Frying Food

“Oh, So That’s How Literally Every Fire Ever Started”

Look. I’m no Jacques Pépin.

But, I do find myself playing around in the kitchen at least several times a week. I’ve found that the repetitive and rote work that comes with dicing an onion or peeling a carrot is incredibly relaxing after a long day of work.

Working in a creative field, I’m often presented with a blank slate, and am challenged to fill it up with narrative. There’s something about following a recipe, step by step, that is so meditative to me.

Not to say cooking isn’t a creative endeavor, because I believe it is. It’s just a different muscle. Knowing when to add a dash of spice or a zing of garlic (who we kidding, always add more garlic) to make a dish personally appealing to you is something that takes years of cooking.

I probably have between 12 to 20 dishes that I can confidently create without consulting a recipe. Whenever I try out a new dish though, I’m one of those people who follows the instructions, down to the exact timing and measurements of spices. It usually takes me two or three run throughs before I can start iterating and making the dish my own.

Walking Kate home from work on Tuesday, she inexplicably tripped and rolled her ankle. After getting home, I insisted that she lay up on the couch, while I make her dinner.

We had some chicken breasts thawing, so I consulted the New York Times cooking section online (highly recommend, the UI is gorgeous), and settled on an easy Lemon Chicken recipe.

The recipe called for breading the chicken and then frying it in a large amount of oil. Growing up in California, my experience with frying food at home was limited to almost zero. The few times I attempted it while we were subscribed to Blue Apron resulted in spatters of oil everywhere, and tiny burns that we wore to work the next day.

Which is why Kate looked up from the couch and saw me frantically turning on the ventilator, opening the windows, and turning on a fan as our house became instantly smoky when the breaded chicken landed in the hot cast iron skillet.

“What’s going on over there?”

“Nothing, don’t worry about it. Just following the recipe”

A discussion ensued, and it was decided that my clean California upbringing left me woefully unprepared in the frying department.

From now on, Kate will be in charge of all hot oil related matters. I’ll stick to peeling carrots.

Frying Food – 1 out of 5 Stars

Enchiladas

“Just Order The Tacos”

Growing up in Los Angeles, and then going to school in San Antonio, it’s safe to say that Mexican food has been a major part of my life for almost three decades.

Combinations of tortillas, meat, cheese, and beans are almost a weekly dietary staple in our home. When we’re being health conscious, we’ll skip the tortillas and beans, but there are few things more comforting to me then pork or chicken simmered in salsa.

I’m not a professional chef, so please take this with a grain of salt, but nearly all mainstream Mexican food is just various combinations of tortillas, cheese, protein, and vegetables. Burritos are really just food presents with a tortilla as the wrapping paper, while enchiladas create a tunnel of deliciousness, and tacos build a roofless home to tasty bites.

Whenever I visit a “sit down” Mexican restaurant that isn’t some sort of fancy take on authentic Mexican food, I suffer a crisis of food choice. Also to be clear, I’m talking about family Mexican restaurants. The kind that have parrots and guitars hanging on the walls, and with margarita specials. You know the type.

I’m a taco truck type of person. To me, the best tacos come from a place that takes cash only, and someone might try to sell you a pitbull puppy while you’re waiting in line (this actually happened to me). Tacos are sold at a price point of $1-3 and are served in hot corn tortillas, and it’s up to you decide the range of garnishes you want.

At a restaurant where the plates are $15 and come with a side of rice, beans, sour cream, and pico de gallo, I panic. Because really all I want are street tacos, but now I’m in a place that offers more options. Is today the day I eat menudo for dinner?

Which brings me to enchiladas.

I always think I should order the enchiladas. They contain all the things I like in theory. They’re really just tacos that fell asleep and stretched out.

But the second I bring a knife and fork into the equation, the Mexican food magic is lost to me. I feel compelled to eat the rice and beans, when in fact all I want to do is eat the main course and throw the rest away. But that’s wasteful, so instead, I gorge myself, regretting my enchilada choice with every bite.

Skip the rice and beans, avoid the enchilada tunnel. Order yourself a platter of roofless homes, and decorate them how you want. As long as the salsa is Verde, you’ve made the right decision.

Enchiladas – 1 out of 5 Stars  

Eating at Benihana

“A Meal That Sears Into Your Memory”

During a pumpkin carving party last week (more on that later), somehow I let it slip that I had never been to a Benihana restaurant. Martini in hand, somehow plans were immediately made for a trip to the acclaimed Japanese eatery this week.

Which is how I found myself seated around a square grill, waiting not for dinner, but for a dining experience.

I’ve been to Korean BBQ and intimate Japanese BBQ restaurants, but never to a Benihana-style place. I felt confident that I knew what I was in for. Onion volcanoes, shrimp tossed into mouths, and much much more. Also, as a side note, if you are looking for a great read, this article details the sordid life of the CEO of Benihana, Rocky Aoki. The title says it all “Cocaine, boats, and backgammon: The insane life of Rocky Aoki, Benihana’s founder.

