Apparently I’m so wordy, Tolstoy wants to be my boyfriend.
Okay, admit it. I made you laugh.
So while I’m waiting for Tolstoy to call me long distance from the grave, I am watching Julie & Julia for the countless time.
It’s the holidays and I am cooking in eight very short hours. I figured the film would help me refocus on the chopping, cutting and general sous-cheffery I will be doing.
It also occurred to me that I am on a new tack in my writing, namely cooking, so I figure I will have my phone next to me to take snappies of all the good things I’ll be making, then pass the recipes on to you. (Just in case something I make appeals to you.)
Anyhow, I think I may ask Santa for a copy of Rosetta Stone in Russian, that way if Tolstoy calls I’ll be ready. Because yeah, I’m wordy.
One of my best friends has asked me to write anecdotal recipes, so here ya go, the tale of a girl and her combined love of tools and cooking.
In my time on the planet, I’ve been exposed to all sorts of people. From growing up on construction sites helping my father do plan (blueprint) take-offs for window bids to the man who taught me how to SCUBA dive 25 years ago and loves to woodwork or restore vintage American Muscle (cars and motorcycles) while he’s not adding to the abundance of salt that clings effortlessly to his persona, I’ve met some truly groovy folks I don’t ever want to forget.
I have to admit, for a girl whose tech savvy is almost second to none, I have always gravitated to getting dirty because, let’s face it, it’s a novelty for me. Technology, for the most part, is a sterile environment. Being a mouse jockey means that I can create all kinds of things without getting the slightest bit dirty, not even a speck of dust under my fingernails.
Speaking of fingernails, one of the biggest influences in my life (who taught me more about the joys of getting dirty while exercising creative skills) was a man, who on top of being a motor-head with what seemed like a permanent automotive grease manicure, selflessly shared with me all he knew about tools, shop maintenance and work space organization. The best part? After a hard day of creating beautiful, useful things in his shop, oh, that man could COOK!
Back in the day, I grew up in a world of spoiled men. Women dominated the kitchen environment in a way that is seldom seen today. Back then, if you told a woman that a man could not only cook, but that he LOVED to cook, you know what happened? You got a woman passed out cold on the floor – or – with a look of shock on their face like they just saw a ghost. Guys can cook, I’m not saying they can’t, but old school chicks like me rub their eyes and do double takes when we find them. In my 20’s, if you got one that loved to cook and could clean on top of all that, you could have called Guinness because it was a friggin’ miracle. Now, not so much. Boys are coming into their own in the kitchen and I love it.
But in 43 years on this planet, I’ve only met two men who effortlessly stood shoulder-to-shoulder with me in the kitchen having a blast collaborating with me to create a great meal. One taught me how to change my spark plugs, SCUBA dive and make Baked Ziti, the other taught me how to organize a shop, maintenance tools, woodwork with a vintage planer, fix an engine block then promptly went into the kitchen and did knife work so beautiful and elegant that it would make you swoon on the spot; all the while growing his own heirloom tomatoes so huge and delicious you could make a meal out of just one.
I count myself very lucky that I have encountered individuals that are so diametrically opposed to my own nature but are kind enough to share their knowledge with me. Where I was once a “geek-in-distress”, I am now a “geek with two of her own toolboxes.” One for the shop and one for the kitchen.
But! My friends have given me the ultimate gift. They turned me into a damsel-in-a-dress that doesn’t fear tools. I don’t fear getting dirty and I definitely don’t fear rolling up my sleeves and putting hammer to object to get the job done on my own, whether it’s in the shop or in the kitchen.
I’m just thrilled because my motor head buddies helped me with one thing they never realized they were: Teaching me how to be safe in spite of my clumsy nature. As we’ve seen time and time again over the last five years, I’m not perfect by a long-shot because if I can step on it, step in it, trip over it or burn myself with it, I usually do. I’m so human it hurts (usually pretty bad). Trust me, I can attest to the fact that sometimes stupid hurts so bad it leaves permanent scarring.
Now since being safe is one of my highest priorities, one of the most important things one of my friends taught me about tools was:
The first criteria of a great tool is that it does the job it was designed to do.
Followed by the words of an intellectual (but not-so-handy) buddy of mine who said:
When the only tool you have is a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail.
What all that means is, simply, you have to have the right tool for the job. While my native tools are things like Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign, I once sat through an hour-long lecture about hammers from one of my friends that listed at least 13 different hammer types, from rawhide and lead-shot mallets to ball, framing, masonry and finishing hammers. The man was a friggin’ hammer almanac. If you gave him half the chance he’d probably tell you the right one to use in inclement weather conditions. But that’s cool…you know why? I can do the exact same thing when it comes to almost any piece of modern technology from the smartphone to advanced video game engines. Hey, everyone has a different skill set and I just love to learn. And if someone is willing to share their knowledge, I’m paying attention and taking notes.
