David Lynch, Lindsey Stirling, and Cola Carnitas (Or How to Make Slow Cooker Cola Carnitas)

Guys! Exciting things are happening!

First of all, I’m almost done with season 4 of Game of Thrones, and I got HBO back yesterday — just in time for the April 12 premiere of season 5.

So this is all terribly exciting in a nerdy kind of way….

Also? I saw Blue Velvet for free at the Arclight Theater in Hollywood last night. The movie is beyond super messed up, and I wrote my honors thesis on it when I was a wee one in undergrad. (Another nerdy thing.) Seeing it again all these years later I was like, “Wow. I should not have watched that movie when I was 12. No wonder I had to write 75 pages about it in college. I was probably trying to heal my adolescent trauma through academia.”

David Lynch?

Is not for kids.

Who knew?

ANYWAY…

In other news, I finished yet another pass of my script last night before watching Dennis Hopper torment Isabella Rossellini and Kyle MacLachlan for two hours. I can’t REALLY say the fourth draft is done because I know I have messy bits that I still need to tie together, but it’s CLOSE to being a fourth draft. This makes me SMILE.

Do you know what else makes me smile?

Carnitas.

True story.

I made cola carnitas in the slow cooker for my cousin Maddie on Tuesday, and it was so delicious we almost died.

More pig. Duh.

More pig. Duh.

I did a whole taco spread with gluten free chips, corn tortillas, cotija cheese, salsa verde, and black bean dip. We talked about boys, I gave her half of the clothes in my closet, and we laughed our heads off while we stuffed our faces with piggy goodness.

It was beyond.

If you want to make some cola carnitas yourself, here’s the recipe.

Slow Cooker Cola Carnitas

4 Pound Pork Shoulder
1 Medium Onion, sliced
4 Garlic Cloves, Peeled
2, 12 oz Bottles of Mexican Coca Cola*
1 7 oz Can of Chipotle Chiles in Adobo Sauce**

Put all of the ingredients in the slow cooker on low and allow the pork shoulder to simmer all day. If you’re in a rush, you can put it on high for about 4 or 5 hours.

Once the pork is cooked thoroughly, take it out of the slow cooker, remove the fat, and shred the pork with a fork. I discard the other ingredients, but you could use the onions if you’d like. They’re really tender and sweet.

After you eat the carnitas, try not to dance like a lunatic like my family does when we have Mexican food.

My family is super fun.

We are mentally ill for Mexican food.

(We are also super fun.)

And because I’m into spreading fun, here’s a song I’m way into right now. It’s Lindsey Stirling, and the video has a whole M.C. Escher thing going.

❤ I LOVE Lindsey Stirling. And M.C. Escher. ❤

*Mexican Coca Cola is made with cane sugar instead of corn syrup. I’ve never tried it with traditional cola, but I’m sure it would be fine if you can’t find Mexican Coke.

**Sometimes I only use half the can if I want it less spicy.

OK, I’m done rambling now. I’m off to USC to handle some bizznass.

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SUPER Simple Truffle Popcorn (Or A Party-Planning Life Hack)

OK, this has to be a quick post because I’m in the middle of a three-day meditative fast during which I am attacking my screenplay revisions without any comforting distractions. It’s a meditative/writing/prayer thingy-do that I may end up blogging about here if I have enough time or emotional bandwidth available after diving into the dark places of my script I’ve been too scared to examine truthfully, and without distraction.

So here it goes…

A long time ago I wrote a post about truffle popcorn that involved measuring oil and popping your own popcorn on the stove. (You can find it here.) This pilgrim-era method is fine I guess, but I would often find myself annoyed with unevenly popped kernels, burnt pots, and the other irritations that come along with doing everything the hard way.

I recently came up with a solution to the problem… and it happened by accident.

I was running late to my friend’s low-key Oscar gathering and didn’t have anything to bring. I had some Trader Joe’s Reduced Guilt Popcorn sitting around, which I adored for its evenly popped, perfect fluffiness… but not so much for its taste.

