Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Down With the Sickness

I have a cold.  A sore throat, running nose, and general malaise.  It comes at a crappy time, seeing as I have an exam to take today.  Why it couldn't arrive when I was grading exams, or standing around giving the exam, or grading quizzes, or doing something that didn't directly involve my personal success, I don't know.  But here it is.  

Besides the constant nasal leakage, the sore throat was making me very unhappy.  Thankfully, I have a weapon in my arsenal of cold-fighting tactics, older than Cold-Eeze and Airborne, possibly originating around the same era as parents the world over ladled chicken soup into bowls for sick children and found they felt better afterwards.  It is...  The Grandpa Calvin Drink. 

My mom's dad is my Grandpa Calvin.  Well, he was, at any rate.  What is the proper etiquette for referring to deceased relatives?  Just because he's not alive doesn't mean he's no longer my grandfather; I mean he's my grandfather in memory, right?  Well, whatever.  I'm going to use the present tense.  Anyway, he passed along this concoction to make sore throats feel good, and I'm a huge fan.  

The Grandpa Calvin Drink

- Fill a mug with milk, leaving a bit of room at the top.

- Sprinkle in some cinnamon.  I added dry ginger to mine just before, and it was very nice.

- Microwave until very warm.  Try not to boil it over like I did, but you want it to be hot.  Alternatively, you can do this on the stove, but then that's one more pot to wash.

- Add honey until it's as sweet as you like it.  I add what likely amounts to ~2 spoons.  

- Optional: stir in a small bit of butter.  This may aid the throat-coating, it may do nothing at all, or it may just taste nice.  I tend to forget this step... maybe because I like my butter on toast, but hey.  Whatever you like.  :)  

- Drink.  Grandpa Calvin knew his stuff, people.

If I didn't have to drive to school later, I'd alternate a cup of this with a cup of tea with honey and whiskey to clear out my sinuses.  You know, I've never been a fan of newfangled cold medicines.  The normal ones tend to make me drowsy, and the non-drowsy formulas make me into a hyperactive lunatic.  I'll stick to my Cold-Eeze, chicken soup, milk, tea, honey, and whiskey, thank you very much.  Definitely tastier, at any rate...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Food Stamp Challenge, Continued

Because of an avalanche of grading, homework, and studying responsibilities, I have been remiss in updating on the challenge. First of all, Danny and I spent $22.00 at Trader Joe's for peanut butter, bananas, eggs, milk, cheese, OJ, and a few other necessaries this weekend. The Rosh Hashanah leftovers were finished on Friday, and the fast on Thursday went well. I made a batch of borscht this weekend, and I am officially still in shock over the amount of cabbage one head of said vegetable contains. Danny made some kasha and risotto, too. We've been eating those items for lunch and dinner for most of the week. Our bread has carried over into this week, and that with peanut butter, bananas, and honey, eggs, or cheese and pickles have been nice breakfasts with milk or juice.

Still have enough beets for beet salad. Still have enough cabbage for slaw. In fact, I practically have cabbage coming out of my ears. It is with consternation that I stare at the sizeable wedge of neatly packed layered leaves sitting in the fridge. I think it may be time for a stirfry. Lots of ginger, lots of garlic, tempeh from the fridge, cabbage (of course), carrots, peppers... it'll be good.

Things have been fairly easy, really. This $25 per person per week is very close to what Danny and I spend normally. We've spent $75 over a week and a half with plenty of carryover (there is so much of this delicious, rich borscht, I cannot believe it; I'm going to post the Joy of Cooking recipe which is quite good for those who don't just throw things into a pot), and we haven't even gotten to make chili. I think the overall problem is how we as a society expect to eat, because when it comes down to it, veggies - certain veggies - are still ridiculously cheaper than processed crap.

When you get down to the naked legumes, huddled masses produce, and whole grains, the nutritional bang for buck is gargantuan. If our nation ate like this, there would be absolutely zero obesity epidemic. You'd have larger people and smaller people, for sure, but this "epidemic" would be nonexistant. And it wouldn't be for lack of food. You can eat as much lentil salad, cabbage, borscht, and kasha you want, because you'll still have money in your pocket. Once you get over the initial gassiness from the increased fiber (and you start to enjoy reliable regularity), it's not bad at all. You learn how to make things taste Mexican, Middle Eastern, Indian, Russian, Italian, Asian... and you suddenly have an arsenal of flavors you can apply to various substrates.

Food Stamp Budget Challenge? Not much of a challenge. I can see how it would be monotonous after a while, but it's entirely possible to eat well, plentifully, and insanely healthily. Plus, you can enjoy high-quality or even kosher meat every couple weeks if you're careful. If I ever donate anything to food banks, it'll most likely be a collection of recipes. What I've learned here is that we need to revise our attitudes. My parents used to take one day, usually Sunday, and cook for the week. And we always had hot, healthy, and usually delicious dinners. I mean, people, this is not impossible.

Is it boring to always eat beans? Yes, but why is it any more boring than always eating meat?

Isn't it time-consuming to cook all the time? Yeah, but I'll be damned if I'm going to throw away my health, well-being, alertness, and enjoyment of food in the name of speed. I turn on some nice music, and have at it. Danny is just as - if not more - involved in the kitchen, so everything gets split up.

Oh, and here's my last counter to the "it's too hard" argument about $25 per week per person challenge. Take the money you'd spend every month on cable TV (which is about $60 in my neck of the woods), cancel the cable (I don't get TV), and divide that by 4, which is $15, and add $15 to the weekly family food budget. Oh yeah, and then you'll have time to cook because you'll have an extra 2 hours every night. Or go to the library and borrow books if you have so much free time, or tutor kids (assuming you don't have any) and make some pocket money, or do that thing you like to do but never have time for (like picking up the instrument you've stored in your closet since high school and rediscover your love for honking away on the clarinet).

That's what I think. I may be wrong. I may have no idea what it's really like. But based upon my experience growing up - and I include the present - it isn't impossible. Like so many other things in life, you do what you have to do to get by as well as you possibly can. We only get one shot in one body. Might as well make it count, even when it sucks, no?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Food Stamp Budget: Proceeding

So, this food stamp budget thing is ok.  

For breakfast, I grabbed a handful of fruit (several plums) to throw down on my stomach full of nerves, because woah nelly, this teaching thing is a bitch.  The last time I took biology was in high school, and now I'm expected to teach 2 recitation sections of Mammalian Physiology to psychotic rabid premeds.  Imagine someone told you to teach 20th century British literature, with the only qualification being that you speak and read English.  That more or less defines the mess I've gotten myself into, and it is quite possibly in the running to make the list of The Top 10 Worst Things In The World That One Can Do.  

Danny had leftover bobka (cake) and plums with yogurt (from the fridge) for breakfast, and he had leftover stuffed cabbage, pot roast, and sweet and sour cabbage, mashed potatoes, bread with pickles, and finally brie and leftover cake for dessert. For lunch, I had leftover stuffing and lentils, and for dinner, leftover stuffed cabbage sandwich (toast, warmed stuffed cabbage cut into slices, a bit of mayo and ketchup to supplement the sauce) and leftover cake.  See, this leftover thing is getting in the way.  I think the only way to make it so I can see what $25 per person per week is really like is by doing it for several weeks.  Technically, the leftover stuffing was free; I took it along with stuffed cabbage, pot roast, mashed potatoes, and a whole bunch of cake home from Rosh Hashanah.  Oh yeah, and tomorrow is Yom Kippur, where Jews fast all day.  So really, this is one big cheat.  I can't bring myself to waste food by ignoring the amazing leftovers in the name of experimentation.

I'm going to do it again this upcoming week.

I haven't made beet salad or borscht yet, and I still have one pumpkin.  We have an obscene amount of bread left, and there's sweet and sour cabbage and about 2 servings of pumpkin soup still in the fridge.  My lunch finished off the lentils.  And might I add... anyone not blessed with bowel regularity ought to consider increasing their intake of lentils.  Seriously.  All you need is some sauteed soup veg, a very generous amount of lemon juice and chopped parsley, and some salt and pepper.  I'm addicted to it.  But then, I grew up in a house where lemon, salt, and pepper was the dressing of choice for, well, nearly everything.  

And by nearly everything, I mean normal salad, drained canned chickpeas, steamed zucchini, steamed broccoli, raw sliced tomato (plain and on sandwiches), fish (broiled, grilled, steamed), etc.  Seriously.  It's really good, especially with some chopped fresh herb and/or garlic.  Forget bottled salad dressing.  It's not worth it.

My assessment so far?  I think I had a leg up shopping in NY for fruits and veg and bread, not to mention Rosh Hashanah leftovers and Yom Kippur fasting.  The Food Stamp Budget will definitely continue into the upcoming weeks, but for now, the fridge will continue to be cleaned out by Danny and me because I HATE wasting food.  I'm going to keep this thing updated, with full disclosure of all food eaten.  (But only dinner tomorrow because of the fast.)  So, to whom it applies, I hope you have an easy fast.  :)

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


Danny made pumpkin soup last night from the smaller of the two pumpkins. We followed the Good Eats suggestion of taking a meat cleaver and a hammer and tapping the back of the meat cleaver to split the pumpkin into quarters. The seeds were scooped, and the pumpkin roasted, as per the recipe (click link in "pumpkin soup" above).

We approximated the quantity of chicken broth (from leftovers of the previous week) needed, added a bit extra ginger (from a large chunk in the freezer), and omitted the heavy cream. It's just not necessary. You can get a very smooth velvety soup from just the pumpkin and broth. I'm not busting heavy cream, but I like soup to be something I can eat like a salad - i.e., massive quantities whenever I want, not have to think about whether it's going to make me sorry later, and be comprised mostly of veggies. I think of it like cold-weather salad, because I really love salad, but eating something cold and wet when it's cold and wet outside isn't the nicest thing. So, during the winter months, hot soup fills salad's place in my meals. We had nutmeg and the requisite honey in the pantry, and I have the leftovers for lunch with some lentil salad, a couple slices of bread to dip in the soup, some plums, and 2 cookies (leftover from the family get-together this weekend).