But speaking of the combination of hammers and kitchens…
My mom is a HUGE fan of the Property Brothers on HGTV. She’s a “STOP EVERYTHING, NEW EPISODE TONIGHT” kind of fan because she’s constantly looking at her home and trying to figure out how it can be very efficient while extremely stylish. I like watching the renovations. It’s tech and getting dirty simultaneously. Plus I like looking at the 3D models they use in their “ideas” segment since one of my hobbies is skinning 3D models in Photoshop for use in video games.
So, while Mom was watching “Property Brothers at Home” which happens to take place right here in Vegas, I got out a head of red cabbage, a large Rubbermaid bowl and a tenderizing mallet and hammered together a fine salad, thinking “Yeah, Jonathan can put hammer to nail and build a house, but can he literally hammer together a salad? I know I can.”
Betcha you want to know how I did it, don’t ya?
Like any well-trained shop rat, let’s start with the tool list for this project. Remember, I pride myself on minimal cleanup, my current record for least amount of tools used on a dish is four: The Crab and Hearts of Palm Salad tool list comprised only of a pairing knife, a cutting board, a bowl and a fork.
Hammer Salad takes my minimalist tool approach but I still haven’t broken the 4-tool record (not yet at least).
Here’s what tools you’ll need:
A cutting board.
A chef’s knife.
A food processor. (Optional if you don’t want to julienne manually.)
A kitchen tenderizing mallet.
A large PLASTIC Rubbermaid bowl.
Why plastic? Because my sweethearts, a hammer in a glass bowl with my clumsy nature just screams “disaster”, so stick with the high-sided plastic ones, that way you can relieve stress by beating the fool out of what we’re putting in the bowl. And you’re going to need to, this is hearty material we’re working with.
Those two are the most important tools you’ll need.
Now for the ingredients:
A fresh head of red cabbage
I’m telling y’all, this is the easiest salad to make in the world. You’ll be hammering it out in no time flat.
Here’s how you do it:
Depending on the number of people you’re feeding, you can make the whole cabbage or just half, that’s completely up to you. Also, all of the ingredients are TO TASTE, meaning that you add more or less as your taste buds dictate.
Ready? Here we go!
First, you’ll need to wash the cabbage under cool water and remove one or two outer leaves until you get a good-looking undamaged head of cabbage.
Next, place the cabbage on your cutting board and slice it in half.
Remove the big white core from the cabbage so all you have left is purple goodness without the core.
Now here comes the hardest part, julienne the cabbage. It will look something like this:
You can either put the cabbage in the food processor or cut it up by hand. It’s up to you. As I’m clumsy, I prefer the food processor, but I can julienne-by-hand if needs be thanks to my pal who taught me some of his beautiful knife techniques.
Next, after you’ve julienned the cabbage, throw the cut-up cabbage into your bowl and if you’re just doing half of the cabbage, add three fingers of salt to it. If you’re making the whole head for a dinner party, throw in three fingers of salt twice.
(At this point you’re finished with the knife and cutting board so put it aside…because it’s HAMMER TIME!)
After you add the salt, I want you to pick up your hammer and just beat the holy terror out of that cabbage. Imagine that you are Thor holding Mjolnir and beating the cabbage like it’s Loki trying to hurt your fellow Avengers. I usually grab the hammer by the handle and then come down on the cabbage with the top of the mallet, not even using the spiky or flat sides, just using the top of it to really go to town on it, then rotating it to the spiky side (if needs be) to really get the salt pounded into the cabbage.
Don’t get too crazy or anything with hammering your cabbage, I don’t want to hear how the Tasmanian Devil from Looney Toons came in and turned you and your kitchen purple. Keep it in the bowl, not on the floor, not on your other half, brothers, sisters, children or the cat. Just focus all that Thor-like angst on the cabbage IN the bowl.
We are NOT looking for this:
So don’t be gettin’ all crazy on the cabbage. Giant Green Rage Monster is my job, not yours.
Cabbage is hearty stuff and you really have to let it know who’s boss if you want to get it to cooperate. But you have to admit, this is kind of fun, isn’t it?
Now, after the cabbage has been well-tenderized with the salt, you’re going to notice that it’s weeping a little, meaning that it’s getting juicy.
When you see the juice starting to form, add three fingers of sugar. (Twice if you’re making the whole head of cabbage.) You want to make sure that you’re sugar and salt are in equal proportions to make a nice taste balance.
Grab your hammer and stir the sugar in, then start hammering again, giving it a stir every so often. Two whacks, stir, two whacks, stir…that kind of action until you’ve got all the sugar pounded in to the cabbage.
BE CAREFUL, once you see the juice starting to form, if you get too nuts with the hammer, you’re going to be wearing it. (That’s why we like the high-sided bowl…containment!)
