"The New Joy of...Cooking"
There's no better way to challenge the loyalty of one's readership than to post a recipe.
I could, therefore, entitle this post something Sally Fieldlian like, "You DO like me, right? You WILL come back, even though I'm posting a recipe? I promise it will be just this once, and I won't weep hysterically and wipe my snot on your shoulder, if only you promise to return one day, when the recipes have gone away."
But the asparagus furor that arose out of my last post made me want to provide some specifics about one of the backbones of my springtime diet: nearly-broiled asparagus. If you, too, love that green stuff so fervently that even the funky urine odor an hour after eating it doesn't dissuade you, then this recipe is for you.
First, you're going to need a baking sheet, the kind of big ole rectangular pan you could hit Simon Cowell in the chest with terrifically hard and then take away imprints of his chest hair tufts for posterity. Now, this pan doesn't have to be huge-huge (damage can be done to Cowell even with a moderate-sized pan), but you want it big enough that it could double as a clown shoe in a pinch.
Then you're going to need at least a pound of asparagus--because, really, who eats less than that? And to tell you true, if you live in the Land of the Wild Jocelyn, you'd do well to start out with at least two pounds. Some fine folks, home after a long day's work at The Company, standing in the kitchen with good posture, wearing a tailored suit, might look at the stack of stalks and think, "Oh, good, we've enough for the whole family. Lovely." Here in our household of unemployment, slouching and t-shirts, though, we are realists and know there ain't no way the yowling kids are going to eat, willingly, this particular green food (since it doesn't say "Shrek" on it), so the prep-chant goes: "Screw their nutrition. More for us!"
Your next step will be therapeutic, as there is snapping involved--from tempers to stalks. Pick up each stalk and, as you did as a child with your Barbies (when witnessing adults would mutter, "Hem, er, Dahmer. Jeffrey Dahmer?"), hold each stalk by its "legs" and then, at the natural breaking point, snap off its "head." Remember when you decapitated your Skipper doll and never again found her noggin? That's what I'm talkin' about. Indeed, each stalk can be gently and steadily bent--violent movements are not actually necessary--until it hits the point of breakage. A man named Peter did just such work on my heart when I was in my early 30's. The stalk, or the Jocelyn, hardly needs to realized what's happening to it, until the moment of irrevocable and devastating impact.
Okay, now it's Artistic Expression time. Discard the tough ends that you've just broken off (if you have an enemy, perhaps named Peter, put them in his pillowcase while he's away on a trip to Vegas for two weeks) and then artfully arrange the lovely asparagus heads/bodies on the baking sheet. I sometimes do a hatchmark dealie, wherein I line up four spears and then lay a fifth across it diagonally; this also helps Groom and me keep a running tally of how many spears there are, so fisticuffs don't ensue at mealtime. But you go crazy; get creative; make a portrait of your grandmother riding a unicycle out of the stuff.
Somewhere in the middle of all this fun, you can turn on the oven to, honest to Emeril, 500 bangin' degrees. If you have a smoke detector in the house, this would be a good time to go take the batteries out. I'll wait.
No, seriously. Go do it. The smoke is going to be hack-worthy.
Okay. So you've got them babies on the pan. Now you need to take out some of your really expensive ultra-extra-non-Paris-Hilton-but-rather-still-a-virgin olive oil and, placing a finger over the opening (there are more, really crude, Paris Hilton jokes here, but I'll spare you. Just think "finger" and "opening." Yes, my work here is done), drizzle it over all the spears. Or you can just use your cheap, years-old streetwalker olive oil. Whatever you've got.
Now comes the philosophical section of the recipe: what is life without spice? Life, and food, are significantly diminished without it, all the less for their bleak, uninterrupted sameness. Translation: add some salt and pepper. If you have any character at all, make it freshly-ground pepper, not just pre-ground flakes from a can. Splurge, honey, and buy some peppercorns. You are so worth it.
Hang on. We're ready to rock. Open the oven, slam in the pan of goodies, close the oven, lean back against the kitchen counter, and pick up your beer again. If you use a timer, set it for five minutes. If you don't use a timer, then sing the "ABC" song about 7 times. Or once through the extended dance remix of "Tainted Love" would work.
After five minutes, put on a big ole silicon oven mitt and a gas mask (or, at the least, safety goggles) and open up the oven. Reach in like the hero you are and shake that baking sheet--hokey pokey all those stalks so that their left feet and right arms are in a big tangle. I watched my kids play Twister the other day, and it was pretty much the same--limbs everywhere; all I know is that this step involves some sort of analogy to a kids' game. So go ahead and liken this process to, em, Clue Junior, and then close the door and back away slowly, reaching around blindly for your beer as you wipe the smoke out of your eyes.
Set the timer for another five minutes, or sing "Stairway to Heaven" while musing about how poorly all those formerly-hot classic rock stars have aged. Ah, Robert Plant, we hardly know ye.
After the final chorus, or when the beeper goes off, put on all your gear again, and head in to the inferno one final time for The Extraction.
Toss the pan onto the countertop or the burners of your stove. Head to the fridge and take out some feta cheese. There are no substitutions here, so don't even try to sprinkle some cheddar on the Holy Stalks. Jesus Marimba, could you not plan ahead for once in your life and have actually bought the feta? Presuming you want to stay on my good side, you'll just have the damn feta and won't dither about in front of the cheese drawer, trying to find something to fool me with. And this is no time to get distracted by those old tupperware containers on the back of the shelf. Yes, that is mold you see; yes, those are the refried beans you opened when Clinton was still in the White--and the dog--house. But there's piping asparagus awaiting you, so hop to!
Plate your half of the spears, angling for one or two extra when your friend/spouse/partner isn't looking ("Hey, check out that, er, UPS truck backing up to the neighbors' garage! Why are they filling it with all their electronic equipment? Could it be a heist? Maybe you need to do something..."). Crumble the feta, liberally (always the best approach, in cooking, morals, and politics), all over your spears.
Set the timer again, this time for two minutes. Or hum "Hit Me, Baby, One More Time." See if you can beat my record and eat your entire plateful in that time.
By the way, asparagus fangs hanging out at the buzzer DO still qualify as "eaten."
I've also heard of people eating their food in a leisurely fashion. Suit yourself, ya delicate little poncey poodle. The rest of us will just sink our heads into the feedbag and make some indelicate chomping noises for awhile here.