Not too shabby... :)

The soup itself is totally awesome, and if you're into butternut or acorn squash, Alton Brown says it works equally well with those veggies. Like I said, it's really smooth, you can adjust viscosity with broth, and keeping it simple on the flavoring front - nutmeg, ginger, honey, salt, pepper - allows the pumpkin to be a player, not just as something in which to throw spices. If I was craving some heat, I can see hot peppers not being out of place, but be careful choosing. Tabasco or Frank's Redhot have no place in this soup. You'd need some deliberate heat, not vinegar with some chilis thrown in for the hell of it. Your best bet would likely be some fresh chilis chopped up and sprinkled over top, or maybe hot pepper flakes, but stay away from vinegar-based hot sauce for this.

Last night, Danny and I had the pumpkin soup and some sweet and sour cabbage for dinner... so far, so good. And healthy. Rock on, food stamp budget!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Cost of Eating: The Food Stamp Challenge

I came across an interesting challenge last week, while flipping through a newspaper. A county food pantry was trying to raise awareness of hunger by challenging people to eat on a food stamp budget, $25 per person per week. I thought, "Wow, that's not so different from what I spend a week on food, give or take."

Unfortunately, Rosh Hashanah got in the way, and we had a week long foodfest, all the treats from the old country, until finally, on Sunday, after rolling out from my parents' house in NY to return to MD, Danny and I stopped at good old M&M Farms. We got plums, pears, 2 beautiful perfect pie pumpkins, potatoes, onions, garlic, cabbage, a bunch of fresh parsley, 2 boxes of mushrooms, bell peppers, 2 lbs of carrots, 5 limes, some lettuce, and beets, ready to resume a normal diet. All that amazing produce cost $30. Then we stopped at Rockland Bakery, got bread for probably about ~3 weeks to freeze for later, and that cost $13. And I thought, hmm. Maybe now would be a good time to try that Food Stamp Budget Thing.

I immediately failed, making tuna sandwiches out of pantry tuna for lunch. I don't know if pantry tuna counts, seeing as I didn't buy it with my $50. And if I divide the bread expenditure by 2, assuming our stash is depleted in 2 weeks (which it won't be, but whatever), Danny and I have spent only $37 on food for the week. And if I factor in a can of tomatoes and stew beef (because a batch of borscht is certainly in order), a can of Israeli pickles (for beet salad), then I'll be at around $45, with enough money for a 1/2 gallon of milk (~$3) to add to the weekly groceries. I'm also at liberty to add a bag of lentils for weekly protein, which clocks in under $1. We have eggs left over from last week.

I have a vision of borscht, warm lentil salad, sweet and sour cabbage, gingery pumpkin soup, pumpkin breakfast muffins (a pumpkin-y riff on the super-healthy bran, nut, and raisin filled version my grandma's been eating for 79 years... and hey, 79 years of bran muffin eating can't be wrong) accompanied by autumn fruits, baked potatoes, and sauteed mushrooms and onions to round out whatever needs rounding out. I forgot how much a box of kasha (buckwheat groats) costs, but I should check that because kasha is delicious, especially when it's loaded with mushrooms and onions.

I have to say, $25 per week per person isn't miserable. But then, if I shopped for food in Maryland, it might be. Fruit is quite expensive here. Apples can't possibly be more in season, and yet they cost $1.50 per pound. They're $0.99 per pound in M&M, and they have a very nice assortment of varieties; macoun, macintosh, and cortland. Bosc pears and plums - Italian prune varieties, large dark purple ones with green flesh, and the light pinky-purple ones with orange flesh also clock in at $0.99. Plums and pears aren't listed in the weekly flyer here in MD, so who knows what they cost. Bell peppers in MD are 4 for $5. Even if they are 1 lb each, that's more than $1 per pound, and they were $0.79 per pound at M&M. Granted, M&M and the local cheap supermarket here are equal for items like onions and in-season squash (even though I love pumpkin, I can't eat butternut or acorn because of a weird intolerance for assorted squashes and sweet potatoes). But I'd still take M&M because their onions aren't prebagged, and their food in general tends to last longer before turning to mush.

It's very curious. Peaches trucked from farms 45 minutes out are just barely underselling the supermarket ones. It's a pretty messed up system we have here in MD. But I will persevere with this foodstamp thing. It's not that far off from how Danny and I normally eat. If anyone else reads this blasted thing, are you up for the challenge? If so, please specify rough geographical location, because I want to know where people charge what for food.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Something else to do with lentils.

So I figured out something else to do with lentils, as the title suggests.

Start with the cooked lentils plus sauteed flavor base (carrot, onion, garlic, celery), warm up in microwave, squeeze lemon on it, and add a nice amount of chopped parsley, some salt and pepper, and I like hot sauce on mine.

I expect that would fall under the category of "warm lentil salad," but that makes it sound like it took more time than it did...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Huddled Masses

I forgot who, though it was probably Michael Pollen, said we should go for foods our ancestors ate when they were dirt poor and struggling. They got the most vitamins and nutrients out of the least dollar amount spent on food possible, and it was likely to be real food because food science wasn't as pseudo-omniscient as it is now.

My ancestors? Cabbage. Lots of cabbage. My grandfather would go out during the winter in Poland, chip the ice off the top of the barrel of sauerkraut that was sitting outside, and scoop some out for dinner every night. When you think about it, cabbage has a good amount of fiber, and according to Wikipedia, it has a bunch of other good things in it, too. You know that bitter taste cabbage has? Like broccoli, radishes, kale, mustard, Brussels sprouts, etc.? It's from glucosinolates. Interestingly enough, this compound, when ingested in huge amounts can interfere with iodine uptake in the thyroid, thus leading to goiter. HOWEVER, in smaller amounts, they offer some protection against cancer. Here's the article. Very interesting, not least of all because of the way you're supposed to get a nice sized dose to get the benefits, but eating too much of it all the time can be toxic. Speaks volumes about that whole "balanced diet" thing, no?

Instead of making a barrel of saurkraut which wouldn't last in Maryland, anyway, I opted for sweet and sour cabbage with red cabbage. Red cabbage, along with being tasty and pretty, can be used as a pH indicator. It'll retain its red color in acids, and it'll turn blue in bases. (Acid = vinegar, lemon juice; base = soap, bleach. Not many foods are basic. Milk might be ever-so-slightly basic, but I'm not sure.) Anyway, get a head of red cabbage. Cut it into quarters, cut out the "core" (really just a bit of stem at the bottom), and cut it into pieces that fit through the slice tube on a food processor. Slice it. You can put it through the shredder, but cabbage will fall apart on its own if you just put it through the slicer. Chop up one onion and one apple. Get the apple and onion sauteeing until golden brown. Then dump in the cabbage, 1/2 c cider vinegar (I'm a huge fan of Trader Joe's unfiltered variety, but whatever you've got is going to work), 1/2 c sugar, and 1/2 tsp celery seed. Stir it up. I didn't have celery seed, so I threw in a bit of fennel and caraway seeds, and while those don't taste anything like celery seed, the dish tastes good anyway. So you cook the whole thing down stirring periodically until the liquid is almost gone. Salt and pepper to taste, and there's your sweet and sour cabbage.

The other thing I made was lentil burgers. Cook a package of lentils according to directions. This means boil them in salted water until they're soft. (But first give them a rinse and go through them a bit, because every so often you'll find a stone and no one wants to break their teeth.) When they're done boiling, drain them. In a pan, sautee one chopped onion, one chopped carrot, and a couple ribs of celery. When they're almost done (soft, brown), throw in some minced garlic. The garlic will only need a little while to get soft. I put my lentils in a gallon ziplock, added my sauteed veg, and tossed it to mix. That's the base. From there, the world is your burrito. The basics = lentil + veg + egg+ breadcrumbs. From this, you can make anything you want.

I had some leftover chipotle tomato sauce (sautee 2-3 cloves chopped garlic till they start to go brown, dump in one large can of whole tomatoes, juice and all, break up tomatoes as they simmer - a splatter guard is really super useful here - and continue to cook - be careful of burning - until nearly all the liquid is evaporated. Carefully dump tomatoes and garlic into food processor, add ~2 chipotles en adobo from the can depending upon your heat preference, cover, and carefully food process. This sauce is awesome on lamb, burgers, crackers, chicken, eggs, bread, cheese, and spoons. As in licked off them.). ANYWAY. We had some leftover. So, I took a bunch of the lentil mix, put it in a bowl, cracked an egg in, dumped some breadcrumbs in and a bit of the sauce, added a dusting of ground sage and thyme, salted to taste, and mushed everything into a burger-shaping consistancy.

*The egg is binder, and the breadcrums absorb some moisture, so those are the structural elements of the burgers.* Therefore, if your mush is falling apart in chunks, you need more moisture either from sauce or egg, and if it's too gloppy and molten, add more breadcrumbs. It may take a little practice, but don't get discouraged. They're typically softer than their meat counterparts, so don't shoot for hamburger consitancy. That's just not the nature of the beast.

So heat some oil in a pan, and fry away! They tasted really good with the sweet and sour cabbage. Very filling, too. Lentils are small, but woah nelly, they will fill you up. I could see those burgers also tasting good on a bun with more of the tomato chipotle sauce and some fresh tomato slices, onion, and some avocado, radish slices, and cucumber, and maybe some feta or queso fresco.

And you could add some cumin to the lentil mush.

Or you could add some fresh cilantro and parsley, some cumin and coriander for a riff on felafel.

Or some curry powder, fresh grated ginger, and cilantro.

...Seriously, maybe I should write a book and call it something like '101 Ways to Cook the Lentil.'

