I’ve changed costumes more than RuPaul. By the time my hormones arrived in a bottle and the last train to Clarksville long left the station, I’ve written more game plans than Vince Lombardi. Just when I thought I had all the answers, they flipped the questions. Such is life, right?
When the reinvention crisis hits and I feel like I’m heading straight to hell in a handbasket, I head for the kitchen.
Don’t feel sorry for yourself. Feel tomatoes. Squeeze oranges. Sniff cilantro. Over a pot of mirepoix, you’ll find your future.
1968: which college? I baked a 12-inch lemon meringue pie with eight eggs, meyer lemons, and a touch of Galliano before I landed at UCLA. Based on the way the Bruins have been playing football, maybe I should have tossed the lemons and stuck with angel food cake.
1975: seduce a charmer? Marinated six kinds of vegetables in a sherry vinaigrette with fresh garlic, rosemary, lemon and lots of crushed black pepper. Wedding scheduled.
1983: endure the charmer? Enchiladas suizas, heavy on the chilis and tequila. Survived another day.
1989: divorce the not-so-charming-charmer ? I went for potage a l’artichaut, artichoke soup made with crème fraiche, a rich chicken stock, fresh thyme from my garden and a hearty spritz of dry sherry. Sherry all around. Called the attorney.
1994: post-charmer career strategy? I flipped a light frittata with leftover roasted potatoes, fresh asparagus, and maui onions, graced with Jarlsberg Swiss and Italian parsley. Full of hot air and soon on-the-air. Read on.
Sure, there are a few lucky trolls who experience smooth sailing throughout their lives and hang their flip flops over the same cubicle every day. Not this old broad. As I was making that 1994 frittata, I toiled over how I would find “my bliss.”
Life was getting more complicated by the quart. Listening to my favorite radio personality, I decided to fax some marginal material to him. Within days, I was on-the-air, writing political satire with the knowledge that the only thing I really knew how to do was make a great lemon soufflé.
God help me. Rattling ideas in my brain, I was only 10 hours from the 4am wake-up call to show-up for my second broadcast, new material required. How could I throw some clean thoughts on a dirty wall? I headed to the kitchen in search of onions and an epiphany. Chili. Here’s how I worked through my ideas:
5-6 pounds beef brisket, trimmed of all fat, cut in small bite-size cubes
1/4 cup olive oil
2-3 chopped yellow onions
2 stalks celery, diced
6 large garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons chili powder, (I like Spice Islands)
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes, crushed
1 ½ tsp cayenne pepper, or to taste
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 green peppers, seeded and diced
3 bay leaves
2 large cans (28oz) san marzano tomatoes: use 1 can AND the liquid, the other can, just use the tomatoes – save the liquid for later, if needed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup strong coffee
2, (15-ounce) cans kidney beans, drained
6 tablespoons chopped basil leaves
Sour cream, Grated Cheddar, Diced tomato, Diced cilantro, Tortilla chips, crushed, Diced avocado
Directions: I removed all the fat from the brisket and patted the brisket cubes dry. I heated the oil in a very large heavy-bottomed pot and browned the meat, in batches, on all sides. Not bitches. Batches.
I moved the brisket to a separate plate and moved on to the mirepox. I knew inspiration was just around the corner.
I sautéed the onion, celery, and garlic in the pan drippings over medium heat until limp, but not brown, about 8 to 10 minutes. I dumped in the chili powder, pepper flakes, cayenne pepper and cumin and sautéed for 1 minute. Inhale. Waiting for inspiration.
I added the green peppers, bay leaf, tomatoes with their juice, the tomatoes without their juice, the reserved meat, 1 tablespoon of salt and 1 teaspoon pepper and brought that sucker to a boil. I reduced the heat, covered the pot with a tight fitting lid and simmered for 2 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. Heavenly aromas. Exhale. You’re turning blue. Breathe.
Then, I tasted and seasoned with salt, to taste. I added the coffee and the kidney beans, covered the pot and simmered for 1 more hour. More introspection.
Let pot sit for one more hour. Chili needs to rest. And so does the chef.
By now, you must have received some serious ideas about heading down another road. If not, shirr the basil. Pour a nice scoop of chili in a lovely, lovely bowl. Loveliness helps inspiration. Trust me. Add the basil and serve with sour cream, grated Cheddar, diced tomato, cilantro, crushed tortilla chips and diced avocados.
Pour yourself an ice cold beer, take a scoop of chili and have faith that an epiphany is just around the corner.
I delivered the goods. New material. New life. And ended up with dinner for three weeks. Not bad for an old broad.