…what I almost named my blog.
A few years ago I found myself with a story to tell. I had no idea how to tell it, who to tell it to, or in what format. The bigger question that loomed was whether I should even tell it at all. When the pandemic kicked in and isolation became a very real boundary of our daily lives, I began to write long, chatty emails to a Louise or two. I’d probably categorize them as funny little anecdotes about my daily misadventures with some occasional musings about philosophy, history, culture and faith. I wasn’t telling my story at all, but these emails became a round-about way to reclaim my voice, my identity and my smile. After months of my pretending I was neither interested nor capable, the Louises demanded that I write daily and harped on me to create a blog. They won; I’m easy that way.
Jump to last weekend and for the second time in as many months, I crossed the perimeter of my neighborhood, grabbed a girlfriend and attended a live public arts event with an actual audience. This time it was a comedy show two states away. In a mere 36 hours we packed in a week’s worth of venting, analysis, therapy and of course, laughter.
Our destination was Charlotte, NC to see Pinky Patel, a mom turned stand-up comedian and TikTok personality with close to 5 million followers. She delivers her stylized commentary with confident honesty and a non-aggressive “I really don’t care” attitude that I secretly aspire to. Okay, maybe it’s not so much a secret aspiration, but I found her show empowering not only for content, but also for intent and sheer fearlessness. My co-pilot was my former work wife, a razor-sharp wit with a heart of gold who is loyal, unflappable and unfailingly optimistic. Introducing, Louise of the East:
Pinky became known for a chapstick-and-tiara schtick in which she channels her Indian mother to eviscerate mean-spirited internet trolls, know-it-alls and show-offs. But onstage her storytelling really shines. The story of her mother searching for the dismantled the family masala dabba only to find all the spices now in individual jars was priceless. Few members of the audience were Indian, but Pinky transcended culture and every tiara-wearing woman in that club knew what the story was really about: Mother-Daughter Theater. During this bit Louise looked at me and mouthed, “masala dabba?” I pulled up a photo of the one Husband gave me for Christmas in 2021. She mouthed, “You have one?” I mouthed back, “DUH!” We laughed harder.
What struck me about this weekend was the connection I made with a PTA mom from Chicago, stepping out onstage after a lifetime of good-girl rule-following and dutiful box-checking. That’s my jam right there. In 2020 she made a silly video, possibly the one about how “grapes are assholes,”and shared it with a friend, and her friend encouraged her to put it out there for the world to see. Sitting in that comedy club, in between the bouts of hysterics, I realized…wait, she’s me. We all have a story and we all can have a second act. So to my bossy, insistent Louises, as Pinky would say, thank you my priends.
Obviously I didn’t name my blog Cooking for Fun & Revenge, although in effect that’s what I had been doing for a year. I say “revenge” with a wink and a nod – creative spite is a better phrase because karma does not need my help…anymore. Playing around in the kitchen might have been my release valve during the height of the pandemic, but writing was pure meditative relief. We all found our way through: Husband binge-watched Sci-fi on Netflix, Sous Chef memorized a couple hundred episodes of Top Gear and Food Taster fiddled around with the computer he built. In the background, laughter was a salvation in so many ways, but what happens when you are so stressed or disappointed or deflated that nothing can amuse you? Some days just called for an aggressive, physical all-out vent. Hello scaloppine, let the beatings begin.
My boys always knew what was for dinner by the rhythmic pounding of a rolling pin on our marble countertops. I’ve since updated to an actual food mallet (I call it the Bammer) but the sound and net stress relief remain the same. I’ve been flattening chicken breasts for years to avoid that revolting combination of dry and overcooked on one end while suspiciously juicy and nearly safe to eat on the other. I simply don’t do pink chicken. But this week I went wild and pounded out some center-cut boneless pork chops. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve purchased or eaten a pork chop in 25 years – it seems so domesticated (think pot roast, meatloaf and pot pie) and I aspire to be more feral with each passing year. I might have hidden the family-sized package under some octopus and broccolini in my cart, lest I get identified as tragically unhip.
This process becomes second nature after a few tries, but I chose to share Martha Stewart’s recipe on purpose – talk about a second act. She calls for capers, rosemary, sage and arugula, but I reserve capers for piccata and opted for simple basil and chives to avoid competition with the sun dried tomato tortellini I found, which turned out to be entirely superfluous. Mostly I want to call your attention to the process – it is evergreen, universal and, if done properly, immensely cathartic.
On left is the original chop, which I could easily turn into a thick, chewy shingle. After a gentle, but firm beating, the chop on the right has doubled in area to a tenderized even cutlet, about 3/8” in depth. It’s now flat and the tougher tissue has broken down. I try to start with a light touch and pound from the middle out, but pork is more resilient than chicken so you have to stick with it. This part requires practice and self-control, not my favorites btw, else one ends up with a shredded carrion situation.
The best part of a 1973 galley kitchen is that it was made for an assembly line. Both efficiency and laziness tempt me to use as few dishes as possible, but that is an error. Spread out and embrace the line: seasoned cutlets take a dip in flour, beaten eggs, and bread crumbs before finally hitting the hot skillet with butter and olive oil. This part requires patience and self-control, else one ends up with congealed eggy crumb wads glued to your countertop. And stove. And floor if you really put your heart into it.
A really important rule in sautéing is DON’T CROWD THE PAN. Okay, yes, technically this pan is ridiculously over-crowded, but I actually fried six cutlets in two batches and then returned them to the pan to keep warm. Cooking in batches may take twice the time and require twice the effort, but you are rewarded with that golden brown crust. Once again I’ve learned that neither efficiency nor her evil twin laziness are helpful here. This part requires patience and self-control, else one ends up with gooey, grey meat with scattered burnt spots possibly from when you grew impatient and turned up the heat too high.
I think cast iron or carbon steel pans give a better scald than the fleet of Teflon I threw out last year. Proper heat and an oil-butter duet are all you need and deglazing with wine or chicken stock pulls up any clingy yum-yums to make a light, savory sauce. Asparagus pan-grilled in butter and some amped-up tortellini and finished the plate. It really could have been a roll, but I wanted an insurance policy. This happens when I worry something is going to be yucky – yep, the pork chops. But I totally didn’t need the tortellini this time. Chops were swell.
I don’t want to be on TikTok, I’m uninterested in hocking ads for cookware on my blog and I don’t want to be a public personality. I’d rather write a little food column or publish a book one day. Until then, this is my thing, my way. I know a thing when I see it, no matter the form, and I would encourage you to pursue yours. Seriously, get a thing. While you’re at it, go find some Louises and hold on to them for dear life.
I may not ever tell my story, mostly because I no longer have to, at least not for me. Still…it’s a doozy.
- You don’t need a professional bammer, but at least a nice long rolling pin. You need to experience the satisfaction of wielding a weapon.
- Layer the trimmed meat between 2 sheets of plastic wrap or parchment paper. I landed on inexpensive plastic twist-tie food storage bags because the individual sheets moved around too much and the parchment shredded. Both were irritating.
- Moderation and consistency is important in the flattening process. Bamming with too much enthusiasm sends you down the path of making meatballs or nuggets rather than cutlets.
- You would be amazed how tender grilled chicken breasts are if 1. properly marinated and 2. evenly flattened
- Mother and Daddy both shun the notion of food-borne illnesses, but flattening at least gives them the option to reach a consistent temp.
- Sautéing with a combo of olive oil and butter allows for a higher temp without burning the oil or meat. And there’s butter.