After college, newly employed, I was prepping for my first business trip.
This was a Big Deal.
This made my Stomach Hurt.
This was Important.
What made it important was the mere fact that it was a business trip in the first place, and that I was asked to go, and that my workplace was paying my way.
It seemed impossibly glamorous, really -- to be flown somewhere on someone else's dime. To be put up at a hotel. To get a per diem and a rental car. To tuck receipts in my wallet for later reimbursement.
Reimbursement! What a beautiful word this was. It tasted grown up, like a martini, or a fancy steak.
I was Nervous.
I didn't know What to Pack.
So I asked the attorney I'd be traveling with. Figured she'd set me to rights, take pity, make things easy.
We'd be flying from DC to LA. I think it was winter. Was LA hot year-round? Would I need formal clothes? A briefcase? And what kind of shoes?
"Don't worry about it, Cheryl," she told me. "Just pack your wool crepe suit."
"Oh, okay!" I replied. "Good idea!"
woolcrepesuit woolcrepesuit woolcrepesuit
These words had never been strung together for me before. Wool, I got. I knew wool. It's itchy and warm. It's for sweaters. It's wool!
Crepe was harder. Crepe was food. What was crepe + wool?
Once the word suit joined the fray, I panicked. It's like she told me to wear seashells, or a giant leaf. I had no idea what she was talking about.
This woman had worked with me for months.
She knew how I dressed.
I wore pleated pants and v-neck sweaters. Humdrum flats and basic shirts. Skirts whose hems fell neither above the knee nor below the knee but right at the knee in that exact wrong way.
I owned precisely zero wool crepe suits. I mean, I was 22 years old.
So you know what?
I packed what I had: my boring skirts, my basic footware, my boxy blazer.
And somehow, I looked fine.
(Well, to be honest: I landed at LAX at midnight and had to rent my first car. And they were out of sedans and tried to rent me an 8-person van. When I walked out to the lot and saw how big it was, I cried. Let's just say they found me a sedan.)
I got to the hotel.
It was the Beverly Wilshire, fancy as all get out.
And that week, I did my job. I slept in my posh hotel. I drove my rented sedan.
I felt like a million bucks.
I didn't need a wool crepe suit after all.
Recipe for Toasted Pepita Pesto
Cooking is all about making do with what you have. It's about understanding basic techniques and applying them to what's on hand, tweaking and twisting and shaping ingredients into familiar combinations that taste great even when they stray from the classics.
I've made lots of pesto in my time, but this pepita version is my current love. Toasting the seeds releases their oils and deepens their flavor. And here's a tip: buy your pepitas from the bulk bins, just a few cups at a time. Their flavor gets weird if they turn stale, which they'll do if given the opportunity to lounge around.
Finally, I recently had the pleasure to meet Valentina Solfrini, a young, talented Italian blogger whose site Hortus Natural Cooking is stunningly beautiful. She recently linked to this video about how to cook pasta properly and serve it up with pesto. I encourage you to follow this method when enjoying the pesto below. I did, and the results were outstanding.
Makes 1-1/4 cups
1 scant cup raw, unsalted pepitas
2-1/4 cups (packed) fresh basil leaves
1 large garlic clove, rough-chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus a bit more for topping off the jar
1/4 cup (packed) shredded parmesan
Toast the pepitas in a dry skillet over medium heat, shaking, until they color in spots and start to sizzle and pop, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate to cool.
In a food processor, grind the basil, garlic,toasted pepitas, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. With the machine on, slowly stream in the 1/2 cup oil through the feed tube. Process until fully emulsified, about 1 minute. Scrape into a medium bowl and stir in the cheese.
To store, pack in a small jar and top off with olive oil. Keep refrigerated, topping off with additional oil as needed to keep the pesto nice and green.