Confession No. 44 — Reading this might ruin your dinner. (So read it afterwards.)
Chrome, neon and dapperly dressed hosts certainly make a great first restaurant impression, but it’s the wafting aroma of good food that tends to close the deal. And the smell works, no matter the restaurant — or home kitchen.
First impressions with people work in much the same way. Nice hair. Clean teeth. Sufficient starch in the collar. And a pleasant smell. I’m not referring to the expensive scented stuff that we dab or spray, although said applications can help make or break a first impression. I’m just talking about a person’s emanation. Their essence — or pungency — whatever the case might be.
What inspires my bizarre thoughts? In this case, it was the beautiful woman at the convenience store.
She was young … 23, or so. She wore her jeans very well, in the rear at least. Not that hair impresses me (with the exception of Billy Idol), but I could tell that she spent time and money on her coiffure. I’d already caught a brief glimpse of her face as I was digging through the iced cooler in search of a large, cheap beer. She’s not someone I’d have turned away back in my days of being a bachelor.
After snagging a handful of watermelon-flavored Jolly Ranchers to go with my vagabond swill, I approached the register line. She occupied the spot directly in front of me. I would have some additional time to inspect her. I would relive some old lies … told so many times to my guy friends that even I was beginning to believe them. And then, it hit me.
This sauce was laden with garlic and onion. Basil. Maybe even some red wine. And body odor.
I initially thought that she’d just finished a shift at a local Italian joint. But, the body odor kept piercing my olfactory glands. It sort of reminded me of the time I tried to mix food with a certain act of love. (Bad move on my part. I’ve not been able to stomach honey in quite some time. I like whipped cream too much to even go there.)
Fact is, this marinara was coming from her pores. I know that people have certain scents. When someone adds garlic supplement pills to their daily vitamin regimen, they tend to put off an odor of … garlic. Most of us know that asparagus can affect the smell of certain things. Did you know that the same smell can exit your body through sweat? And onions are a no-brainer when it comes to your breath. But they can have effects similar to that of cigarettes and whiskey — the smell that smacks you upside the head when that guy approaches you at an intersection, guilts you into rolling down your window and tells you that he just needs gas money.
But marinara and body odor?
It’s a putrid experience that now lives with me … Sufficient enough to steer me toward Mexican and Thai cuisine for a few weeks … Adequate notice that there is much more to a woman than a teacup-shaped rear-end that has been forced into child-sized pants … A malodorous keepsake to remind me that looks are nothing … compared with stench.
Thankfully — for the woman who smells like marinara — someone out there enjoys breathing her. Yes. She has a suitor who likes to get a big whiff of tomatoes, oregano and armpit. How do I know this? Because, my mother in-law is never wrong — and she says that there is a lid for every pot.
As for me and mine, we’re lucky. We smell like … us. And when we don’t, we all know that water ain’t just for drinking.
The first thing I look for on any menu is eggplant. Especially in Chinese restaurants. Read my Yelp reviews (find me – unorthodox epicure) and you’ll see that I regularly judge a place by its eggplant. Locally, I have to bring my own eggplant to my favorite haunt. But they cook it well for me. Or, as their sign once said – ‘We do best for you.’ The green beans are also a Chinese restaurant favorite. I think you’ll like my version.
Szechuan Garlic Eggplant
5 – slender eggplants (Italian or Asian)
4 – garlic cloves, minced
2 – green onions (white and green parts) sliced thinly
1 Tablespoon – chile paste
1 teaspoon – ginger, minced
3 Tablespoons – vegetable oil
½ cup – vegetable or chicken stock
3 Tablespoons – dark soy sauce
1 Tablespoon – rice wine vinegar
1 Tablespoon – light brown sugar, packed (or 1 TB of Turbinado sugar)
1 Tablespoon – cornstarch
1 tablespoon – toasted sesame oil
Cut the eggplants in half, lengthwise. Slice into strips about 1-inch wide.
Heat a wok or large skillet to medium-high. Add vegetable oils, making sure bottom and sides of pan are coated. Add half of eggplant. Stir-fry until edges are slightly browned — about 2-3 minutes. Remove cooked eggplant and set aside. Repeat method with remaining eggplant.
In same heated pan, add onions, garlic and ginger. Stir-fry for about 30 seconds. Add chile paste. Stir-fry for another 30 seconds. Add the stock. Meantime, in a separate bowl, mix soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, and cornstarch until the sugar and cornstarch are dissolved. Pour mixture into hot wok with onions, garlic and ginger. Cook about one minute, stirring constantly, until sauce has thickened. Add eggplant and sesame oil. Cook, tossing for about a minute.
Garnish with cilantro leaves.
Szechuan ‘Dry’ Fried Green Beans
1 lb. – fresh green beans
1 teaspoon – fresh ginger, minced
1 – garlic clove, minced
2 Tablespoons – dark soy sauce
1 Tablespoon – chile paste
½ Tablespoon – light brown sugar
2 Tablespoons – Vegetable stock
1 teaspoon – cornstarch
3 Tablespoons – vegetable oil
1 teaspoon – toasted sesame oil
Trim and remove strings from beans. Rinse.
Heat large pan over medium heat. Add vegetable oil. When oil is hot, add green beans. Stir-fry for about 5 minutes. Add garlic and ginger. Stir-fry another minute, or so. Add chile paste and continue stir frying.
Meantime, mix vegetable stock, soy sauce, sugar and cornstarch in separate bowl. Add to stir fry, tossing until heated through. Sauce should thicken slightly. Turn off heat. Add sesame oil. Toss again.