Monday, August 31, 2009

30 and counting……the dog days of summer.

Disclaimer:  I am well aware that it is not attractive to a.) complain and b.) use profanity.

Sorry, Mom and Dad.

But, it is f@%&-ing hot in here.  I’m cranky, sweaty, stir-crazy, and frankly, sick of EVERYTHING.  Just now, I was parking my car and for some reason this creepy old guy…..grrrr….get it together…..this older gentleman decides it's his job to watch me.  I was nowhere near hitting him (even though he was moving incredibly slowly across an active driveway).   I was in my non-threatening, if incredibly dirty, family-friendly Corolla.  I was not even playing loud music.  In fact, I was quietly listening to All Things Considered on NPR, i.e., the old people station!  Still, this guy is giving me the stink-eye like I’m some kind of menace to society!  

“What are you looking at, grandpa? Take a picture, it’ll last longer!” 

Ok, so I didn’t go so far as to actually stick my head out the window and yell this, but I did mouth it under my breath behind the safety of my windshield.  God forgive me.

This heat and smoke and sudden lack of employment laughingly called a ‘vacation’, has gotten the best of me.  I have been reduced to a pouty teenager.  Worse!  A pouty, single, 30-something who sweats profusely and can’t sit still.  I’m like a toddler.  A toddler with heartburn and a ticking biological clock.  How’s that for poetry?  And, WE TURNED OFF OUR CABLE.  WILLINGLY!  WHAT WERE WE THINKING?! 

I’m going to lay flat on my back on the living room floor with a cold compress and pray for sanity.  If that doesn’t work, mama’s gonna hit the sauce.  I’m just sayin’.

Friday, August 28, 2009

30 and Counting....lentil burgers.

Last night, our dear friends Erica and Seth (yes, we all have blogs), came over for dinner.  We live on opposite sides of the Burbank/Glendale border.  That means 'The Valley', for those of you who do not live in these parts.  The Valley is generally a good 10 degrees hotter than the rest of the city.  You can literally watch the temperature guage in your car rise as you cross over the hill.  Last night, on my way home from parts west, I watched mine:  79, 82, 97,.....104104 degrees at 6:30pm.  Good lord.  Anyway, dinner and friends.  I have spent several lovely evenings seated at the bar in E & S's kitchen, eating black bean burgers and shooting the breeze, so I wanted to return the favor.  On the hottest night of the year.  Here's what we ate:

Lentil Burgers with Tomato Salad and Basil Mayo (french fries, too, but they were frozen and from a bag.  shhhh!)

I found the basic recipe for these burgers online, but it's been ages ago, so I don't know where.  I would give credit where credit was due if I could!  I've tweeked it a bit to my liking.  (and last night I doubled this and it worked great)

Lentil Burgers: 

1 cup dry lentils, rinsed
2 1/2 cups water or veg stock (my favorite is IMAGINE Brand No-Chicken Broth)
pinch of salt
1/2 of a medium onion, diced
1 medium carrot, diced
3/4 cup rolled oats, finely ground
1 tsp soy sauce (I didn't have any soy sauce last night and they were fine w/o it.)
1 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Place the lentils, water, and salt in saucepan, bring to a boil, lower heat, cover, and simmer for about 45 minutes, until liquid is nearly gone and lentils are soft but not mushy.  While the lentils cook, sauté the onion and carrot in oil until soft, about 5 minutes and set aside.  Give the rolled oats a quick spin in the food processor until they reach a fine meal. 

Mix the lentils, onions, carrots, salt and pepper, and optional soy sauce in a large bowl, then mix in the ground oats.

While still warm, form the lentil mixture into patties.  You can either pan fry the burgers with a little oil, bake them in a 400 degree oven for about 15 minutes until they brown, or leave them sitting on the counter in my stupidly hot kitchen and they will cook in no time.  (I kid, I kid)  Once the patties are made, apparently, you can also freeze them for up to a week.  I usually just cook off any extra and we eat Lentil Burgers for lunch the next day or two. 

