Monday, November 16, 2009

James Beard Did Me Wrong

A couple of nights ago I picked out some birthday cards at a bookstore, and then browsed the discounted titles. I found a copy of Beard on Food tucked in amongst the Food Network cookbooks, and for $6, couldn't leave it behind.

James Beard is, per the subtitle to this work of collected columns, "the dean of American cooking." I've read about him here and there, but this is the first time I've dug in.

His writing's inviting and accessible, and his familiarity with the delights of Maryland and DC instantly ingratiated him to me. So when Cam and I picked up some beautiful fresh cod on the way home from a weekend on the Shenandoah River, we turned to Beard for inspiration. We settled on his method for poaching fish, and chose his garlic aioli recipe to accompany the fish and broccoli.

Beard recommends a "simple court bouillon" for poaching -- white wine, water, parsley, lemon, onion, cloves, salt, pepper, bay leaf and thyme, simmered for 20-30 minutes. Once strained, it makes a fragrant bath for the fish, which was cleanly delicious.

The aioli, however, was a whole 'nother story. It seemed so simple. Egg yolks processed with garlic and salt and a long, fine stream of olive oil. Et voila, a creamy white sauce. With a cup and a half of oil, I knew it'd make a ton, but I figured it'd be good on sandwiches.

I'm not sure if the oil never emulsified or if Beard's proportions were just way out of whack, but WHOA. This did not work. We ended up with garlic oil, rounded slightly by the egg yolks. I poked around on the interwebs, and it seems like this is possibly what I was supposed to end up with, but it's not at all what I had in mind. We drizzled the garlicky oil on the broccoli and fish, and it was good, but I just wasn't comfortable keeping it.

And I couldn't leave well enough alone, either, so I researched how to resuscitate an un-emulsified aioli. Two more egg yolks (plus the one I accidentally lost to the garbage disposal), whipped anew, then another long slow dribble of the oily eggy garlicky stuff.

It still didn't work. And now it's in the garbage. So, James Beard, you're on probation. Your fish was delicious and your oxtails sound heavenly, but that aioli was not my cup of viscous, vibrantly yellow tea. Onward.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Let It In

A friend of mine passed along some advice her family holds dear, particularly in heavy times.

"Now is the time to let all the love around you come inside you."

It's beautiful, isn't it? And so, so true. You have to let people help you, let people love you. And focus on the positive, of course. Last night I volunteered again. This time I scooped an enormous vat of couscous bean salad into individual containers. It looked really good -- couscous, tomato, cucumber, kidney beans, mint, and some other stuff, I'm sure. After that I moved on to chopping carrots. I'm not sure if they were for salads or mirepoix. What I can say, with certainty, is that they were the absolute biggest carrots I've ever seen in my life. We chopped a 50lb bag of those bad boys, and watching the whole carrots turn into diced carrots filling up huge bins lifted the weight for a while.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Is It Getting Heavy?

It just keeps happening. It's so heavy, and it's everywhere. It's Fort Hood, it's the DC sniper's execution, it's the woman shot point-blank in the face at the liquor store she worked at for nearly two decades, after she handed over the cash.

It's a friend's stepfather's cancer diagnosis, it's a family member's intense unhappiness with her professional life, it's a neighbor's concern over recent violence, so acute that he meets me when I walk home from the bus to see me safely to my door.

It's job instability, it's a prescription for intensified chemotherapy, it's a feeling of being trapped.

It's heavy. But I never think to myself, like Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips does, that it's already as heavy as can be. It can always get heavier.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Turkey Diversion

What do you do when life's gotten pretty heavy, but you've made a semi sorta to yourself promise to blog as much as you can for a while? What do you write about, while keeping the private, private?

The good times, I think. So this past weekend Cam and I attended something called, loosely, a "Turkey Shoot." In this case, a turkey shoot is a fundraiser held by a Moose Lodge, and it goes a little something like this. First, get in your truck and head South.

Pick up your best friend, then pull up to the site. In this case, it's a field by a gas station, pickups and people tailgating all around, with a concession stand, a place to register, and a range, with 20 lanes and targets about 30 yards off.

There are 36 relays, or rounds, and each relay features a prize -- in some cases, a frozen turkey, but also hunks of beef, pounds of shrimp, slabs of bacon, and in a few cases, money. You get one shot per relay, at $5 per. You register for the relays you want to participate, then get a slip of paper and wait your turn.

