Cook… Like a Writer!

Behold! You've made apples.

June 8, 2011

Cooking is an art. It’s like writing in many ways. You can add a dozen spices and spend hours working on something like Indian food, a dish that has more plants in it than a greenhouse, and get something that mixes flavors in unique ways to create new sensations. On the other hand, you could use five or six ingredients and make pico de gallo, slow-roast some pork, and you have dinner. Likewise, writing can involve in-depth research and Alan Moore-like layers of meaning and reference, or writing can involve a simple poem on a greeting card that will nevertheless move a person to tears.

Everyone should know how to cook, and you don’t have to make anything fancy. In fact, some of the best meals are the ones made from scratch with only a few ingredients, and if you’re on a tight budget (what artist isn’t?) allow me to share a few of my favorite recipes and some tips for artists who wish to stretch that food dollar.

Keep in mind that I’m assuming you know how to boil water, cut vegetables, and otherwise not murder yourself with a fork.

Mini Cooking Table by ~vesssper on deviantART

Buy in Bulk

If you have a Sam’s Club or something similar nearby, get membership and go shopping. Trust me. The bill may seem huge, but remember that you’re buying olive oil, spices, and canned goods to last at least several months. Don’t buy fresh fruits and veggies here, though, since you’ll likely not go through them before they expire. Instead, stock up on the following:

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • Black pepper
  • Minced garlic
  • Carlo Rossi wine, either burgundy or chardonnay
  • Assorted spices

It really depends on what kind of cooking you want to do, but I find that almost everything I make ends up using sweet leaf basil, cumin, dill weed, crushed red peppers, oregano, rosemary, and thyme. If you prefer, you can also get Lawry’s Salt since it’s already a combo of several spices.

I also highly recommend stainless steel pots and pans. Stuff with Teflon tends to chip and wear away if you use it a lot.

Food by ~yimin94 on deviantART

Think Like a Camper

While it might be tempting to just buy instant meals since they’re so darn quick, think about all the sodium and other crap you’re going to be putting into your system. While we may have been brought up with the image of mom slaving away over a hot stove for hours to make a great home-cooked meal, it doesn’t take more than a few minutes of preparation for quick dishes, and even things that take hours usually just require you check in on them every once in a while. Also, do the math on how much it costs to make your food from scratch versus buying ready-made meals.

It’s a HUGE difference.

For a budget, chicken and fish are king. Think fresh veggies or, if you know you won’t use them for a while, canned. In general, avoid things with ingredients you can’t pronounce.

You’ll even find that eating healthy isn’t some yuppie dream. It’s affordable and preferable.

HEALTHY-FOOD2 by ~JackBeretta on deviantART

The Three Basic Food Groups

My dad and I both cook using the dump method. You take the meat, you put it in a pan, and dump a bunch of spices, veggies, whatever.

Done. You made dinner.

Let’s be more specific.

Get a batch of fish fillets. Tilapia works just fine, although Mary and I have also used catfish. I’ll use lime juice, dill weed, minced garlic, and a touch of butter for fish, and then fry them in olive oil. You could also poach them in the pan with a bit of white wine on low heat, reduce the wine and fish oil, and you end up with a thick sauce for your freshly cooked fish.

Chicken? That’s easy. Mix a cup of white wine and two cups of orange juice, then add a dash of olive oil, sea salt, pepper, and a little rosemary. Let the whole thing simmer on low heat for two to three hours. All you have to do is stir it to make sure it doesn’t stick, and when the whole thing is reduced to about a cup or less, you end up with an amazing orange glaze you can use on chicken. Now cook the chicken and add the glaze before it’s cooked all the way.

Beef usually calls for a marinade of beer (cheap 40’s will do), sea salt, pepper, marjoram, lime juice, cumin, and a bay leaf. Let it marinade for an hour or so, or overnight if you can, then cook the meat on its own, reduce the mixture the meat was soaking in, and you’ve just made beer gravy.