Tomato Salad:

I just took a bunch of red and orange grape tomatoes, halved them longways, and tossed them with flat-leaf parsley, a little lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. 

Basil Mayo:

Mayonnaise (or Veganaise) and Basil in the food processor, eyeball the quantities.  You kind of can't mess it up. 

I put the burgers down on a big lettuce leaf, slapped on some basil mayo and tomato salad.  Fries on the side. By the time it was done, I looked like I had either run a marathon or just gotten out of a swimming pool.  I sweat.  I just do, it's a fact of life.  But, the food was good, the company was great.  We had instant banana pudding for dessert.  I even sprang for Jell-O brand instead of generic.  Nothing is too good for my friends. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

30 and Counting....dinner for two.

Dinner for two (or maybe 4 if you eat civilized portions, unlike us):

Salad greens and alfalfa sprouts - toss them in olive oil, lemon juice, and salt.

Chop an onion up, it may look too big, but use the whole thing.  Put olive oil in your favorite pan, the one you use to make everything, and let it heat up.  In goes the onion.  Next, take the cilantro that's on the verge of going bad in your fridge, pick out the wilted parts and put it in your tiny food processor, let's call him 'Oscar'. Then throw in 5 cloves of garlic because you like it and it may help mask your questionable cilantro.  Let Oscar chop these guys up, just lightly till they're manageable.  Then, add some grape tomatoes, the ones you usually use in your lunch salads, and some of the cute orange-colored grape tomatoes that you got at the Grove today because you spent an hour at the Farmer's Market this afternoon with your sister while the rest of the world was working because that's what people do in LA.  Blend these with the cilantro and garlic, but keep a close eye:  it's pretty if you can see all the colors.  Don't get too carried away and make soup of it all.  It needs a dash of olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper.  Let Oscar give it one final spin.  Polenta should be in the cabinet, bought by the roll for $1.99.  You like things that are $1.99.  Unleash it from its plastic roll and plop it in the pan on top of the onion that's soft and clear from cooking this whole time.  Mush it with a fork.  It feels kind of good to mush something at the end of a long day.  Once it's warmed through and married to the onions, add your tomato-garlic-cilantro mixture.  Gently combine it so that it's all one dish, but you can still see all its parts.  It will need a little more salt and a little more pepper.  Plate with salad on one side and polenta on the other.  Wish there was beer in the fridge, settle for water with ice or flat lime-flavored Perrier.  Get comfy on the couch because the dining table is still on the patio from the dinner party 3 weeks ago.   Bon apetit!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Goat Cheese with Honey Walnuts and Figs

Here's the recipe for the lovely goat cheese log dish that I made for Laura's brunch:

1 med. log of goat cheese (I believe mine was 6 oz)
1 cup walnut pieces or chopped walnuts
6 whole dried figs
1/8 cup canola oil
1/8 cup honey
1 tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  In a small bowl, whisk together oil, honey, and cinnamon and salt.  Next stir in walnuts until they are fully coated in the mixture.  Spread coated walnuts on a non-stick cookie sheet and bake until they become fragrant and start to brown, stirring occasionally.  (about 10 minutes)  While the walnuts are in the oven, chop the figs into tiny bite-sized pieces.  Once the walnuts are out of the oven, return them to the bowl and mix in figs.  It is important to do this while the walnuts are still hot and sticky so the figs get coated, too.  (Already dried fruit in the oven tends to harden up and get too tart for my taste.)  Transfer the walnut-fig mixture to parchment paper (or your cutting board) to cool.  Once cooled, coat the goat cheese log with the nuts and figs. Chill for 30min (this is optional, but makes the whole thing stay together better.)  If you're making this ahead of time, wrap it in plastic wrap and let it sit in the refrigerator till you need it.  Serve with crackers! 

30 and Counting....Suck it, LA?

A few weeks ago, I received an invite to a brunch:

You have been invited by Laura Simms to
Suck it, LA!

