A new round of high school seniors are sprouting all over high schools right about now including my best friend’s oldest daughter, whom I consider my first child as well. They will spend the last year at home relishing the grandeur of being top of the school food chain while surviving the bombardment of advice hurled out to them by their parents, who are still befuddled as to how it came to happen that they now have a kid about to graduate.
Of course, there is the matter of all the practical skills that need to be taught, steps necessary for a smoother transition flying solo in the real world, like balancing a checkbook or cleaning spark plugs. I realize I need to hit the books and learn the 2014 equivalent of such skills so I may successfully pass them along to my child, but, lucky for me, my oldest is entering the 10th grade so I still have a few more years to prepare.
The advice I do find imperative to offer now is this:
If you haven’t already started, learn to cook!
Oh, sorry, I’ll say it louder:
It’s what one does over there on that thing in that room you enter to grab a bag of chips or to whine to Mom about how hungry you are and when is dinner.
Don’t worry, I am test-driving this on my teenager as well.
She is very proud of her culinary tastes while bypassing the topic of her culinary skills, eagerly informing others that she despises fast food of any sort, has for years.
Some of her favorites foods are (in random order):
Sautéed foie gras
Terrine (of any kind)
Coq Au Vin
It’s easy for her to like them, I know. I’ve been serving her these dishes since she was a baby. So I remind her, she’s in for a shocker if she doesn’t learn to do this stuff, on her own, or at least, get off her computer and watch her mama make it. This stuff doesn’t come out of a box. I mean, it can, I assume, pretty much anything can nowadays. But that means it will be gross, loaded with preservatives, way too much salt, and ridiculously overpriced.
I can hear you teens out there now:
Why cook? I won’t have a kitchen in my dorm!
Eventually, you will have a kitchen. And it will scare the wajeebees out of you if you don’t know how to use it. Start bumping around in there now, with your training wheels on and perhaps a parent gently guiding you. Start small. Make pasta. Add butter. Grate cheese.
Parents, help out. This is the time you must tell your child to use fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano. Grasp your child firmly by the arms, look squarely into their eyes and announce: “You must never buy cheese in a green tube. Ever.”
They’ll thank you later.
And teens, did you know that if you boil up some farfalle pasta (Google it), add some broccoli florets, a wee bit of garlic, maybe some chopped up ham, a bit of salt and pepper and throw that all in a bowl with a drizzle of olive oil and a dab of butter you’ve got a meal that will feed an army and keep them happy? You want a happy army, trust me, you do.
And if you want to make them really happy, grate some lemon rind over that dish and mix it in. Wowza! They won’t know what hit them.
You can do it!
When I was in high school I found amongst my mother’s cookbooks one that would forever change my culinary life. It was an unpretentious book with whimsical illustrations and food combinations that dared my adolescent mind: carrot soup with orange juice? Chicken with raspberries? You’re on!
It was called The Silver Palate, by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins, a best seller that ushered in the wave of New American cooking in the 80’s, something I was completely oblivious to as a teenager growing up in Venezuela. I did the same thing Julie Powell did with Julia Child’s recipes in her book, Julie & Julia, which later became that Hollywood blockbuster, and I cooked my way through the entire book. I mean, I didn’t have a blog to record everything in (they didn’t exist in 1987) or the chance to meet Meryl Streep, so there are a few differences.
But I cooked!
How I cooked!
There were plenty of disasters along the way. I’ve chosen to forget most of them. You will forget yours too.
An enormous amount of successes are still revered. Remember the profiterole baked in that tiny toaster oven? Remember the endless rounds of strawberry mousse? Remember how decadent the decadent chocolate cake really was? All worthy of 3 Michelin stars!
Cooking delicious food is an easy way to dazzle potential boyfriends or girlfriends, by the way. Especially starving ones strung out on greasy pizza and Starbucks.
You don’t even have to visit the stovetop for a great meal.
Salads are good.