Relay 28's a long wait, but there's plenty of sightseeing and strategizing to be done.

When your relay's called, file up, and receive your shell...

Then head to your lane for your one shot.

Once the range is clear, folks working the shoot run out to collect the targets...

... and run them back in to be judged.

This guy compares all the shot patterns, looking for bullseyes.

The participants crowd around, hoping to take home a win.

Sometimes, it's a close call.

Other times, there's a clear winner!

Who feels like turkey tonight?

He's not free range, organic or hormone-free. But he came home with us! And by home, I mean to my Mom's basement chest freezer. But by golly, he's ours.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Dr. Ralph Stanley And The Clinch Mountain Boys

Dr. Ralph Stanley has absolutely still got it. If you're not familiar with him, he covered Man of Constant Sorrow for the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack, and got a ton of well-deserved popular recognition for it. But he's so much more than that, a bluegrass banjo legend who's been touring for 60 years or so, been inducted into the Grand Ole Opry, won numerous Grammys, and earned the National Medal of Arts. And you may remember this:

So, yeah, he's a true icon and we got to see him in a small concert hall, from the front row, tonight. The evening was an engagement gift from Cam's best friend, and I'll never forget it.

One more thing -- news on the chili cookoff front! Stay tuned! Ha. But seriously, Cam's creation kicked butt at the cookoff, details, and hopefully, a recipe to follow, if we can remember how we made it. All this, and I haven't even mentioned the turkey shoot today! The hits, they keep on coming.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Mucking With Chili

Tonight, Cam and I are going to a chili cookoff. Last year we took home the coveted "Chili that looks the most like DCPS cafeteria chili" award, so even though it was indisputably delicious, we decided to take a different tack this time.

We've been having so much fun with cooking, and cooking together, that Cam proposed a "chili" way, way out of the box. We've got a pot of something pretty incredible-smelling simmering on the stove. Cam calls it Middle Eastern Lamb Chili, and we're hoping it'll taste good. He dug up a recipe for Cincinnati style chili, which uses a paste of spices, including cinnamon and allspice already, then boosted its ME credentials with some cloves, cumin and harissa. We subbed in chickpeas for kidney, lamb for ground beef, and we'll serve it with Greek yogurt and fresh mint chiffonade.

I meant to take pictures, of course -- browning bits of meat, finely chopped habanero, spices prepped in a cute little bowl -- but nope. You'll just have to trust that it smells great and you can see how it looks simmering in its dark green Le Creuset home. I'll let you know how it tastes!

Friday, November 06, 2009

Cattle Ranch Photography

There are quite a few characters in my neighborhood, and one of my absolute favorites is a man I call "Cattle Ranch Photography." Weird, I know, but this guy stands on the corner opposite my bus stop, so I walk past him many days. When he's there, he's always got some phrase he's shouting in various intonations, sometimes conversational, sometimes as a sort of announcement, but never (so far) confrontational.

I try to make notes on my phone about the things he says, since, at this point, quite a few coworkers know about him, and of course I always share with Cam. They were mostly on my old phone, unfortunately, but Cattle Ranch Photography was the original. He seems to have a thing for words, and I've seen him walking around with a science textbook. He's interesting, to be sure.

Today was special, however. Today I came in a little late, so as I was walking toward his usual corner, he was walking up the street toward me, instead of loitering. I had a feeling he'd try to engage me as we passed, and I wasn't disappointed. Exchange as follows, all conducted in lovely, friendly tones:

CRP: You got my dictionary?
ED: No, I'm sorry, I don't!
CRP: You don't got my dictionary?
ED: I don't, I'm sorry.
CRP: Aww, that was a beautiful dictionary. I was in love with that dictionary.
ED: I hope you find it!
CRP: Me too. I love that dictionary.

Sometimes, I wouldn't trade my wacky neighborhood for anything in the world.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

3 Nevers

Megablogger Dooce started a forum for her gazillions of readers, and today she's featuring a question posed by one of the members, Becky O:

If you have them, what are the three "nevers" of your life?

Interesting question. Off the top of my head, I know it's a total cliche, but I do believe in "never go to bed mad." Of course, it's never that simple, but I do believe in getting to the place with your beloved where you're not mad anymore, even if you have what I call a "fight hangover." You know that feeling, when the disagreement's been resolved, and you're actually in a really good place with the outcome, but you can't quite kick the mood? Fight hangover.

