For Kafka

Kafka

He was no bigger than her hand and just four weeks old, too young to be properly weaned. She chose him for his rambunctiousness – and for his pink nose that was entirely too big for his face and made her smile. She swaddled him in an old towel, flipped him unwillingly on his back and coaxed the bottle between his tiny, razor-sharp kitten teeth. “How could anyone be so heartless as to drown a litter of helpless kittens,” she thought as her new companion settled into slurping the milky formula. She had wanted a kitten for months, but her boyfriend had convinced her to wait until he moved in. Well, that wasn’t going to happen now, but at least she had the kitten – more dependable than any long-distance romance. They would save each other.

R.I.P
Kafka
March 4, 2001 – December 8, 2014

W.W.W.D?

What would Walter Do?

 This weekend, I gorged myself on Breaking Bad, the final season. I can’t help but want to kick some ass and take some names after eight hours of that show. No, I don’t want to kill 10 people in 2 minutes, but…my niceness and desire to be liked does no one any good, lest of all, me. Fuck you, I want my share!

 For example, for the last six months, I’ve been dealing with the smell of human urine coming from my neighbor’s backyard. Yes, human urine. My neighbor’s drug-addict, highly volatile son and wife have been sleeping in the garage for the past few years. If his son needs to relieve himself, he uses his backyard as his urinal. I’ve actually heard him when my bedroom window is open. It’s disgusting, but I’ve been afraid of his son, who has robbed various neighbors’ homes and has taken a swing at more than person, so I’ve kept my mouth shut. This weekend, I called my neighbor out – asking him why his backyard smells like human urine. If it doesn’t get cleaned up in the next few weeks, I’m filing a complaint.

 And, speaking of neighbors, I also wrote a letter to Animal control regarding another neighbor who’s incessantly barking dogs have ruined gardening in my backyard, my quiet evenings reading and my attempts to fall asleep. I’m sick of it.

 And, I’m pissed off at my cleaning company, who do a half-ass job AND took about five pounds of nectarines from my tree without even asking – I wanted to make jam. I’m firing their asses.

 While not even close to Walter White status, It’s a start, anyway. It’s a start.

Fresh Strawberry Frozen Yogurt

Fresh Strawberry Frozen Yogurt

I haven’t made fruit gelato for over a year. My last recipe was Apple Pie gelato while I was at Gelato School.  My experiments frequently result in a dessert lacking sufficient fruit flavor – or – frozen bits of fruit suspended in a bland base. Yes, I know about premade purees available to amp flavor, but I wanted to find a way to accomplish it without unscrewing a jar – using fresh fruit and not much else. I discovered the answer while reading the May/June edition of “Cook’s Illustrated.” Sarah Mullins’ article addressed a lackluster strawberry mouse, but it struck me that her method could work for frozen dessert challenges as well.

Her answer lies in a fruit juice reduction. Following her instructions, I pulsed the strawberries a few times in a food processor, giving them an ample surface area, and mixed them with a liberal amount of sugar and a bit of salt. I let them macerate for 45 minutes at room temperature, stirring occasionally. After maceration, I drained the juice and pureed the drained berries, straining the pulp to remove the seeds. Her stroke of genius was reducing the remaining juice to just a few tablespoons of concentrated flavor. The strawberry puree plus the juice reduction resulted in colorful dessert with a fresh tang without being icy.

Strawberry Frozen Yogurt
Adapted from David Lebovitz’s ‘The Perfect Scoop’ and “Cook’s Illustrated” Fresh Strawberry Mousse

1 lb.        fresh strawberries (insipid store-bought berries are fine)
3/4 c.     sugar
Pinch     salt
1 c.         plain whole-milk yogurt
1 t.          lemon juice

Coarsely chop strawberries in a food processor. Add ½ c. sugar and salt. Macerate for 45 minutes. Meanwhile, mix remaining ¼ c. sugar and yogurt. Add lemon juice. Drain juice from strawberries. Puree strawberries in food processor and strain pulp to remove seeds. Add to yogurt. Reduce strawberry juice to a few tablespoons. Cool and add to yogurt. Let rest in refrigerator for at least an hour, but overnight is preferred. Process in your ice cream maker, following manufacturer’s directions.

Culinary Sand Mandala

“…and then they released it into the ocean.”

 A man I once aspired to date – I often seem to be trying unsuccessfully to date someone unavailable– was describing the Buddhist sand mandala painters he had watched the previous two afternoons. These monks painstakingly labor over their sand painting for days, only to destroy their art in the end – a symbol of life’s impermanence.

 “I’d be heartbroken to devote all that time creating artwork only to see it demolished,” I declared.

 “Isn’t that what happens with your cooking?” he wryly replied.

 We never did go out. I can’t even recall his name. Our exchange, though, has remained with me. Cooking IS my art and it took a nameless man to show me that. My kitchen is my studio where I practice and play. At its denouement, my art is devoured, demolished. My passion lies in the crafting, my delight in the sharing.

The incidents and experiences at my stove echo my life of savored successes and grieved failures. My kitchen is bomb shelter and Band-Aid, my respite when I’m overwhelmed and my surefire reason for procrastination. My artwork bribes my coworkers and seduces my lovers. It’s my voice, my meditation, my pleasure and often my vexation.

 A graduate of culinary school and (most recently) gelato school, I call myself neither Chef nor expert, but a mere dabbler in all things gastronomic.

Boomerang!

So far this week, I have been dealing with a number of “boomerang tasks” (a name I stole from The Happiness Project). These are tasks that you think you’ve removed from your plate, only to find them come back again…and even again.  I’ve never noticed these tasks as such before, until they were brought to my attention.

For example, I just moved into a new office.  Task: We requested additional keys so that my assistant would have a set.  A few days later, I received them (even though my assistant requested them, they ended up on my desk to deal with).  The set I was given from were for the storage room, not my office.  Boomerang Task:  We had to re-request keys to my office.  The keys I was given the second time appear to be the correct keys, however they don’t fit in the keyhole.  Boomerang Task:  We need to go back to Facilities to see why the key isn’t working.  So, to recap, I’ve had to deal with this key situation three times and it still isn’t resolved.  What a waste of (my) time if this is happening on even 25% of my tasks.

I have another example.  I asked our Marketing Department to send me art concepts in a pdf format.  I have the printouts, but I want the share the pdf’s with my clients.  The concepts I received were from two versions ago.  Boomerang Task:  I had to send an email requesting the correct version.  It’s afternoon and I still haven’t received the correct ones.

One last example – I’ve been interviewing contractors for a bathroom remodel.  This process began in June (I’ve actually been thinking about it for years) and 4 contractors came to my house, took measurements, listened to my vision and provided me with bids.  I chose a contractor; he came out again to refine the bid and was supposed to get back to me.  I sent him the list of fixtures to buy and the vanity I want, I gave him my tile samples to take with him and I ‘broke up’ with the other three contractors.  Well, needless to say, I haven’t heard from the guy in three weeks and he was supposed to begin demo Thanksgiving week.  I’ve called; I’ve emailed and nothing.  Boomerang!  I have to start all over with bids, obtaining samples, and checking licenses.  Boomerang back to square one.

I realize this seems petty – “just deal with it,” you are probably thinking.  But, it just seems such a waste of time.  How many times have I had to go back to the store because a part was missing from the box or something was out of stock?  How many flurries of phone tag and email tag could be avoided?  Why can’t these little projects be simple – one and done!