Chewy and the dinos may  have been into it… but I wasn't.

Chewy and the dinos may have been clamoring for it… but I wasn’t.

Then it hit me!

Melt butter, dump it all over the dry-ish popcorn, sprinkle it with black truffle salt, and Ta Da!  Now you have perfectly-popped popcorn covered in the greatest things on earth: black truffle bits and butter!

Everyone loved it.

This bowl was full five minutes before the photo was taken.

This bowl was full two minutes before the photo was taken.

So there you have it: a simple party planning life hack. And my new favorite thing.

Now I’m off to do the thing that scares me….

Somebody say a prayer for me.

XOXO

Happy Birthday, Bubba! (Or Paleo Cilantro Chicken for the Birthday Boy!)

Today is my dog’s fourth birthday. And while I’m tempted to get out my glittery markers to make him a hat, I think he’d prefer kisses and a fistful of meat instead.

What's this I'm hearing about a hat?

What’s this I’m hearing about a hat?

Last night I made a super delicious chicken dish, and I saved some chicken scraps for him. Maybe we’ll sing “Happy Birthday” and make it a proper celebration with candles and everything. (I need help. Clearly.)

Or maybe we’ll just go for a hike and snuggle on the couch together.

I hate snuggling. Just give me chicken.

I hate snuggling. Just give me chicken.

If you want to know why he’s so fixated on the chicken, here’s why:

It's somewhere under that pile of pears, cilantro, and celery. I swear.

It’s somewhere under that pile of pears, cilantro, and celery. I swear.

I found the recipe in this great gallery of 22 Paleo-friendly recipes from Bon Appetit.

I’ll be honest, though, I didn’t really follow it closely when it came to the ratio of lime juice, cilantro, celery, or pears. I just piled it all on. (I look at savory recipes like speed limits — polite suggestions for minimizing mayhem and mishaps.)

So basically my version just goes like this.

Celery, Cilantro, and Pear Chicken with Lime

4 celery stalks, sliced
2 Asian pears, thinly sliced
A heaping pile of cilantro leaves
Juice from 1 fresh lime
2 chicken breasts
Olive oil

Sea salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste

Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Don’t bother pounding them. I think it yields a negligible benefit, frankly. Cook the chicken breasts in a cast iron skillet with a little bit of olive oil — in the stove at 350 or on the burner — whatever your preferred method. (I’d give you cooking times but my stove is whack so it wouldn’t be useful. Just don’t overcook them. Chicken seriously sucks when it’s dry.)

Meanwhile, slice the pear and celery. Squeeze lime juice over the sliced stuff, throw in cilantro, and season with salt and pepper to taste. (This limey salad can be made the night before if you’d like. It’s almost better the next day, actually.)

Remove chicken from heat, cover in fruity, veggie lime mixture. Devour.

And maybe save some of the chicken scraps for your birthday boy.

You owe me more than scraps for this, woman.

You owe me more than scraps for this, woman.

So Good I Eat ‘Em With a Spoon (Or Low Carb Cauliflower Mashed Potatoes)

This morning I’m munching on my delicious cookie dough breakfast balls, sipping my whole milk latte, and listening to Tritonal’s “Seraphic” absolutely on repeat. If you don’t know it, you should.

The song is helping me write my script. It’s also perfect for dancing alone in my living room because nothing unlocks me — or the emotions I’m usually not in touch with — like music.

ANYWAY, enough about Tritonal, my emotional retardation, and my addiction to cookie dough breakfast balls. It’s time to talk about cauliflower mash.

Cauliflower mash is SO FREAKING GOOD I can eat it by itself. Cold. With a spoon.

I made it to go with my maple chili pork chops, but I made extra and I’ve been eating it all week — with almost everything. Or by itself. Cold. With a spoon. (Are you picking up on my obsession yet?)

