Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Home Again Jiggity-Jig!

GingerMan made it home Monday.

Note to San Francisco Airport Police and Security: You are every very bad word I can think of and I hate you all. You always have been, and this trip is no different. The day I dropped my Beloved at the International Departures curb, I had literally JUST popped in the car, had barely got my seatbelt on and was trying to get the Nav set to get me to work and Security #*&# came BANGING on my window YELLING “Lady get away from the curb and out of the airport!”. I yell back “Tell me how the hell to get OUT of the airport on 280 cuz the signs all go to the city!”. To which he replied, hitting my sunroof this time, “I don’t care where the hell you go, get away from the airport NOW!” So I drove off, and due to the fact that the only signs for Highway 280 do, in fact, lead one to believe one will be going straight into San Francisco instead of one lane going South instead, I was nearly waylaid and late for work.

Exiting the freeway on Monday, an SFO/SFPD car was exiting the airport loop and I was behind a silver nissan that was having trouble with the fact that one does NOT, as a matter of course, exit the freeway and come to a DEAD STOP in the middle of the exit ramps with traffic behind one and a cop who does not seem to notice the situation merging right into us from the right. I throw my hands up with a shriek. For about 3 seconds.

Silver car finally gets going right when I think we’re going to be crushed by further traffic exiting the freeway behind us. Cop follows the loop behind us. As we enter the Arrivals loop, I notice his one, single little red light is on. I’m coming to the first legal place to stop anyway so I pull over, completely perplexed. An SFO Security A@@hat starts waving me on with a cop with a light on right behind me, exiting his vehicle. So I start to pull forward a bit, thinking I wasn’t all the way in Security’s white zone, and the cop comes and starts hitting my car. I turn down my window and ask if he’d like to tell the Security guy that I can park there and not the two inches forward he’d like me to. Cop asks the stupid Know Why I Stopped You question. Nope. Reason is: I was “Driving with my Hands Off the Wheel”.

His feelings were hurt during the exit ramp incident because I was shrieking at the silver car to kindly not kill us all and he thought I was yelling at him. So he tried to pull me for hands-free driving. First I just stared at him, dumbfounded. And then I snapped. Somewhere just inside the window off the curb was GingerMan who I had not seen for a week, and this idiot was all bent because of a bad merge he was so embarrassed by he followed me all the way into the airport to pull me for. That wasn’t my fault. So I replayed the entire incident and asked how it was my fault, and just HOW LONG he REALLY thought my hands were off the wheel when, between the two cars I was stuck between I wasn’t even MOVING.

I don’t know why my tiny red infuriated ass wasn’t pulled from the car, but I was suddenly receiving a “word of warning” to keep my hands on the wheel at all times and watch my rear-view mirrors (?????). Then he was gone. And GingerMan appeared, apparently drawn out of the arrivals lounge by the vibe of his wife going spare on an Airport Cop. I hop out, get his stuff in the car, my fab outfit, down to gray herringbone tweed heels with black patent spectator toes ignored, and away we sped, happily, but with some small remaining clouds of huff streaming behind us.

I believe it is required here to state we all know that our safety is paramount and blahblahblah but from curb to check-in to security to gate, travel seems full of punks and mean gormless gits these days. If one more of you freaks hits my car in the name of National Security, you’re getting my National Knee in your Security Bollocks.

GingerMan, I am so glad you are home, it is as if the world has had 3 shades of gray removed. Now pick up your socks. I love you.

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Friday, April 22, 2011

Tony, Round Two, Into the TARDIS

I will take a moment for the Sci-fi Who-vians among us, to mourn the passing of our beloved Sarah Jane Smith. Plucky, Intrepid reporter and companion of nearly every Doctor Who from the 70’s to present, Sarah Jane continued on her own with the mechanical dog K9 in two spin-offs.

In the recent Doctor Who series, an alternate reality came to pass where in the final moments of humanity several past companions banded together to fight the evil and interminable Daleks, Sarah Jane and her son had a hidden-room global command center with a HUGE multi-screen lights-buzzers-bells-whistles-GPS tracking-communications-station--everything your modern military operation could want, in her house. Sarah Jane, you were Hot, you were Smart, you were Brave, you were and ever will be everything a girl could aspire to be.

To Business: I now present the belated review of Sur La Table’s Anthony Bourdain Cooking Basics Series, Sessions Two and Three--Session Three having concluded the series on Thursday, 21 April 2011. I realise my review of Session One was dismal. The next two were FABULOUS.

Yes, we hit the ground running again on night two, jumping straight into stocks. The class packet spends the first two pages on Veal Stock, it’s virtues, how every French-trained chef knows it blind and has a pot, fridge and freezer full of it. Due to time, we didn’t make the veal but with the completion of the chicken and fish stocks, I now feel pretty confident it’s just a matter of tweaking.

Kitchen Assistants bring over a sheet pan of skin-on chicken parts and basic aromatic vegetables which had been, necessarily, pre-roasted low and slow according to directions. We stuck it in a large pot, covered with H2O, and allowed to simmer happily. We hopped over to fish stock and Chef Marianne covered some good basics regarding the choice and treatment of the fish, then we got the pot going and moved on (in Session Three we used the fish stock for a beautiful fish soup with aioli).

From here, we started Mushroom Soup with some previously made chicken stock of the same recipe. In Session One I was chomping at the bit for Knife Technique. In Session Two, Chef took *several* opportunities to demonstrate knife work, starting on the shrooms before sautéing them; explaining how to deal with veggies slowly and logically-- with reasons why you’ll want to think about shape and size according to use and presentation. But no-one’s jumping in!...Till Mr. Pro (He’s French!!) with his awesome chef’s coat and long apron steps up and shows a couple fungi who’s boss.