I learned this one from my Mom, who taught it to me one quiet Sunday afternoon my senior year when there was nowhere to go and nothing to do, just the two of us together. I was the baby of the family, the last to fly the coop, so on those days, there was a certain weight to the casualness of time for both of us, like if we were walking inside a frozen photograph frame. Mom whipped up the salad in minutes, while we talked about everything and nothing at all: the math test I had miraculously passed, the cover art chosen for the yearbook, the purple flowers that had finally bloomed in the front garden.
The salad was creamy and tart, fragrant and crunchy and instantly became a favorite of ours, a moment we shared regularly over the course of that year when we both knew that June was around the corner and inevitably our lives would be changed forever.
Mom gave me a copy of The Silver Palate as a going away present. It has the prized spot on my bookshelf today and I have to open it carefully nowadays, the binding is so shot, the pages so worn from so much use. I’ve mastered new American cooking and so much more over the years and I am constantly learning new techniques and dishes. But on those rare, quiet days when my teenage daughter miraculously has nowhere else to go, it’s my mother’s curry tuna salad that I like to prepare. I’ve already showed her how to do it too. We share it, just as I did so many years ago with my mother, casually, perhaps with a bowl of soup or a slice of freshly-baked bread and some heartfelt conversation: who liked whose photograph on Instagram, what are the latest dress styles for Homecoming, when would we go bathing suit shopping. Simple life moments bound together by food.
Once I named them I knew I was screwed. They were two slimy slate-colored lizards that seemed to have found Arnold Schwarzenegger’s leftover steroid powder and noshed on it until they had grown the size of tiny dinosaurs.
Iggy and Pop had claimed my garage as their home, and, mind you, for two prehistoric lizards the size of small rats, my garage, with its mountains of neglected clutter (mostly a gravesite for my husband’s unresolved pack rat issues) was the perfect spot.In there they left puddles of urine the size of Lake Eerie and plenty of the other stuff and generally made a heck of a lot of noise with the sole objective of announcing that this house was indeed theirs.It was as if I was unwillingly cast in a Steven Speilberg film.I was most definitely irked, but took the erroneous route of a lenient parent and allowed the ruckus to continue.And of course, like I mentioned, I had named them.
Then Iggy started getting sassy.He chose his favorite spot to be the corner of my garage fridge, a lifeline to me considering I’ve yet to purchase my dream fridge the size of a school bus.Consequently, I visit my garage fridge (Lucinda, for those who are wondering) quite frequently and now, each time I entered the garage, Lucinda had an unsolicited courter by her side.
It’s not like Iggy would scamper off in a lizard-appropriate panic each time I entered.(As a South Floridian, one grudgingly becomes an expert on proper lizard behavior.)No, Iggy would look up, roll his eyes (yes, roll his eyes, I now know lizards are capable of doing this) and look irked, bored, and interrupted at the same time.I knew right then and there that Iggy had to be a teenager.
You’d be correct to guess Iggy wouldn’t move.Not even flinch.In fact, quite the opposite, the one speeding along as to not impose was me.
Quick!I’d open Lucinda and grab the bar of butter for my Pineapple Upside cake.
Quick! I’d grab the buttermilk for my husband’s favorite Blueberry Flapjacks.
Quick!I’d grab the large tub of sour cream for the festively rich Ginger Kugel.
On and on it went with Iggy witnessing my hurried visits for culinary completion and not giving a crap.Or rather, leaving quite a lot of them on my floor.
Friends and family were subjected to my latest garage obsession.Some were compassionate (“ahhh, how cute… I love lizards!”) Obviously these were not South Floridians.Some were practical (“get a cat”), some were even more practical (“start out by cleaning that disgusting garage”) and then there was my husband Yeshua, who just matter-of-factly and with a terrible Italian accent asked “Ya wan me to get rid of dem? Ai take care of it for ya.”My husband’s “to-do” list is quite long and neglected but something about that cheesy accent coupled with the disconcerting Jack Nicholson The Shinning sparkle in his eye told me he would get serious pleasure out of this.I didn’t want our relationship to go down those murky moral waters.
