Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A little counter culture, pun intended

Once upon a time last summer I met a music producer on a flight to Las Vegas. What can I say? I live in LA, we were flying to the city of fun, and I happen to be a friendly girl. We chatted all the way to Vegas, exchanged numbers, and kept in touch. He is a producer for a big label and many of his bands are regularly all over the charts. I was impressed, I won't lie, most of us in a LA have a bit of Hollywood-itis. Though flirty, he is married, and I don't go there. So, to make a long story short, we've become friends.

He called last week to ask if I wanted to grab dinner and get caught up. I accepted, and we planned for something this week. He called again to ask if I wanted to join him at the House of Blues after dinner -- one of his bands had a sold-out show. The band was Gym Class Heroes, currently #5 on the charts, and the sold-out venue was the House of Blues on Sunset Blvd. I said yes.

Fast forward a few days, and he called again. He had to get up early the next day for a flight, so he didn't want go to the concert after all (I could have a rain check for another concert someday, which I obviously plan on cashing), but wanted to know if still wanted to go to dinner and, if so, if I minded if the band joined us.

I didn't mind.

We all met at Katana, a very scene-y restaurant in Hollywood, known for fabulous sushi. I changed clothes after work -- no one wants to show up in Hollywood dressed in boring work clothes, particularly to dinner with a music producer and his band. One cute brown low-cut dress, metallic green cowboy boots, and chunky necklace later, I was set.

I stroll in, pretending to be cool, in a room full of H-wood players, performers, hangers on, and stars, and found my friend. He introduced me to the band and we settled in with some Invincibles, or Obliteraters, or Destroyers...whatever those drinks were called. The waitress delivered the menus. Conversation and strong alcohol flowed. The band was funny, full of stories, and genuinely nice. My friend entertained us during any dull moments with tales about his other bands and adventures in music. No one looked at the menus. I was itching to study my choices, but since no one else at the table seemed to care about the menu, I resisted as long as I could.

When I finally looked at the menu I got all drool-y. Everything looked good. I zoned out into my review of the menu, and when I emerged, fell into a conversation about taking blow. Having no personal insight, I kept my mouth shut and returned to the menu. There were about 25 items I wanted to order, but since I had realized that I was with a group that didn't care a bit about food, and were much more interested in alcohol, cigarettes, funny stories, and upcoming tour dates, I kept my selection simple (sashimi- it was wonderful) and didn't fall into my usual habit of quizzing my dinner companions about their menu selections.

They were all nice, and totally fun to spend time with, but not my ideal dinner companions. In case you haven't noticed, I like food. I like to eat food, read about food, talk about food. Yes, the conversation about sex, drugs, and rock and roll with actual music stars gave me insight into the rock star counter culture. And I'm completely glad that I went --I had a great time. But the most curious counter culture I noticed was the food-apathy culture. These people just didn't care about food. At all. They ordered safe, simple dishes that they clearly had ordered before. They ate mechanically, with no thought or apparent enjoyment. All of their focus was on the conversations, libations, and flirtations swirling around the table. They obviously had appetites for other indulgences, but food just did not seem to be one of them.

I get the appeal of the rock and roll life. I do. I see the adoring fans, the piles of money, and the joy of creating your art. I don't get the food-apathy. It just confuses me. One kind of counter culture I understand, and enjoy being a part of, even if just for one night-- but, the other....The one that doesn't use counters, or knives, or pans? That one I just don't get.

Maybe I misjudged them. They were getting ready for a big show, they are appearing on Leno in a few days, and are touring with Gwen Stefani this summer -- they clearly have big things on their minds. But somehow I don't think so. Nice though they are, these people just don't care about food. And I don't get it.

Speaking of caring about food, this Sunday night I cared about food -- about healthy, simple, vibrant food. I had been out to dinner too many times in a row and I was craving something light and easy, highlighting clean flavors.

I had been re-reading Amanda Hesser's book, "Cooking for Mr. Latte" and had been inspired by her recipe for salmon on a bed of lentils. Full of protein, fiber, and omega-3s, it sounded like the perfect meal. I loosely followed the recipe, added some grilled veggies on the side, and looked over the plate. I still felt like something was missing. I wanted a sauce, but I didn't want anything heavy or oily. I had some fresh basil, and began thinking about pesto. But, I wanted light pesto. Or at least something light and pesto-ish. This recipe was born, fresh and delicious. It might not be pesto, but it is tasty and healthy, and isn't that what counts?

Fresh Basil Sauce


--1 head garlic, roasted
--juice of 1 lemon
--salt and pepper, to taste (I use lots)
--few drops of olive oil
--1 cup fresh basil leaves
--3 pita chips, crumbled
--splash of water


1) combine all ingredients in food processor and pulse until very smooth. Add a few drops of water at a time if mixture seems too dry.

To serve:

--Use as salad dressing, to top cooked fish or chicken, as a marinade, or to flavor baked potatoes.


Clearly, you can add more oil to make this sauce more decadent. Nuts would be good also. The pita chips give the sauce bulk and a thicker mouth-feel without a lot of fat or calories. If you add more oil or nuts, feel free to omit the pita chips.

Mixing this sauce with some mayo or sour cream would make a fantastic dip.

Oh, and roasting the garlic is an important step. Don't just add raw garlic -- you'll be overwhelmed. Roasting the garlic makes it mellow and smooth, and allows you to use a whole head in one recipe. Simply sprinkle a bit of oil on top of the garlic head (skin still on), wrap it in foil, and bake at about 350 degrees for about 40 minutes. When your kitchen smells fantastic, take the garlic out, squeeze the now-soft garlic out of the skin and straight into the food processor.

The sauce as served, poured over the salmon and lentils. The sharp lemony-herby flavor really tied the dish together. And, the next day the sauce was delicious mixed into the leftover lentils.

Side note: The Gym Class Heroes really are nice, fun, and friendly. And, I'm totally digging their music. In particular, in the song Cupid's Chokehold, the line,"I know I'm young, but if I had to choose her or the sun, I'd be one nocturnal son of a gun" amuses me to no end. Check them out!

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