I’m an instigator, so when Chef asks for volunteers, saying “It’s your class! Try it out!” I just start whispering “Doooooo Eeeeet!!!!” in people’s ears. What gets the excitement going is The Burr Blender. You know the one, the Whizzer Stick of Hades, the Immersion Blender on Steroids. Then the men start nudging each other a bit to get closer to the table. At which point us chicks just knock ‘em out of the way to get the hardware. The Handsome Man from Switzerland has the final go, and it’s just so gorgeous, earthy and creamy, even before we’ve added the sherry and left it to simmer over the break.

The Main Event of Session Two, however, is Sautéed Chicken with Béarnaise Sauce. I have made chicken in my life. I have attempted bearnaise (no accent, no capital, you note, it deserves none) and hollandaise. I have never really made a lot of meat, for no other reason than when I left home I was a) broke and b) had tiny, anemic cookers that could barely rise above 250F. So I made it to age 37 without really having mastered Meat, or the Grandes Dames of the Sauce World. White (or Béchamel) sauce, pan sauce custard sauce, yes. Béarnaise and Hollandaise, nope and nope.

I might take you step-by-step through her demonstration, but I want and need to be perfectly succinct here.

We pounded the boneless breasts (with the skin on) slightly to make them even in thickness. This makes them cook evenly. Then we sear them in a pan with grape seed oil which is perfect for high heat. Then we put it in the oven to cook gently. Then we rest it so it stays juicy when sliced. Ta-da.

So that is the entire rest of Session Two out of the way.

Now, for the Magic, the lifting of the veil, the moment when the Dimensional Multiverse is revealed! Herbs and spices, wine and oil in a pan, high simmer all the way down to dry and strained through a fine mesh sieve.

Use the small amount of liquid to flavor the sauce. It goes in a bowl, with eggs and you whisk over a pan of gently simmering water. The rest is someone finally showing you in person, moment by moment, the change in the egg’s protein due to mixing and careful exposure to heat. The point at which the colour changes, the thickness changes, the point at which you start adding butter bit by bit, the point at which it’s done.

Session Three featured the same demo but with STEAK AU POIVRE! This demonstration, the meat and the sauce, is Worth. It’s Weight. In Gold. The series is completely redeemed, and I am completely satisfied with the price I paid. My eyes were opened, The World of Food has become, forgive my nerdy blue Police Box heart, The TARDIS-- suddenly Bigger on the Inside than it looks on the Outside--for the first time in years. I feel excited and empowered again!

Session Three I unfortunately missed the Roast Chicken demo at the beginning due to hideous traffic on my way from work, but the little cornish hens came out pretty well and Tony’s Les Halles Cookbook features the basics (He also featured the technique on a No Reservations Techniques Special, available on Amazon Instant Watch).

Last Friday night, following Thursday’s Session Two, I went to a potluck. The theme was Atomic Foods and we watched Dr. Strangelove. I felt confident enough to do up an amuse-bouche of thinly sliced steak, tomato jam, atomic crême-fraiche and a sprinkle of sea salt.

Yes, I made meat and served it to a party.

In petrie dishes.

Atomic Steak Tapas with Tomato Jam à Laura'nge

I just treated the steak pretty much the same way as the chicken, et voy-OLA! Beautiful, medium-rare thin slices of new york strip atop a multi-grain cracker. I was kind of working from a recipe, Cliff’s Steak Tapas from the Top Chef Quick-Fire Cookbook. Originally my addition, the “Atomic” bit was going to be crême-fraiche pearls from my Molecular Gastronomy kit, but I’m still working that bit out.

The recipe had tomatoes blended into the crême, but I decided to make jam so the creme pearls would sit atop. After reaching critical pearl failure, I added hot sauce to the creme and placed them side-by-side on the steak, sprinkling with large-grain sea salt to finish. So for you, a Tomato Jam Recipe:

Tomato Jam à Laura’nge

1 can San Marzano whole stewed plum tomatoes, plus juice

3 Tablespoons brown sugar

2 medium shallots, small dice

Olive Oil

Kosher Salt

>Remove tomatoes from can, removing seeds and juice from each tomato over the can, then removing stem top and any remaining skin from tomato on the cutting board. Discard remnants and dice tomatoes in large pieces. Place in a bowl and set aside.

>Using fine mesh strainer over a second bowl, pour entire contents of can--all juice, seeds, etc. into strainer, then use a rubber spatula to stir contents around, so that only pure juice drains into bowl below. Set bowl aside, discard contents of strainer.

>In a small sauce pan over medium heat, drizzle olive oil to just cover bottom of pan. Drop in shallots, and add 1/4 teaspoon salt, stir and allow to sweat, stirring a couple times over 4-5 minutes.

>Add tomato pieces, juice and **brown sugar to sauce pan, raise it to a high simmer, bubbling quite vigorously. Stir every 5 minutes or so. **Here’s where You can be creative: decide how sweet you want it. You will actually have a bit of time to decide, as well--give it a couple of tastes in the first 7 minutes of simmering and see how sweet or savoury you’d like it!**

>The rest is just simmering down to jammy consistency--when there is still some liquid left (meaning, if you place your spatula in the middle of the pan and move the goop outward toward the side of the pan, the centre still fills with liquid, instead of staying empty because the jam has become thick), after about 12-15 minutes, reduce the heat back down to a low simmer and stir quite frequently, the more the sugar concentrates, the more burn factor there is.

>Ta-DA! When it is thick, deep red and completely carmelized, it’s Tomato Jam! Works on meat, bruschetta, warm or cold roasted or grilled veggies, sammiches, eggs--just about anything!

It was a week of Win, a week of Loss. A week when not even the best efforts of Calcium Chloride and a plastic syringe will make your crême-fraiche bubble; and a heroine drifted into the stars far, far from our reach. But for a moment I peaked into the TARDIS. And It's full of meat.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Flight-Risk Dinner

Photo on 2011-04-19 at 20.58

...Sometimes, it's just a Sparkly Pink Spatula day. Others are Black Pirate Spatula days.

Those are Bold day; self-assured, cooking dinner with veggies and stuff that looks pretty that get posted on FaceBook in the (unspoken) nightly competition among the far-flung social network.