Like I said, I had named them, and anything I name that is still alive is hard for me to destroy, even a set of adolescent and infuriating lizards.No, I had to do something else.There had to be some other way.I sought the help of the higher God, Google, (or as my son always says, “let’s see what The Google says”) and typed in the search box:“how to get rid of lizards in your garage.”It couldn’t hurt to ask the world.
The world produced many cat advocates and a lot of creepy talk about some white poison purchasable only in India, but there were also strange mumblings about eggshells as a deterrent and instantly I was intrigued.Eggshells, it appears, would send my teenagers elsewhere.Someone said it was one of the components of the shell that had a smell they didn’t like. Others offered the explanation of the shell appearing to be a bird’s egg, something they apparently don’t like (?)Experts abounded.One reader wrote: ‘Make a project out of it.Rinse your eggshells after using, allow to dry, and crack into many pieces.Then glue these on a piece of cardboard paper and color an image around the broken shells.Leave it in the garage and the lizards will disappear.’ This sounded way too stupid to be true, like the kind of email that promises you’ll win a free laptop if you kindly forward yours and a billion of your friends’ email addresses to them.Also, it was way too crafty for me (color a design…really?Who gives a shit?)But as the expression goes, desperate times call for [morally correct] desperate measures and I fit the bill.
Eggshells, and hence, eggs, were now on my mind.Constantly.Grand-slam style breakfasts began appearing on my family’s morning plates in determined efforts to build up my eggshell stock.I promoted the item shamelessly:fried, scrambled, poached, sandwiched, any which way, I was a ruthless egg slut and the shells started building up.Still, I needed something sweet to add to my eggshell conspiracy, something that would require lots and lots of eggs in one go.My cholesterol-laden heart skipped a beat in excitement as I thought of pound cake:the perfect egg whore cake!Lulu and I quickly went to work and were thrilled to add five more eggs to the tally.I was in heaven, my family was suspiciously happy and Iggy and Pop had no idea what would soon hit them.My friends just called me nuts.
In the end I had an entire cemetery of shells.I think I’ve mentioned earlier that I am no Martha Stewart so I did the next best thing and placed the shells, cardboard and glue in front of my 10 and 7-year old kids.I explained their new ‘fun’ activity and, even though they looked at me as if I was from Mars, you can’t put a bunch of eggshells and glue in front of a 10 and 7-year old, spin it with the old “go to town” phrase and not have them go wild, regardless of how wacky the whole thing sounds.
We ended up with eight eggshell collages.And even though my floor was strewn with globs of glue and many a stray shell, I was happy.Off I went to the garage with my hopes high, my conscience clean and my plan of attack.I placed all the cardboard pieces in strategic spots in the garage, leaving the largest collage snug against Lucinda.‘Take that Iggy’, I laughed to myself.
This is when the Internet miracle happened.My adolescent lizards disappeared.Instantly.Just like that.No temper tantrum, no fight, no missing car keys; just no lizards.I wanted to celebrate.I wanted to believe, but I couldn’t just yet.It was too odd to be true.Repressed OCD tendencies burst to my surface as I’d run into the garage sporadically and relentlessly.Once.No lizards.Twice.No lizards.Three times.Nope.My husband’s face turned warm and fuzzy when he saw me jump into the garage for the 107th time.
“You’re going to miss them,” he teased.
“No I’m not,” I barked back defensively.(But I had named them, dammit, I had named them.)
It seems once you let your guard down you realize the Internet is full of crap.Because after three days of no Iggy and Pop, just as I felt the guilt I carried over Lucinda’s loneliness grow heavier (how loudly she now hummed in search of her friend), I walked in to the garage for some milk and found Iggy hanging out with her, sitting right on top of the eggshell collage.Maybe I’ve watched too many Geico commercials but I could have sworn the damn thing winked at me.I laughed, let out a strangely relieved sigh, got my milk and hurried off to leave the two alone.
