22 May 2011

Interpretations from a Compulsive Kitchen: Part I

Now that I've eaten my way through the leftover Filets de Poisson a la Bretonne (a delectable fish preparation from Miss Julia Child), Ragu Casserole (my Great Aunt's recipe), and meatloaf (courtesy of William Sonoma), which were all accrued during Grandma's visit in March, it is time again to start soothing my soul by cooking up some summer favorites.

There's something so satisfying about cooking at home, and with all of the recent food blogging assignments I've been sent on for the magazine, it sounds even more pleasing - to chop, to stir to flavor layer delicious culinary compositions of my own. Instant gratification and one of the best releases from my manic mind.

But before my dishes can come together, the ingredients have to be chosen. And as you might imagine, an OCDite's creations are compiled carefully with choice produce and herbs (I started my own herb garden last year, so I could be sure I was getting the freshest every time!). Quality ingredients - if you live in a climate where they're readily available - are like the difference between cashmere and wool. Both will do the trick, but if you want to truly indulge, then "go big or go home."

I recommend checking out the local farmers markets first. They are popping up everywhere in Southern California. I gravitate to the market at the OC Fair Grounds (Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.), because it's close, which boasts the best eggs, true artisanal dark German bread and fresh, raw almonds amongst the beautiful bounty of fresh produce. And if you reside in my home state of South Dakota, stop by the nearest Hutterite colony. Their produce and meat is grown with care and tradition, and is always delicious.

Onions and artichokes at the Fairground Farmers Market
Be creative with what's in season: Sautee or stuff these beautiful Squash Blossoms
And who can resist a beautiful beet! Boil them (with the stems on so they keep their color) and eat them cold or hot in salads or soups.
It is hard to resist picking up everything displayed on the market tables, but of course, I always go prepared with a list. As much as I would like to be one of those spontaneous cooks that can meander their way through the market, stumble upon the most impressive artichoke you've ever seen and make a menu on the spot using that ingredient, I am just not that person. It probably takes me as long to come up with what I'm serving as it does to actually cook the dish.

After flipping through my favorite cookbooks or those that I constructed myself during my first month of vacation (seven 2-inch binders of recipes, equipped with color-coded tabs, sheet protectors and creatively cut scrapbook-like pages - thank you - I am impressed by it, too), I make my choice, and set out to scribble an organized list of what I need - or I used to, until recently. A couple of months ago, I discovered one of the most intuitive apps (not an appetizer, but a phone application) and a dream for an OCDite like me, called Out of Milk. Out of Milk, an app after my own heart, allows you to make multiple shopping lists for different stores or different occasions, you can check off the items as you go as well as keep tabs of what's in your spice rack, and it's free! It's unbelievable, and for an OCDite whose mind is always "on," it is comforting to know that I can immediately add a thought or an item to my multitude of lists and not freak out about not being able to instantly jot it down because I'm worried I'll forget about it, and then my future list will be incomplete. This app eases so many obsessive moments for me that I can't begin to thank the inventor enough, but thank you!

Furnished with my virtual list tucked away in my Furla, I make my rounds to these varietal grocers:

  • For truly sustainable seafood: Santa Monica Seafood
  • For hard to find, quality ingredients: Bristol Farms
  • For meat and cheeses: The Meat House
  • For spices in quantities large or small and addictive, homemade snacks: Henry's Market
  • For savory simmering sauces if you don't have the time to make your own: William Sonoma
  • For a more elegant meal and a bright spot in your day, pick up a bundle of fresh flowers: Every Bloomin' Thing
Round up an assemblage of farm fresh goods, and bring them home to admire. Throw a few in a bowl to decorate your countertop, and put the rest in bags or bowls of water after cleaning. I place my lettuces, herbs and tomatoes in Ziploc bags with a paper towel or two, and my other veggies like carrots, celery and radishes get thrown into a container of icy cold water for long-lasting freshness and to keep them crisp. Why not get the most out of your harvest?

So, until Part II from my rather compulsive kitchen, make your virtual lists, do your shopping and let it be fun! Explore the variety of eats available at your local grocers. Next time, we'll travel through my OCDite mind in prepping and cooking mode, and I'll leave you with a recipe that will allow you to be playful and adventurous, and it will not be something baked. Baking requires precision, and if you don't get the measurements perfect, it can be a little too disastrous for this disorder.