Beef, It’s What’s For Dinner by ~gracefuliamnot on deviantART

One Recipe To Rule Them All

You may notice a pattern here. Pretty much everything involves liquid, preferably booze, being simmered down into a thicker sauce for the meat itself. The process is slow, but worth it. It does take between two to three hours depending on how much liquid you have (sometimes minutes for really small amounts like with the beef), but the end result is the same. It’s quick to put together and requires little preparation beyond just getting to know the ingredients and knowing what goes good with what.

You can even make your own tomato sauce by mashing a handful of tomatoes, some wine, and adding basil, oregano, olive oil, sea salt, and pepper. Add some water, let the whole thing boil until it’s reduced to a thick paste, and you’ve got the best pasta sauce you’ve ever tried.

Once you’re comfortable with a few dishes, start adding things like pasta and mess with different techniques like baking, frying, poaching, etc.

Being an artist means sacrifice. Unfortunately, part of that sacrifice translates as a tight budget. I’ve found, time and time again, that just following a few simple rules and taking the time to learn how to cook is one of the best things anyone can do to not only

Plus, the girls dig it when you can whip up beef burgundy with a side of garlic-vinegar French fries.

One Great Dinner by ~BuddhaRocks on deviantART

Let’s get to some links to get you ready for the end of the week.

  • My old professor, Tom Chiarella, wrote this wonderful article on how to be a good boss. It’s so, so true.
  • If you’re going to throw a party and you want to advertise on Facebook, please make sure you set the settings to “private.” Otherwise, you might end up with 1500 guests.
  • And finally, if you need more proof that it doesn’t take much to make wonderful art, check out this video. One woman. One looper. One voice. That’s it. See you Friday! Also, let me know if you try anything on this article.
  • The internet is now classified as a human right. Can I stop paying now?


A Defense of Drug Abuse 2: Electric Boogaloo

It's twitcharrific!

April 25, 2011

Every artist needs a booze break. Whether your drink of choice is a shot of pure agave tequila, bourbon on the rocks, absinthe (if you can find it), or a chilled beer, you just want to longue back and relax, look at notes, or otherwise zone out into a chemical haze for a few minutes. Nothing wrong with that.

Of course, the opposite is also true. Sometimes you need to jump start the creative juices. Sometimes you really want to just get going and not stop until you finish. An exercise routine is good to get your blood flowing, but with a hectic schedule, you might not have time.

Enter caffeine, the savior of writers, painters, and artists everywhere.

Look, I‘m not naïve. I need me some hot or cold caffeine in the morning sometimes. However, your delivery system, like your delivery system for alcohol, must suit your needs. Not all caffeine is created equal.

A Monument to College Caffeine by ~animay0 on deviantART

Energy Drinks

Red Bull, Monster, 5 Hour Energy Shot, whatever. Take your pick. The truth is that a lot of these drinks have a lot of sugar and other things you don’t really need. If you don’t have the time for a cup of coffee or tea, you really need to rethink your schedule. These things don’t have any more caffeine that a cup of whatever else you might want to enjoy, so why not just have something that won’t pack on the sugar?

Plus, let’s face it. Most of them taste like crap. If you really, REALLY want one, though, I recommend Monster Low Calorie. At least don’t get diabetes while you’re drinking these things.


I’m going to get a lot of people upset but…

I can’t stand coffee.

The smell is just… I don’t know, but I’ve never liked it. I’ve tried it black, with cream and milk, and other ways, but I just can’t stomach it. Other than all that, though, coffee tends to linger on you for a long time. It stains your teeth and, unless you make it yourself, expect to pay something like twelve bucks for a cup of overprized foam.