Today was my second day at The Job. I should explain: I got a job. At a place related to Food. Delicate negotiations will take place at some time in the near future for mentions, specifics, etc. But my Anxiety-Panic disorder has been off the charts. The night before, I hyperventilated twice and nearly hurled. The next morning, The Morning I Went Back To Work I nearly hurled. It is illogical, and is the psychological equivalent of being completely consumed by an insurmountable Inner Bureaucracy.

This morning GingerMan left me on a jet plane. I know when he'll be back again (Monday). He's home to the northern, British-y bit of the Emerald Isle, Belfast. Packed him all up with the bazillionty pressies for the nieces and nephew that were supposed to go on Boxing Day when his flight was cancelled. He was crushed then, as it's been three years since our last jaunt, but I was relieved when the Eastern Seaboard shut down in the face of ice storms. Our last jaunt (2008) involved my month-long peat-log-fire-induced-sinus-bronchial-infection and The (Nearly) Last Flight Of Our Lives. The Aer Lingus pilot stuck the landing, but only just. So at 35, I developed fear of flying. I also have fear of losing a husband.

Being that the laws of physics dictate that Done is Done is Done, logic dictates that A Better Place is pretty much right here and right now. I knew the night I met that blue-eyed Ginger ten years ago there was no-one else like him, never would be ever ever ever. His singular wit, -----

Ok, I was going to come up with an entire litany of qualities and such, but really, that is his essence: His sly, devious, dry, unbelievably smart sense of humour encompasses everything he is. It is the tweak in his smile, the snap of light in his clear blue eyes. His hug reaches up and out, picture Clyde, orange beard and all, or if you're really good mates...


So, A Week of Freak-Out Dinners:

Sunday: La Victoria takeaway: Carne Asada Super Burrito, Asada Super Nachos. This is our favourite place in the Bay Area. Carne Asada is perfectly cooked every day. They also have some of the best Carnitas and OMNOMNOM LENGUA!!!! But GingerMan don't do tongue in the culinary context, so when we share one of these eeeeNORmous booooreeeetos we go conventional. I love their nachos as well, and I stand FIRMLY behind this statement: They have Yellow Cheese Sauce. I love golden corn tortilla chip rounds with yellow cheese sauce. It speaks to my heart and heals my soul. It gave me the will to live through Monday.

Monday: Didn't Die of Panic at Work: Los Gatos Brewing Company- I had perfectly rare-medium hangar steak with potato beignets. GingerMan had what were listed with a grown-up name but were, essentially CRABBY PATTIES!! They were sublime. They were perfect. They looked exactly like Crabby Patties, down to the height, shape, texture, and even the look of the lettuce. We ordered the brioche doughnuts with cocoa and a deep raspberry coulis with vanilla ice cream. The doughnuts were the sort so good that one bite should be held right in the front of the mouth and breathed through. Yes. Breathed through. You will taste the essence of a food fundamental to the human race, still hot and yeasty from the kitchen. DOOOO IT! We got the German Chocolate Cake to take home. I am eating it right now. Wait for it....

Tuesday: Pink Spatula Night: Finally home from Menlo Park, with no idea what to eat. I auto-pilot to The Plant and park near Five Guys, but the Veggie Drawer Guilt starts the car again and drives home. In the door, I start toodling round in a funk: laundry-tidy-tidy-grumble-tidy-EEWWW-WHAT IS THAT IN THE DRAWER? Bit of cleaning in the fridge. Oh lawdy, dinner at nine?? Omelette! Three eggs, whole milk, buttahbuttahbuttah. OOOOh! Green garlic stalk diced microscopic and some fresh tarragon, then say CHEEEESE! See that? See how eggmilkbuttahherbcheeeeese makes the whole post sound better?

**NOW** You're ready for it--Dessert! LGBC's German Chocolate Cake. Beautifully equal layers of coconut-pecan mixture and dark chocolate cake. Coconut layer is not eewwy-goowey icky, but seems more like a layer of cake in and of itself. Lovely lovely lovely.

I have watched James' Mays Road Trip, Episode One Hundred Ellbenty, now on to Graham Norton with Eddie Izzard and Harry Shearer. Second load of laundry is done and the dishwasher's on. I feel the calm of dirty humour, butter and baked goods triumph over the inner Anxiety Bureaucrat, if only for the night--A Pink Sparkly Spatula in hand to give it the beat-down if it comes back.
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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Stalker Sauce

Saturday, 16 April is Record Store Day. Go online, find your local record store, grab some friends, show up and get on down witchyer bad selves. Here in the Bay Area, my long-time faves are Amoeba in the Haight and Rasputin, well, everywhere, but especially Mountain View and Campbell, right out my back door. Except.......

*Hiiiighly Dramatic Sigh*

John Taylor, Bass Player for Duran Duran, and once, with the inimitable Robert Palmer, Power Station. The white boy has funk and drive. He is tall and lean, with a gorgeous face. I mean, I was always really a Simon LeBon girl, and I know all you dark, sensitive, intellectual girls are with me on this, but......

John Taylor. Will be. At Rasputin Berkley. Saturday. ThentheyplaytheFillmore. AndI’mnotgoing. Cuz I’m old and honestly if it’s not in good weather at the Mountain Winery these days, it seems like a helluva slog.

Last month we missed Flogging Molly in Oakland. Again. They come in the winter and I get sick. I am apparently allergic to the Greatest Band Ever. That night was also one of the worst storms we’ve had in the Bay Area so driving up to the East Bay was Taking Your Life in Your Hands.

As San Francisco/Examiner Music News reporter Robyn Chelsea-Seifert posts:Berkeley’s Rasputin Music will have a special appearance by poster artist Frank Kozick at 12pm followed by Roger Taylor and John Taylor of Duran Duran at 1:30pm for autograph signing. P.S. Roger and John were the cute ones in the 80s and the labido says nothing has changed in 30 years.”