Our motley group of six diners consisted of three couples, and we decided to make it middle school dance style, with all the girls in the middle of the table, and the trio of guys in the corner. After getting our drink orders and salads, our grillmaster came out.

On one hand, we got a show, but on the other, it wasn’t the one we wanted?

A diminutive Japanese man, he immediately struck a combative and…weird tone. One of our eaters was allergic to eggs, and the chef made fun of him in the first 30 seconds, using effeminate gestures to show that allergies weren’t manly.

What followed was a slew of one-note cooking tricks – all umbrellaed under the chef’s main gimmick.

And the gimmick was that he was fucking the food.* 

He would cut the chicken and yell “oooo” and “more baby!”

He would take the rice and throw it on the grill, and then spank it with his spatula, locking eyes with each of the guys as he did it, all while cooing.

The first main trick was turning a pile of fried rice into a heart, and using his spatula, he made it beat. But then he made it pulse faster and faster, muttering “harder harder harder.”

Luckily, the women were mostly oblivious to the shenanigans, but our trio of guys were all bewildered.

The famous onion volcano occurred, and that was maybe the most exciting moment of the show.

There were no opportunities to throw food in our mouths because he simply didn’t give one (which given his demeanor, you would think that would be easy fodder for him).

He did drop my bowl of rice though, scrape it back in with his fingers, and try again. Oh, and he also threw shrimp into one of our drinks, and missed plates completely.

I definitely got a meal I won’t be forgetting anytime soon. But If I do ever go back to Benihana, I hope to have a dish that isn’t served with a side of sexual buffoonery.

Benihana – 1 out of 5 Stars

*Sorry for the language, but he wasn’t just having sex with the food. Definitely fucking it.

Death

“A Cold Emotion”

I’ve been told I bottle up emotions and don’t deal with them as they occur. I don’t disagree, but I also think the world would be a wild place if everyone acted on every emotional impulse that took them, that second.

Death results in an instant ice over of feelings. Death, to me, is a cold and frozen emotion. Unlike it’s elder and much more malevolent siblings: grief, anger, and regret, Death exists in a vacuum.

Once again, I find myself examining my emotions from an outsider’s perspective.

Sorrow and guilt roil in the depths of a lake of emotion, but on the surface, everything is calm and tranquil. It’s a binary experience. 0’s and 1’s – there’s no room for emotion in math.

Death – 1 out of 5 Stars 

Writing Slump

“Like a Pitching Slump, but With Fewer Balls”

I haven’t been able to write the J.R.S. for about, oh I dunno, six weeks? For those of you who noticed and mentioned it to me, thank you. I appreciate your words.

Basically, it all comes down to pressure.

Almost everything in my life is driven by an internal pressure in my head. Pressure to do well in my career. Pressure to write the most wonderful words. Pressure to be the best person I can be.

To be honest, the JRS was originally created as a personal pressure release valve. It was a place to write just for me, without any pressure on performance or writing quality.

Then I had to go and share with friends and family, and I immediately developed a new pressure point in my life. I have to deliver a finished product to people I love Thursday morning, come hell or high water.

This is not a dig at you, dear reader. In fact, knowing that I have readers keeps me honest, keeps me accountable. Except when we were traveling in Amsterdam I got distracted.

I’ve done this time and time again in my writing. I’ll start something and go full steam 68% of the way, and then somewhere I’ll spring a leak and the momentum will bleed off without me noticing.

So I missed a week of writing. Then a second week. The first week was excusable – I was in Amsterdam for work. The second one, less so, but hey, I was jetlagged!

The third Thursday I woke up with a dread and guilt. I wasn’t uninspired, in fact, I’ve known what my reviews from Amsterdam were going to be all three weeks. It was the pressure (and guilt) that was trapping me. Not only was I letting the readers down, but now I was another six reviews behind.

Fast forward to today, and the last time I graced your inboxes was August 23rd. That’s 6 weeks ago. I’m now 18 reviews behind.

My goal when I started this was to write one newsletter a week, for a year straight. I’ve missed a week or two here or there, but nothing like this.

Looks like I have some reviews to write.

And some pressure to release.

Writing Slump – 1 out of 5 Stars

Rapid Fire Reviews

“Because Snackable Content Sticks”

To stop living in a festering pool of guilt and internal tension, I’m going to reset the clock. Here are 18 rapid fire reviews.