But then, I'm not sure I'd make it to 101. Maybe I should shoot for something more obtainable, like 19.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


I love chickpeas.  Primarily, I love them in hummus.  You have no idea how happy it made me when the 1 or 2-year old (truth is I have no idea how old she is) daughter of some friends of mine from Taiwan was licking hummus off of bread at a party Danny and I had.  And she had to be forced to eat the bread.  Clearly, a woman after my own heart.   See, I view starches - bread, pasta, rice - as simply vehicles on which one can eat more sauce, veggies, or meat in polite company.  This attitude usually leaves Danny appalled, but what can I say?  Since I was a little kid, eating starches was a way to get my parents to give me more of what I really wanted.  

Except mashed potatoes.  I love mashed potatoes.  I especially love mashed potatoes prepared the Eastern European Jewish way, with rendered chicken fat and the crispy chicken rinds (called gribenes).  First you render the fat out of the skin by putting chicken skins in a pot with a splash of water to keep them from sticking, and you slowly cook them down over very low heat.  You're left with fat and the gribenes.  So, you take the chicken fat, and you use it to sautee onions and garlic really slowly until they're caramelized and beautiful.  Then you dump this into your mashed potatoes with salt and pepper.  Because Jews who keep kosher don't mix milk and meat, you use the chicken fat to achieve the desired mashed potato consistency.  It's funny how the French capitalized on the usage of duck fat and that's all haute cuisine, but this is dirty peasant food.  Really, it's all the same.  I think my ancestors managed to not die immediately of heart conditions because this was all they had.  A lot of Jewish soul food that comes out of Eastern Europe is heavier than a cartoon anvil, but that's to do with the climate and level of poverty/starvation.  Ever hear of kishke?  Yeah, didn't think so.  It's cow intestine stuffed with flour, spices, and lots of grease, although now I believe they go for collagen casings.  We never had it growing up, but I hear it's quite tasty.  :)

But chickpeas.  I titled this post "chickpeas," not "mashed potatoes with chicken fat."  I love them out of a can, drained, with a squeeze of lemon, salt, and pepper on them.  They're a tasty addition to salads (regular, 3-bean, anything marinated), too.  And soups.  Tonight I was feeling particularly lazy, so I stopped in at Trader Joe's to get some milk, bread, etc. but opted for some take-out Indian food for dinner at the joint below TJ's, Saveur India.  I got channa massala and a roti.  I asked them to make my channa hot, and I was expecting to get hit in the face (and stomach... and intestine... and... well, yeah) but it was not as hot as I expected.  It was pleasantly painful and masterfully spiced.  The chickpeas were creamy and melted in my mouth, and the roti was partly crisp from the oven but still chewy and nutty from the whole wheat.  It was such a nice surprise to find very well-thought out Indian food not lacking in flavor in this neck of the woods.  I wasn't planning on eating it all, but I had to.  I couldn't NOT eat it.  It was too spicy and tangy and awesome.  So I ate it all.  Now that I'm done, I'm sad there isn't any more of it, but maybe that's a good thing...

...How is it that all Indian people aren't ridiculously fat?  

Tomatoes, Tomatoes, Tomatoes

I have one third of the last giant Brandywine tomato from the massive quantity of various tomato varieties I took home the last time I visited my parents.  It's sitting in the fridge wrapped in plastic.  I plan on devouring it tomorrow morning for breakfast on a slice of whole wheat rye toast with some swiss cheese and a glass of milk.  

Along with the Brandywines, my mom grew smallish red tomatoes with tiger orangey stripes, yellow plum tomatoes, ghostly white orbs, sweet 1 million cherry tomatoes, and some minute yellow cherry tomato variety I'd never seen.  Naturally, my dad and bro were reaching their fresh tomato limit, so as a year-round supermarket tomato hostage, I was thrilled to relieve them of some of their tomato-eating duties.  There's nothing like real veggies.

Here's the deal.  People don't eat veggies because they taste like crap most of the time.  Varieties that make it to the supermarkets are bred for size, packability, and duration of perceived freshness.  Flavor doesn't factor into it.  Everyone's so removed from the land these days, they don't know what produce should taste like anymore, so they go to the stores every week, pick out firm tomatoes, and feed them to their families.  Firm tomatoes?  Real ones are soft, with juices ready to burst out and spray the guy or gal next to you should you bite into one. 

Can you imagine throwing a supermarket tomato from now at a bad act back in the day?  You'd kill him!  Think of how dated those caricatures of tomatoes going 'splat' are.  It's so sad and pathetic.  According Michael Pollan (who is the modern god of food policy as far as I'm concerned), one of the reasons produce prices are so high is because the government subsidizes corn farming.  If the government took away the corn subsidies, the farmers would immediately be up to their ears in debt, and because of the demand, HAVE to grow real fruit and veggies.  So I say down with the government subsidies.  


Because I want delicious, sweet, tangy, juicy tomatoes with intensely tomatoey skin that goes pop when I bite into them.  And I want broccoli with biceps, gustatorially speaking.  And cucumbers that taste like cucumbers!  Why are we so obsessed with making corn chips taste like fucking fake cheese or BBQ sauce and so detached from what the real deal tastes like?  

Hell, I'm not even going the nutrition route.  I'm going full out pure hedonism here.  What the hell, people.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


Here are two of my favorite things for dessert.  Actually, I have a lot of favorite things for dessert.  These just happen to be 2 of them.  :)  Banana bread and these cookies called melting moments.  Both recipes come out of this cookbook that is so retro it's post-modern.  No, really.  It is called The Pleasures of Your Food Processor, by Norene Gilletz.  It is the anti-food-porn cookbook.  It's food porn literotica, I suppose.  It is brown and yellow, and I don't just mean the stains on the pages.  The book is in a binder form and my mom's had it forever.  I used to resent this particular version of banana bread when I was a kid when all the other kids had their beautiful white slices of cake from cake mixes.  I had my funky brown 'nanner bread to go with my gazillion pounds of fruit and stanky hummus and baba ganoush ethnic sandwiches, and boy, did my life suck at lunch time.  

But now, in my advanced age, I realize that this banana bread is in fact a gem in its moist brown caramelized gorgeous state.  It is particularly delicious when a slice is soaked in a bit of rum with vanilla ice cream on top.  ...Because we all have to go to heaven sometimes, here's the recipe:

3 med very ripe bananas (blacker the better)
1 c sugar
3 tsp baking soda
dash salt
2 eggs
1/4 c oil
1 1/2 c flour
1/2 c butter milk/sour milk. (aka, 1 tsp lemon juice and milk to equal 1/2 c)

- Dump 'nanners in food processor and puree, followed by sugar, soda, and salt; process for 30 more seconds.  
- Add eggs and oil, process till blended, ~10 sec.
- Pour flour over, add buttermilk, and blend 8-10 sec until smooth.

Line a loaf pan (9x5) with buttered parchment paper (I used a buttered and floured tin; it works perfectly).  Dump in batter, and bake at 275 F for 2 1/2 hours.

Yeah, I know.  2.5 hours.  It's a lot, but baby, it is SO WORTH IT.  Also, I like adding a lot of walnuts.  They get brown too in there.  This is what all banana bread recipes should aspire to.  And it freezes well.

Ok, so this other recipe is good for when you have to bring something to a party.  It isn't super high-yield, so I'd go for 2 batches if you have to bring it somewhere where there are more than 12 attendees.  These cookies are called melting moments (from the same cookbook as above), and they're nothing but butter (or margerine) and flour and sugar, just you don't have to monkey around with a stupid cookie press.  With the use of margerine, they effortlessly translate into a vegan dessert.  If you don't tell anyone but the resident vegan(s), no one else will know.  

3/4 c butter or margerine in chunks
1/3 c brown sugar, packed
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 c flour
1 c pecans/walnuts/I tried almonds, and they're good too.
powdered (icing) sugar

- process butter with brown sugar and vanilla until well-creamed.  Add flour and nuts, processing until just mixed with several on/off pulses.  Form into small balls with your hands, ~1 inch in diameter, and bake on an ungreased cookie sheet at 350 F for 20 minutes.  Let cool completely, and dust with powdered sugar before serving.  

You can add chocolate chips with or instead of the nuts, but I'd stick to 1 c of add-ins total.  These puppies disappear in no time, hence the name.  They're not too sweet, and they have a sandy, crumbly texture.  My mom used to make them all the time, and the smell of them baking always makes me think of holidays and family gatherings.  Be careful, though.  Ration them carefully.  Because you'll keep going back for one more and they're small, so the "just one more" is far, far too easily justified.  They freeze really well, so you can ration them out and put the rest away... out of sight, out of mind, no?  :)

Anyway, I never post dessert things.  Life is too short to miss dessert.

Curried Chicken

This recipe for curried chicken allegedly came out of the Bombay Jews.  I'm nicking it from this cookbook my dad has.  Stay with me here because there are a lot of ingredients.  I know, not easy, but SO worth the effort.  It's not hard - it's essentially a stew after all - but it's not salad.  

- oil to sautee 
- 2 med. chopped onions
- 1 lb chopped tomatoes (fresh or canned, should be ~ 3 cups; I've used pureed tomatoes from a can and everyone loves it)
- 1 tblsp basic green masala (I'll post this below)
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 1 tsp dry masala for meat (posted below)
- 1/2 tsp fresh ginger, minced
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- salt to taste
- 3 1/2 lbs chicken, skinned with excess fat trimmed off (I like thighs and drumsticks on the bone, but you can use whatever you want)
- 1/2 c water
- 2 medium potatoes, cubed.

- Stirfry onions in oil until brown but not burned.  Add tomatoes and stir briskly for 2 min, cover and cook for 10 minutes.
- Add all three masalas and spices (ginger and turmeric and salt), stirring for 5 minutes.
- Add in chicken and water, cover and cook ~45 minutes until chicken is done.  If water evaporates too fast, add more.  
- Add potatoes, simmer until they're tender, ~15 minutes.

About the spices... buy garam masala at your local Indian grocery.  

Dry Masala for Meat:
1 tblsp hot chili flakes
1 tblsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp ground anise seed
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground turmeric

Mix and store.  This will obv. last a while...