Simon *siiiiiigh* LeBon sings. Andy Taylor was on guitar. Nick Rhodes pioneered keyboards, his keyboards then being one of the first full set of Fairlight synthesizer computer systems (they used to dwarf him, he now runs the entire show from two racks and a Mac). He knew Andy Warhol. He also wore pink velvet to his wedding and produced Kajagoogoo. John and *SIMON* are the ones you wanna take back to the bus and lick up one side and.....

Roger? Roger??? I mean, Roger was the drummer. Brilliant, but Roger was the one known most for his Freddy Mercury impression. She must *really* like a good redux of “Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy.”

And yet, she is still On the Bus. She, like me, probably had a Duran Duran 12th Birthday Party. With black, red, white and blue streamers, just like the Arena album cover. I made mix tapes of all the albums, from 1981’s DuranDuran on. We danced in the back yard with Glo-Stix, the old kind where you could puncture one end and tie the other to a long string and swing them over your head in the warm mid-september dark singing

“Wild boys allllways/


with 10 other newly-pubescent girls, while inside my parents readied the cake and pressies. One of which was my First Pair of Nylons. My much older sister, of calmer and more refined taste, somehow peered into my soul and produced a Police/ Synchronicity beach towel. I managed to keep that with me, my towel, right through to the Very Bad 20’s. I still get darkly sentimental thinking about it, and I think about it's loss more often than a sane person should.

Following cake and presents, my masterpiece! A 100-Question Duran Duran Quiz! I spent every penny I had from age 9 onward on Smash Hits, Bop and any other music rag I could get my hands on. In the absence of digital media, I will swear to any Notary that by Grade 9 my walls were completely plastered with Duran Duran posters. With those posters came any stupid, inane detail ever produced for any interview ever, including what their mothers used to make when they’d come home from rehearsals late at night (sandwiches with brown gravy, according Andy Taylor, as told to Smash Hits).

After that night, those posters were hung with the remains of the party streamers. As Life imitates Art, if I hadn’t paid attention to their every detail beginning in elementary school, I wouldn’t have found Andy Warhol or Patrick Nagel at an age that bent my perception of art from the dull to the abstract and took my budding adolescent outlook with it. If not for obsession, my friends and I wouldn’t have paid for a VHS of european Duran Duran videos, including the *immediately* banned, completely risqué Chauffeur. If you find the ever-disappearing link to the real video, be sure you're alone with a *very* good glass of wine. And if you know that at age 12, the world outside of Little House on the Prairie starts to look quite a bit different.

Should I go? Will it be ruining a LITERALLY life-long love? What would I say? “Yah, HIIIYEEE!!! I have TOTALLY loved you since I was, like, nine! I’m almost forty! And I’m saying this out loud!”

Better to stay back, aloof, cool and dark....Waiting for the REAL genius, the TRUE poet, Simon. It’s been 30 years, and now I’m the Joy of Cooking Fairy. He’ll be round, and I’ll be waiting...with Butter Sauce.

Ozzy banner

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Candy Coated Cane

Yesterday, Tuesday 12 April, was beautiful and sunny here in Silicon Valley. I had to use my inhalers it was so beautiful. Inhalers mean I'm great for the rest of the day and sleep like a strung-out acid freak. Nightmares ahoy, and my inner crochety Jerk-o-Saur, Bern, comes hobbling out of the darkest recess of my soul, shaking his cane at the stupid, improbable, and should-be-terminated.

Bern is the namesake of someone I employed many years ago in the book business. He was a genius, a writer, an expert in many things, and possessed of the most keenly-honed dark side paired with an indelible wit. I had the deepest, most meaningful Beard-mance with him ever. He broke up with his partner and moved back to New York, breaking my heart *more* than my (then) recent divorce. He was everything strong and opinionated I, in my mid-20's desperately needed. Now in my late 30's, I have found him within me, black-hearted, grouchy and mean in ways I never believed myself capable of, but if we are honest, life truly requires of us. I have rejoiced in our reunion.

Just HIS luck, after a wretched night we woke up to gray skies and pouring rain in the middle of April. Jedi Jasmin and I forayed to Costco yesterday, where she acquired the Large Bag of brown sugar. I had a nightmare that I had stumbled into a field of sugar cane, with people dancing and singing while picking cane. But the field boss, at first explaining that everyone had signed up for this, as a vacation cooking class, suddenly turned sinister and didn't want me to see it. It turned into a field of semi-zombies chanting about changing the regime, reminding me of a Flogging Molly song Tobacco Island, or an episode of Alton Brown's Feasting on Waves about Jamaica.

Then I came downstairs, poured some cereal and flipped on the telly, where Lucky Charms and other General Mills cereals are touted on ads as being the fun, happy morning source of wholesome nutrition for your children-3g of Fibre per serving!!. As I poked online for cereal info, I found that even (third Google search result) is painfully neutral when stating the nutrition facts of this neon sugar-fest.

Yah, like Bern and I are some tree-hugging crystal-gripping dirt-munching druids. Depending on the severity of Life Events, I will- *WILL* -be found in a dark corner snarfing Cocoa Puffs and Pirate Booty straight from the bags, snarling and lashing viciously at any who dare interrupt.

OH! and PayDay candy bars!! I am a Candy Freak!!! The biggest Candy Freak in 50 miles, prove it if I ain't!! But as of last week's new ad campaign every PayDay bar is "Sweet Nutrition, Sweet Energy!". No, what it is, is a roll of caramel covered in salty peanuts. Which is Heaven. I LOVE IT. But don't go round tarting the thing up as frakkin' health food, Hershey, it's an insult to the hallowed institution of Junk Food. Junk Food, Bern will have you know, is no pejorative, Junk Food is sacred, it is Subversive, it is Tasty, it is Grown Up. Junk Food is when you need to put down the crisps bag and wipe your greasy hand on your cardigan so you can get your SkyBar open. It is NOT "Nutrition".