Wanna see the mash in all its glory?

Fluffy. Creamy. Beyond.

Fluffy. Creamy. Beyond.

I ate the maple chili pork chop two nights in a row. Why not? (There were two in the package, and I live alone, so…)

The second night I added a little of the maple glaze to the mashed potatoes and they went from amazing to EXTRA amazing. Another time I added a little sour cream to them at lunch to make them a full meal.

Whatever turns you on, right?

Here’s the recipe.

Cauliflower Mashed Potatoes

1 head of steamed cauliflower
3 small red skinned potatoes, steamed, skin-on
1 T cream cheese
Approximately 1/3 C of chicken broth, or to desired consistency
Sea salt and cracked black pepper, to taste.

Steam the cauliflower and potatoes in separate pots, and then combine into one. (They have separate cooking times.)

Add cream cheese while the vegetables are still warm. Add chicken broth and blend everything together. I used an immersion blender to puree because I’m in love with mine. I’m sure a mixer would work too.

*If you want to make them more Paleo-friendly you could skip the creamed cheese and the three red skinned potatoes, but it’s up to you. 

Blend. Devour.

That is all.

I Make Martha’s Spinach, Peach, and Ginger Smoothie and It’s Only Aight (Or I Decide to Be Happy Anyway)

My grandpa always said people were too worried about whether or not they were happy. He said we should all stop thinking about it and just BE happy.

So today?

I woke up and just decided to be happy. I blasted some great tunes on my hike. Then I turned the music off, sat on my favorite rock in the woods, and got zen for five whole minutes.

When I got home I slurped down this spinach, peach, and ginger smoothie from Martha Stewart because I thought it sounded good.

Smoothie face on Dogs Dishes and Decor

I make a strange smoothie face in this awkward selfie.

Is the smoothie perfect? No. Can I make it better? Yes.

Just not today.

Today I’m smiling even though these photos aren’t perfect and neither is the food.

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#anotherawkwardselfie

Maybe later I’ll head to spinning ‘cuz that… makes me happy too.

But first?

I’m people watching at Peet’s because I love their lattes and I have a great view of some seeeerious characters on the sidewalk. #thesepeoplehavepinkhair

#happy

Oh, Canada! (Or How to Make a Bacon Old Fashioned)

While Americans are getting ready to celebrate our independence on Thursday by launching explosives into the sky and burning the tips of our fingers off with sparklers, our neighbors to the north are already celebrating their independence today. July 1 is Canada Day, and as such I’d like to take a moment to recognize all of the wonderful things the neighbors to the north have given me like maple syrup, malt bread, and Carly Rae Jepson.

Actually, it also gave me my mother and her fabulous family, as well the opportunity to make an ill-advised Fendi purchase at the Duty Free in Windsor while legally intoxicated at 19 years of age.

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#drunkendutyfreepurchase #ididdumbstuffincollege #toomanyloonies #istillwearit #rationalizationsrule

In addition to marveling that I’m still wearing that watch five fifteen years later, I’ve also been reflecting on the many differences between my homeland and that of my mum today.

Without getting too bogged down in philosophy or ideology, I think it’s sort of like this: America is like the older sister who had to break in her strict English parents so that her little sister had it easier when her time came to rebel. We had to sneak out of our bedroom late at night to see a boy throw a temper tantrum in the Boston Harbor over the tax on tea so our parents were prepared when our younger sister nicely, politely, with her hands folded asked, “May I please be excused from the table?” 100 years later.

At the risk of sounding like an American a$$hole, I’d like to say…

You’re welcome, Canada.

I really love you. I do. So today I honour you by putting an unnecessary “u” in that word, and by pouring the maple syrup my grandmother purchased in Ottawa into my bacon-infused bourbon to make a bacon old fashioned.

Bacon Old Fashioned from Dogs Dishes and Decor

Behold, there’s bacon in my bourbon.

