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.

Marinara.

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

Eat your heart out Tyler Florence. You might be better looking than me. And you have a hell of a lot more money. Well, maybe. My granddad invented the gas-powered Weedeater and the machine that separates the node from the peanut (for M&M Mars’ Snickers Bar). Still, my Szechuan Eggplant is better than yours. And I developed mine without the help of a staff. Just sayin’.

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

Cilantro leaves

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.

Enjoy!

Comments

  1. Cindy Layne says:

    Thanks for the giggle!!!

  2. gawd…I love spicy eggplant!!
    *anna

  3. Lovely, lovely! I do love eggplant.

  4. The Mom Chef says:

    Kudos to you for the ‘in-your-face’ at Tyler Florence. I do like him though. At least he’s a real chef and not just someone with a pretty face that knows how to cook and look good in front of the camera.

    There’s an Armenian cured meat called basterma that causes the eater to smell pretty awful. I love the stuff, but I love my husband more so I rarely eat it because of that. :/

    Your eggplant dish looks amazingly delicious. Now that I’m an adult and love the stuff, I’m all over this recipe. thanks for sharing YOUR creation with us.

    • I actually like Tyler Florence as well. Always have. That cutline is really an attempt at self-deprecating humor, and not a slight on Tyler at all. I just wonder, though, was he named after Tyler, Texas?

  5. This sounds amazing! I will have to try and make it for dinner. Maybe I will try to do it tonight. :) Thanks for the recipe! Keep up the great work!

  6. Thank you! I have these eggplants in the garden and need ideas! Thanks for visiting my blog today, too. Lovely to meet other food-loving writers! (or word-loving foodies!)

  7. I will never forget visiting a church and being forced to sit next to Mr. Onion. Everything about him smelled, breath, body odor, clothes. Ew! It did not inspire me to cook though- good for you! BTW, Tyler Florence is a nice guy. He gave me a cookbook…all I’m saying :)

  8. A former dance partner—nice guy, fun to dance with, but Oh that garlic :(
    Can’t wait to try your eggplant dish.

  9. hilarious intro to this recipe. Moral of the story, never get to close, spoils the fun~! Thank you for the wonderful story. We chatted about it at dinner too~ :)

    • Thanks, Barbara. I like Chef Tyler Florence. He’s a good sport whom I’ve sparred with on Twitter a time or two. And it’s flattering to me that my musings spawned some dinner talk — especially this one. Please do tell: who is the smelly person that you guys discussed?

      • Oh dear, must I confess? yes, reminds me of this gorgeous man that asked me to dance years go. From afar, a young Sean Connery. Then, he spoke. His breath, yes, like Salami. And not just any salami, but that strong sopresata kind with lots of pepper. Never spoke to him again. To this day, 27 years later, I can not eat any kind of salami without thinking of That experience.
        You will now see tomato sauce in a whole new way! Lol! Buona Sera!

  10. That looks delish!!

  11. Hey man, thanks for visiting my blog. This post did not ruin my appetite! Actually I’m ready for a PBR and your eggplant recipe. I was thinking what to do with the egglplant in the veggie bin and your post was perfect timing. I like hot dogs too – especially “Texas wieners”. Stay in touch for more scroungy stuff!

  12. This looks AMAZING!! I am totally making this eggplant (GF modification on the soy sauce). I’ll link you when I make it. Hopefully it’s as great as yours.

  13. Saw your post on the CF. Made the eggplant last night. Subbed Sriracha for the chile paste and garnished with Thai basil and toasted sesame seeds. Dh loved it! Will add to my limited eggplant repertoire. Thanks!

    • My pleasure, Cindy. Sriracha sounds good in this dish, although I’d eliminate the brown sugar if I were to go that route. I think I might just try it your way! Thank you!

  14. Oh no, how are you EVER going to be able to eat spaghetti again??? And your eggplant recipe is lovely, although I admit that I rarely cook with eggplant. I really don’t know why that is…

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