Una vez que los nombré sabía que estaba jodida. Eran dos lagartos que parecieron haber encontrado el polvo de esteroide sobrante de Arnold Schwarzenegger e ingerirlo hasta que cultivaran el tamaño de dinosaurios diminutos.
Iggy y la Pop habían reclamado mi garaje como su casa, y, para dos lagartos prehistóricos el tamaño de pequeñas ratas, mi garaje, con sus montañas del desorden descuidado (un cementerio de los cosas olvidadas de mi marido) era el sitio perfecto. Allí dejaban charcos de orina el tamaño del Lago Maracaibo y dejaban mucho de otra cosa mas y generalmente hacían un montón de ruido con el único objetivo anunciar que esta casa era en efecto la suya. Era como si vivía dentro de una película de Steven Speilberg sin ser invitada. Estaba definitivamente enojada, pero tomé la ruta errónea de un padre clemente y permití que el jaleo siguiera. Y por supuesto, como mencioné, ya los había llamado (Iggy y Pop).
Entonces Iggy comenzó a hacerse el descarado. Eligió su punto favorito la esquina de mi nevera del garaje donde guardon muchos productos necesarios. Visito mi nevera de garaje (quien se llama Lucinda, para aquellos que esten preguntando) con frecuencia y ahora, cada vez que entré en el garaje, Lucinda tenía un enamorado a su lado.
No es como Iggy corretearía lejos en un pánico apropiado de lagarto cada vez que entré. (Como residente de Florida, uno de sin querer queriendo se convierte en experto sobre el comportamiento del lagarto.) No, Iggy me lanzaba una mirada molestada, aburrida, e interrumpida a la misma vez. Desde ese momento supe Iggy tuvo que ser un adolescente.
Claro que Iggy no se movería. De hecho, todo lo contrario, la que salía corriendo para no moelestar era yo!
¡Rápido! Abriría a Lucinda y agarraría la barra de mantequilla para mi torta de piña patas pa’rriba.
¡Rápido! Agarraría el suero para los Panqueques de Blueberry favoritos de mi marido.
¡Rápido! Agarraría la tina grande de la crema agria para hacer el delicioso Ginger Kugel.
Mis amigos y familia fueron sujetados a mi última obsesión del garaje. Unos eran compasivos (“ahhh, que lindo… amo lagartos!”) Obviamente éstos no eran de la Florida. Unos eran prácticos (“consiguete un gato”), unos eran hasta más prácticos (“comienza por limpiar ese garaje asqueroso”) y claro, mi marido Yeshua, quién con un acento italiano terrible me prometio que se encargaría de Iggy y Pop, ofreciendo a la vez la misma sonrisa famosa de Jack Nicholson en la película The Shinning. No quise que nuestra relación bajara aquellas aguas morales oscuras.
Decidí chequear Google a ver lo que pensaba el mundo sobre el tema.
El mundo produjo muchos a favor del gato y mucha conversación escalofriante sobre un veneno blanco que se consígue sólo en la India, pero había también los musitamientos extraños sobre cáscaras de huevo y al instante estuve intrigada.
Aparentemente, las cáscaras de huevo enviarían a mis adolescentes a otra parte. Alguien explicó que era uno de los componentes de la cáscara que tenía un olor que no les gustaba. Otros ofrecieron la explicación de que la cáscara parece ser el huevo de una ave, algo que por lo visto no les gusta (?) Los expertos abundaron. Un lector escribió: ‘haga un proyecto de ello. Lave y seque sus cáscaras de huevo después de usar, y rajarse en muchos pedazos. Entonces pegue éstos en un pedazo de papel de cartón y pinte un imagen alrededor de las cáscaras rotas. Déjelo en el garaje y los lagartos desaparecerán.’
