Monthly Archives: October 2004

Cooking School Journal: Done

Chefs toque.

Chefs toque.

Last night was my graduation banquet.

It went well.

I’m not going to give you all of the gory details… yet.

I’m still behind. I have at least a dozen entries to go that will describe the hell that is now called “September”.

I’m done, and I’m home.

There was absolutely no toilet paper in the house, nor milk, bread, coffee… or a mom, for the last few days. I’m back, and the kids are beginning to warm up to me.

This was the most intense and perfect experience of my life.

And I finished.

Now I’m feeling a bit lost and misplaced, especially since it is “class” night. But, if there is one thing this whole ride has shown me is that is time for me to stop staring at the past. Stop being afraid of the future. Trust myself and just go for it.


Cooking School Journal: I Confess

So, I have to confess that I’m totally blocked. I am absolutely stopped in my writing tracks.

People have asked… when is the next installment?

Although, I’ve smiled and said ‘any day’, I’ve secretly been wallowing in self-pity.

And I must admit, it takes a certain type-who doesn’t have to work, has three gorgeous children and lives in a nicely appointed  home, to find a way to wallow in self-pity.

But, I’ve been doing it.

I think it’s genetic.

But, I have enjoyed writing to you.

It’s been my secret affair. I’ve tucked myself away at night and shared my experiences. It’s been such an amazing ride.

But then, My ‘Ode to Arthur’ was forwarded to Dean.

Dean just won a Tony. He’s a writer and he’s been chomping at the bit to read the journal.

“I hear your stuff is great. I want to hear more about NGL.”

When mom read my piece about Arthur (probably something too personal to even be included in this work), she felt it was time for Dean to see it. I manipulatively begged off. I wanted him to see it, but although my current task is to be direct, I coyly suggested to Mom, “Well, if you want to send it to Dean… okay.”

I wanted to give myself the out-“I wish you had never sent it to him!”

When I had last seen Dean in Montecito, I told him that I was reluctant and afraid that my writing was not good enough.

I told him he was a mentor, and that I didn’t want to be embarrassed.

He called immediately after Mom emailed my work to him.

Good sign! But it still took me two days to call back. I was shy and afraid.

When I finally found the gumption, I called him back.  He was at his summer house in The Hamptons.

He loved my piece. He loved the simplicity of the lead, “Arthur is sick.”

After that it just became a horrendous blur of constructive criticism, praise and suggestions.

I endured it all with a smile.

Most of it I expected. He wanted more exposition. He just simply wanted me to expand on everything.

He feels like the format of e-mail cheapens my writing.  I am so comfortable talking with all of you that I take literary short cuts…

“Maybe I should take a class at my community college in journal writing and present it to them.”


“Maybe I should review the entire work and expound, and then think about presenting it.”

You think?

I chimed, “Well, I’m thinking that this would be cute like ‘Bridget’s Jones’ Diary’ or like Anne La Mott’s “Operating Instructions”.

“Oh. Annie is fabulous,” was his reply.


When we finally hung up, I was so bummed.

Finally I have written something that my audience (save a few) were enjoying.  It can’t be real.

Like most of my life, it is almost too good to be true.  I must always prepare myself for the fact that certain doom lurks charmingly only a half a block away.

But I keep on tapping away at this keyboard with kids crying, dogs pawing and phones ringing.  I know that much more than finishing this course, finishing this journal-as crappy as it may be-may be my one chance at feeling like I have finally accomplished something.

And I persevere.

Cooking School Journal: Amber’s House

I pulled up to Amber’s house. It was only two blocks from my own. She was in a 310 model, Joe and I had checked those out on our realtor tours with Rosie. Three bedrooms, awkward layout, small kitchen, atrium in the middle, all bad.

It made me feel more empowered as I walked through the atrium to the front door with the Alexander Valley Merlot in hand. Amber opened the door and greeted me with a huge smile. She grabbed the wine that I had gifted her as if it were a piece of lint on her sweater and tucked it into a far corner of her kitchen. There goes that $17. The greeting was done.

Now what?

“Do you like white or red?” she said.

She nuzzled a bottle of Shiraz that she obviously had an affinity for tonight. I told her that I prefer white. She offered me a fabulous $30 bottle of Sauvignon Blanc.

There’s no hardcore Chardonnay drinker that will ever drink a Sauv Blanc, but I thanked her profusely and drank two grassy, overly-dry glasses.