My friend Laura, whom I met during my short-lived foray into performance art (you don't want to know), was throwing a brunch on her new patio.  The idea was to get a bunch of girls together who had never met, but should have, i.e. "Suck it, LA! We managed to beat traffic, your sprawling landscape, and the urge to flake, so here we are!"  

All us invitees have Laura in common and none of us are native Californians.  I arrived, newly invented goat cheese-walnut-fig log (still working on a name for it) in hand, ready to make new friends.  Laura's patio is perfect.  There's a big wooden table, umbrella, little lights strung overhead.  We all brought cheese:  my goat cheese, some soft cheese and star-shaped crackers, and a blueberry-cheese-coffee cake straight out of Southern Living. 

Conversation was easy and good.  We're mostly actors.  Actors with other jobs.  Three of them married, one with a live-in boyfriend, and one singleton (three guesses who).  Eventually, as with any gathering of East Coasters, talk turned to Los Angeles versus anywhere else in the world.   Yards, stuff we have in storage back east, family, New York, college, crazy neighbors, how we'd all be better off living in the South (four of us hail from below the Mason Dixon Line).  Don't get me wrong, I loved it.  These are great girls and I was thrilled to be a part of the group.  But it got me wondering if I could ever proudly stand up and say,
"I love LA." 

I mean, it's great here.  I have the best friends of my life.  It's sunny all the time and we hike and eat avocados and mangos year round.  I'm in a book club.  I have a nice tan.  Every once in a while we even see a movie star at Starbucks.  Even so, how can I look my family in the eye and tell them that I choose fake boobs and endless summer over their birthdays and graduations?  What is it that keeps us all here in spite of wildfires and impending earthquakes?  Let's face it, I am no millionaire movie star.  In some ways, I'm a 'those who can't do, teach.'  And that's ok with me.  But why here?  Is it hope? Is it the fantasy that at any moment someone could spot you on the street and make your wildest dreams come true?  After all, how can they find you if you're living in rural Virginia instead of fabulous downtown Burbank? 

I warming to....don't hate LA?  Something tells me that's not good enough. 

Saturday, August 22, 2009

30 and counting....pancake Saturdays.

Every few weeks, Becca asks, "Do you have the stuff to make pancakes or muffins?  I'm hungry."

The answer is usually, 'No.'  But I go to the kitchen and wing it anyway, because I love my sister and I am always up for a challenge.  Applesauce, quick-cooking oatmeal, flax meal, rice milk, almond milk, canned pumpkin, mushed up bananas, the kitchen sink (well, water from it anyway):  all of these things have ended up in the ever-changing pancake/muffin recipe.  Some weeks, I remember the correct ratio of flour to baking powder to salt to liquid.  Some weeks, I Google a recipe to work from.  Some weeks, like this one, I throw caution to the wind and let the gods dictate what goes in the bowl.

I won't bother to post today's recipe in detail, but I will say that I used flax meal in large quantity because the applesauce had fermented and I had used all the vegetable oil making popcorn for a movie last week. Whole wheat flour, white flour (a cup of each), cinnamon (2 tsp), honey (2 1/2 tbsp?), some water, some rice milk, some luck, some wishing and hoping.  They turned out tasty, but the texture was not, um, perfect.  I had a sliced granny smith apple leftover from my lunch yesterday that I refused to throw out, so I chopped it up and sauteed it in some butter (thank you, Julia Child).  Becca loved them and ate too many as usual, then retired to the couch in a fiber coma (she's also high on Benadryl for an allergic reaction to a Snuggie).

It may seem like this story should include boyfriends, or hangovers, or mimosas, or brunch out at a restaurant instead of standing at our kitchen counter.  But this weekend, as with many before and many to come, I am happy that it's just us.  We are a family of two, a subset of a larger one, but a family all on our own.  I love Saturday.

30 and Friday nights.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

30 and counting....down the last days of summer camp.