I’m sure coffee has its fans, but I’m not one of them. Moving on…

Surging through my veins by *Xaldin911 on deviantART

Black Tea

Dark, delicious, with a delicate flavor of herbs that both soothe and wake up with that jolt of energy… This is my favorite, hands down. Black tea can be just as pungent as coffee, but I actually don’t mind its flavor. Irish tea, which is pretty stout and bitter, is my favorite for a day when I know things are going to be hectic. It’s bold enough to wake me up and packs enough caffeine to get me through the morning at least.

Unlike coffee, though, black tea rarely leaves a lingering smell anywhere. That’s a big plus, I think. You don’t want to be smelling coffee all day. Trust me. My sister worked at Starbucks and as much as she loved coffee, having half her clothes smell like it really put her off the stuff for a while.

And speaking of tea…

Green Tea

South Texas is hot. I mean really hot. I mean… let me put it this way. It’s 9 PM and I’d rather stay inside because it’s still freakishly hot outside. When the wind blows, it feels like someone has a hairdryer aimed at your face. A hairdryer filled with hellfire. That’s wielded by a fire primordial.

Once summer gets here in full swing, though, things get downright nasty.

That’s why I get a pitcher, put four green tea bags in there, and fill it with hot (not boiling) water. Stick that bad boy in the fridge overnight and the next morning you have delicious iced green tea. It’s like liquid energy and awesomeness. A little sugar helps if you think tea in any form is too bitter, but I prefer it straight.

Afternoon Tea for One by ~regularjane on deviantART

Like alcohol, though, be careful. I’ve actually cut my caffeine intake these last few months to maybe a cup or two a day if I need it. I was getting too jittery and on-edge. Cutting back meant a few days of sharp headaches as I detoxed from caffeine. I’ve also gotten into the joys of brewing the tea in a cast-iron pot my grandmother gave me. I could kill a raptor with that thing.

All in all, it’s a moderate tool that should be used with care.

And I type all this while on my second cup of tea for the day…

Well, link time!

  • Wow. And they said it would never happen. I remember hearing rumors about Duke Nukem Forever since… well, they’ve always been there. It looks like this is it… and I still can’t finish Diego’s Story. See you Wednesday!

Designer Drug

I'm a metaphor.

September 10, 2010

Time for some alchemy! I wrote a draft of this story almost four years ago in college and was called out on some drug-related habits by a guy in the class that, well… was quite familiar with the subject matter while I only did research on case studies. I guess it goes to show the power of first-hand accounts. Enjoy!

Plumb - Drugstore Jesus

Nothing really gets you going like some self-medication. You have to get the right stuff, though, the right pills and chasers. If you really want to experience a new level of sensory immersion, though, you can’t go wrong with some cheap vodka, a water filter, and a couple of sinus pills, something antihistamine for the daytime. Cheap-knock-offs work just as well, as long as it’s orange or red. That’s an easy way to remember it.

Once you have a day like mine, you need your friends. Construction work for twelve hours a day, working without a face mask, breathing in little bits of concrete and plaster… that’s enough to make you cough gray for three days. You ever been in the sun so long that going indoors makes you feel as though someone took a blanket off of you? Like the sun has been pressing down on you the entire day, like it has weight, and those burns on your back and shoulders are the imprints of sunlight? It’s a stamp, really. The only way to forget about it is to forget pretty much everything else.

I came home earlier and found Rich on the couch, passed out on what I could only imagine were a few dozen pills from assorted pharmacies throughout the city. He swore he could find the right mixture of prescriptions and liquor to simulate the euphoria of any illegal drug. He was probably right. Then again, he took enough pills that his brain shut down and he thought he was having the time of his life.

Happy Drugs by ~YohiGirl on deviantART

Random alchemy in the brain is not the best way to go, but it’s the best I know. That’s why we stuck with the true and tried methods. Pot’s too mellow, cigarettes are too expensive, and expensive liquor doesn’t cut it. People can’t offer you the right comfort, either. They can’t tell you they’ll make you forget how shitty your life is. No woman can do that for you. They can come close, though.  I met a girl at a party once.  Not my idea. A friend dragged me there because he said I wasn’t being social. I met this girl there, a brunette. Blonds are a dime a dozen. I went to the bar and had a few shots of something that tasted like wood and rubbing alcohol. She was sitting on the other side of the room, red plastic cup in hand, eyes glassy. She was talking to a few other girls standing beside her, but she looked like she was alone for the most part.