We cozied up by her dining room table and began to talk about the menu.

She reiterated, “Chef has said to me like twenty times that she really wants you and I to be involved in the menu planning of this banquet. I’m sure she’s told you, Jules. Right?”

I sat there feeling and looking stupid and said nothing. Amber pulled up eighteen cookbooks and forty magazines, all with post-it notes hanging out the front, “I have some ideas for the banquet.”

Wow! Amber’s worked hard planning this menu, and I’m starting to get it that Chef wants me to work on this menu, too. I hadn’t even begun to think about any of this until now, and I am blown away.  It’s six weeks away.

So Amber read to me about four thousand recipes while I listened intently. They all sounded pretty good. When she finally looked at me, I just said the first thing that came to mind, “Here are the six things that I want on our menu: Truffles, prosciutto, scallops, crab, lobster, and parmesan.”

She looked at me, nodded, and quietly said, “Me, too.”

My serious glance left her  and wandered over  toward the cheese plate she made for us. Point Reyes Blue, Humboldt Fog, and Fiscalini Purple Moon three of my favorites.  “Where’d you get the Humboldt Fog?” I said, “It’s hard to find around here.”

It was not labeled on her cheese plate, but I recognized its thin layer of ash. She was obviously impressed. “Oh, you know this cheese? I heard it was good. I’m glad you like it.”humboldtjpg

She immediately began to trump me with fifty stories about dining in the best restaurants in LA that I’ve never been to: Water Grill, Geoffreys, Bastide, Josie’s and more. She described in detail every entree and appetizer that she enjoyed. I sat there irritated but also in awe.

I knew I had to go, but I was listening so intently. I finally stood up. “I have to go. My mom’s watching the kids, and I’ve got to get home.”

She was so generous. She wrapped up all the cheeses and gave them to me. She placed  the cork back into the bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, strapped it into the baby seat in my car, and sent me home with a hug.

Two blocks later, I got out of my car and felt electrified. She likes my food, and she likes me. And for the first time, I have a sense that Chef might believe in me.  And when I went to turn the knob on my front door, I wondered who would open it: the underachiever that I feel I am, or the one Chef decided should help plan the menu for the banquet.

Cooking School Journal: I’m Doomed

“I’m doomed,” I said to Mom as I was heading out the door. Even though I was lacking the shiny golden armor, I was definitely feeling like C3-PO.

She was plating the kids an early dinner.  She had at least three hours of alone time ahead of her with my three girls, and she was particularly cheerful.

“Go get your toes done and go to what’s-her-name’s house. We’ll see you back here whenever!”

“Okay,” I replied lamely. I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to curl up on my sofa and chit chat.

But… my toes looked like shameful. I was overdue for a pedicure by at least three months.  It’s an indulgence I tend avoid—guilty pleasure.  How can you justify an hour away from the kids and home just to have your stupid toe nails painted. What? You can’t paint the damn things yourself? A bottle of polish which easily supplies 10 applications is 3 dollars. One salon pedicure is thirty dollars.

1 selfish mom- 1bottle of nail polish x 1 hr +  $30  + X / time spent away from the children = BAD MOTHER

Anyway, since I never got past algebra II, I disregarded the equation and  headed off to the pedicure.

The women at Nellie’s Nails were very happy to see me.

As I walked through the door six Vietnamese-American ladies ripped off their surgical masks, dropped their drills and exalted “Hey Joo-Lee!”

I guess they missed me.

9 months ago I was in the salon every 3 weeks getting my acrylic nails filled, ripped off, replaced and filled.

Nellie asked, “Joo-lee? Where you been? You want full set? You nails short.”

“Oh. I can’t Nellie. I’m in cooking school. I can’t have them anymore. I guess they breed bacteria.”

She shoved her surgical mask back over her mouth. Her eyes shifted side-to-side and that conversation came to a quick halt.

“Why you here?” She whispered.

“I’m in desperate need of a pedicure. It’s almost embarrassing.”

“Okay, Joo-lee. She help you. Come over here.”

Nellie waved me over as she booted up the “spa chair”.

Spa chair= Ten more bucks.

“Come sit down.”

I felt conflicted. It was four. I had to be at Amber’s at five. The spa chair was going to kill my timing. But, after telling my brain to shut up, I decided that I deserved the spa chair. Joe’s been gone most of this summer… Mom’s watching the kids… Every girl needs good toes… I deserve the spa chair.

