5 Nov

People, Pork, and Porn Stars


My ex-husband wanted a big birthday bash. He was a lover of big parties; I was not. The things that are important to me—good food and relaxed conversation—were not usually found at large get-togethers.

But it was his birthday not mine. So….

He requested a tropical party. I was able to warm to this concept because it gave me a large enough audience (and an appropriate theme) to try something I’d always yearned to cook: a spit-roasted pig. The lime-green, post-modern version of a mid-century house in Venice Beach, with its big backyard full of bamboo, papyrus, and succulents, would make a perfect backdrop. Tiki torches were dusted off, and at least one new Hawaiian shirt was purchased.

I set about the process of locating a rotisserie strong enough to hold a 50-pound pig, then set out to find a pig. The rotisserie was easy: I rented one. The pig proved more elusive. After following a trail of referrals that found me talking to people on intimate terms with animal husbandry in rural and urban parts of California, I finally found the right man in the last place I thought to look: the industrial section of downtown LA. But by that time the deadline for securing a whole pig in time for the party had passed. Only one day earlier, and I could have laid my hands on a perfectly pink and succulent porker.

I settled for two 25-pound pork legs, with the skin on (for that crucial crispy-skin effect). I decided to brine both, then smoke one and spit-roast the other. I prepared the brine in two huge plastic tubs, and brined the legs out on the shady side of the deck for three days, with large cutting boards on top to keep out any critters. (This is actually quite safe, at least in a relatively cool climate. Memories of the food hygiene class at cooking school reminded me that, if the legs were fully immersed in the salt solution, spoilage wouldn’t be a problem. This is how meats were preserved for long voyages at sea.)

The protein was under control and I was contemplating a Cuban mojo sauce with fresh citrus, good olive oil, and abundant fresh herbs. I would round out the menu with red ginger slaw, mango and black bean salad, shrimp and glass noodle salad, and key lime pie. For stand-up appetizers, I’d whip up tuna tartare on blue corn chips, jicama with green goddess dip, and flaming cabbage-head weenies. This last, a dish of Hawaiian origin that involved toothpicks, Sterno, and Vienna sausage, had once caught my eye in a magazine—an old magazine.

The guest list continued to grow; it included friends, family, and various colleagues ranging in age from twelve to seventy-eight. My ex had an old childhood friend from San Francisco; he’d be bringing his new-ish girlfriend to the party. I had met Nancy a few times, she was a nice enough girl—perhaps no great shakes in the intellect department, but in L.A., who’s counting? She also happened to be an ex porn star. I appreciated the “ex” in her description. Then the old friend called to say that Nancy would like to bring along an old friend of her own who was still “in the business.”

I voiced objection to this plan. “One porn star per party. That’s my rule.”

I was accused of being small-minded. I was a snob. It was base discrimination. And whose birthday was this anyway? The old friend insisted that his relationship with Nancy would be irreparably harmed if she couldn’t bring her friend (whose name, it transpired, was Tawni Ocean) to the Pig Roast. (“She’s really a very nice girl. Not like a porn star at all.”)

My husband sided with his old friend. There followed a spirited exchange of ideas.

I lost.

Chastened and ready to Do The Right Thing by this possibly innocent victim of economic circumstance, I added Ms. Ocean to the guest list. There was a palpable buzz in the inner circle, but it wasn’t about the menu.

The day of the event dawned and I donned what would, unbeknownst to me then, be my outfit for the entire day and night: a bathing suit, sarong, and heavy-duty yellow rubber gloves. First, I man-handled one pork leg into the smoker and got the applewood chunks smoldering. Then, with help, I drove the other leg hard onto the spit, trying to counter-balance the awkward shape with the provided weight to make up for the uneven center of gravity. This leg would take eight hours to cook, and since the fire-bed was shallow, a new chimney-ful of mesquite charcoal would have to be ignited and burned down to gently-glowing coals about once every hour. Plus the coals had to be tended and stirred to provide more heat under the thicker part of the leg, less under the shank end.

I spent much of the early party running back and forth (and back and forth) from the kitchen to the rotisserie, tending the fire, basting the pork with orange juice, bringing guests cold drinks, and orchestrating the rest of what—I had now come to realize—was an insanely elaborate menu. In retrospect, I would like to have taken time out for a little cocktail break before the first guests arrived, but in what was becoming a rather disturbing theme, I had once again bitten off more than I could chew and the moment slipped away. Hell, I didn’t even have time to change into my party outfit.

Some time after I’d set out the first pupus, when a good number of people were helping themselves to Planter’s Punch, I noticed that my ex’s old friend had arrived. I hardly noticed Nancy, because I had eyes only for the rest of his entourage. Tawni was wearing extremely short, white leather hot pants with scuffed gold boots and a dirty white halter top doing very little to conceal darkly-tanned and rather wrinkled breasts. Much was wrinkled about this half of the entourage. She was also profoundly, deeply, staggeringly drunk. And loud. As the evening moved very slowly on, it developed that the entourage was also extremely, ah, forthcoming. About the hard night she’d had with a gang of businessmen at a hotel in the Marina, mostly, but there were other subjects and opinions, and everyone in that half of the backyard became familiar with them.

My ex—after, perhaps, just a few incidences of eye contact with me—conferred with the (now very embarrassed) old friend, and a joint decision was taken to encourage the entourage to—how to put it—move on. There was a bit of difficulty with this operation. When the entourage had been packed, flailing, out the garden gate, I examined the party and found it to be seemingly unharmed. Everyone had noticed, yes, but other than just a few of us, no one would know she was a porn star, right? I smiled brightly while chewing off the inside of my cheek. Luckily, it was almost time to carve. The pork was so meltingly delectable, so porky, such a fine example of the pig’s unassailable claim to be the King of Meats, that the brief glimpse into the dark underbelly of Hollywood’s other film industry would be forgotten, right? (How was the rest of the menu? I can’t remember, I was too exhausted to notice.)

The next day, a thank-you e-mail arrived from a seventh-grade friend with whom I had recently re-connected.

“Wow, you give really great parties,” he wrote. “You’ve got it all: People, Pork, and Porn Stars.”


(excerpted from my 2007 book of cautionary tales, prescriptive solutions, and excellent recipes:  The Relaxed Kitchen: How to Entertain with Casual Elegance and Never Lose Your Mind, Incinerate the Soufflé, or Murder the Guests; St. Martin’s Press)

Posted in: Uncategorized
By    No Comments

So, what do you think?