My 5-10 year olds are performing 'Guys and Dolls' in two days. If it's possible, I'd like a glass of wine and a large cup of coffee. Simultaneously.

Last week, we inadvertantly wore crazy pants on the same day.

No, it wasn't 'Crazy Pants Day.'

Sunday, August 16, 2009

30 and counting.....sad sisters.

There is heartbreak at our house.

Not big, earthshattering, left-at-the-altar, lost-all-our-belongings-in-a-natural-disaster heartbreak. Just garden variety girl-loses-boy-and-is-perplexed-at-why heartbreak. (I do love a good hyphenate.)

It's not mine. I am fine. Still trying to reconcile the big break up hangover from my late 20's, but I suppose that's pretty normal for a single girl at 30 who has had one long-term, post-collegiate relationship. I deleted him from my phone today. Go me.

No, the hurtin' belongs to my baby sister. My beautiful girl. So, to help make sense of it all, we went to see a movie about falling in and out of love. Masochism-lite. 500 Days of Summer. The soundtrack alone was enough to slit one's proverbial wrists by. It was pretty perfect. Sad enough to make you cry, clever enough to make you laugh, true enough to make you think (and cry some more).

To round out the healing (or wallowing. don't judge.), I made us a pizza. Carbo-loading for the marathon of a broken heart. We will live to fight another day. With a wink and a smile.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

"Where's that bandeaux bra?"

It's in my room, on the floor, to the left of the chair.

"Hey, have you seen the dark red nail polish?"

Living room. On the floor, in the make-up bag with all the nail stuff.

"Are there any clean glasses?"

There's one on my bedside table that has only been used once for bedtime water. Use that.

Apparently, instead of cleaning, we've simply memorized the mess.

Friday, August 14, 2009

30 and counting.....rules to live by.

At my job, I sometimes have to take kids to the bathroom:

"My dad says that if you're having a pee you don't have to wash your hands if you're not going to eat for a while after. If you're having a pee and you are going to eat, then you have to wash your hands.......

If you're having a poo, you have to wash your hands no matter what.

Man, right after I go to the bathroom, I have so much energy.....(Why do you have so much energy after you go to the bathroom?).....Because of all the sitting down. It's so relaxing. Especially if you're having a poo. When I poo it takes, like, ten minutes. But I only poo, like, once a week. Well maybe, like, three times in a week."


Thursday, August 13, 2009

30 and counting......on someone else to do the shopping.

Last night when I came home (from a trip to Disneyland with fifteen 8-year-olds), I was exhausted. Absolutely exhausted. I just wanted beer. Beer and couch. Beer, couch, sleep.

My sister: "You know what I've been craving lately? Those black bean-banana empanadas you made."

Black Bean Banana Empanadas require homemade wholewheat dough. They also require chopping, sauteing, recipe reading, and baking. None of which appeared on my Beer-couch-sleep schedule. But there is little I can refuse my baby sister.

So, I started making substitutions.

Me: "If I make the dough, it has to sit for an hour. It's 7:00 now, which means they won't even go into the oven till after 8. We wouldn't be able to eat till almost 9:00. Why don't you just pick up some ready-made pie crusts. I can use them instead."

My sister (Becca): "But then we'd be eating processed white bread." I have trained her well. Ugh.

I ended up sending her to the store for some whole wheat pizza dough, bananas, chopped onions, and cilantro.

Pizza dough? 1 point for Becca. The bananas she bought? Too green. The onions? Chopped SWEET onions. I kind of have a thing about using the appropriate onion. This was not a sweet onion kind of time. The cilantro? "They were out of cilantro." Left-over papalo instead. Brave choice.

The filling was OK. The bananas never really broke down, but who's counting? The papalo was fine, aside from her complaint that it made the house smell like 'burnt oil and armpits.' (she has an overly dramatic sense of smell) The crust was a nightmare. It was just too springy and stretchy. I had to make Becca hold it still while I smushed the filling in so it wouldn't spring back before I could stretch it closed.