Well, the wheezing sounds following that little tirade means we're due for another puff, Mister. So it's Medication Time and Bern says our prescriptions need refilled at Powell's in Willow Glen. Cheerios from me and Bah from Bern. Hope your day is sunnier.
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Monday, April 11, 2011

Livin' La Vida Bourdain!

Livin’ La Vida Bourdain!

Thursday night was the first of three classes in the Anthony Bourdain Techniques of Cooking Series, offered at Sur La Table. There were the Two Handsome Older European Men (yummier than any food made that evening, so you know this started well). As we were seated for the introduction by Chef Marianne Holloway, I met The Two Sweeties, Marshmallow and Cocoa, Nurses who drove all the way from Gilroy and Pacifica, respectively.

Next to me were the All Star Pro’s. They entered the classroom at the back of the store with a green reusable shopping bag, and proceeded to disgorge and don, with great Punk Rock Flourish, *EMBROIDERED* chef’s coats, long half-aprons and, for Mr. Pro, the essential tie-back head scarf. I’m wracking my brain as to why two Chefs are here. Turns out they’re kitchen newbies who always wanted to learn so they got each other kitted out properly for Christmas and bought the course! Sweet Wowza Woo, I may have Jacket Jealousy!

Me? What am I doing parked on Table 1? I’ve never taken a cooking course, so I’ve learned everything from cookbooks, TV shows, friends and trial-and-error. When I saw the listing for the Anthony Bourdain course, I thought it’d be great to get some formal instruction on all those basics I’d picked up on the mean streets. And Tony is on my List. The one where I sell my closest friend’s handsome younger brother on the black market for the chance to apply a choice of dipping sauces and.....Ahem. Other List-ees include Alan Cumming, Timothy Hutton, Alan Rickman, Patrick Stewart, class, right-ee-yoo. Onward!

We were told that Tony is a Renegade, but deeply rooted in Classical French Cooking. Bitchin’. Tonight’s class would cover some Knife Basics, a Classic Omelet, Rice Pilaf, Mashed Potatoes Two Ways, Pasta with Rustic Tomato Sauce and a Fennel and Haricots Verts Salad with Supremes of Orange.

Chef Marianne presented the concept and the butane burners for the omelet, at which time we should pair off and egg up. Eggs are the great survival food, the basic omelet is one I mastered some time ago, with the amalgamated assistance of Alton Brown, Jaques Pepin and Julia Child. Just keep that pan lubed up and the heat low-ish and you’re good, so-- Cream in bowl with two room-temp eggs, fork ‘em up, pour into a ready pan.

I’m a shaker, and that’s a concept I suddenly realise is too weird to explain. I pour the eggs in and gently shake the pan first in a sauté motion, then sort of circular motion. Normal people use a rubber spatula or a fork to keep the edges moving in and tilt the pan round so the liquid egg moves out to the edge to become cooked. When it starts to look cohesive, I grind in pepper, sprinkle in a bit of cheese et voilà.

I’m one of the few students flying solo, and after a couple of attempts at seducing a potential pan partner I just go Generalissima by making with the flame and asking for stuff. What the HECK does a cute girl have to do to get a Assistant Jedi round here??? I manage to start the butane stove, retaining both eyebrows, and zip through the fun stuff, finding a nice single boy to cheese me at the end, goading him to try some chopped tarragon to see if he wanted to add it. He liked so he did and I triple-folded that sucker right onto the plate. He’s HR in tech, and single, and is doing this course on a personal dare. I will obtain Name, Contact Info and Relationship Resumé for those of you interested in a handsome asian man who’s gonna know his way round dinner AND breakfast, if you know what I mean.

As more people finish the omelet station, we are moved over to the main cooking station, where we started the Rice Pilaf. Chef has 3 Kitchen Assistants, who have some amount of prep done, groundwork laid and tools ready, so all of the aromatics are chopped (no knifework done or demonstrated), and the stock is piping hot ready to go. I stepped up and got the onion sweating and handed Marshmallow the ladle for the stock and Cocoa the bowl of washed rice while we listened to how the pilaf process works.

Rice was popped in the oven and we moved to the salad station--but what were those tomatoes on the main demonstration stage? There were large-ish tomatoes, bottoms-up, crosses cut into the skins, sitting on a prep tray, and a bowl of tomato sauce...

Oh! and Chef has squeaked in some spud action--see? spuds! All cut, they were put in proper cold water and now they’re boiling and we have to catch them at exactly the right moment! I could draw this all the way through the rest of the tale, but I’ll just sum right up as I have NO clue how we got to “done” on those taters, only one person got to stick a fork in one, no timer was ever set, and for all of Chef’s dire warnings about Perfection in Timing, I doubt anyone else in that class would have the first clue how to get there. I am half Irish, and my husband is Irish. If I don’t instinctively know when a spud is Done, I’m probably Dead. She also proclaimed we would be Gilding the Lily by preparing them the very French way, with raw egg and cream. That’s called Champ, and it’s Irish, but you’ve left out the scallions, which would have made it better. I, erm...may have blurted that last bit out.

....But HERE! Kitchen Assistant is demonstrating orange supremes! And the fennel! And the Beans! Because "they are just green beans, this time of year." Haricots, the tender delectable green matchstick beans, are out of season, but we’re making an out-of season dish anyway. And the beans they have are visibly brown-spotted, but “that’s what we have right now due to the cold weather.” On to the oranges. She’s certainly handy with the paring knife, but only one more orange needs done, so no-one else really gets to practice. It’s one of the reasons I’m here-- the last time I attempted supremes on my pretty, fresh CSA blood oranges it looked as though a highly demented cuttlefish had at it with a dull machete.

No, that’s a slight against cuttlefish. They can change colour, texture, size and shape in 45 seconds to hide from predators, then use two halves of a coconut to make shelter on the ocean floor. In 45 seconds I can reduce a citrus fruit to a puddle of membrane and juice on the cutting board. Maybe I should head to the aquarium for a lesson.

