Authors: Jervey Tervalon
For my wife: my love and my first reader,
Jinghuan Liu Tervalon
SUNNY ORRECHIETTE WITH COLLARDS AND BREAD CRUMBS
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3 cups turkey wing stock
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1 pound collard greens
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5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO), plus more as needed for eggs and drizzling
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1 cup coarse fresh bread crumbs
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3 cloves garlic, roasted and minced
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1Â½ shallots, peeled and “brunoised”
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Salt and freshly ground black pepper
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3 tablespoons unsalted butter
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Four 1-inch-thick slices cured slab bacon
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Â¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
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1 pound orrechiette
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4 free-range chicken eggs
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Â¾ cup grated Parmigiano
In a large pot, bring the stock to a boil. Working in batches, cook the collards in the stock until just tender, about 6 minutes. Using tongs, transfer the collards to a medium sheet pan and let cool. Set the stock aside in its pot. Squeeze out excess liquid from the collards; chop the leaves and finely chop the stems; set aside.
Heat 3 tablespoons EVOO in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the bread crumbs and cook, stirring often, until the crumbs begin to brown, about 4 minutes. Add one-third of the garlic and one-third of the shallots and cook, stirring often, until the bread crumbs are golden, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and black pepper and transfer to a paper-towel-lined sizzle plate; let cool.
Heat the butter and 2 tablespoons EVOO in a large heavy pot over low-medium heat. Add the chopped bacon, red pepper flakes, and the remaining garlic and shallots; cook about 2 minutes. Add the reserved collards and
cup stock. Cook, stirring often, until the collards are warmed through, about 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Meanwhile, bring the reserved stock to a boil; add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the stock.
In a small skillet over medium heat, warm some additional EVOO, add the eggs, and cook until the egg white coagulates. Season with salt and ground black pepper, cover for 30 seconds until the eggs are not runny, and set aside.
Add the pasta and
cup pasta liquid to the collard mixture and stir to coat. Return to medium heat and continue stirring, adding more liquid as needed, until the sauce coats the pasta. Mix in the cheese and
cup bread crumbs; toss to combine.
Divide the pasta among bowls; drizzle with oil; and top with the remaining bread crumbs and the eggs, sunny side up. Drizzle with a little more EVOO.
SILENCE, SOLITUDE, AND BREATHABLE AIR
, that's all I wanted, not exactly a miracle, but I guess this nightmare of a job is what I deserve. I'm the cook; what goes on beyond the locked door of this bungalow is not my concern. I turn up music, keep lights burning all through the night.
No one cares about the cook, that's what I count on. I keep the door locked, and I try not to leave, not anymore, not after dark.
This bungalow is torture even in spring. No matter how much wood I toss into the barely functional woodstove, heat slips away through the walls like mice when I turn on the lamp. I came with few clothesâtwo white tunics and a couple of thick sweaters, jeans and T-shirts. I wear both sweaters to bed, all the socks I can fit on. Coldest I've been is spring in the mountains of Santa Ynez. Some nights I can't bring myself to get out of bed to use the toilet, just grit my teeth and endure until I can't stand it.
You'd think somebody as rich as Monster would insulate these bungalows, might have some idea that his employees are suffering. Even so I should have been better prepared, should have known, paid more attention to what I was getting myself into. A man of Monster's stature spends his time plotting world conquest, opening a Planet Monster in Bali or something fantastic, not worrying about the frigid temperature of an employee's bungalow. Maybe that's why the last chef quit, fingers so numb she couldn't dice.
Another glass of 2005 Rutherford Hillside Reserve Cabernet and I'm still feeling the cold, though it's not as sharp. I told myself I was through with Twelve Step anything; I can't feel good about getting wasted. Numb is good and warm, but numb turns sour, numb gets you arrested, numb gets you a judge deciding what's best for you, and I can't stand to live through another diversion program. I pour the rest of the wine down the drain. I swore to myself that I would get high on life only, and leave killing myself a little each day alone.
I KNOW THESE EXTENSIVE
, meandering grounds well, but on a moonless night it's almost impossible to stay on the trail. A step in the wrong direction and you're in the middle of scrub brush and poison oak that rib all sides of Monster's estate. Easily enough you can end up blindly wandering in the wilderness among coyotes, black bear, mountain lions, whatever.
You must walk away from the light into the darkness.
The other direction isn't an option; the closer one gets to the big house, the more likely the lights will go on, blinding lights that'll make you feel like a frog ready to be scooped into a sack. Then you'll hear the sound of the heavy steps of Security as they converge, shouting commands. It's been worse since some nameless stalker managed, after repeated attempts, to sneak into Monster's Lair on some psychotic mission. Someone, maybe even Monster, came up with “Lair” as the name for this place. Heard it's trademarked and he's going to use it for his next CD, whenever he gets that done. Clever, I guess, but I don't know. Supposedly, he's been having a hell of a timeâthe music won't flow at Monster's Lair. Maybe it's the name; it's not conducive to creativity. Try telling someone you live and work at Monster's Lair and they laugh and ask,
With that lunatic? How is that? What kind of craziness goes on there?
