Come for the abuse, stay for the omelette

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This is Pep, yelling at a customer. I'll get to him, the omelette, and a bonus recipe in a minute.

First: oh god, we are the cliched empty-nesting couple seeking out meaning and fraternity on the Camino Santiago. Well, our neighbors Sophie and Oliver are doing the whole shebang - we are here for the first four days seeing them off. Then we will part ways in Pamplona and take a train south while they walk on for the rest of the month. As they will tell us when they finally return to our neighborhood: life has never been as distilled as when you spend 30 days doing only three things: sleeping, walking and eating. Even in our modern, technologically driven life, a pilgrimage like that reveals fundamental things about yourself to you. It was a profound enough experience that they just did it - on a more remote route - a second time.

Sophie and Oliver grew up in Britain, so popping over to Spain or France for a lovely mini-break is old hat to them, but for us this is a big adventure.

So anyway, we didn't get the depth of a month-long pilgrimage. But four days, three nights was long enough to get a sense of it. On a misty morning, we put on our packs and set off, futzing around for too long before hitting the trail (but wow! the scenery):

 

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and therefore arriving last at the first albergue, whereupon we were handed towels and a coin for the shower and shown to our top bunks in a steamy room with eight rickety metal bunkbeds and a (closed) sliding glass door. A bunch of people were already in bed and a guy was setting up a portable CPAP machine. My husband the light sleeper took one look, said "no fucking way," and set his sleeping bag on the ground out by the clothesline.

Of the four of us, he was the one who got a great night's sleep. Sophie and Oliver were in a different dorm with the most aggressive snorer in the world. Gripping her coffee the next morning, Sophie said she'd literally slept about 41 minutes the whole night, and looked ready to 86 the whole trip right then.

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Leftover Chinese Food Frittata

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You know how when you order Chinese food you always order too much, so you save all the containers for the next day because you love leftover Chinese food? And when you open the fridge again you realize that some of the containers just have a couple of vegetables and a whole bunch of sauce?

I have a plan for how to turn that disappointing moment into a culinary coup.

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A Six-Pack of Simple Syrups

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I think it's just a slight switch in your state of mind: the idea that instead of buying a flavored thing, you could make that thing yourself. I think that might be the gateway to a whole new approach to cooking. Like: instead of buying lemon flavored pepper, you could grate the zest from a lemon and put pepper on something. It takes about 10 seconds longer, but the difference in flavor...OMG.

You are more creative and you have more control than you think.

It's the same with simple syrups. I was in a package store in Texas the other day looking for a bottle of wine, and was marveling at the sheer volume of prepackaged cocktails. THEY ARE BAD. Not just because they are full of corn syrup and artificial flavors, but, more to the point, they taste fake and weird. You can make something delicious and better.

So I thought the recipe this week should be so easy it's almost ridiculous: a six-pack of simple syrups.

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Weeknight Chicken

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I was spoiled, because I was raised by a father who was a skilled and enthusiastic cook - always at home, and sometimes for a living. So I grew up around the satisfaction of cooking good food, and the fun of socializing while cooking it. My dad was a master of walking into anyone's kitchen and putting together, out of whatever was there, an inventive and delicious meal, and being super entertaining while doing it.

So...I was in Vons the other day, in the meat department, looking for a ham hock for some split pea soup I was making. They had no ham hocks. But they did have about a million packages of pre-made, pre-seasoned meat; Carne Asada, Lemon-Pepper Chicken, Pre-marinated pork tenderloin.

Most of the ingredients in these packages are crap; cheap oil, lots of corn syrup, dehydrated garlic and onions. They're not good for you, but even worse, they're not going to taste good. But I get it. People are busy and, also, a lot of people are intimidated by the mystery of cooking.

When I see food like that, I want to explain to everyone who's buying it how easy it is to make homemade food that's healthy and delicious. But since I can't personally track them all down, I'll just do a blog post about it!

I'm going to make a point, in this series, of regularly posting super-easy, yummy food you could make on a weeknight when you are wiped out and uninspired. Today's recipe is one. I give you....

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Aglio E Olio - the rock and roll masterpiece of pastas

Today, Chuck Prophet tweeted this:

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First of all, if Bruce Springsteen sang one of my songs, I would pretty much lose it. I read once that when the guys from Los Lobos got the master of Elvis Costello singing "A Matter of Time," they "just fell over. We couldn't work the rest of the day."

I was already planning to post this recipe this week, but now I have a perfect metaphor. Chuck Prophet & Alejandro Escovedo's song "Always a Friend" is like Spaghetti Aglio e Olio. A simple lyric, expertly crafted, is exquisite, just like a simple recipe made with the highest quality ingredients.

I can appreciate a fancy meal as much as anyone, but what's fundamentally satisfying is a BLT made with a perfect tomato and good bread and mayo. It's the culinary version of "(Reach Out) I'll Be There" or "Not Fade Away" or "Brass in Pocket."

You can find a recipe for spaghetti with garlic and oil in every Italian cookbook. It's basically a bunch of garlic, cooked - not too much - in good olive oil, and then tossed with spaghetti al dente, some of its cooking water and some salt. Maybe Parmesan, but it doesn't need it.

Seems like it would be boring, right? NO. Is "I wanna tell you how it's gonna be / you're gonna give your love to me" boring? Hardly: it's packed with desire and confidence and hope, with just a hint of self-doubt, all in fifteen little words.

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Manka's Success

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Manka's was a rugged lodge in Inverness, CA, and my dad cooked there. After school, like all restaurant kids, I would do homework during the food prep. Every afternoon, Manka, who had to be in her eighties at that point, would come in and make the pastries for the evening. I can see her in a sunny corner of the kitchen, piping meringue onto baking trays in her apron. Oh my god, those meringues - cracking on the outside and chewy in the middle.

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