Then there’s the fennel, which she attempts to partially dismantle by knife then use a ceramic slicer that she’s really not comfortable with and does not work. She tells us to go back to using the chef’s knife, but does not, in any way, teach the class knife technique.

Allow me to repeat. A class with Anthony Bourdain’s name on it. Teaching the Essentials of Classic Cooking. Including, as the *first* item on the curriculum, Knife Technique. Did. Not. Teach. Knife. Technique. She left us at the station with some fennel bulbs and the recipe for the dressing, so I grabbed the 12" knife and went Super Freak on it. It's my party piece, and also Gets The Job Done. As a salad, it was some beans one of the Assistants blanched behind the scenes so no-one saw how to do it, and a bunch of other stuff.

As we finished this, Chef Marianne calls us back to the main demo stage where she hurriedly attempt to catch us up on the tomato sauce prep, which apparently required the tomatoes that were on the tray earlier. For some reason they went thru a process of steps I could refer to the recipe sheet right now in order to enlighten you, but were *completely* glossed over in about 20 seconds as Chef and The Assistants bustled in their uncoordinated manner behind the counter.

Something was happening with the pilaf in the oven behind them. It made an appearance, was deemed unready and stuck back in. Any Questions? Great! So All the tomatoes, and you really must use San Marzano Tomatoes (this is where she finally slowed down, to expound on the precise tomato--I truly understand, but at the expense of the entire recipe is complete folly), go in the pan, and will be mashed in a bit.

Except a bit later, the previously observed bowl of tomato juice/sauce, never even mentioned on the recipe sheet, and *barely* mentioned as she added, was dumped into the pan and explained in mumbles as juice from the tomatoes. It was equivalent to about 3-15 oz cans of sauce added into the mysteriously blanched, skinned fresh toms, canned toms and a couple big bunches of fresh basil. And were not mashed. She said they shouldn’t be.

And no wine. Wine would ruin it. We should all taste it. We all tasted it, and we all puckered at the sharpness. A box of sugar was on the counter, as was a bottle of olive oil, and she asked us how we could counter sharp taste and we said fat and sugar. She said yes, and we should add some, and now for the break!

Shopping Interlude. In which Chef Sold People Expensive Knives and Kitchen Assistants Caused the Food to be Done.

The pasta had been started in a too-small pan, to which she added a good dollop of olive oil, which I haven’t seen done in 20 years. When we returned from the break, it was in a serving dish, covered with the vinegar-sour sauce which she claimed was left as ‘We’, the class, had decided to leave it when she asked us before the break. It was watery and hard to pick up, due to the spaghetti being coated in oil. Also served were the two kinds of spuds (one smashed, one put through a ricer) which were, in the end, identical. Salad as previously commented. Rice Pilaf, having been made with plain rice and chicken stock which was nutty and a great basic to learn.

I came home and fixed myself dinner. I can wield the big knife, make a white sauce, do a lot of stuff and I felt like a know-it-all-show-off because of what I was able to do going in and jumped in to do, while feeling perhaps the people around me without knife skills or kitchen chops were getting cheated. My Tech HR Omelet-Share Guy? He and half the class never got to make their own omelet, or get hands-on with anything else, they only got to watch. I understand time restraint and class logistics, but for $200.oo, he deserves better. They all do. For a small fee, You may submit an application to walk him through egg basics again, I will match you up.

Next week, Gettin' Saucy with Chicks, Boobs and Muscles!

-OR- Session Two: Stocks, Soups and Sauces. “Rich Chicken Stock-Fish Stock-Mushroom Soup-Mussels Steamed in White Wine (Moules à la Grecque)-Sautéed Chicken Breasts with Bearnaise Sauce.”

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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Foundation Fairy Lookin' Merry: Liquid Assets


Heading into Spring and Summer, we all need a little SPF boost to our LIquid Assests!

Full Disclosure: I have, in the past, been a Beauty Control consultant and am currently one for Mary Kay. I do it solely for the discount and do not sell for profit, the same way I also hold discount/membership cards for Sephora, Ulta, Peninsula Beauty and Sally retail cosmetic and aesthetics shops. I strive to give fair reviews of all products used in this blog, and pay for everything out of my pocket. If ever a product is given without purchase by a shop, Independent Consultant of a direct marketed brand, or manufacturer, this will be *explicitly* stated at the beginning of the review and the product will be highlighted as such.

For most of my life I’ve shied away from foundation, and the reason, as I’ve intimated before is Growing Up in the 80’s. There was Pancake. And Cornsilk. Foundation was known simply as Makeup and was always Full Coverage and usually finished with a layer of powder as well. Great for Big Hair/ Frosted Lipstick/ Acid Wash/ Fringe Jacket/ Headin’ for the Bon Jovi Concert nights, but every day starting in high school? Seventeen magazine said this was The Way.

My problem is I’ve always been a hot tamale. I am so warm that when we head back to the UK for Christmas, I usually wear a long-sleeve t-shirt and a zippy fleece jacket. Maybe with a scarf, in 25 degrees F. Which I have to strip off the second I step into a building or Tube station or I boil like a nuclear reactor. Immediately. So I am constantly warm and usually at least a bit....shiny. Not oily, but quite moist, causing any makeup on my face to disperse in an instant.

However, hitting 35 meant the onset of adult acne, plus my usually sensitive skin became even more sensitive. I used to be a Winter Wonder Girl, then suddenly could NOT get enough sunny daylight hours, and with the purchase of a cheery-coloured summer wardrobe I am no longer such a steamy tamale. So now I need some non-comedogenic coverage with SPF protection. Proactive cured the acne, so I’m left with the normal trial of shade and coverage determination.

So begin with Skin Type: I have sensitive skin, am very very pale with luminescent, pink/peach undertone delicate skin. I am directly half-Irish/half-Sicilian, so I have reddish gin blossom cheeks, deep dark eye pooches and some small café spots along the hairline to cover.