Green Masala
4 oz fresh cilantro leaves
1 head of garlic, ~8 cloves
4-6 oz semihot green chili
1/2 tsp salt

Blenderize and put in the fridge.  You don't have to make the above for one batch of curried chicken.  Just chop a tbsp worth of cilantro and garlic.  Then throw in as much chili as you want. 

I know the recipe seems like a big deal, but dude.  It is so tasty.  I think of it in three stages, the sautee, the spices, and the simmering.  The onions and tomato are the sautee, all the spices are next, and then the chicken goes in (followed by the potatoes) which is the simmer.  Serve it over rice, basmati if you have it.  You can leave out the meat for a vegetarian crowd and use several cans of beans instead.  I've never tried it with tofu or tempeh, but I doubt that'll be bad.  If you want to control the heat, leave out the chili flakes in the masala for meat.  (NB: Masalas are just spice blends.)  You can also ratchet up the heat by tossing in more chili.  Even sans capsaicin, it's very flavorful.  I made it with just the slightest hint of heat, and it was good for everyone, with minced fresh cayenne peppers on the side (from my mom's garden, of course!).  

This is one of my favorite things to eat.  Try it.  :)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Night of Glop

Tonight, we shall be feasting upon glop! Yes, after the fried chicken and booze festival, everything is back to normal. There's a thing of hummus with the appropriate hot stuff to put on top, eggplant mush, and guacamole. And some sauteed beet greens in garlic. The beet greens were FREE. So that means they taste even better than normal because I'm a graduate student, and I take the garbage from the farmers because it's FREE. FREE BEET GREENS FOR ALL. Oh yes. They're normally quite tasty, but nothing goes better with garlic and olive oil than FREE.

But for all the glop (hummus, eggplant, guacamole), I need some pita (because pita, tortillas; corn, wheat; what's the difference, really?). I also need to make some lima and dill rice (it's a Persian thing) because we got fresh giant lima beans at the farmers' market the other day. And I have some zucchinis, which will be turned into zucchini, onion, and tomato glop.

And I think I'm going to roast the cauliflower that's been languishing in the veggie drawer of the fridge. No idea what to put on it. Maybe I'll blenderize a sauce out of mustard, capers, and vinegar to drizzle over the finished product... hm. I like that. But first I'm going to the gym.

You know, I've always been afraid I'd be that moron who trips and shoots off the back of a treadmill... so far it hasn't happened. I'll surely write about it if it does.

Monday, August 18, 2008


This is what I had for dinner last night and for lunch today. It's miiiighty tasty, and it fed 2 people supplemented by 2 small corn tortillas with cheese and roasted poblanos each.

- 6 eggs.
- 1 large tomato, chopped.
- a loose handful of basil leaves, chopped, chiffinaded, ribboned, whatever you feel like.
- 2 small cloves of garlic, minced.
- 1 jalapeno, chopped with seeds and ribs discarded.
- 1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained.
- a small pinch of ground cumin, black pepper, and salt.

Crack the eggs and beat them in a bowl, adding in the basil. Take your chopped tomato and throw it in a hot pan with a bit of olive oil. Let it cook, stirring so nothing gets burned, until it's soft. Add in the jalapenos and garlic, continuing to sautee. Then add the chickpeas, letting them heat up a bit. Throw in the cumin and cracked pepper, mixing occasionally. Then pour the egg in, turn the heat down (because you want the egg to cook all the way through without scorching the bottom), and cover it. Let it cook until the egg is just set. Slide out of the pan, slice into wedges, and enjoy! :)

I didn't add milk to the egg because the tomato had enough moisture. And obviously everything is a million percent riff-able...

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Still not together, buuuuut...

...Either I've discovered the ultimate way for me personally to achieve my life's goal of being able to eat nonstop through my twenties like Michael Phelps, or I've got the first documented case of exercise-induced ADD.

Why is it that I can go swim for 35 minutes (naturally alternating strokes every other or every two laps), rinse, and then go to fencing practice, kick some ass in fencing, and think it's a grand idea to jump rope, but I can't for the life of me bring myself to run for 30 minutes?

Or I can jog a 1.25 mile warmup in 12 minutes, followed immediately by rowing 2100 meters in 10 minutes, and follow that with 18 minutes of interval stair climbing (1.75 miles) and a 2 minute warm-down, but again... just can't manage to run 30 minutes???

What the hell.

I will never ever be able to be one of those people who can say "Hey, I've run a marathon." Why? Not because I'm a wuss or because I'm weak or lazy or what-have-you, but because I AM COMPLETELY INCAPABLE OF MAKING MY BRAIN AND BODY FOCUS THAT LONG ON PUTTING ONE FOOT IN FRONT OF THE OTHER AT A REASONABLE PACE.

So I'm sticking to fencing and getting crowned Queen of the Cross Training Maniacs.

The upshot to all this is I've become a human vacuum cleaner. Seriously. I've been scarfing down eggs, actually craving runny yolks (which usually I avoid like the plague because the greasy richness feels overwhelming), made a giant hunk'o'cow into an AMAZING stew which I had today on mashed potatoes and rutabaga, and digging avocado and tomato salad sandwiches.

My whole focus on food is shifting to dense high-calorie offerings. A couple apples need to be supplemented by bagel chips to constitute a filling snack. My legs hurt and my forearms are sore. And I feel awesomely at peace with the world... when my stomach isn't growling, that is. So I'm just kind of going with it. I've been acheiving that bottomed-out feeling at the ends of workouts again, where it feels like I'm breathing from the bottom of my lungs and I can feel the bones in my legs. Then I stop, change, and go home to scavenge for whatever is in the fridge.

To blog about when I have more time:

- My mom's ultimate banana bread recipe
- Melting moments
- The stew I made
- Curried chicken

It will happen. There will be recipes. And in the meantime, GO US WOMEN'S SABRE FENCING!! Medal sweep! Woohoo! :)

(You can watch it on www.nbc.com and it's a nice recap. I wish they'd show more action, though... sighhh...)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Back to the Food

I will be posting about 2 things, once I get my shit together the rest of the way...

- Curried chicken

- Melting moments

Stay tuned...

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Posts of FURY

Ok, so that last post served its purpose.  I was able to put all my feelings about being screwed over out there in cyberspace for the world to see for about 24 hours, I feel ever-so-much better, and now I can take that hate-drivel down.  Done, and done.  :)  

It still exists if I ever feel the crazy urge to commit an act of charity.  See, charity isn't really my thing, especially not right now.  I'll go ahead and say it; community service never gave me warm fuzzies.  I did it because it was a good thing to do and all that, but eh.  So, when I do something kind or good or let down my I'm-going-to-get-screwed-over guard and it backfires and I get screwed over, it REALLY gets me fired up.  

You see, if I chose NOT to help out my ex-roommate and get my name off the lease, I'd have never needed to look back.  She'd have floundered and gone down all by herself.  She'd have had to pay the $3000, and I would have shrugged and walked away.  Instead, I tried to save her $200 and then got landed with the fallout of her general ineptness; a/k/a 2 months of rent as penalty for not giving 2 months notice of vacating.   So, I bailed me out and she rode my coattails in for the ride.  And did I get a thank-you?  Oh, of course not.  Because that's why I and the rest of the world exist; to bail her out.    

The time it took me to get 2 people in our apartment was the last week my advisor was in town to proofread my proposal.  Hence, my incredible amount of animosity.  See, if she had winched her lazy ass off whatever couch it was breaking, walked into the chem and biochem graduate office, said "Can I have the list of the emails of all the incoming graduate students?  I have an apartment I need to rent," followed by an email to them all, she could have actually accomplished something tangible in 3 days.  

It kills me that I wasted that last week when she literally HAS NO JOB.  No one in the department is going to hire her because she behaved incredibly unprofessionally during her rotations.  Hence, she has NOTHING to do this summer.  At all.  But I have what to do.  I have research, and candidacy, and 2 papers I have to write.  

At the crux of it all is the simple fact that if I had messed up like she messed up and either (a) didn't read the lease or (b) didn't understand the 60 days notice part, I would be so embarrassed.  I would never in a million years consider asking a relative stranger to help me pay for my foul-up.  I was brought up to take full responsibility for my failures so that I could have equal ownership of my successes, and seeing someone with such a sense of entitlement at the rip young age of 23 or whatever she is makes me despise her to an astronomical degree.  And not even a thank you.  How did she get this far in life without some kid beating the ever loving shit out of her in the playground?

I have no shame in feeling what I do.  I also have no shame in saying that whatever my faults may be (a firm belief in dealing out karmic retribution, a temper, extremely confrontational), I am a motherfucking badass because (a) I pulled this off, (b) I finished my proposal, and (c) I am still alive and kicking.  And with that, I wish everyone a happy successful week... forge ahead!

Saturday, August 9, 2008


After crash-coursing in optics (5 textbooks and 2 angry phone calls), I just watched the Diane Von Furstenberg fall/winter 08/09 runway show.  

Here's what I thought:

wow.  what awesome clothes.  classy.  classic.  buttoned up but sexy.  very golden age.  ooh, i like the music, too.  so upbeat!  it's a shame the models aren't smiling.  man, i'd be totally rocking out if i was there.  they need to put those clothes on a nice curvy body.  why don't their hips move?  they look like they're walking to their deaths.  ecchhh.  the models look like they're playing dress-up in their grandmothers' closets at age 12.  oh, come on, shake it, sister!!  nope.  just uninspired clomping.  

I ended up totally not paying attention to the clothes because there was such a huge dissonance between the clothes and music, and the models' body types and expressions on their faces.  I don't think every style looks good on every body type.  That may be nasty of me, but it's true.  Those retro looks suit a curvy gal.  Not even plus-sized.  I'd say, well, pretty much anyone larger than a 2 or a 4, unless they're short.  If we're talking close to 6 feet, I'd keep it at a 6 and up for a runway show, and DVF messed up there.  They don't even look haughty.  They look bored, scared, and dead.  

I can get behind the automaton look in the name of theatrics, but just as a very minimalist, dark, lean look comes to life on someone extremely skinny, the retro 50's look falls flatter than some of those girls' chests.  