I walked up to her and said, “Long night?”

She rolled her head to face me and said, “Not long enough.”

I’d had a few cocktails that night, the kinds of things Rich cooked up in high school before he could get the prescription ingredients and had to make do with complex mixes of other substances. Everything felt heightened. Her smell, her eyes, the way she moaned and scratched my back an hour later while she tried to not make too much noise and wake her parents. It was good. I even got her phone number, and she asked me to call her later. I never did. Even while I was with her, all I could think about was that in the morning it would all start over again. Classes, find a job, think about the next fifty years so you stress out. Just an endless cycle broken briefly by Rich’s customized reality trips and the occasional momentary companion. You can’t go wrong with that, but it doesn’t change anything.

She wasn’t the first. Not even close. Ever since I was old enough to steal beer, I’d looked to women. They came before the drugs ever even crossed my mind or twisted it into a hundred different shapes and colors. The first one was called Tammy. I can’t remember her last name. I just remember she was this short busty blonde on the cheerleading team back in Calvary High School. She didn’t talk to me for weeks after we spent the night in her parent’s lake house doing things we saw on cheap cable movies. She was the first time I tried to forget. No, that’s wrong. I’d tried to forget all my life. She was the first time I’d had anyone else help me forget. And I did, if only for an instant. After that, I met other girls, let them help me forget, and then I met Rich.

One-Night-Stand by ~EstebanDesigns on deviantART

Rich was in the same grade as me but was a year older because he’d been held back. Even back then, he looked like a scarecrow had grown skin and was just walking about. He was skinny with short blond hair that looked more like straw and sunken features that completed the undead look. He was just some kid from the suburbs with daddy’s money and no direction. The first time he showed me the merciful bliss of chemically-induced weekends, I was walking along, backpack slung over one shoulder, trying to act cool when I knew I looked and acted as awkward as anyone in that school.

I was probably worse off than others. I’d enrolled in the Manufacturing Sciences Program, a program designed for, “the brightest students interested in getting a step ahead in the corporate and manufacturing sectors of society.” What I was finding out by the end of my freshman year was that their taglines were all just really nice, fancy ways of saying, “We’re going to show you how to talk properly to your superiors, write a report, and type.”

In other words, how to work in a cubicle. We were being taught how to not go crazy for the next thirty years as we worked for some position in middle-management.

That day, I sat outside in the parking lot, waited for my ride, and Rich passed me. I must have had circles under my eyes, or at the very least I looked like I needed to wake up. You wouldn’t believe how much work tediousness is. He dropped a little bag next to me. I picked it up and saw the colors inside, white and red, Christmas colors. Before I could say anything, he kept walking and said, “Two red, one white, chase with mouthwash,” winked, and kept walking.

You could ask me for hours why I took them or why he gave them to me. Maybe he gave them to me because he felt sorry for me. Maybe I took them was because I thought they’d kill me. Maybe it was because I really wasn’t sure if they would work. They were something different in my life. Yes, they could kill me, but maybe they wouldn’t. When I got home, I took Rich’s prescription, then sat down and stared at the wall for an hour. My mom called me to dinner and I sat there, moving my chicken and mushrooms to the rhythm of a song I didn’t know. The salad was brighter and the chicken tasted like it was raised in some far-off tropical country. My parents asked me a few times why I seemed so distracted.

“Long day at school,” was all I needed to say and they left me alone for the rest of the night. Amazing how that line can work on almost any place, job, or situation.

To be continued…

Want to read more? Just visit the main Charcoal Streets page and take a look at the complete stories, samples, and other fun features, and stay tuned in 2011 for the release of the first volume of collected stories!

