I condition with rosemary and mint.

Item 3: I wash my body with pineapple,

Item 4: I perfume it with ginger and grapefruit and then

Item 5: I moisturize my legs, arms, knees and feet with oatmeal, crushed almonds and honey.

Item 6: I wash my face with olive oil,

Item 7: I masque it with avocado and

Item 8: I moisturize with soy.

I'm either a chef or one tasty morsel.

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