Words I Am Trying To Sneak Into My Proposal

I am going to try to sneak some good words into my proposal.  So far, I have two noteworthy ones:

- queried
- behooves

My advisor may have chopped out "behooves," but I am SO going to sneak it back in.  Screw it.  I don't care if those words aren't typically used in science.  They are lovely 2-syllable words, and frankly, my committee will just have to break out the dictionary to check the definitions because to use the word "questioned" roughly 8 bazillion times goes against everything I stand for.

Oh, Ms. Tavolacci (my TOTALLY EFFING AWESOME English teacher of 2 years in high school), you would send these scientists from your classroom sobbing if they ever were taught by you.  I actually miss Classical Roots and Shoots.


Beautiful Day

It seems that the state of Maryland has forgotten that it's August, but I'm not complaining.  Usually in August, it gets so hot and humid here, even walking to your car makes you feel like breathing is a terrible idea.  I'm surprised no one sprouts gills or grows algae like three-toed sloths.  I mean, this is nothing but a giant swamp.  No idea why our Founding Fathers decided to put the nation's capital in the middle of a swamp, but it's here and we have to deal with it... except on weeks like this upcoming one, where for some unknown reason, the temperature will be in the 80's and so far, the mugginess factor is nowhere to be seen.  Huzzah!  

So my plans for today include finishing my proposal.  It has been dragging on like nobody's business because of some amazingly, unbelievably, astoundingly ridiculous roommate issues which I will discuss at a later date because thinking about them right now makes me indescribably furious, and I have to concentrate on my paper.  To think I was worried I'd offend that lying, irresponsible, lazy failure if I called her out on breaking my couch.  

Anyway, I figured out where I could stream WQXR on iTunes.  I really love that radio station.  The DC classical station is nowhere near as good.  In particular, I miss WQXR's morning programming, which - at last listen - consisted of really up-tempo upbeat pieces.  It was perfect to wake up to.  It was lovely classical music so it wasn't jarring, but it got you moving nevertheless.  DC's classical station is draggy in the mornings which makes me want to crawl back under the covers and snooze.  Happily, it is streaming now through iTunes.  I love that thy have commercials about piano liquidations.  Much better than what they used to advertise; cancer treatments and cancer treatment centers in the greater NY metro area.  I mean, that was just depressing.

So, what else is on tap for today... finishing up all the greens in the fridge in a massive salad at some point because they're going to rot if I don't, and nothing makes me sadder than having to throw out rotten food.  I still have about 1/3 of the total amount of pasta I made at the beginning of the week, but that won't go bad.  I need to cook this chuck roast I picked up on sale the other day, too.  I think a very long slow braising post-browning in a 275-300 F oven in water and wine with garlic, onions, celery, carrots, some rehydrated mushrooms, bay leaves, rosemary, and significant amounts of black pepper.  

In the more long-term foodstuff category is the next beer Danny and I will make.  We totally rocked a Belgian wit (wheat) beer with coriander and orange peel.  It was so good it made people literally wax poetic.  Too bad Danny has this email a friend who's a homebrewer himself wrote about our beer or I'd quote it here.  So, our tentative plan is to try a fruit beer.  After reading several beer recipes, I think the best thing to do is to take the Belgian wit recipe, and add the fruit to it - we were thinking apple - and maybe alter the spices a bit.  I do love the coriander and orange peel, but it might be nice to add some cinnamon and cloves or allspice or nutmeg to the mix. We're shooting for an autumnal beer, something to mature for Thanksgiving.  The nice thing about the wit base is it won't be too heavy and it'll have a little tang, so it'll offset the sweetness of the apples.  I'm thinking we'll stick with a Belgian yeast strain because they typically tolerate higher alcohol concentrations, and this one will be a killer because of the fruit.  It will likely be around 7%.  

...I just hope it doesn't decide to explode this time... 


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

An aside...

Is it in completely bad taste that I would do not only Daniel Craig, but also Jeff Goldblum circa "Independence Day?"  

Maybe at the same time.  I haven't decided yet.

Monday, August 4, 2008

On top of spaghhhheeeeetti, all covered with cheeeeeeese...

...I loooooost my poor meeeeeatbaaaaaall, when somebody sneeeeeeeezed.

What a great song.  What a classic.  My grandma taught me that when I was younger.  My dad, meanwhile, taught me and my little brother how to sing a very rude song about a cow on a hill in Hebrew.  We had no idea what we were singing, but we sang it anyway because it made my dad and his friends laugh.  However, the song was subsequently banned.  

Anyway, I ate spaghetti tonight.  With sauce, and some parmesan cheese, and yeah, some anchovies thrown in for saltiness and meatiness.  I got to thinking about anchovies.  When you read the Joy of Cooking, the old-skool edition with the instructions for skinning game, anchovy paste is in EVERYTHING.  And it's kind of funny, anachronistic, and slightly gross.  I mean, anchovy paste.  Echhh.  

But then... I thought some more.  (Always dangerous.)  And I reached the conclusion that Thai style fish sauce is our generation's anchovy paste.  We put it in our marinades and dressings and sauces for the same reasons, saltiness and meatiness.  Then I didn't feel so weird about heaping anchovies on top of my pasta.  

Danny's away at a conference and now's my time to eat all kinds of strange preserved fish products that he can't stand.  I love fish.  I know not everyone does, but here's a way to experience fish and eastern Europe in a very concentrated form that doesn't involve currency exchange or a passport.  I am writing this in honor of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who just died; may he rest in peace.

For the ultimate eastern European experience, here's what you need:

1 loaf of traditional, old skool, excellent rye bread or brown bread.  
1 or more containers of matjes (pronounced "maht-yahs") herring or shmaltz herring (Wikipedia's entry is just lame; but matjes and shmaltz herring are really about the same).  
Thinly sliced onion
Thoroughly chilled vodka (good vodka, Stolichnaya, or 42 Below, or something good, you know?) and shot glasses
One or more friends with whom you want to commiserate about the shittiness of life, and with whom you don't mind getting drunk, and who can properly appreciate the sadness of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's passing on, and possibly engage in a literary critique of "A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich."

Now, these types of herring are very strong and salty.  They are fishy.  But they're strong and fishy in a very appealing way, if you can believe that.  The onion is oniony.  You will be able to generate a very authentically rank Russian fish-onion-alcohol smell in a matter of 3 shots.  But here's the thing.  You take some bread, put a bit of fish on it, and top it with an onion.  I like to eat the fish-onion-bread and then wash it down with the vodka, but some like to do the vodka and use the fish-onion-bread as a chaser.  If you're unsure, try it both ways.  But be careful, because you might get sucked into a never-ending cycle of fish-onion-bread, vodka, fish-onion-bread, vodka, etc. and then you'll end up vomiting, and this is not something you want to vomit.  You'll feel like a seagull feeding its young.

Anyway, you can find these weird fish products most likely at your local kosher supermarket.  You don't have one, you say?  Well, let me tell you that I typed "Kansas kosher" into google maps, and it found 4 places.  In Kansas.  That's right.  The Jews got dropped there by a tornado, I guess.  Maybe if you don't have Jews or tornados, then you're out of luck.

Another thing... usually, there are hardcore garlic pickles, bread, smoked fish (I remember one time someone got their hands on sturgeon, which has been fished to near-extinction; it was meaty and amazing, but I don't advocate eating it in this day and age), assorted sausages, pickled cabbage, and random meat also available for food.  I left out pickled green tomatoes.  And, well, anything else that's been pickled.  Maybe some cucumber or potato salad, too.  The way any group of people who make drinking toasts to each other, themselves, to their families, and life in general a social event is to eat continuously; not eating is a mistake Americanized frat boys make.  And there's usually lots of talking.  And music.  And the volume tends to increase as time goes on and the vodka bottles empty.  It's a lot of fun.

So celebrate Solzhenitsyn.  Get stanky, fishy, and crunk!

Or just eat spaghetti.  I think that's where this post started, anyway...

Thursday, July 31, 2008


So Danny and I had people over yesterday evening.  We made curried chicken.  That was our plan, curried chicken.  Then we realized we had no munchables.  There was a bag of veggie booty, which reminds me of styrofoam with salt and cheese flavor.  The veggie booty was the kind dusted with green stuff (powdered kale and spinach?  maybe?), and as Danny poured it into a bowl, I had a brain flash!  MARTIAN POOP.  IT LOOKED LIKE MARTIAN POOP.  

So I stuck a sign in the bowl saying "martian poop."  

But aside from that, we had no munchies.  So I improvised a dip.  1 can of white beans, a few spoons of sour cream, 1 clove of garlic, a scant 1/4 cup of rinsed capers, and some dill.  Put in food processor, add a small dash of vinegar to bring up the tangyness factor.  The capers were salty enough, and dried dill was fine.  Sure, fresh is always nice, and I could see this tasting really awesome with tarragon and lemon (use the juice instead of vinegar and some zest for flavor), or basil and oregano.  You could take it in another direction by adding maybe some chipotle en adobo and cilantro.  The beans and sour cream and garlic are the base, and the herbs, sour (vinegar, lemon, lime), and capers are where I'd play around.  Of course, you could use yogurt instead of sour cream or avocado instead of beans to make an avocado crema, or use red beans or garbanzo beans, or whatever strikes your fancy.  

My version with the capers, dill, and vinegar tasted good.  It's kind of like ranch dressing, but more flavorful and it took all of five seconds to throw together.  Oh yeah, and it doesn't have any weird crap in it.  It seemed to go over well, and people ate it.  

So, the little gathering was a success, and we totally forgot to take out the ice cream a friend brought for dessert.  No one seemed to miss it terribly.  As usual, no one left hungry.  Actually, I felt like I accomplished something because Danny's brother who really doesn't like spicy food seemed to either pretend to enjoy the chicken or genuinely did.  I didn't make it spicy-hot, but I did make it spicy-flavorful.  I feel like I'm doing good things by introducing some newer flavors... :)  

Saturday, July 26, 2008

What is going on?

