|Pygmy Watermelon w/Chinese Cleaver|
Saturday I manned up to a pygmy watermelon. Recently I'd purchased this fruit, thinking it was a Tuscan melon. I had in mind to prepare melon with prosciutto and fresh mint, per Chef Maili's recipe. (Mint is the elevating touch). However, I discovered later it was not a Tuscan melon (even though, hello, it had green stripes like the recipe said!) So I rolled it into the fridge and ignored it, thinking it would go away. But every time I opened the fridge, it squatted there all striped and pert, beseeching me. So Saturday I took pity, plunked it on the cutting board, pulled out the Chinese cleaver a man had given me one birthday long ago, and cut it in half. Wait one stamp-lickin' second. Where were the black seeds I remembered from watermelons of yore? Did pygmy watermelons not have them? Had the traditional black seeds been bred out? If so, why? By the way, in case you want to give someone a big old knife on their birthday, you should know that the Chinese consider this not only bad form, but bad luck. Whether that man long ago knew this, hmm, we can only speculate -- as we chop.
Instead of eating the pygmy watermelon -- which I dreaded since I've never liked melon, least of all watermelon -- I sliced and arranged it on the cutting board. Stop playing with your food and just eat it already, said the voice in my head. Plus I felt it was my duty to give all foods their chance now I was on this cooking odyssey. Perhaps in my new expansive cook-mode I would taste something I'd missed before. So I ate the thinnest sliver (see proof in pic above) -- and what do you know, it wasn't bad. Biting into the fruit yielded a refreshing, watery burst of almost flavor.
|Pygmy watermelon goes mod!|
|About to interrupt Angel|
|Angel at my table|
"Houses, they move. They don't stay straight," he said.
|Dutch tumble house|
|Eli Zabar outside his E.A.T. cafe, circa 1982|
"You idiot!" screamed Eli, his pale blue eyes flaring. "You go to Yale? You've got to be fucking kidding me! Get it right! Customers are coming in half an hour!"
|Klaus Kinski, "Fitzcarraldo"|
|Elizabeth Ray, former mistress, aspiring actress/comedienne (didn't pan out)|
"Take the van. Get the tart to Elizabeth Ray in perfect condition -- and be back in half an hour. Go!"
"Your tart," I said.
"You're late," she said. "Give it to me." Then Elizabeth Ray opened the box. She squinted, her brow knit into an ugly line.
"This is the wrong size!" she screamed. "You stupid girl! This is a small linzer torte! I ordered a large one! I'll have your head!"
"Let me fix it," I said, every organ pulsing and pounding. "Please. Let me..."
"Wait 'til Eli hears about this," she said, and slammed the door. Bolts, latches and chains slid ominously into place. For a few minutes, I sat on the floor holding the pastry box in my lap with sweat-stained fingertips, unsure what to do.
When I returned to the cafe, shaken and terrified I'd be yelled at, lose my job -- Eli laughed. You never knew what would piss him off and what would amuse him. Although he himself was extravagantly rich for the times, with his own private plane, houses everywhere, a habit of jetting off to France for things like weekend cheese-buying trips, still, he did not consider himself part of the wealthy class. And oftentimes he would delight at their distress and indignation.
When I found out E.A.T. stood for Eli and Abbie (his wife) Together, I almost choked on my chicken curry. Imagining Eli married stupefied the brain. Imagining him romantic resulted in complete neural short-circuiting.
|John Belushi, "Samurai Sushi Chef"|
Back to Saturday, and that buttermilk that was about to ruin. Time for another batch of buttermilk and blueberry pancakes!
When I poured out the buttermilk, I realized I only had 1 1/2 cups. Uh oh! The recipe called for 2 1/2. I had to think fast. It was already nearing 1pm. I was meeting a friend to see "Eat, Pray, Love" at 4pm. I hadn't eaten except for a few slivers of pygmy watermelon. I had to finagle the recipe to make it work -- and trust. Even though baking is closer to an exact science than stovetop cooking. You had to measure and calibrate or things could easily go flooey. Time to let go of perfection. Time to improvise.
|Julia Child with big ol' fish|
"First, you've got to cut it up with your big knife," she said in her odd, melodious voice while drinking a glass of wine.
Then she slashed -- and the fish head flipped into the air and fell onto the floor. Without hesitation, Julia swooped down, picked up the slippery fish head, and put it right back on the cutting board.
Here is one of her most famous quotes:
"The only stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking, you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude."
If I can cook, anyone can.