Disneyland on a bus. With 8-year-olds.

So far, no beer, no couch, no sleep, and no dinner to boot.

Finally, I got the empanadas in the oven.

Becca: "Let's watch a movie while we eat." (we have no cable)

Me: "Ok. What came from Netflix?"

Becca: "Some German movie about a serial killer."

D'oh! One day I put all the movies that 'will make me seem smarter if I've seen them' in my queue. Apparently, we've finally reached them. Last week I watched 'The Maltese Falcon' when what I really wanted was anything-with-Katherine-Heigl.

Finally at 9:00pm, we sat down to the ugliest black bean-banana empanadas you've ever seen to watch Fritz Lang's 'M'. I had my beer, I had my couch, and the food wasn't half bad if you didn't look directly at it.

**Click here for the real (and tasty!) recipe for Banana Black Bean Empanadas from Vegetarian Times magazine.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Long day. Made senior citizens happy. Swam in a public pool with small children. Ran an obstacle course that involved hula hoops and the crab walk. I even took a hike after work. A real, hard hike with, like, vertical hills.

Got home, and burnt the rice.

Del Taco, anyone?

Monday, August 10, 2009

30 and counting.....on Meryl Streep.

I used to want to be in movies because I thought I would get to 'live interesting lives.' Utter BFA-in-Drama-cheese, I am aware. But, somehow the notion that my actual life could be interesting escaped me. I assumed, albeit wrongly, that the best way to do something meaningful or see something special was to shoot a film about it on a sound stage in Prague. Not the most direct route between two points, shall we say.

No, no, my life did not suddenly get interesting. There is nothing that I am hiding from you. Let's just say that my desire to exercise/exorcise someone else's story has passed. My life, here I come. Here I am. Here I've always been. And the cliched revelations keep on a'rollin.

Now for the food part: It's kind of a food faux pas. We saw Julie and Julia tonight. Frugal gourmet that I am, I snuck in my own popcorn. There are no microwaves here, so I made it with oil in the pan like my mom always did. Here comes the faux pas - I seasoned it with salt and cayenne pepper........NOT BUTTER. Who goes to see a movie about MtAoFC without butter?

C'est la vie.

The popcorn was good anyway. The movie was great. Seeing it with my sister and one of my west coast best friends made it better. Not to mention the voicemail from my east coast best friend that greeted me after. All in all it was a good night. One might even say an interesting one.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

30 and counting.....Armenian cucumbers?

Sunday should include:

1. reading in bed.
2. coffee. even if you're trying to give it up. even if you only get it from 711.
3. cleaning of some sort. (today it was the inside of my car.)
4. Garrison Keillor and A Prairie Home Companion
5. This American Life, either online while you clean, or in the car on the way to someplace you really want to go. Sundays are not for obligatory errands.
6. A trip to the farmers market. (I go to Atwater Village.)

Usually I am accompanied on #6 by my sister and our dear friend Erica. Today, both my girls were busy so I was flying solo and feeling a little adventurous. Which is how I ended up with 3 large Armenian Cucumbers for $2.00. If you've ever read The BFG by Roald Dahl, Armenian Cucumbers look like Snozzcumbers minus the big black stripes. (The Big Friendly Giant is a vegetarian, too.) The second I got the ginormous pale green vegetables into my eco-friendly bag, I knew just what I would make: Cucumber Walnut Soup. Now, I have never eaten cucumber soup, much less made it, but divine inspiration (thank you Top Chef Masters!) took over and this is what I came up with:

2 large Armenian Cucumbers
1/2 cup raw walnuts, ground into meal in the food processor
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp coriander
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (I also added about a tablespoon more at the end to finish the soup)
1/4-1/2 cup fresh squeezed lime juice (starting with 1/4 cup, add to taste. limes are funny and can sometimes be super potent, so go slowly)
approximately 1 cup water
1 tsp salt (plus more to taste)
fresh ground black pepper

Wash cucumbers, remove both ends as you would with a regular cucumber. Slice longways and remove seeds and pulp using a spoon. Chop the cucumbers into medium-sized chunks. Put all ingredients into the blender and blend until smooth. I garnished it with a papalo leaf, which completely made the whole thing come together. (cilantro would work in papalo's place if need be) I think it's best served chilled.