After you get the sugar and salt hammered in, take a taste! Your taste buds should be getting a balance of sugar and salt in each bite. If you taste one more than the other, balance it out by adding the opposite (too salty = add sugar, too sweet = add salt) until you get it just right.
Once your salt/sugar balance is right, it’s time for the vinegar. You’re going to add a splash (NOT TOO MUCH!), just enough to be able to coat the cabbage without overly adding too much liquid. (I stir everything together with the hammer…saves dirtying up a spoon for no reason. But, you do what you want, I am just sharing the recipe.)
After you put in the vinegar, you’ll notice that the cabbage will turn from a deep purple and white to a beautiful magenta color. Now take another taste. If all of the flavors balance, you’ve done it right.
Congratulations. You just made Red Cabbage Salad, a.k.a. Hammer Salad. One of the oldest family recipes in my arsenal.
For song of the day, let’s hear something that has the perfect tempo for hammering cabbage and cheers for the self-confidence that came from someone selflessly sharing their love and respect of hammers along with their excellent knife techniques with me. You know who you are. Thank you.
Matt Dillon’s character in the film Singles noted, “For some people, being alone is a nasty hang.” Okay Matt, try being single during the holidays, for some folks it takes the phrase “nasty hang” to a whole new level.
Unfortunately, I am but one in a sea of people who view being single during this time of year as almost excruciating. Stick with me though, I figure if we add a dash of humor laced with a sprinkle of light-hearted sarcasm to the situation, we’ll be okay.
Oh, who am I kidding? Nobody who is single during the holidays likes watching a giggling couple pass them, arm-in-arm, seemingly overwhelmingly happy to be cuddling during the cold, dark months of winter, smooching under mistletoe and wondering what their other half has specially planned just for them. I don’t know about you, but when I see something like that, I think of the words of Bill Bryson in The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, where he wrote, “The thunder-vision focused on their stomachs and melted them into a little puddle on the spot.” I’m paraphrasing of course, but as you can tell, I’m in the same camp with those folks who aren’t overwhelmingly thrilled about being single during the most cuddle-prone time of the year.
I began kvetching to my close friends on this subject about a month ago. I complained to KP that I was feeling lonely, to which (in true KP fashion) he promptly slapped my head back onto my neck and reminded me that the reason I was feeling lonely was because I’m not giving myself ample credit for being enough on my own; simply that what I am searching for has been inside of me all along, all I had to do was remember how special I am and that it would chase away the loneliness in no time flat. As usual, KP is right. He always is.
However, my daily goal of keeping a positive mental attitude gets derailed when I become inundated by sugar shock inducing schmaltz being broadcast en masse through every media channel possible during the holidays. Right after Halloween, WHAM! For a single person they might as well just put up a banner that reads, “Welcome to Holiday Hell, Satan’s Hot Tub is the first door on the right.”
Since Halloween, every time I turn around, my mother has been watching The Hallmark Channel which has been featuring (NON-STOP, mind you) every permutation of “Lonely boy/girl meets fellow lonely, heartbroken boy/girl, they fall in “like” surrounded by Christmas lights, there is some sort of confusion then boy and girl find love on Christmas Eve, complete with a kiss under mistletoe or next to a festively decorated Christmas Tree (complete with Hallmark collector’s ornaments no less).
Okay, after almost two solid months of Hallmark-induced Christmas trauma, I am CONVINCED beyond a shadow of a doubt that The Hallmark Channel is responsible for more suicides and shot out televisions during the holidays than anything else. I mean, really. Do they think that those of us single folks during the holidays need to have a loud bullhorn directly pointed at the sides of our heads to be reminded that we’re single? What genius shoved their head up their backsides and forgot that somewhere along the way us single folks have incurred emotional damage or loss that has resulted in our current singleness? Worse yet is that we’re enduring this situation during the one time of the year where our single status really shouldn’t be amplified above more than a subtle “okay, that’s gotta hurt” and help us get through the two most emotionally trying months of the calendar year. Jeez! And Hallmark is supposed to be the “we get you” company that has greeting cards for every friggin’ occasion on the planet except for “we screwed up by pouring lemon juice into the gaping wound in the middle of your chest.”
Yeah, it tends to sting a bit when single during the holidays. No matter if we’re between relationships, missing family members or close friends or similar surroundings, I think The Hallmark Channel needs to think before they broadcast a hurtful reminder of a single relationship status. That’s just being unaware of complete audience composition, not to mention that there are those of us who aren’t at liberty to change the channel and watch a slasher flick or a good sci-fi jaunt into outer space rather than be reminded of our situations! Idea thieves love to come into the pages of my blog and steal ideas, so steal this: Create a comedy about being single during the holidays, that’s something I would watch! If I have to endure one more hour of really bad romance novel plots, I’m seriously going to lose my eggnog all over someone’s shoes.