I need a very fair, comfortably light-to-medium-weight foundation that will stay put reasonably well in warm weather. Check yourself out in your bathroom mirror and note these same types of things, then step outside, and finally take a mirror to your office or the mall and (yes, you'll feel a little silly, but this is SCIENCE) so you've checked your mug in the three types of environments you're in most often.

Usually, one is admonished to hold the package against the inner wrist, but my Top Tip: Hold it first closer to your inner elbow, you outer arm at the elbow, then against the back of your hand. I find I get a better idea of the range of colours on my face depending on exposure to the sun, etc. All are poured on the back of the hand in small amounts, applied in dots to small areas of the face then evened out with a standard foundation brush, as yours should be for best results. Brushes are inexpensive, available at all drugstores and specialty retailers, and are really the best way to get the light, even application you want. Fun-fun-fun!

Actually it is, these days. Way more fun than it used to be. Manufacturers are far more sensitive to the needs of skin type, ethnicity, coverage preference and approachability. In this post, Round One will cover Liquid Foundations, featuring Maybelline, Mary Kay, Cover Girl, and Neutrogena. Points given out of 5.

Maybelline Fit Me System:

The other day, I posted, apropos of just about nothing in the preceding blog, a photo and a promise to geek right the heck out about something cool, if really brilliantly devised systems to make life easier make your tiny toes tingle. So voy-OLA!


The system starts with the foundations, which are divided into Light, Medium and Deep. This is where I am really pleased that cosmetics companies have seemed to step away from Orange Face. It used to be that there was one Pale White Face, one Dark Brown Face and 7 Orange Faces. Not anymore. While I was getting bold by reaching all the way to the end of the Light range, I noticed that not even the Deep ranges had the old junky russety fall-back shades anymore, and that there are way more choices for realistic ethnic skin tones.

Each level has a pull-out shade finder which, again, I urge you to use against both the inner and outer arm. Once you find your shade, use that number to find the corresponding concealer, powder (if you prefer to liquid, not as an additional layer), blush and bronzer. If, say, you want one of each to play with, you will spend a whopping $35 for an entire look. Add one of their reduxed eyeshadow sets featuring section placement stamped on each colour (‘base’, ‘lid’, ‘crease’), one lipstick and their classic pink tube of unbeatable mascara and you’re set for round about $50.00. Total.

First, I just dissolve into Pink Tickled-ness in the presence of a well-designed, thoroughly researched system for *anything*. I LOVE this thing--it looks GREAT! Second, it WORKS. I keep threatening to send GingerMan to use the system and make a basic-look purchase to bring home for me to use. When my hair is a summery orange, people mistake us as siblings so I figured letting a neophyte loose to find his way would net nearly the same result I did:

Maybelline Fit Me Liquid Foundation SPF 18: I chose shade 115, so slightly rosy, and took the matching concealer to compare under-eye coverage. I will review the powder foundation in Round Two Reviews. Love. LOVE. It was pretty easy to find a shade with real confidence. The larger, sparely marked clear jar packaging seems to be leading an industry trend that allows the buyer to just lay the whole thing against any part of the body to compare colour. I found a mirror at the cosmetics counter and held jars up to my face. Brilliant. Second only to striping on the face. Makeup is light-medium viscosity, applies evenly and brushes straight into my deep eye sockets and over the dark circle-y pooches. I compared just foundation on the left to concealer plus foundation on the right and while the left was a good, natural coverage, the right was a polished, even coverage without crepe-y-ness or harking back to the Pancake 80’s. The formulations settle smoothly with a matte finish. Stays put over a very active day. Good old Maybelline keeps becoming Good New Maybelline and they will always hold a warm place in my heart. For those fighting unemployment or re-entering the Professional Realm: This will get you a polished look for the best price in the drug store or any specialty retailer, with the confidence that you’re wearing the right stuff. Top Pick 4.5 out of 5.

Mary Kay Timewise Luminous- and Matte-Wear Liquid Foundations:

Because you will meet with a Mary Kay consultant to purchase these, you will sample from the 23 shades and 2 finish choices to find your combination with confidence. If you get home and wear it a few days and don’t like it, the Mary Kay company promise is total satisfaction, so ring her up and she’ll fix ya right up. I’ve tested both the Luminous and Matte finishes, and used the MK Foundation Primer underneath. MK foundations long ago had a reputation for being spackle, but these new formulations are medium viscosity and comfortable. The Timewise Luminous Wear is recommended for Dry-Normal skin and has only a slightly brightening, silky finish. The Timewise Matte Wear is for Combination-Oily, likewise lightweight and very smooth almost immediately after application. They really stay put through the day as well. I tried this in both the Ivory 6 and 7 as well as Beige 3 which was toastier. I find the Mary Kay range of shading is remarkably well rounded and leaves a lot of room to find your perfect shade, I was really surprised. Direct Sale only, a Great Buy: Luminous-Wear 4 out of 5; Matte-Wear 4 out of 5. Find your local consultant at the Mary Kay website.

CoverGirl-- CoverGirl-Olay and CoverGirl NatureLuxe Foundations:

CG-Olay: “Simply Ageless, SPF 22: This makeup is a solid compact swirled with a white stripe of Olay complex that seems to keep Ellen Degeneres looking pretty darn good. I defaulted to the lightest shade, 205/ Ivory. It is a nearly neutral porcelain colour with a hint of pink undertone and no yellow undertone. It applied smoothly in one pass, filled well under the eye and over the cheek rosiness. It looks pretty sheer, but through the day I felt it brushed off and would need freshening up more than once, so I would give it 2.75 out of 5, but it’s a bit difficult to judge the shade from the package.