As Mr. Keillor says, "Be well, do good work, and keep in touch."

Saturday, August 8, 2009

30 and counting.....ways to use up basil before it spoils

Every week I buy basil. I buy it and it goes bad because basil does not come in batches for one or two. It comes in enough-basil-to-feed-an-army. Yes, I should grow my own. Sadly, nothing lives for long in The Valley. I couldn't stand the carnage any more. Everything I plant dies. We even had a cactus go into the light. Anyhow, here's how I used up some basil today:

Quick Artichoke Pesto:

2 cloves of garlic
1 good handful of basil leaves
8-10 artichoke hearts (i used canned. almost a whole can, but I ate 4 before I could put them into the food processor)
the juice of 1/2 a lemon
olive oil, about 1/4 cup, just enough to make everything blend together
salt and ground black pepper to taste

I threw it all into my hand-me-down mini-food processor (the Oster Oscar). Voila. We dipped raw brocolli in it and then mixed some in with quinoa for dinner. Bon apetit!

Ribbon to match bridesmaid dress, color 'congnac': $5.00/yd

Parking in Downtown Los Angeles, 4 hrs: $10.00

Relief for 3 full female bladders: $2.75

The look on the bathroom attendant's face when you photograph the sign that tells you that you have to PAY TO PEE: priceless.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

30 and counting....on Daddy.

My dad came to Los Angeles to see us. He got on an airplane for the first time since 1989 when he went on a mission trip to Puerto Rico.

Six days before he was to get on the plane, a deer jumped out in front of him while he was travelling at 55mph down a county highway near where he lives in Virginia. It took off his right mirror, crumpled his fender and shattered his windshield. All on the first day of his vacation. Needless to say, my sister and I were afraid he'd cancel his trip. He persevered though, made his connection in St. Louis, and landed at LAX like a champ.

Sure, he was shocked and appalled at the size of this monster city we live in. He couldn't get over just how long it took to get, well, anywhere. Sure, he told me that I brake too late, and apparently always have since he'd taught me to drive when I was sixteen. He lamented the traffic and how he hated that his 'poor babies' had to drive so much. On Saturday morning, we even opted out of our planned trip to the beach just to stay out of the car for a little bit. Sure, he doled out more than his fair share of fatherly fretting and advice.

But that's small stuff. He installed a window fan for our too hot valley apartment. He took us to Sports Authority and got us both a new pair of tennis shoes, just like he did every fall when we were little. He hugged us constantly. He took mental (and digital) pictures of our home and the reservoir in Silver Lake where we go so often to run. He tried his 'damnedest' to soak up every bit of our life in California so that when he got home and talked to us on the phone, he'd know just what it all looked like.

It must be tough to see your girls so far from home, navigating a world that is unfamiliar and mostly out of reach.

I have a very vivid memory of the sound his keys made swinging from his belt as he approached the back door of our house on Mt. Vernon Street. When he was away in Puerto Rico on that one solitary trip he took the entire length of my childhood, I spent 14 days hallucinating that sound. I would hear his keys jingling by the back door. I'm sure, more than once in the two weeks of his absence, I ran to the door to save him the trouble of unlocking and welcome him in. At that age, I would have let myself be enveloped in the smell of his hug, metal and jewelry polish, the outside world. I would have let myself be happy he was home instead of worry that he was getting older by the minute and more and more like my grandfather every day.

We dropped him off at the airport this morning and watched him go through security, as worried daughters do. Now we wait for the call that he's arrived home safe and sound. And I sit here, in my cooler valley apartment, wishing for the jingle of keys and a way to make time slow down and money grow on trees.