I'm all about size/shape acceptance, but this is out of control.  How is this ok?  How is this ok with the parents of these kids?  How can they possibly think having children continuing their particular lifestyle is acceptable?  Am I missing something?  If there are clear indicators that processed food is shitty for you - and there are - even if the impetus for changing yourself doesn't exist, how can you in good conscience force it on children who don't have a choice?  Why have children at all if you're ok with dooming them to an early, painful, problem-ridden death?  Like, just don't bother.

Have you ever wondered why the southern - especially southeastern - US is pretty much the only really hot region in the world where high-fat deep fried food dominates cuisine?  This is a really curious problem when you compare the American south to India, real Mexican food, Thailand, the middle east/Mediterranean regions, and even the Caribbean.  Why is this the case?

Friday, July 25, 2008

Musical addition

So here's a good band for the gym playlist: The Ting Tings.

Check out their myspace. "Shut Up and Let Me Go" is my current thing... I know, 80's influenced, but still. It's punky and funky enough to make the cut. They're good for angry workouts, and angry is pretty much how I'm spending all my time these days.

I used to get published in national student publication things, but my writing is just far too bourgeois for Science, The Apogee Of All That Is Right, Intelligent, And Good.

What a bunch of fucking fuckers who fuck.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Dear Starbucks, please stick to the caffeine.

Let me start off by saying I like Starbucks. Whenever I'm in any part of America without an Oren's Daily Roast (which is anywhere outside of NYC) and I need a hardcore caffeine fix, I know where to go. And occasionally, I like their weird seasonal concoctions. I like the smell of peppermint or vanilla or pumpkin pie spice mix while I drink my caffeinated beverage of choice.

But think about that. It's coffee, milk, and a flavor. Pretty straightforward, right? Well, no longer. Starbucks is trying its hand at corporate smoothies. And they're billing them as healthy. I say bullshit. Let's take a look at the Banana Chocolate Blend which can be found here. Let's compare it to my banana peanut butter smoothie in terms of overall calories, fat, protein, carbs, fiber, and calcium. (I don't know why I picked fiber and calcium, but they're pretty important, so why not...)

I'm getting all my info from FoodFact.com. And I'm assuming that I use roughly one serving of everything, because it sounds about right.

1 cup of Trader Joe's Organic 1% milk
(I looked at Organic Valley because it looks about the same... and I think Danny uses closer to 1/2 cup when he makes this.)

Calories: 110
Fat: 2.5 g
Protein: 8 g
Carbs: 13 g
Fiber: 0 g
Calcium: 30%

2 tablespoons of Crazy Richard's creamy peanut butter

Calories: 190
Fat: 16 g
Protein: 9 g
Carbs: 6 g
Fiber: 2 g
Calcium: 2%

1 large banana

Calories: 121
Fat: 0.45 g
Protein: 1.48 g
Carbs: 31.06 g
Fiber: 3.5 g
Calcium: 1%


Calories: 421 (with 1/2 c milk, 366)
Fat: 19 g (1/2 c milk, 17.75)
Protein: 18.5 g (1/2 c milk, 14.5)
Carbs: 50 g (1/2 c milk, 43.5)
Fiber: 5.5 g (1/2 c milk, same)
Calcium: 33% (1/2 c milk, 18%)

In overall calories, mine is wayyyy ahead, mainly in the fat department, but they're mostly unsaturated fats. 2 g sat. in the peanut butter, 1.5 g in the milk. I have one more gram of saturated fat than Starbucks, which I could nix by switching to skim milk. If I switch to skim, I keep the unsaturated fats from the peanut butter (which you do need; they keep you full and fat is good for brain cells), and my saturated fat content drops below the Starbucks' concoction.

Protein... let's see... Starbucks has 21 g, I'm rockin' 18.5 g, but if I round to the nearest whole number like Starbucks, then it's 19. We're about even.

Moving along to carbohydrates, SBux has 44 g, and I've got 50. 6 g of carbs? I'm not splitting hairs because those extra 6 grams ain't gonna make me fat. Also, we're even on sugars, at 28 g, which means my difference is made up in complex carbohydrates which are good for long-term energy, which means I've got 6 extra grams of crash-proof food. I'll take it.

Looking at fiber, SBux has 6 g, and I have 5.5, but if I round to the nearest whole number we're exactly even... interesting...

And last of all, calcium. I'm rocking 33%, and SBux? Sorry, 20% is just sad. It means they're not using a full serving of milk. Assholes.

A couple things I didn't post:

(Higher is not necessarily better unless you're an endurance athlete.)
SB: 170 mg, Me: 125 mg

(Higher is better, unless you're on a particular form of heart medication; potassium is hugely important for cardiac function, as well as neural and muscular function.)
SB: unlisted?!, Me: 487 mg, or 14%

Vitamin A:
SB: 10%, Me: 12%

Vitamin C:
SB: 15%, Me: 22%

SB: 15%, Me: 4%
(Not worried bc iron and calcium compete for uptake; I'd rather load on calcium at one meal and load on iron - green leafy veggies, red meat - at another.)

According to the officially unofficial tasting of SB's Vivanno going on here, the chocolate wasn't chocolatey, there was a slight funny aftertaste, and it was gritty. My concoction is not gritty unless you use chunky peanut butter (but that's more crunch and less grit), it is emphatically peanutty and bananary, and it's quite smooth and creamy. The addition of ice to the blender chills it. I haven't taken price into consideration, but in that, I'm going to guess mine wins hands-down. Also, you don't burn gasoline running your blender.

I guess the biggest con of my concoction would be the 421 calories, but ingesting calorically dense food in the morning isn't awful (especially if it isn't crashable carbs or saturated junk), and 421 calories is less than 25% of a 2000 calorie diet (about 1/3 of a 1500 cal diet). Interestingly enough, the extra calories happen as good-for-you fats, and all the bad stuff is equal or could be adjusted to less than SB's offering. We're even on protein and fiber which keep you full, and I'd be willing to bet my thing will keep you more full for longer because of the unsaturated fats.

I guess it's a matter of opinion/taste, but I'll forgo SB for my own blender. :)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Writing right.

Now that I blabbed about meat, I'm going to blab about writing.  Specifically, the dreadful, awful, unbelievably rotten style of writing that is "scientific writing."  I will quote an excerpt from something a scientist who I know, really like, and generally admire wrote:

"...Indeed, the channel discriminates an abrupt tension onset eliciting a full response from slow and gradual application of tension, which the channel tends to ignore by slipping into the inactivated state before opening..."

How about saying, "A closed channel in its resting state responds to gradually increased tension by simply inactivating.  In contrast, when the channel experiences abruptly increased tension, it opens and desensitizes before inactivating."

It says the same thing.  And the person I quoted is respected and considered a good writer.  I can't take it.  I constantly get lost in sentences that are 5 lines long, and this is what I've been studying for over a year now.  I tend to gravitate towards short declarative sentences when discussing technical things so my readers don't get lost, but it almost feels like the more baffling and obtuse you are, the more legitimate you are.  

I hate it.  I spend my days going between the shit that is science writing and reading and commenting ad infinitum on other topics on other blogs because it feels like for every sentence I write in Sciencese, another neuron on the creative side of my brain dies.  

This is so depressing and awful.


I never write about meat.  Mainly, it's because meat is becoming prohibitively expensive, and eating it all the time isn't as healthy for you as eating plant products.  But as a career anemic (at least until menopause; hooray for having the tide come in for a full 7 days), I feel justified in occasionally giving in to the craving for rare juicy bovine.

This is the easiest thing to do to meat: rinse it off, pat it dry, liberally cover it with oregano and ground pepper and salt (use more salt if it's not kosher), and then you cook it.  Here's the deal about apartment meat cooking; you will never duplicate the succulent visceral deliciosity of a charcoal seared chunk of cow.  It's best to just accept this and move on, like I have.  

Another nice thing is the cheapest cuts of meat (London broil, flank steak) are also the leanest.  This means you'll get super meatiness, but you have to be very careful or else it'll turn out like shoe leather.  For London broil (or a thick sirloin, probably also applies to a NY strip steak too), get the broiler crunk.  Take your heaviest oven-proof pan - cast iron is the best - and get it smoking hot on the stove.  How hot, you ask?  Hot enough so that if you touch a corner of raw meat to it, it sizzles loudly IMMEDIATELY.  When it's at this stage, lower your salt-pepper-oregano seasoned meat into it.  Let it sizzle like mad until it's browned.   Flip and repeat.   (There, you've just gotten as close as possible to searing meat in the house.) When both sides are browned, take the pan and put it in the broiler, and let it cook.  

Here's how you can tell if it's done.  Take tongs or a spatula and poke the meat (don't make holes).

- If it's the squishiness of your cheek, it's rare.  Very rare.

- If it's as squishy as the cartilage at the tip of your nose, it's medium rare.

- If it's as squishy as the meaty spot at your temple, it's medium.

- If it's as firm as your forehead, you've got some well done meat.

This isn't an exact science.  It takes practice.  I've had to thin-slice plenty of shoe-leather London broil into sandwiches, but that's not exactly bad-tasting even if it does take some jaw work... nothing some mayo, mustard, tomato, lettuce, cuke, and onion can't solve... :)

If you're cooking flank steak, skip the browning part.  This cut is too thin to warrant that, and if you cook it past medium, you'll get meat chewing gum more often that not.  I've had some flank steaks that accidentally stayed tender past medium, but it's not worth the gamble.  

So, no matter what kind of meat you're cooking, once it comes out of the oven, you should let it rest which allows the juices to reabsorb into the meat.  This way, when you cut it, it doesn't lose the juiciness all over the cutting board.  I'd take it out of the oven, eat your salad, and by the time you've finished, it'll have rested long enough to be cut yet still be warm.  

And that's what I ate for dinner.  Salad, flank steak, and some steamed broccoli.  Some of the broccoli was from TJ's, but a bunch of it was from my mom's garden.  The apartment smells like a fart because of it.  It tastes awesome, much more like broccoli, but the smell is kind of funky...  but damn, I love it.  