More and more, when it comes to shopping, "never pay full price." It's just too easy these days, with sites like Gilt and RueLaLa*, email coupons, discount codes, and the like. There's no reason to pay retail, and a friend of mine has even shown me that you shouldn't really be paying for shipping, either.

OH, and the best one, a lifelong never passed down by my parents, well, it doesn't start with never but it's the thought that counts. "Don't say yuck until you've tried it." Eat everything you can, try it all, and you don't have to try it again if you don't want to. But you know what? Try it again. Two of my longest held "don't likes," mushrooms and capers, have recently worked their way into my diet. Cooked mushrooms I've been good on for a while, but this past weekend on a minibreak in the Poconos, I ate raw portobellos and loved them. And two weeks ago, Cam made a pork picatta coated in capers, and I practically licked the plate. So, don't say yuck until you try it, and then if you don't like it... Maybe try it again later.

So what are your nevers?

*If you don't know what these sites are, check them out. And if you want an invite, just email me.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Boots Or Ferraris, You Choose

Fact: My checking account has zero, zippo cushion right now. 5 weddings in a season will do that to you, what with all the travel, fun clothes, and surrounding celebratory events.

But it's a new season, and this new season especially, this Fall, is trouble. Fall's always trouble for me, shopping-wise. You know the drill -- crisp air, sweaters and layers and jeans and tights and boots. I dig out last year's clothes from storage and prune and organize. Usually I'm excited to see the things I haven't needed for 6 months, but this year, I'm down to not much. Decent jeans, a pair of nice boots, and... Not much else. So, please. Explain why I just purchased these:

And can't get these out of my head:

I'm boot mad! The worst part? I have two beautiful pairs already, and they bear significant resemblance to the two pairs above. The worst WORST part? I hardly ever wear the pairs I have!

My cowboy boots aren't as broken in as I'd like, so I don't wear them (and I only ever wore the tassels for Halloween - they're removable). That makes sense. Yeah. My wedge boots are adorable:

And I love them. But, well. I have massive calves. It makes it really hard to find boots, so when I found these, I was thrilled. Two things stop me from wearing them constantly.

1. One time when I wore them with a dress, I walked by a guy drinking beer on the corner by the mini mart and he said, "Girl's legs is BIG!" No kidding.

2. More seriously, I have a really hard time wearing anything the least bit flashy or "not me." Things that I consider flashy include, well, just about everything. Boots, boots tucked in jeans. Jewelry beyond the ring, earrings, and simple necklace I wear every day. Scarves and wraps. Belts over tops. The list goes on and on, and it's absolutely stifling. So day after day, I dress like Ellen. Seriously. Jeans, tshirts and sneakers - remember my aforementioned casual workplace? Even my hair never changes. Always down, and never adorned with barrettes or bands.

So, clearly, my boot obsession is a cry for help, a feeble attempt to dress in new ways and be more stylish. I got a few cute things this summer (A maxidress! So daring! Gladiator sandals with studs!), and loved wearing them. So I'll keep you posted on my daring fashion adventures. And I'm still looking for makeup guidance, ladies. Is it midlife crisis time already?!

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

1,000 Stalks Of Celery

Well, the day that began with 45 minutes in a Pilates class wrapped up with an hour and 20 minutes of chopping celery. Now my back's sore and I've got a blister on my right index finger the size of a dime, but I'm not complaining. I'm proud, it's my sore, slightly puffy badge of honor.

I've recently started volunteering for a local organization that makes meals for sick clients. It's a pretty amazing place -- they serve tons of clients across three states, three meals a day developed by in-house dieticians and chefs. I work in the kitchen, and while it's not glamorous work, so far, it's a blast. On my first night I dropped scoop after scoop of sliced, hard boiled eggs onto spinach salads. Tonight I chopped the aforementioned celery, and then finished out the night "stirring" -- and by stirring I mean turning with a shovel, essentially -- an enormous vat of turkey salad. I like being in the kitchen, seeing what food production is like in a commercial setting, even though I'll never do more than simple prep. Plus, tonight, the chef who's in charge of the Tuesday night crew had chocolate chip cookies for us.

So tonight I'm sore and tired, but it feels great!

