My brother can’t cook. Sure, he can scramble some eggs or assemble a nice turkey, Swiss and avocado sandwich with pre-sliced ingredients, and he can heat up a Trader Joe's frozen dinner, but the guy can’t cook. So when he moved in with me this past spring he watched with fascination as I prepared the simplest meals (my culinary talents are simple but an order of magnitude beyond Jimmy’s). What he found most fascinating is my routine of making giant salads of chopped lettuce, veggies, currents, chicken breast, and toasted pine nuts. Jimmy watched me carefully as I poured a few pine nuts into a frying pan, shaking it periodically over the stove flame until the nuts turned a light brown and I tossed them onto my bowl of veggies. He tried a bite and then declared “those nuts are really good.” He made this declaration as though he had just made an amazing discovery….which he had, because Jimmy doesn’t like nuts, or so he thought. The next day Jimmy was chopping his own lettuce and veggies and toasting pine nuts on the stove. He was converted.
Well, the summer passed without incident and Jimmy and I chopped and tossed our salads side-by-side several times a week…sometimes for lunch sometimes for dinner. We would sit on my office couch munching and watching the Rachel Maddow Show or sit at the island in the kitchen gossiping and making inappropriate jokes. In the mild summer evenings I would BBQ a bunch of chicken breasts for the week and Jimmy would watch me asking questions like, “how can you tell when the chicken is cooked?” Yes, Jimmy, pay attention, this is where food comes from….this is how we make raw chicken edible.
Fast-forward to November. I leave for a month on a trip to Central America and Jimmy is now on his own. No big sis supplying him with cooked chicken and pine nuts. Feeling empowered my young bro ventures forth to the Whole Foods with the intention of buying something more than pre-sliced deli meats and cheeses, and frozen dinners. Jimmy is gonna buy some pine nuts. He picks up some chicken breasts from the butcher and then heads to the bulk section for the pine nuts. He grabs a plastic bag and starts scooping the nuts. He imagines the bakers jar that I keep the nuts in at home in the pantry…he tries to imagine its volume. He keeps scooping and holding the bag up and estimating. With a bulging bag in hand he is finally confident he has an appropriate amount of nuts to fill the jar. Feeling empowered (and slightly proud) he heads towards the check out counter. He’s got the lettuce, the raw chicken breasts, and pine nuts!
The tattooed and pierced checker scans the items and the bagger scoops them into the handled-brown paper bag. The checker and the cash register both declare “that will be $85 sir.” Jimmy pauses for a second and then swipes his credit card. Jimmy grabs the bag and heads toward his car wondering how a few chicken breasts and a bag of nuts could cost $85 (even at Whole Foods)? At home he unpacks his groceries and checks the receipt to see what things cost. The chicken was more than he expected but he soon realized that a breast is actually both sides of a chicken’s chest. He had bought twice as much chicken as he thought. Ok. Moving along. He then checks the receipt and discovered he has bought $45 worth of pine nuts! He picks up the bulging plastic bag and pulls out the baker’s jar…there are about 3 times as many nuts as would fit into the jar. Shit.
The next day I return from Central America and the following morning Jimmy and I host a brunch for family and friends. Jimmy tells me the pine nut story and shows me the huge bag of nuts. I laugh heartily at him. Jimmy then looks at me, tilts his head and muses, “maybe I could make small baggies and sell them?” Great idea Jimmy, selling nickel bags of pine nuts at a family brunch you’re hosting.
The next morning family and friends fill our house and we all start eating and talking and laughing. For Christmas Jimmy received a coffee maker which he had not used yet. He pulls the filters and coffee out of the cupboard and asks no one in particular, “should I ask Ron how much coffee to scoop or should I just eyeball it?” Our quiet well mannered 11 year old niece Devyn was sitting next to us. She looks up and with conviction says, “I don’t think you should eyeball it.” “Why not?” Jimmy asks with a smile. With an “are you kidding me” expression, Devyn responds, “Remember the pine nuts?”