I climbed in. There’s nothing less relaxing than sitting in a chair plugged into the wall and plunking your feet into a built in tub of water. Dead Man Walking.

But, I was going to make the most of this. No matter what. I needed to relax. I was going to avoid my usual routine of scrutinizing each swipe of the emory board and brush of the polish and instead indulge myself in true relaxation. I set the spa chair’s massage remote for “lumbar up and down” and grabbed the latest “US Weekly”. I was set on being a true hedonist.

I resisted every urge to check my watch. I shrugged off every impulse to oversee the management of my toes. I plunged myself head first into the new tabloid debate of Brittany Spears vs. Jessica Simpson. Who’s better? Just as I was about to declare Jessica the winner, the pedicurist tapped my leg. “You all done.”

I put down the rag, thanked her and then glanced at my feet. I had eight toes painted a subtle shade of red, and two toes painted the same hue, but adorned with flowers and rhinestones.



I looked at my watch.  It’s 4:55.

My brain began yelling at me again, “You need to get to Amber’s. Blow it off. Don’t say anything. You can take it off yourself at home. It’s only a few dollars!”

I sat paralyzed for several minutes.

Nellie came by and tapped my leg. “You dry. It look good. Yes.”

Suddenly, that funny voice that I’m learning to really like, popped out, “Nellie. I didn’t ask for these flowers. I really want them taken off.”

Nellie stared at me in shock. She began saying something in Vietnamese that made all of the manicurists roll their eyes and grumble.

My funny voice tried to be tough, but decided to bail.

I tried to stand firm on my own. The best I could do was a waffling, “Well, it looks beautiful, and I really wasn’t paying attention, so I guess it’s my fault. Why don’t I pay you for it anyway, but can you please take it off and just paint on the polish.”

“You don’t like it? It’s beautiful!”

I was on the verge of breaking.

It was 4:59.

“It’s lovely, but it’s not me. I don’t want it. I want you to take it off. I don’t care if I have to pay, but I need it off!”

“Okay,” she said shrugging her shoulders.

She asked her friend in Vietnamese to make the change, and she did.

When I went to pay, I pulled out forty. It was only thirty. Reluctantly, Nellie removed the charges for the flowers, rhinestones and re-polish.

I walked out feeling empowered. I guess speaking up for yourself works sometimes.

Now I just had to find the right apology for being twenty-five minutes late to Amber’s.

Climbing into the car, I smudged both big toenails.

I’m doomed.

Cooking School Journal: I Returned a Call

So, after obsessing for an hour, I decided to be truly brave and return the call.


“Hi, Amber. This is Jules from cooking-”


I was just return-”

“Chef asked me to call you. She’s concerned. She really wants, well I’m sure she’s already talked to you. But, she’s really, umm, concerned about the menu for the banquet.”


“Well, I’m sure she’s said it to you a hundred times, but she’s so impressed with your recipes from the hors d’ouevres class. Well, she really wants us to be the driving force on the menu for the banquet.”


“I was hoping that we could get together and discuss some ideas.”

“Ideas?” (I still was not getting it).

“Yeah. Do you want to come over for a glass of wine and talk. Do you drink wine?” (Stop laughing.)

“Sure. That sounds great. (Those were the words coming out of my mouth, while my brain was yelling at me…’No! No! No!’)

“How about Saturday?”

“Umm okay. When do you want to meet? ”

“How about 5?”

“OK. Do you want to come here? (Brain yelling again, ‘What are you an idiot? Are you going to drug the children? Not to mention your house looks like sh*t. Are you going to clean? Why is it that you don’t clean? You don’t have a job. Dude!’)

“You have little kids. I don’t want you to go crazy. Come here.”

“That would be fine. What can I bring?”

“Nothing. We’ll just hammer out some preliminary ideas.”

“Great. See you then.”

I took down her address. No need for directions. She’s only two blocks away.

I hung up the phone feeling so relieved. It was like taking ski boots off after a long day on the slopes.

I enjoyed the high for two seconds and then immediately began the imperative task of chronic self-doubt.

What did she mean? Chef was praising me? Chef has never praised me to my face like that? Menu? Banquet? Going to her house?

I began to sweat.

I don’t want to go. I don’t want to go to her house. I don’t want to plan a menu. I just want to work at this banquet quietly, behind the scenes, and get this whole thing behind me.