If you want to make your own, you can find the recipe here. In a vain attempt to make it a little healthier and slightly more Paleo-friendly, you could cut back a bit on the maple syrup and use reduced sodium bacon. Or you could say, “Screw it. I’m just going to put all kinds of unhealthy stuff in my body right now for fun. And not stressing about it will be better for me than any attempt to make it healthy.” #sothere

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to sip my unhealthy concoction, crank up the Call Me Maybe, and scour the internet for a malt bread recipe, ‘cuz you just can’t find that junk here and it’s made of amazing. I’d pay Fendi-level Loonies for it….

Oh, and just in case bourbon’s not your bag and you’re looking for another way to get your maple syrup on, check out this recipe for flourless maple cookies on Things My Belly Likes. They’re gluten free and #iwanttomakethem.

This One’s For You, Justin (Or How to Make a Kale, Banana, and Nut Smoothie)

I’ll never forget the day as long as I live: It was Monday, November 12, around 5 pm. I was listening to the haunting, 80s-esque, synth sounds of Class Actress, and I was elbow deep in my aquarium, scrubbing algae off of the sides. I heard my mother’s ringtone, but I let it go to voicemail. My hands were wet and it wasn’t a good time to talk.

Also?

I had a to-do list a mile long.

I was starting a producing job for the Academy Awards the next morning, and I was trying to get my personal life in order before taking on the project.

My mother called again moments later, and I figured it was probably important.

In retrospect, I wish I had been kinder when I answered. My hands were still dripping with water, so I swiped my iPhone with my elbow and put her on speaker. “What?” I said, sort of annoyed.

“I have sad news.” Her voice was faltering, and I could tell she was trying to hold it together. I wiped my hands on my legs and picked up the phone so I could hear her better. “It’s Justin,” she said. Then she lost it. Like, gasping for air — sobbing — lost it. If you know my mum, you know she doesn’t break easily, so I knew something was terribly wrong. Yet somehow it almost didn’t register when she told me my cousin had hanged himself that morning.

He was 25.

Justin was a vegan, a home brewer an organic gardener, and an avid cyclist. He was also an absolutely brilliant mathematician who had always struggled with the strict structure of school.

Earlier that morning I had received an e-mail from my his mother, my Aunt Myrna, asking me to pray for him. He had sent her an e-mail on Saturday saying that he wasn’t doing well in some of his college classes, and she was concerned about him. By the time I opened the e-mail and said a prayer for him, he was probably already gone.

After I hung up with my mother, I called my aunt. The police and a priest were still at her house. She asked me if I had gotten her e-mail. “I did. I said a prayer for him,” I told her, my own voice breaking. I barely managed to get out the words, “I love you,” before bursting into tears.

The rest of the evening was a blur. I cooked dinner. I continued to cross things off my to-do list. I called friends. It all felt hollow and unreal. I barely remember setting my clothes out for work. I think I may have pulled out old photo albums, but I really don’t remember.

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Even though Justin and I were separated by nine years and more than 1,200 miles, we spent a lot of time together as kids.

The next morning as I drove to work, my mother was simultaneously en route to my grandmother’s house to tell her that her only grandson was dead.

THAT I remember.

My aunt and mother had decided my grandmother needed to hear the news in person, so that fell to the only person still living in Michigan: my mother. Understandably, she was terrified to deliver the news.

“I’m praying for you. You can do this. I love you.” I texted, as I walked through the polished lobby of the ABC building, head held high. On the outside, I was perfectly put together. It was as if my bright smile and my professional ensemble hid my broken heart. I told no one at work what was going on. I put my head down and crossed tasks off of my to-do list.

Later that afternoon when I was trying to access a work document on Google Drive, I clicked on Google + instead. I never go on Google + and almost forgot I had an account until I accidentally clicked on it.

Staring right there at me from my news feed was this photo of Justin.

photo

The caption read, “Keep it real. Keep it vegan. Keep drinkin’ beer.”