I can't answer.
They never did catch the trespasser, supposedly a loser from Monster's past who's plagued him since long before he built the Lair playland. I used to enjoy my nightly walks, but that was before enhanced lighting and the dogs. Security lets them run the grounds to get the lay of the land.
Once, I saw Monster walking alone in the middle of a pack of trained attack dogs like he was fucking Saint Francis of Assisi. Security trailed behind him, skulking near the bushes, maintaining that illusion of privacy he demands. The dogs smelled me, and though I was trying to back away from the encounter, too late, they charged forward, frothing and churning sod. Monster looked for a moment like he had no idea who I was, the man hired to cook for him and his family. I raised my walking stick to bash a dog before the others mauled me, but an impulse of self-preservation kicked in and I shouted my name just as the dogs charged.
“It's me, Gibson! The cook!” Security shouted something in German to the dogs, which stopped midstride. I heard Monster's voice, high and nasal, a near whine. “Oh, you scared me.”
“Sorry,” I said, and hurried on in the opposite direction. I caught a glimpse of him in the moonlight, bundled in a parka, though that night the temperature was mild, walking with hands clasped behind his back, serenely in thought. Security caught up and escorted me back to my bungalow, which was more and more a jail cell and less the attractive perk of a rent-free cottage in the beautiful mountains to compensate for a modest salary. Security looked me in the eye and told me to watch it, don't forget who pays the bills.
“Monster does,” I said, nodding to show, even if Security wasn't buying it, that I was a team player. It didn't go well. He looked for a second as though he thought I might be jerking his chain, then turned to go, but not before jotting something down in a small gray notebook that I'm sure was a notation scheduling another background check. I didn't mind.
When you work for someone with great wealth, you learn quickly that you really do serve him. You learn to be blind, deaf, and dumb if that's what they need.
Monster needs all of that.
Sometimes I see things that don't add up, that make me nervous. I wanted isolation, but not like this. The night sky has too many stars; the moon hangs like a gaudy lantern illuminating a path to my bungalow. I've never felt so alone. I know what goes on there, behind those hedges, those walls, gates, and sensors.
He's a monster and every day I serve him.
I'M NOT INCLINED
toward depression; upbeat and all of that is how folks describe me, but that was because of the drugs.
Married, living on the Lower East Side in a nice co-op, part owner of Euro Pane, a restaurant with witty, angular (the publicist came up with that), Puglia-inspired cuisine that people wanted to spend good hard cash onâyou'd think I'd have been more than happy, but in truth it was too much for me. Maybe I couldn't stand prosperity, and with things going so well I knew my luck couldn't continue; something would give and I'd find myself flat on my face. Instead of waiting, I went for it, leaped for the pipe and returned to a long-dormant cocaine habit. If I needed to make an excuse, more to myself than anyone else, I could offer that the restaurant was overwhelming, and I needed relief from the day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month relentless grind, the kind where you wake yourself with the sound of your own teeth grinding. Yeah, it's the kind of stress that makes a man long for a hit off a crack pipe.
Ten years ago, when I indulged in smoking a little cocaine, I handled it. But now was different. Then it was about staying up to dawn for the second day, clubbing until I was sick of the whole idea of clubbing. Working and playing, trying to have everything, and it worked until I couldn't stand living like that. I gave it up, put down the pipe and cocaine easily, proved to myself that cocaine didn't have me by the balls. Suddenly I noticed I had so much more money in my bank account, and then I met Elena, fell in love, and that was that. It really was a good thing, and I handled it smoothly, so smoothly that I had it in the back of my mind that I could do it again. It wouldn't be no thing. But I guess shit has a way of catching up to you after a while. My addiction was like a cancer cell, dormant; I was kicking it until the conditions were right. Probably the truth is I don't have the same discipline or constitution. I'm not that young man who could do that, keep it going, burning myself out in every direction. Soon enough I lost the restaurant to my partner and my wife found my fucked-up, vulgar habit reason enough to leave me. I don't blame her. She didn't marry a fiend, I became one, and it just took time for me to discover it, my inclination toward self-immolation. I call it that, the suicidal impulse to consume myself with a Bic lighter. I'd see myself burned out, gone, a neat pile of ashes, but that's more acceptable to my imagination than the vision of myself as a pathetic cracked-lip panhandler, a martyr to the pipe. Maybe I wanted to fail, see how far I could fall.