Make Me Up

This morning I did something I hadn't done in a very long time: I attended a Pilates class. Note, I did not say I *did* Pilates, because what I did in that class only vaguely resembled the practice of Joseph Pilates. It's been a long time, people.

Last year, I took a semester of Pilates at a studio near where I live, and it was fantastic. I don't love yoga (too much holding of poses, I get bored and whine incessantly in my head. It's the opposite of relaxing.), but I have the world's weakest core, so I gave it a shot. I learned a ton and got a lot stronger and more flexible, but when it ended, I realized that I should spend the money on a gym membership instead. So I did, and I love my gym, but boy do I miss my old teacher.

I'm sorry, we've been over this before, but am I insane to think that my considerable posterior puts me at a disadvantage for some of these moves? Even with "booty assist," as today's teacher put it (using my hands to assist my core in sending my legs skyward), I cannot just roll up onto my shoulders without a good lurch&heave that's antithetical to Pilates. Granted, regular class attendance should help. Maybe I'm just whiny.

But none of this is the point. This morning, the locker room was packed after class with women getting ready for the workday. I've got a very lenient workplace when it comes to dress code (read: there isn't one), so while I try to class it up from time to time, I generally wear jeans to work. I just try to wear flats with them, or at least, wear clean sneakers. Like I said, lenient. So anyway, I'm used to being under dressed among the working women of this fair city, but before this morning, I don't think I ever really thought about my hair and makeup.

Ah, hair and makeup. For a regular workday, I brush my wet hair to get bangs and part in the right places, then apply drugstore concealer (when IN THE WORLD will I ever not have acne? And don't say when I get wrinkles. Got those already, thanks.) and brush on some mascara. Right now I've got Fresh Supernova, which I like, but I think it leaves dust on my cheeks by the end of the day. And... That's it.

I'm fine with my hair. I get good cuts that take into account my disinclination to blow it dry, curl it, style it, or even add any products. Sure, I'll do that stuff for fun, but for work? Not interested, for the most part. But I feel like I could do a bit more on the makeup front. What's your routine? What could I add to mine (feel free to mention specific brands you like) to turn things up a little (without freaking everyone out)?

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Pips & Spitz & Choo, Choo!

What a blur October was! Following our fantastic week away and kitty-filled homecoming party, we had a quick week at work, a weekend, and then BAM! Enter swine flu.

My poor sister and her husband came down for a visit and a trip the ever-awesome Maryland Renaissance Festival, an annual tradition for more years than I care to count. She wasn't feeling great, and by Sunday, she was getting pretty sick. We didn't know what she had, but Monday, Cam, two of our friends who we'd spent the weekend with, and my Dad all dropped like flies. It was kind of nuts how fast the H1N1 came on, but now that we've seen it through, I can report a couple things. First of all, it's pretty yuck. Across the 5 sickies, the worst symptoms were significant fevers, extremely sore throats, coughs and congestion, and torso and back pain, which seems to be this bug's hallmark. Most of them kicked it in about 4 days, though my sister and my Dad are having a bit of a harder time with it. And, then, my Mom got sick too, after most everyone was on the other side.

What's weirdest to me is that I haven't gotten it. I nursed Cam, working from home, I shared food with my sister before we knew the score, and did everything all the sickies did last weekend. But now, it *seems* I'm out of the woods. I was paranoid as all get out last week, of course, particularly because I had plans this weekend to go to a friends "cabin" (read beautiful 3 bedroom house) in the Pocono mountains. I didn't want to miss out, but more than that, I didn't want to typhoid Emma all my friends.

Cam and psmee convinced me I was being a little crazy with the paranoia, so after taking my temperature 5 times throughout Friday, I got in the car and headed north. I took it twice more on the drive because I'm a total freak, and then, in the clear, met up with the girls. We had an incredible weekend of food and wine and laughing like crazy, and I felt fine throughout. We also played a full game of Mexican Train Dominoes (is the name offensive? It's the official name of the game, like, on the box, but it's got to be offensive, right?), one of my absolute favorite games. Turns out the little dots on the dominoes are called pips, which one chica misheard as spitz, so there's a fun fact.

So, I guess time will tell if I made it through the swine flu unscathed. I'm optimistic, and hopeful I may have even pirated a few of Cam's hard-won antibodies. I'm still getting that vaccine if I get a chance, though!