Este camino parecia demasiado estúpido para ser verdadero, como la clase de correo electrónico que promete que ganarás una computadora simplemente si por darles tu email y los de todos tus amigos! Claro, yo estaba bien desesperada.
Las cáscaras de huevo, y de ahí, los huevos, estaban ahora en mi mente. Constantemente. Los desayunos completos comenzaron a aparecer en los platos de mi familia en esfuerzos decididos aumentar mi reserva de cáscara de huevo. Promoví el artículo desvergonzadamente: fríto, revuelto, hervido, sanwich, lo que sea. De todos modos, necesitaba algo dulce para añadir a mi conspiración de cáscara de huevo, algo que requeriría muchos huevos en uno golpe. Mi corazón cargado por colesterol saltó un latido con entusiasmo cuando pensé en mi ponce que lleva cinco hueves completicos! Lulu y yo rápidamente fuimos a trabajar. Yo estaba contentísima, mi familia comía felizmente e Iggy y la Pop no sabían que los golpearía pronto. Mis amigos se preocuparon por mí.
Al final tenía mi cementerio de cáscaras. Coloqué las cáscaras, el cartón y el pegamento delante de mis hijos de diez y siete años. Expliqué su nueva actividad ‘de diversión’ y, aunque ellos me miraban como si fuera una loca, no puedes poner un manojo de cáscaras de huevo y pegamento delante de unos chicos de 10 y 7 años sin que hagan desastre.
Terminamos con ocho collages de cáscara de huevo. Y aunque la mitad de las cascaras terminaran en el suelo, yo era felíz. Fuí al garaje con mis esperanzas altas, mi conciencia limpia y mi plan del ataque. Coloqué todos los pedazos de cartón en puntos estratégicos en el garaje, dejando el collage más grande cómodamente contra Lucinda. ‘Toma esto Iggy’, pensé con aire de triumfo.
Esto es cuando el milagro del Internet pasó. Mis lagartos adolescentes desaparecieron. Al instante. Así no mas. . Quise creer, pero no podía aún. Era demasiado raro ser verdadero. Entraba corriendo en el garaje esporádicamente y despiadadamente buscandolos. Una vez. Ningunos lagartos. Dos veces. Ningunos lagartos. Tres veces. ¡No!. Mi marido me dijo con ternura al ver me entrar en el garaje para la 107 vez:
“Te van hacer falta.” .
“No, claro que no,” grité defensivamente. (Pero yo los había nombrado, coño, ya los había nombrado.)
Cuando dejé bajar mi guardia fue cuando realizé que el Internet esta lleno de mierda. Como después de tres días de ningún Iggy y Pop, cuando ya andaba con una culpa por imponerle la tremenda soledad a Lucinda (como buscaba su amigo) entre al garaje para un poco de leche y encontré Iggy con ella, sentando directamente encima del collage de cáscara de huevo. Unidos de nueve. Me reí, solté un suspiro extrañamente aliviado, conseguí mi leche y me alejé rápidamente para dejar los dos en paz.
El Ponque del Obispo
(adaptado del Libro de cocina de Silver Palate, por Julee Rosso y Sheila Lukins)
½ libra (dos barras) de mantequilla, ablandada
2 tazas de azúcar
2 tazas de harina
¼ cucharilla de sal
2 cucharones jugo de limón
1 cucharilla de extracto de vainilla
½ cucharilla de cascara de limon rayado (opcional)
nevazúcar para decorar
Precaliente el horno a 350 grados. Grasa y harina una cazuela de tubo de 10 pulgadas.
Bate la mantequilla y azúcar en alta velocidad durante cinco minutos.
En un tazón separado, mezcla la harina y la sal.
En la velocidad baja, añada la mezcla de harina a la mantequilla y azúcar y mezcla hasta sólo combinarlo.
Añada el jugo de limon, la vainilla y la cascara de limon rayado y mezcla bien.