Broken by *nightshadevalentine on deviantART

Divine by Zero: Birthday Bras, High School Werewolves, and Army Brownies

Welcome once again to Divine by Zero, the only place where you can hear an anarchic liberal with a weird accent ramble about the crazy things in life. A few things came my way these past few days, and I have to give full blame for one of them to Stephenie Meyer.

  • First and foremost, happy birthday to the bra. Yesterday, the bra celebrated 100 years. Ladies, raise a toast for this wonderful piece of underwear. And gentlemen, also raise a toast to this wonderful piece of underwear.

  • The army released the recipe for brownies it uses to make these tasty treats for the troops… and it’s 26 pages long. Apparently, if you follow the directions exactly, you can make brownies that last for years. Anyone want to try this and comment below to tell us how they taste?
  • Science Daily released a report that states that exposure to certain bacteria can actually make you smarter. Specifically, exposure to something called mycobacterium vaccae, a bacteria found in soil, can boost learning ability. I don’t buy this report at all. How can you explain nerds’ increased brain-power? We RARELY go outside! Sunlight burns.
  • And once again my state proves it’s on a crazy race with Arizona. In San Antonio, police arrested a man who had decals on his car that marked him part of the sheriff’s department in Baxar County but in the nation of the Republic of Texas. Police are charging the man with false identification, not impersonating a police officer. Why not charge him with the latter? Because doing so would mean that Texas officially recognizes the existence of the Republic of Texas, a make-believe country some die-hard conservatives here believe is the rightful nation in these parts. They don’t believe the “official” state laws apply to them and so just pretend they’re citizens of this Republic. It’d be like investigating Fox News for improper journalism. That would imply they actually do journalism.
  • We don’t hear a lot of good stories about the oil spill in the Gulf, but an 11-year-old in New York named Olivia Bouler has raised thousands of dollars by selling her drawings. There’s even a Facebook page about it. This is great because it shows the impact a single person can make on something as massive as this, but it also upsets me that a little girl’s drawings of birds have more fans on Facebook than I do… I somehow feel my manhood has been threatened… She must be stopped.
  • Speaking of funny/ horrifying things having to do with the spill, did you know the government employees in charge of inspecting the drilling were watching porn, drinking, and doing meth? Oh, and they were taking bribes, were childhood friends of the people who owned the rigs, and very likely have to kill puppies to reach climax.
  • Speaking of children, two brain trusts decided to give their baby Pop Rocks. How did it go? Well… just watch. This kid looks like he just walked in on his parents making him a little brother when the candy pops or something.

  • Republicans, meet the internet. We’re crazy. House Republicans set up a website a few days ago called America Speaking Out. The goal was to have everyday Americans suggest the course for policy so they wouldn’t feel like the Republicans were ignoring reality. Unfortunately, when you ask the internet for advice, you get advice like this.

“End Child Labor Laws […] We coddle children too much. They need to spend their youth in the factories.”

“How about if Congress actually do thier job and VET or Usurper in Chief, Obama is NOT a Natural Born Citizen in any way […] That fake so called birth certificate is useless.”

“A ‘teacher’ told my child in class that dolphins were mammals and not fish! And the same thing about whales! We need TRADITIONAL VALUES in all areas of education. If it swims in the water, it is a FISH. Period! End of Story.”

“English is are official langauge. Anybody who ain’t speak it the RIGHT way should kicked out.”

  • And finally… I know Stephanie Meyers is behind this. Somehow. A new trend in San Antonio schools is for kids to identify themselves as “werewolves.” I’m not making this up. They wear collars and identify with wolves. You HAVE to see this video to believe I am not just making things up.

That’s it for today. Stay tuned tomorrow, because some idiots on Facebook are launching “Everybody Draw the Holocaust Day” in response to “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day.” I wish I could say I didn’t have to explain why this is wrong… but I do.

Link and share, please.