Tiburón -Shark- Žralok

Tiburón -Shark- Žralok: Writing Cooking Traveling

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Lunatic's Harmonious Recipe

Aside from food writing, my other preoccupation is film production. Its what I studied, its my long term relationship, and even when I've broken up with it I can't help but come back for one last hook up.

So, of course, my first instinct when I moved out to Austin was to look for freelance film work, preferably on set and paid. In no time, I had a UT student film shoot lined up. And that, my dear reader, is what I've been doing most of today and what I will be doing all of tomorrow.

If you know me personally, then you're probably aware of the fact that I am a crazy person. Not a take medication, see a shrink (though I should), hear voices kind of crazy, but the irrational, puzzling, why on earth are you doing this, kind of crazy person. I like to think its part of my charm... (Cough)

For the past week, this shoot has consumed me, has driven me to the point of breakdown, caused me to be insulted by the manager of a mediocre, STUPID diner franchise that starts with Mag and ends with Nolia, which I and people who like me do NOT patronize... [Deep breath]

But I digress.

Today has been a clear example of my craziness. I spent most of the morning waiting on camera, rescheduling shots to accommodate light changes and a pick up truck (don't ask), assisting departments, and calling shots-- all on a cup of coffee and a bagel with cream cheese which I did not finish.

At around 1:30 pm I had to leave set for what I thought would be a quick run across town to fill out a job application, so I ordered lunch before I headed out. About an hour after I'd been sitting around holding my fully filled out application and resume and dictating an email to R over the phone so he could send it in my name to a much more respectable, high quality establishment that starts with Kerbey and ends in Lane, and which I and people I love go to VERY often, I realized this wasn't a fill out an application and leave sort of job application, but an interview. Two hours into it, when I'd made some friends and we'd all swapped life stories and become chummy with each other (but not to the point of exchanging contact info)-- as it got closer to each of us having to go in and subsequently leave, one guy compared it to the end of camp when everyone is about to head out and we're all saying good bye but without much hope of seeing each other again-- I was shivering from internal cold caused by low blood sugar and slurping down a full-sugar, full-fat Dr. Pepper (delicious!).

Finally, at around 4:30 pm, I was called in and the interview went well. I was pleased and so beyond the point of hungry I didn't even feel it anymore. I ended up getting back to set at 5:30 pm after getting to experience the 5 pm rush hour of Highway 35. While I apologized to the director and got back on track with the last two shots we had left to do-- good job AD-- I shakily asked, "Where's my sandwich?"

That's right, the one I'd ordered at 1:30 pm before leaving-- about four hours after my morning bagel.

Needless to say, that sandwich was near perfect.

We had to rush the last shots before we lost all light, got yelled at by an old-ish lady from the neighborhood, I got a sunburn from the sunset, and my authority was hard to regain after my four hour absesne and only at the end did I feel like I was being any use at all. Sigh.

So when I got home, R was out and I informed him that the door would remain locked from the insude until he acquired an offering of beer for his exhausted, sunburned, frustrated girlfriend.

R obliged and while he played a boardgame called Puerto Rico with Natasha and Sean of The Gyronauts, I redid the schedule, lost all the work  I did on it just before I sent it out, cried, and redid it all in about 5 minutes.

After a day like this, most sane, rational people  usually grab a take out menu, open a third beer in 40 minutes (that much I have done), and retire to the warm embrace of their couch. Here's where the I'm a crazy person part comes in.

At 9:30 pm, I went into my kitchen, something that lately takes a fair amount of coaxing from my deflated bank account to get me to do, and I pulled out the cutting board and a knife. I chopped shallots, garlic, julienned celeriac (?), thinly sliced carrots, shredded ginger... It was when I was meticulously cutting the heads off a bunch of broccoli, because the stems and heads cook at different times, that the thought occurred to me, Why am I doing this?

Then I remembered the therapeutic value of cooking. Not just cooking, but of taking the time to make something well, removing the parts that you don't want, like leaves and stems. Even if its manual, tedious work, its also hypnotic and serene in a way. When I stir fried each element and drizzled umami, sweetness, saltiness, spiciness, and acidity only my lovingly prepared vegetables, I felt a satisfaction that comes from knowing that what you're making is harmonious and good, that your efforts will reward you, and its made all the sweeter by the exhaustion already clinging to you.

When is served what I made to my soon to be kitchen cleaners, their gasps of admiration and their moans of pleasure at what they claim is one of my best creations so far only added to the satisfaction of nullifying a mediocre day with a job well done and done exclusively for one's self and the people one cares about.

(Not that take out wouldn't have been great. I've just been eating out a lot and I got CSA vegetables piling up in my fridge.)

Dre's Magical Stir-Fry of Goodness (title by Natasha)

Serves 2

  • 1 shallot
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ground ginger
  • 1 carrot finely cut into rings
  • 1-4 (depending on size and how much you like them) non-starchy root vegetables, like turnips, celeriac, daikon, parsnips, rutabaga or whatever that purple root vegetable was that I had lying around in my fridge (see above picture)
  • 1 bunch broccoli, heads and stems separated (you can use only the heads or use both, just cook the stems first)
  • Any other vegetable your deem appropriate for a stir fry-- mushrooms, bamboo shoots, string beans, cauliflower, etc.
  • 1 tbsp Sesame oil
  • Soy sauce to taste (less is more in my experience)
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp sugar (I used brown)
  • Juice of half a lime
  • Red Pepper flakes to taste
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped, for garnish
  • Salt and Pepper 
  • 1 cup cooked rice
1) Heat sesame oil on a large wok or a sautee or frying pan over medium heat, add shallots and cook until translucent, stirring occasionally. Add garlic and ginger, cook for another minute.

2) Toss in root vegetable, carrots, and broccoli stems, if using, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook until slightly softened then add the broccoli and a little more salt. Cook until broccoli's color darkens, about a minute.

3) Sprinkle sugar, red pepper flakes, and black pepper, stir. Drizzle soy sauce and lime juice. Cook stirring continually until all vegetables are soft but still have a slight crunch.

4) Serve over rice, garnish with cilantro and a last dash of salt and pepper.

** You may be wondering why I keep dousing my vegetables with salt during the cooking process. Well, its called proper seasoning. You're not meant to toss a ton of salt on each time but rather just a pinch through each step to season each element. This will make your flavors pop, without the risk of oversalting. Kosher salt works great for the first sprinklings and finish with a sea salt if you can. I wouldn't go use fancy saly like fleur de sel or anything like that since there's already a lot of flavors going on here.

** You can add cooked chicken, cooked shrimp, or cooked pepper steak to this for a more filling, carnivorous take on it.

** If you use any additional vegetables aside from the carrots, root vegetable, and broccoli, make sure to toss them into the pan at the appropriate time so that all the vegetables cook evenly. Starchy vegetables like potatoes will take the longest, followed by more dense vegetables like carrots and other roots, whereas stems like celery or broccoli stem require just slightly less time than the roots, and leafy, delicate vegetables will cook almost instantly.

** Take a little extra time to make sure everything is chopped into roughly the same size. This will make you cooking more even, reduce the danger of burning the food, and will just have a better texture.

Why did this recipe work? It incorporates all flavors in a harmonious manner. The vegetables add bitterness which is offset by the sugar, given depth by the acidity of the lime, umph from the soy sauce, and made more interesting by the slight spice of the red pepper flakes. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did and make sure to have it along with a cold beer, preferably an ale. ;-)

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