Also from my mom's garden... purple cayenne peppers.  Yeah.  This from the woman with really low tolerance to hot foods.  She decided to grow them "for their variegated foliage, and the purple peppers."  So she planted like 6 plants.  What was she thinking?  Because my mom doesn't just let veggies sit on the plant.  She picks them, ends up with buckets full of whatever produce it is, and then presses them on everyone, and she makes me feel guilty when I can't eat anymore because when I don't eat it, it goes to waste, and she spent all this time in the garden, sweating in the sun, watering and weeding, fighting off deer and woodchucks, and I can't even eat any more of this?

If I met the deer or woodchuck who could eat one of those blasted peppers, I would shake his/her paw/hoof.  Because DAMN.  Those are some HOT peppers.  Danny and I accepted four.  We used 3/4 of one in two kinds of salsa.  When we were trying to figure out how much to use, we tried to get the other to try the pepper to see how hot it was.  I really like hot food, so I took one sliced the long way in half, and touched the very tip of it to my tongue.  The tingling burning sensation was almost immediate.  The heat was insane!  

If we get any more, I'll give away the ones we don't use in lab.  One nice thing about science is you meet people of so many nationalities, you're bound to find someone from, say, the south of India.  Or you meet some weirdo who's all macho about capsaicin.  Well, whatever.  I'm just happy because I won't have to feel guilty about these peppers... they do have a cool name... "black pearl," I think.  Like pirates.  Totally sweet.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Smoothie Operator, part deux

Here's another smoothie recipe which capitalizes on bananas which for some reason tend to stay cheap year-round. It'll serve 2 people, so keep that in mind if you're making this for one. (Like make sure you have a gargantuan cup on hand... or a straw to drink it straight from the blender... :)

- 1-2 bananas
- Scoop of peanut butter
- Milk
- Several ice cubes, if you want it cold.

Insert in blender and blend. Adjust to taste. Drink, with the expectation of being really full afterwards. I'm a weirdo who likes bananas when they juuuust turn yellow, so they rarely get to be brown and spotty, but brown and spotty bananas make very potently bananary smoothies. Also, use normal peanut butter. It's more peanuty. It's healthier. No artificially hydrogenated garbage, no preservatives, no weird artificially synthesized things to prevent separation of nut solids and oil.

Peanut butter is tasty. It's also a nice combination of protein and fat, and my mom always told me to drink milk with peanut butter to make a complementary protein blend (that would be when the amino acid content in one compensates for any amino acid shortage in the other).

This is awesome not only for breakfast, but if you've been working out like a crazy person for 3 hours or something, it's the greatest thing ever afterwards. Screw the funky protein bars and Gatorade. Bananas, milk, and peanut butter give you electrolytes (salt, calcium, potassium, and others we probably don't know about yet), protein, some fat, and some sugars. Would I drink this all the time? Probably not, at least for right now. If I was fencing every day after a morning workout, I definitely would. But it is pretty high-calorie. Again, not bad for breakfast (something this cold, rich, and creamy beats a muffin in this weather hands-down), but I'd be more likely to do a straight fruit and dairy thing at this point in time.

Hopefully, my caloric needs will change shortly... I may start taking fencing lessons this fall (omg!omg!omg!omg!omg!omg!omg, etc.) because moving in with Danny will free up a good deal of money, and I'd like to blow it on fencing! I'm trying to convince Danny to sign up for a half-marathon so we can pry each other out of bed in the mornings this fall/winter for early-AM workouts.

...I wonder if I can bring a crock pot to lab to cook oatmeal in... hm... :)

Friday, July 18, 2008

Smoothie Operator

Peaches are mo' in season, relatively local, sweet, and delicious. So here's a super kickass peach smoothie that I have for breakfast. This served 2 people drinkign from very large glasses.

- 3 peaches
- A few glorps** of yogurt.
- A little milk
- Dash of vanilla
- Honey to taste

Cut the peaches into rough pieces so you can get the stone out, shove into blender with everything except the honey, and blend. Once blender is off, insert finger and taste. If it's too tangy, add a bit of honey until it meets your desired sweetness. If you add ice to the blender, keep in mind colder drinks mask flavor as well as sour and sweet, so you'll probably need more.

(**Glorps of yogurt are heaping spoonfuls that go "glorp" when you toss them into the blender.)

I guess if you're looking for fullness, you can add your protein supplement of choice, but the yogurt and milk filled me up pretty well. If you use regular peaches (not white ones) you can see where the color "peach" came from! Hahah! Imagine that!


Back to writing!


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Food Mad Libs?

Why do we have a penchant for calling food odd names?  Did people write down the following: (name of animal):______  (preposition):_____ (article):_____ (noun):_____.  Then they walked up to their friends and did them.  That's probably how we got Pigs in Blankets, and Ants on a Log.  Pigs in blankets are awesome but very labor-intensive and not terribly healthy, though they make a great treat.  

Now, ants on a log... when did it go out of style?  When I was a kid, that was an excellent snack, and it was fun to build, too.  Take a celery rib, fill it with peanut butter, and insert raisins on top.  Crunchy, juicy, salty, and peanut buttery with little nubs of chewy sweetness.  Awesomeosity.  In terms of healthy things, it's pretty high.  Fiber, protein, a little fat, some iron, a small amount of carbs, and therefore pretty filling.

In these dark times of candidacy proposal rewriting, I made myself 3 ribs worth of ants on a log.  If you use all-peanut peanut butter (as opposed to like Jif or Skippy or Partially Hydrogenated Crap Butter), be forewarned that the chunky kind is particularly hard to spread in celery.  Especially if you're a lazy bum like me and didn't mix it properly beforehand.  :)  

But they cheered me up immensely, and they were particularly good with a cup of Earl Grey tea.   Decaf.  With a bit of milk in it.  Oh yeah.  

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The New Fastfood Feedbag

This hilarious:

Fast Food Feedbags!

Except it's almost not...

It's Bean a Hard Day's Night.

I'm all for eating more plants and stuff, but every so often I need meat. It's a very primal feeling. I love rice and beans (and quinoa and beans, and tofu and veggies and beans) curried, chili-d, tomato sauced, and stirfried. But there are few things more glorious than freshly roasted chicken. Yesterday, I ate so many beans not only did I have a huge craving for meat, I seriously considered accompanying my car to get emission tested.

Ok, that was gross. I'm mildly apologetic.

But here's the short version of baked chicken:

Buy a chicken or chicken parts (I love me some kosher Empire chicken). I like to rinse it off, pat it dry, and remove the giblets from the cavity if there are any. Put it in a baking dish. Get the oven crunk to either 350 F or 400 F. Take some garlic powder, paprika, and pepper and liberally sprinkle them over the bird. Crushed up dry rosemary is optional. If it's kosher meat, you don't need salt because it's been brined. Throw into oven, and wait until the juices run clear when you wiggle the drumstick.

If you want to make it a little more flavorful, slice up a lemon (rind and all), and have a handful of fresh herbs on hand in any combination. (Sage and parsley; tarragon and parsley; sage, thyme, and parsley; tarragon, sage, and thyme; marjoram, sage, and thyme... you get the idea, riff away.) Shove the lemon slices and herbs in the cavity, or under the skin, or both places. Chopped garlic is always a good addition. I like sprinkling paprika over the bird before baking, too; the color is lovely.

When you eat it, you can unstuff the cavity and toss the herbage and lemon slices. ...Although last night Danny made chicken parts with lemon slices under the skin, and I ate the jammified lemon insides with my meat, and that was tasty. I don't think you'll get salmonella from lemon slices inside the chicken cavity, but if you try it and get sick, I have no money so leave me out of your lawsuit. :)

Anyway, if you do make a whole chicken, save the carcass after you get the breasts, drumsticks, thighs, and wings off. You can make a good split pea soup with it. Get a bag of split peas, and use their liquid::dry split peas ratio. I sweat some onion, garlic, carrots, and celery in the bottom of the pot (sweating is when you put them into a cold pot; you don't let the oil heat up as you would for sauteeing), and when they're soft, you add the cooking liquid (chicken or veggie stock is good, but water will work), the split peas, and the chicken carcass. I know some people use bacon, but
in the interest of recycling and consuming less net meat, throw that carcass in with some dried thyme, some salt if needed, and a generous amount of ground black pepper.

Simmer until the split peas are soft and remove the carcass. The meat should have fallen off into the soup. If not, take it off yourself, but don't get burnt. Some people like chunky soup, but I've always liked mine thick and smooth. If you're pureeing and lack a hand blender, do it in small batches in a regular blender. In the absence of all kitchen power tools, take a potato masher to it. Either way, it's a great split pea soup, even if it's a little out of season...


The fates are conspiring against me. Two nights ago, I tried to access a Montgomery County liquor store because I was in need of gin. It was closed. Maybe this is why they're losing money on their monopoly? Without gin yet full of chagrin, I drove away. Last night after another marathon day in lab, I managed to haul myself through a torrential downpour to the gym because going to the gym is better for me than drinking gin. Given the secret increase in crime, I drove my car over there instead of hiking through the excessively dark very deserted campus at 9 PM. I parked at a metered spot, which totally pissed me off. I pay a gym membership over the summer already; why should I have to pay to park closer so I don't get raped or mugged after I work my ass off all night?

But I paid the meter. I planned on doing a quick run and going home because it was so late. But a quick run turned into some biking, and I stayed longer than expected. Feeling marginally more human, I walked back to my car only to find I got ticketed for an expired meter. WTF. I was the only car there. No one was waiting for my spot, it was pouring rain, and there's been nearly a 50% increase in crime. My elevated mood popped like a balloon.

Thank you, state of Maryland, for making my life so miserable.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

A Hard Day's Night. (And Day.) (And Night. And Day. And night, and Day, and Night, and Day, etc.)