It had been uploaded Sunday night. It was the last thing he posted before he died, and I’m grateful I accidentally stumbled upon what may be the closest thing my family has to a goodbye note. Justin loved kale and grew it in his garden, so it’s somehow fitting he’s holding it in this photo. His roommates later told my aunt and uncle he had made himself a late-night meal on Sunday when they were heading to bed. Some time between taking this photo and the next morning, he took his own life.

I haven’t had much closure since losing my cousin. Work got in the way. (Or rather, I let work get in the way.) I didn’t attend his memorial because I was working on the Oscars.

On January 10, on what would have been his 26th birthday, I was locked in a room at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for 13 hours without access to my cell phone because it was the day the Oscar nominations were announced. Still I told no one about my loss; I put my head down and did my job. I was torn between feelings of relief for the distraction on his birthday and feelings of intense resentment that I couldn’t let my guard down and miss him even for a moment.

The week of the Oscars, My boss put me in charge of the massive “In Memoriam” gallery commemorating all of the filmmakers and stars who had died that year. It took all of my strength to hold it together as I put endless hours into a gallery paying tribute to strangers when I had hardly taken a moment to honor my own cousin. Still, I told no one at the office.

About a month later, I had a conversation with a close friend who was going to the beach to light a candle on the anniversary of her mother’s death. She has done it every year since losing her mother to cancer, and it struck me that I had done nothing personal to pay tribute to my cousin. Sure, I had contributed to Wheels 4 Life, the charity my aunt and uncle selected, but it didn’t feel like enough. I admitted to my friend that I felt guilty I hadn’t found my own way to honor my cousin.

Last night I had to absolutely drag myself to the grand opening of a new CorePower Yoga location. They were offering a free yoga class, but somehow that didn’t feel like motivation enough for me to drive a mere three miles to the studio. Yet something deep down was telling me to go, something stronger than a desire to take a free class. Something deep inside me kept telling me, “GO,” so I did. The class was great, and I even won a Manduka towel in the raffle.

But the best thing that happened was sort of unexpected… and it didn’t hit me right away.

During the reception after class, I tried a kale and cashew smoothie provided by a local vegan restaurant. I was surprised to discover that it was delicious. See, I’m crazy carnivorous and typically I steer clear of vegan fare, but this thing was actually awesome.

I’m on a bit of a Paleo/health kick right now, so I decided to make my own version of the smoothie today. It wasn’t until I looked over at this note from my aunt and uncle while my Cuisinart was macerating the kale that I realized I was making a smoothie my cousin and I could have shared.

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Food is at the center of our lives. Not only is it essential to our survival, but it can also be an expression of our emotions. We mourn with food. We celebrate with food. And today as I sipped my smoothie I somehow felt like I was closer to my cousin — like I was honoring him in a way.

As I enjoyed a vegan kale smoothie, I realized I had finally found my personal tribute to my cousin.

I haven’t seen his mother (or my own mother) since he passed away. They’re both coming to California next month for their sister’s birthday, and it will be the first time we’ve all been together since we lost Justin.

I decided today that I’m going to make these smoothies when they’re here, so we can all toast him together. We can raise a glass of kale to honor a cousin, a son, and a nephew — a beautiful soul who left us all too soon.

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Justin Russell Drawbert, this kale’s for you. Bottoms up.

If you want to make this simple, healthy snack for yourself, the recipe is below. Even though they’re vegan they’re actually Paleo diet-friendly since the ingredients are mostly alkaline and fairly low on the glycemic index. (More on the whole Paleo thing another time. I promise.)

Justin’s Kale Smoothie

1/3 C coconut water
1/8 C unsalted nuts (I used pecans, cashews, hazelnuts and almonds)
1 ripe banana
1 T agave nectar
2 C fresh kale

Add the coconut water, banana, and agave nectar to the blender and mix to combine. Add the nuts and blend until smooth. Add the kale and blend until you achieve a uniform consistency.

Enjoy!