Cooking School Journal: Amber Calls

I was still on a high from the market tour. But, I think everyone around me, including the kids and Joe were beginning to get annoyed and concerned. Or maybe they were just thinking, “could you just shut up with the  cantaloupe thing?”.

I guess I don’t blame them. There’s little worse than someone rambling on excitedly about things that are not so exciting. I couldn’t argue. But, I still talked about it mercilessly to anyone who would listen.

“Would you like paper or plastic?”

“Well, paper… but did you know a tamarind or tamarindo, as it is known in Latin America, has a surprisingly pleasant sweet and sour taste when bitten into?

The tamarind is native to tropical Africa and grows wild throughout the Sudan. It was introduced into India so long ago, it has often been reported to be indigenous there. It is extensively cultivated in tropical areas of the world. But, sometime during the sixteenth century, it was introduced into America and today is widely grown in Mexico. But, boy is it tasty! ”

“Uh- huh. Do you need help out Mrs. W?”

“Oh no thank you. I can manage.”

No one was spared.

But anyway…

After running four thousand errands the following day with a screaming toddler, I came home to a blinking answering machine.

You have one new message.

You have one new message.

I remember (slightly) the days before I was married. The blinking light on the answering machine was like cocaine. You dreamed about it all day. If it was not blinking you were completely devastated. If it shined its glorious light when you returned from a very long day,  you enjoyed the most euphoric high as your index finger even approached the play button… It could be him!

But, luckily, ten years have gone by, and as I have grown spiritually and learned to enjoy the most that life has to offer.

The blinking message machine now just means one thing…

“Oh crap. Who do I have to call back now?”

I pressed the button.

“Hi Jules. This is Amber from cooking school. I think we should talk. Please call me back as soon as possible. Okay. Thanks.”

I played it four times.

I carefully examined each word and intonation until I came to the solid conclusion that she absolutely hates me and I was in big trouble.

Cooking School Journal: The Market Tour II

My trip to the Produce Mart was absolutely better than anything I had ever expected. I began the day shuffling around with the crowd on the loading dock, eyeing all of the produce and making smart ass comments. By the end of our tour, I found myself flanking Mr. Neruya so closely that I think he was ready to call security. I couldn’t help myself, though. He was totally brilliant but the softest talker on the planet. I should know. I’m a serial mumbler. I could have put my ear next to his vocal cords, though, and been lucky enough to only walk away with every third word.

It didn’t matter. I got it.

You know how you stand in the grocery produce section trying to look cool? You feel-up the avocado, stare down the shirt of the cantaloupe and even try to make conversation with the tomatoes? It’s all in vain. Because no matter how hard you try, you end up going  home with the worst produce ever.

You can pick the rosiest firmest tomato, and when you slice it, lay it lovingly next to the most expensive fresh mozzarella and the greenest basil you take one bite and still reach for your vinaigrette. You should be able to enjoy it all with a simple shake of sea salt and a grind of peppercorns.


If you ever buy a cucumber again… buy a Persian cucumber. You’ll never turn back the are so firm and flavorful.

When you buy garlic, press on the root. There should be no give.

The webbing on the outside of a cantaloupe should be very raised…and smell it. It should smell like the sweetest melon you’ve ever dreamed of.

These were just three of the myriad things that I learned that cold morning. I was transfixed.

There is nothing more satisfying than learning from an expert. We all spend so much of our lives listening to people BS about everything. The talking heads on the  radio, cable tv, the networks, the internet,and all of the people who listen to the radio, watch cable and the networks, and surf the internet,  have all become experts on everything and nothing.

It has become part of our culture. Everyone has something to say about everything. Give them a mic and they’ll lecture.


How refreshing it was to stand, freezing in the middle of downtown L.A. at dawn, and have this old man show me how to choose a melon. He knew everyone and everything at the Produce Mart, which quickly became a bustling hub with flurries of transactions happening all around us.

His biggest regret?

He was entrenched in the process of trying to regulate the marketing of baby carrots when he was forced into retirement.

That little pouch of “baby carrots” you buy in the market are simply a whittled down regular carrot. A true baby carrot is a varietal all its own. It is a tiny carrot, top and all. The other is a batonnet of a regular carrot; packaged as a baby carrot. You could see his blood boil as he stared at a package of them on the dock.

“I fought hard to have these removed from the marketplace. But, when you leave a job, they don’t follow up. They don’t care,” he said.

I guess the truth may be that no matter how much important work you do in your life, it’s always the work not done that irritates you.