CG NatureLuxeTouched By Nature SPF 10 Liquid Silk Foundation: This formula comes in a pretty white and clear tube with green leaves exuding nature and health, but it’s essentially just a specialty side-line marketed to the Environmental Sensibility. There’s enough open area to get a feel for the colour, and against the outer arm, I took a leap and went for shade 305, darker than usual. It turned out to be nicely rosy and warm but not overboard. This is a light-medium coverage foundation, but not as silky-smooth in overall finish as some of the other contenders. 2.75 out of 5.

Neutrogena Healthy Skin Compact Makeup SPF 55 HelioPlex Broad Spectrum UVA/UVB:

First, the name sounds quite Scientific and Impressive. HelioPlex means that all the same sunblocks are formulated to be somewhat more stable than before, but are basically the same effective sunblocks as ever. Apply and Re-apply as per usual when relied upon as actual out-of-doors sun protection. As we approach Sun Season, I purchased the Neutrogena for this reason, and as such, was delighted upon opening the compact that a) It is a lovely compact; and b) There Is. No. Smell. You will notice that *I* noticed first what a lovely compact it is. And then that I noticed I noticed because I did not note any smell. At all. A HUGE accomplishment for a high-SPF product for the face! As for make-up qualities? I again defaulted to Classic Ivory 10 with some deliberation, as two Walgreens were out of Nude 40. Should have read the road sign on that one. The Ivory 10 is not bad, and not exactly chalky, but is a bit too pale even for me and is actually the yellowest of all the Ivories. It works for me, but I would probably choose the Nude 40 if I did it again. It is a solid compact, has a creme-to-powder finish and feels light-weight, covering decently over the cheeks, but looks powdery under the eyes. Since it was just last week, I’m thinking of testing Walgreen’s return policy on this as it’s only slightly used. 3.5 out of 5 for overall finish in a high-SPF product.

Almay SmartShade Makeup SPF 15

One of the white-from-the-tube-adjusts-to-your-colouring foundations. Very runny, very sheer and I have tried this twice and been disappointed both times. It fails to cover the red, freckles, under-eye circles or brown spots at all. I have tried the Light and Medium shades and they both turned the same shade of yellow. Complete failure. 0 out of 5.

Rimmel London Match Perfection Foundation SPF 15

On par with the Maybelline for drugstore finds. Same medium viscosity, light-medium coverage, same smooth, day-long comfortable wear. Shades range fewer and warmer, with more yellow and toasty undertones and are packaged in the same minimally printed large glass bottle for easy colour viewing. With it’s Smart-Tone Technology, even though the 120 Ivory looked the slightest bit, well, orangier, than almost any other brand’s Ivory, when applied it is a delightfully rosy Ivory. Seems for once an intuitive shade makeup might live up to the promise. 4 out of 5.


There’s Round One, Liquid Foundations. Round Two is Mineral Powder Foundations, so back at ya soon, powder puffs!

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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Tiny Toes Come Home!

First and Foremost, a HUGE announcement: Warmest Loving Congratulations to Beth and Silpa on the arrival of their beautiful baby daughter this morning! Two more wonderful Mummies can not be found, we wish you every happiness!

In a related line, I filled out a survey online last week on the economy, unemployment and politics. It asked the regular questions about satisfaction with the system and politicians, how I feel about the way things are going. Then, second to last how happy I am with my life and how many people I am close to. I could say something philosophical about happiness, and I am capable of fluffy, boring waxability, philosophy-wise.

But I am nothing if not OCD, so I defined parameters: Who would drive me to the hospital, who would bail me out of jail, who would be in the cell with me? Who are 1st, 2nd, 3rd degree qualifiers? Who knows the dirty the secrets and who would do the dirty laundry, be it a stubborn stain or a stubborn Ex needing rid of?

What dude would show at 2am with a back-up Louiseville Slugger when I hear obvious sounds of Upright Badger Home Invasion and GingerMan’s gone to DefCon for the weekend? [FaceBook Post 01 April 2011: “I was drifting toward consciousness this morning when I heard a sound that I believed with all my heart was a home invasion by human-size upright-walking rabid badgers downstairs. It was the garbage truck.”]

So I combed my Contacts, sorting carefully. Just my little black book, mind you, not FaceBook. Final Number? Thirty-Two--No stretching, no fibbing, just 1st and 2nd degrees, and I have a really tiny family. Thirty-two people is a large tribe. Nearly a small village. People I’ve laughed and cried with, shared holidays with, tried on orange nail polish with. In my tribe is a rather skilled imaginative stylist who, one summer, toned my hair colour on the slightly orange scale, and I was thus dubbed Laura'nge, and yea verily we are legion.

The rain outside that has broken a 5-day streak of warm sunshine woke me from a dream of orange nails, big hair and acid wash denim . Thirty-Two. We're supposed to be a dwindling society and my Zombie Apocalypse Compound is gonna need a velvet rope.



Tomorrow is the first installment of my foundation makeup reviews, with some really exciting news, if nifty well-thought-out systems get your pretty toes tingling. I’ve been working through several national brands and we’ve come a looooong way baby.

Tomorrow Night is the first installment of three in the Anthony Bourdain developed classes at Sur La Table Los Gatos, this focusing on knife techniques and basics, more news on that Friday.

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Sunday, April 3, 2011

More Than A Feeling

Dateline: Sunday 4 April, 1987

I have a ginger boyfriend with blue eyes who plays computer games. Today I wrote an essay and filled out an application for a part- time job. Def Leppard and Duran Duran were on my mix tape so I danced in the shower. Tomorrow I’ll bug off school with Karen and drive to Santa Cruz in her Barracuda at dawn with a box of donuts.

Dateline: Sunday 3 April, 2011

I have a ginger husband with blue eyes who plays computer games. Today I am writing an essay and I filled out an application for a part-time job. I forgot people used paper ones. Def Leppard and Duran Duran came on my ipod so I danced in the shower. I’m having pizza for dinner, then probably cake. Tomorrow I’ll do the rest of the tidying for the house appraisal so we can refinance, then bug off with Jasmin to Sephora in my red Prius that does 90 before I’ve noticed.

All Names and Dates are True and Accurate.

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