And don't forget to take one last look at the Jacarandas while you're out perusing the produce - their purple blooms will be gone soon!


06 May 2011

Surfing on Cloud California

Sand-covered Rainbows (the flip flops) and breaths of ocean air with the beach as a consistent backdrop, rock concerts down the street, photo shoots, al fresco brunching, too many farmers' markets to choose from (fyi, local readers: the one at the OC Fairgrounds has the best farm-fresh, brown eggs anywhere and food truck Thursdays!), Cinco de Mayo celebrations and a multitude of monthly birthday events - this is my life in the now world-famous OC. Actually, this is an accurate description of my schedule last week. Yes, most of the time I have to take a step back and pinch myself and wonder how the heck I made my home in this desirable destination; Southern California can be like living on Cloud 9 . . . but sometimes it can all add up to too much stimulation for this OCDite. I'm like my cat Ice who becomes over stimulated by too much attention and runs under the bed. Mine is a similar reaction, but obviously a different escape route.

As I was enjoying my frothy espresso and spinach quichette with a friend at breakfast a couple days ago, I blurted out, "if I don't get a pair of wide-leg Chloe pants, I might die." We were flipping through the latest issue of Riviera Magazine and having our usual fashion discussion, but I surprised my friend and myself with the seriousness of my statement. When did I reach the point of desiring $750 pants?! I am definitely becoming a product of Californication. I am just surrounded by too many beautiful things, and now as a "starving artist," I can't afford those kinds of wishes but the temptation is unavoidable with Hollywood right around the corner.

Out on assignments for the magazine, I feel like I'm entering another dimension of local life. I carry a leather journal depicting a vintage Orange County emblem on the outside and map on the inside for jotting down my serendipitous occurrences. I meet people who have become success stories in their fields. I meet people who have reached a place in their career where they can confidently portray contentment, and everything they do is important. I taste fantastic food, shake hands with notable neighbors and observe beautiful photo shoots. How can I not be mesmerized, intimidated and inspired by my environment? 

My book of musings

As an OCDite, it is nearly impossible to restrain myself from fulfilling what can become a physical desire to be the best. My goal is to reach the same reputation with my writing in this county as I have with my sparkling marble floors! It's like everything else, when we OCDites get something brewing in our brains, we have to take some course of action to settle the steam. For me, I either have to harbor in my house for days or produce a packed schedule of daily duties to fill my time and appease my urges. As long as I have projects with which to focus my compulsive behavior, I should remain on the semi-sane side and credit-card-debt free. So that's what I do, I schedule my life, which is becoming more fulfilling everyday.

Tip for Soothing compulsions and sharpening your energy: find a place to release and remain in control, because the powers of obsession should not be stifled.

Remaining in control: In the past few years, it has even become necessary for me, as on OCDite, to calendar my life. I commit to everything, because I don't want to miss out on any chance encounter of life's little inspirations, so I'm constantly calendaring. I calendar your average events like birthdays and dental appointments and dinners, but I also calendar things like "weed my garden" and "get oj light bulbs apples big Fijis and kitty food." (This is a direct appointment pulled from my Google calendar on April 27, and I know my friend Ali is laughing her ass off right now, because she had access to my calendar when we worked together. It's ok - I've come to terms with it.) Is it because I'm getting older and can't remember all of these random obligations? Is it because I try to experience too much - nope, it's because I'm an OCDite. Does anyone else do this? I'd love to hear that this might not be another obsession unique to just me.

Find a place to release: So where do I go to get away from the Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous? Sometimes I just want to lose myself - only for a moment - in a crowd - particularly the pulsing crowd of a concert, which is what I did last week when I joined a friend at the Hollywood Music Box to see Airborne Toxic Event perform. This release was long overdue.

Airborne Toxic Event from the balcony at the Music Box in Hollywood, April 28, 2011

 This is my escape route, the kind of stimulation that soothes my soul so that I can return to my life in the surf and sun. Who, where or what relieves your erratic behavior?