Travel Edition Part 3: Amsterdam

Trains to Work – The only time the world can hit “snooze” on your perfectly timed morning is with a late train. Still, it beats driving.  – 3 out of 5 Stars

Zoos – Whenever I have a moment while traveling, I’ll visit a zoo in a weird place. Animal rights tabled for the moment, the zoo in Amsterdam is my favorite cuddly jail, it had wide awake animals all over the place. Talk about instant gratification! – 4 out of 5 Stars

Envy – A fancy restaurant Kate and I went to in Amsterdam. We sat at the Chef’s Table and had an 11-course meal, four of which were mostly foam based. Do I want to eat most food in foam form? No. Was it cool though? I dunno, is eating bubbles cool? Absolutely. – 4 out of 5 Stars

Misc

Our Current Political Climate – 0 out of 5 Stars

Jicama Sticks – They lack the crunch of carrots, and yet have the weird texture of watermelon. – 2 out of 5 Stars

Bohnanaza – A card game where you’re a bean farmer and have to trade with other farmers to reap the best bean harvests. You know it’s a good game when you’re standing up and shouting across the table “HOW MANY STINK BEANS DO YOU WANT FOR ONE CHILI BEAN GODDAMMIT” – 4 out of 5 stars

Twitter – I’ve gotten back into the word whirlwind that is Twitter. Avoid all Kanye tweets. – 2 out of 5 Stars

Chia Pods – We were mistakenly given a bagful of these in our last Instacart order. They’re like if you mixed bad pudding with the gelatin portion of pomegranate seeds. – 1 out of 5 Stars 

The Good Place – What a brilliant show, and what trust in the writing staff. – 4 out of 5 Stars

Cheers – Speaking of Ted Danson, this show is uncomfortably misogynist. However, that seems like a great bar to hang at. – 2 out of 5 Stars

A Career in the Postal Service – I’ve often dreamed about is being a mailman in a nice walkable neighborhood. You get to exercise every day, you could listen to podcasts at work (learn French!) and most of the time you’re delivering something important to people’s lives. – 3 out of 5 Stars

Jazz Flute – When Kate and I were in Spain, the only music we had at the house were a stack of CD’s her family had left. Most of them were classical, except one was an album that had crazy good jazz flute renditions of Brazillian music. An Absolute Banger. – 4 out of 5 Stars

Silent Discos on the Beach – If time permits, I try to run after work before the sun goes down on the beach. Recently I’ve been coming across a group of Burner types who all wear headphones and gyrate wildly in silence on the beach as the sun goes down. Whatever works I guess. – 3 out of 5 Stars

Cauliflower Mashed Potatoes – A recipe taken from Chrissy Teigen’s Cravings, put this in your weekly rotation now. It’s the deliciousness of mashed potatoes, sans the Irish guilt. – 5 out of 5 Stars 

Bad Blood – I just finished this book about Theranos, the Silicon Valley startup that tricked investors out of a billion dollars, and then immediately made Kate read it. I’m usually not one for nonfiction, but this is a fascinating and fast read. – 4 out of 5 Stars

Wearing My Suit to a Wedding – Got to finally break that bad boy out for a trip to DC a few weeks back. While people weren’t throwing money or their bras at me, I did feel like a million bucks (at a 40% discount, thanks Atta!) – 4 out of 5 Stars

Pumpkins for Decoration – It’s October again, which means I start stressing about my Halloween costume, and Kate goes overboard on decorating. Our house now contains a pumpkin that we will never eat. It will just slowly rot until I throw it in the garbage. – 1 out of 5 Stars

Crossing Things off a List – Every Monday morning I sit down and make a list of thing I need to get done for the week. Some of them are ongoing projects, but some of them are gimmes. I literally write “make a list” and then when I’m done, cross it off. I encourage endorphin manipulation at all opportunities. – 3 out of 5 Stars 

Blisters

“The Worst Type of Bubbles”

For the first time in my life, I went to Comic-Con. I was down there for a work event and ended up spending almost seven days in San Diego. Unlike my last journey down south, this excursion wasn’t full of quaint towns and delightful bloody marys.

No, this was all about the job. I won’t get into the details, but I worked with a dedicated and passionate team to put on something that had never been done before at such scale, and I’m incredibly proud of the output.

My feet strongly disagree.

The life of a professional writer is rarely physically strenuous. Mentally taxing at times? Yes. It’s tough to stare at a blank document and then figure out what to fill it up with. But writing takes a low physical toll on my body – my fingers are most impacted as I have an annoying tendency to snap my fingers when I’m searching for the correct word.

For six days straight, I was up and on my feet. Pacing, running, walking, I was never sitting down. Part of my role was to lead a team of nearly 100 people, and I channeled my former lives as a teacher and camp counselor by making sure they never saw me sitting. If I was asking them to stand, then I had to be the Superman of standing.

After one day, my feet began to pulse with fiery pain. By day two, blisters began to form, and on day four every night was a terrible ritual of slowly peeling off my shoes in gentle motions.

In the few hours of downtime I had, I dragged a coworker to buy new socks, thinking that would remedy the problem (it didn’t). Resigned to my fate, I woke up each morning, put on my shoes with a grimace, and trudged out into the hotel lobby.

All in all, my feet and heels are healing, so I don’t regret a single moment. This experience has made me respect shoes that nurses and waitresses wear – suddenly rounded Keds and Sketchers don’t look so dumb after all.

Blisters – 1 out of 5 Stars