But y’all know me, I’m one that definitely doesn’t put the “B” in subtle.
On the topic of subtle, tonight I was inspired to write because of a VERY loud party the neighbors are having next door. You know you’ve been to your share of “Ugly Sweater” Parties in your day. Me? Not so much, but I have enough imagination to know that my lack of subtlety would not go unnoticed when I would look at an innocent fashion victim and ask how in the hell that train wreck found its’ way into their closets, much less onto their bodies. I try not to own ugly sweaters, I live in the land of the Moo-Moo already so I’m already tortured enough. Please don’t send me an ugly sweater to prove the point of the laughter-inducing nature of them. By some miracle of my literal nature, this is the one time I don’t have to wear one to get the joke.
Here’s where it gets funny and where my fellow single folk and I really get to breathe a sigh of relief and be genuinely happy about our situations:
Tonight, to discover the origin of the window-rattling sub-woofer that was pumping bass not only through the walls of the house but directly through my nerves, I went outside to stretch my legs and enjoy the crisp winter air. It was then that I saw a woman nearby wearing her ugly sweater, complete with battery-powered Christmas lights. I find out through a brief Q and A that it’s an ugly sweater party and that it’s a bunch of friends getting together – complete with drunken voices, loud talking, screaming, sounds of a manslaughter in progress – you know the ones I mean, a good old-fashioned, obnoxiously loud party that shows no respect whatsoever to their neighbors.
The next thing I know, another woman emerges from the party house, complete with leopard print micro-mini skirt, a flimsy leather jacket and shoes that didn’t even look remotely comfortable (I’m not really sure if that leopard thing was her ugly sweater or not, jury’s still out on that one, better yet, you decide…) attempting to walk home, her home being equal in distance to roughly 10 miles, complaining how cold she was because she yelled across the quiet neighborhood that her husband was being an… okay, let’s keep this G-rated…a seven letter word that starts with “A” and ends with “E”. Okay, note to self, never get drunk then get into fight with anyone, because along with her fashion statement and clear lack of positive mental attitude, I would not have labeled it as a “pretty moment.” Not in the least.
Now, don’t get me wrong. People are people, and I do get that as well, but I must cop to the fact that with my 131 I’m not the world’s greatest when it comes to common sense. Upon witnessing the debacle unfolding in front of me, I became increasingly and increasingly grateful I was single! In a moment of sheer amazement, I realized that I didn’t have to worry about becoming that woman, yelling at the top of her lungs that she was stranded far from home with no way to leave an uncomfortable situation, then pulling the Darwin Award Winning maneuver of trying to walk home ten miles in shoes that were clearly NOT meant for long-distance endurance sports. On top of all that I watched in sheer horror as she began asking her clearly intoxicated female friends to take her home because she didn’t want to fight with her partner in front of all of their friends, then having no issue telling the innocent bystander next door that her partner was a “starts with ‘A’ and ends with ‘E’.”
Standing there in my flannel p.j. pants, thermal top, North Face fleece jacket, fuzzy socks (same color as Grover from Sesame Street) and Sorel slippers, all warm and toasty, I became overwhelmingly grateful that being single during the holidays means that I don’t have to put up with that kind of nonsense! I was already at home, in comfy clothes and more importantly, comfortable in my own skin, grateful that it’s me and Teddy curled up together under a heating blanket with no one loudly snoring in either of our ears. It occurred to me that I have been to enough Christmas parties in my day to choke a horse, and to me, I’ve got more common sense than to wear impossible-to-walk-in shoes, combined with non-weather friendly clothing then try a 10-miler to get home, no matter how angry I was at anyone.
But that’s the bonus of being single for the holidays…if someone is or becomes a ‘starts with an ‘A’ and ends with an ‘E”…you can just say “Happy Holidays”, put your butt into your own car and drive yourself home, plug in a great sci-fi flick or log in to your favorite virtual world. I mean, what better gift to give yourself than peace of mind and a stress-free evening filled with what YOU want to do?
Finally, let’s wrap up with a bit of hope, good cheer and generosity of holiday spirit:
Yesterday, my pal JJ came into town and specifically asked me to watch over a childhood friend of his that moved from New York City to Las Vegas a few months ago. So, this year I’m doing an “Adopt-a-friend” program where JJ’s pal gets to tour the city with me to see all of the lights, colors and unique parts of celebrating Christmas in the Desert. (Yes, they wrap the cacti with twinkle lights, just don’t ask me how they do it.) It just goes to show that you can be single during the holidays, but you never have to spend them alone if you don’t want to. The best gift in the world is remembering to be grateful for what you have and sharing your positive mental attitude with everyone you meet.
Love, hope, recovery and a sense of humor starts in only one place…INSIDE YOU!
Song of the day comes from the band that brought us my blog’s theme song, “Marching On.”