Grad school is so kicking my ass right now. I've been subsisting on breakfasts consisting of yogurt, blueberries from NJ (they are so freaking cheap at M&M, I get a couple containers whenever I visit my parents), and odds and ends from the fridge. (Really Good: TJ's low fat yogurt, blueberries, almonds, cinnamon, and a drizzle of buckwheat honey. Totally awesome breakfast/dessert.) Lunch has been whatever the food coop has to offer. Last night I got some falafel and hummus at 9 PM because I was in lab until then. I haven't been to the gym in 2 weeks. I spend my days waiting for my cells to grow in the mornings and then staring at a computer all afternoon into the night taking fluorescence traces.

And I always misspell "fluorescence."

The time intervals involved are such that going to the gym is not possible. I'm leery of running outside because recently, my oh-so-beloved university has stopped sending out crime alerts because there's been so much criminal activity. (See what I mean? DC metro area, WTF?) I think 3 Honda Civics were broken into, and the airbags were stolen along with 40-something other crimes (theft, etc.). Someone was recently pick-pocketed in the elevator in my building in the afternoon. They put metal things on the doors because people were trying to jimmy them open to steal computers.

As a result, I'm turning into mush, and I don't have time for anything. It's just too depressing. I got myself a jump rope, though. Possibly tomorrow I might swallow my pride, bring it to lab, and spend 10 minute intervals jumping rope in the hallway. Where there's a will, there's a way, right? :)

So, back to food. I ate a free Dunkin' Donut today. And it was vile, in a too-sweet and artificial Sandra Lee kind of way.

It is keeping me full. Or maybe that's just because I'm nervous? I don't know. When I'm nervous because of my own head, I tend to eat much less than usual, but if someone else is giving me crap, I tend to eat much more than usual. Well, either way, I'm nervous because I'm going to start rewriting my candidacy proposal in a few days. It's making me realize even more how much I don't want to be part of academia. I have enough data now for about 2 papers, and one of them is about a totally new way to use a particular fluorescent dye system. The other is about a hitherto undiscovered mechanism of function in this channel I've been studying.

I've been working for a year, and I've got 2 papers to write. I worked at Pepsi for a year, and I reworked the color system for the Thai strawberry-kiwi twister and figured out a way to prevent a plug of pulp forming in bottles for Vietnamese orange twister (this had stymied everyone for months).

But it isn't good enough. They can't look at what I'm doing and say, "Yes, HungryGrad, you're obviously well on your way to becoming a full-fledged scientist, good luck and godspeed." If I fail candidacy again, I'm probably going to get kicked out of grad school. Everyone looks at me and says, "But you're so smart! You won't fail." But I failed the first time, and no one thought that would happen.

If I do fail, I'll find something to do. Maybe I'll call up the people I've met and see if they can help me get my pet project underway even if I don't have my PhD. Maybe I'll go to brew school. Maybe I'll go back to Pepsi. Maybe I'll get a regular job and gun it for national fencing competitions. It won't be the end of the world, but it's definitely something I'd mope about for a while.

In 3 days, the writing shall commence. I'd better not get writer's block... that would be total bullshit.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Washington, DC: WTF?

Last night highlighted exactly what is wrong with Washington, DC. Despite a frighteningly large majority of people who're apparently happy living lives consisting solely of working for The Man, some of us like to get out and, well, do things. Even if it's just drinks and a movie after dinner for a friend who successfully defended her thesis. (Well, it was a Monday...)

See, last week Danny took me to see his former drum teacher play in a small jazz band. After about 30 seconds, I turned to Danny and said "I'm not going to say anything, but you owe me. You're coming to see Sex and the City with me, and you can't make comments." Now, I really enjoy jazz, but I hate (HATE) smooth jazz. Kenny G. and elevator music in general is especially repugnant. So, I felt no shame whatsoever in dragging Danny out to see the cinematic culmination of HBO's pop culture stir.

We arrived early in Georgetown, and walked down to the water to scope out the boat hos. Boat hos are some of DC's finest gold diggers who wander the G-town pier trying to pick up men who own boats with names that imply "Super Multi-Millionaire Phallic Means of Conveyance That Is Actually Smaller Than My Penis Which In Turn Is Only Slightly Smaller Than My Bank Account." Sadly, there were only two of them. But the night was so lovely, we didn't want to just hole up in the theater.

My alcoholic spidey senses alerted me to the presence of an outdoor bar at Nick's Riverside Grill. I should have realized when they asked to see ID and then put a bright neon green bracelet on my wrist that this was a bad choice. Undeterred, I ordered a gin and tonic (Bombay Saphire all the way, baby), and Danny got a vodka tonic. The bar was completely full, noisy, and the resident drunk weirdo was talking to anyone who looked lost, so we drifted over to an out-of-the-way table. Just as I got comfortable and possibly paid my first ever compliment to the city of Washington ("This is actually quite nice..."), a waitress walked up to us and told us we weren't allowed to sit there.

Why, we queried. The other side of the outdoor space is completely full, this side is empty, and the bar has no seats left. But unless we ordered food, we were banished to the bar. We dragged chairs to the edge of the bar area, sat down, and I was promptly told to move again because I was blocking the entrance. At that point, we walked away. At the other end of the bar was the host, who looked about 16. He kindly gave us a table - the one we started at, as a matter of fact - and we used the menus as our official credentials allowing us to occupy the table.

WTF, Nick's Riverside Grill? WTF?

The food is incredibly expensive, and for what? It looked like total crap. And whatever happened to running a business that serves the needs and desires of its customers? The best seating is at the water's edge. Why cram everyone off to one side in a giant noisy mass? We had drinks, which involve zero cleanup, and alcohol is where the money is made, anyway.

As it was, I would never eat there. The menu sucks. If I pay$17 for a salad, it had better not simply be a "southwestern salad." I would like some perfectly seared tuna or duck confit and some berries, not grilled chicken and black beans. And if it is chicken and black beans, I would like it to be organic free range chicken and organic black beans, and the other ingredients should be sustainably farmed. And $10 for a small plate of friedness? Why?  I can stop by my local college dining hall and get the same crap for 50% less.

Also, the attitude of the waitstaff is inexcusable. Danny and I are clearly not college kids out to get drunk and rowdy. We are two people out on a Monday night date looking for some peace and quiet. The only plus was a very generously healthy measure of gin in my gin and tonic.  Perhaps the drinks are so strong because if the patrons aren't slightly drunk, they would beat up the waitstaff.

What really got me was the unnecessary amount of ridiculously rigid rules.  Everywhere you turn, you think "Why?"  Washington, DC and the surrounding metro area, why are you so obsessed with regulations and restrictions and not drinking and completely nonsensical ways to simultaneously aggravate people and blow tax dollars?  

(In Montgomery County, for instance, you can't get hard liquor outside of special county-run liquor stores.  Mysteriously, the county is actually LOSING MONEY on their hard liquor monopoly.  No, really.  I'm serious.  No exaggeration.  How the hell do you accomplish that?)

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Dear Mark Bittman,

How do I land a job as awesome as yours? You make dinner, write about it the next day, and you get paid to do so. You also get to jetset around Europe, cooking and eating your way across countries I can't afford, especially given the state of the US dollar when compared to euros, or worse, British pounds. Yet you never make me feel inferior.

You're funny, accessible, and slightly bonkers. I like that your delivery is tempered by a surly note, which elevates it above the showmanship of Emeril and Paula (although I love her very much), the know-it-all cockiness of Bobby Flay, and even Alton Brown, whose geekazoidalosity is definitely polarizing. You are New York cooking, and I love it.

Thank you for existing and writing such excellent lists of food combinations, especially your most recent one, 101 Picnic Foods. It makes me want to grab a blanket, a cheap red, and find a
riverbank somewhere. If you were a rock star, I'd find a cute pair of underwear to throw at you.

Best regards,

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The rest of the story...

To continue the epic tale of our Caribbean vacation, I'll pick up from day 3. I acquired a really nasty sunburn on the backs of my legs, thanks to sunscreen getting rubbed off during surfing, but I pulled on a pair of linen pants (everyone should have a pair of billowy linen pants on a Caribbean vacation), and soldiered on. Danny and I hopped in a cab and visited the oldest synagogue in the Western hemisphere, which was in Bridgetown, the capital of Barbados. The building switched hands many times, going from law offices to a warehouse, and then it was scheduled for demolition. But it was saved by people who donated money to preserve its history, and the building now has a museum that presents some really nifty Portuguese and Brazilian Jewish history.

The really excellent part was when we wandered around the graveyard. Some of the graves had - get this - skulls and crossbones on them. Pirates! Rum-swilling pirates! Crazy Barbadian Jewish rum-swilling pirates! With hourglasses and cutlasses and things! And no one really knows what they mean! Of course, they could just be symbols of death imported from either Portuguese or integrated Portuguese-Brazilian culture, but they were super cool nonetheless. I mean, you always hear about the Jewish bankers and merchants being maligned for handling money (total bullshit because they were banned from holding land by the anti-Semitic powers that be so what were they supposed to do, anyway?), but you never hear about badass Jews who kicked butt, outside of the story of Chanukah and the Israeli military, that is.

Anyway, after we stared at the graves, took some pictures, shmoozed with the museum guy, and got a tip on where to eat a beautiful lunch, we decided to try to find Mount Gay Rum Distillery, which the oldest rum distillery on the island, if not the whole Caribbean. Most tourists take cabs. We decided to try public transportation. It was an enormous mistake. Let it be known that there are none, zip, zero, zilch, nada, no bus maps or even road maps of Barbados. First we got totally lost in Bridgetown. No one had any idea where we were trying to go. A policewoman told us to go to what we found out was the total opposite end of the island. After much wandering and worrying when a cry of "You white interlopers!" would echo down a street followed by a pistolwhipping and a mugging, we got in a cab and made it back to our hotel. We never did get to the Mount Gay Rum Distillery, which we kind of thought would be a huge joke, anyway.

(A random, somewhat socio-political commentary about Barbados: There is not as much open racism there, and possibly even less anti-Semitism. I wonder if it's because Barbados is populated primarily by people with darker skin who also hold positions of power, but I really have no idea why walking down the street feels safer. After all, the black Barbadian population were enslaved, just like American blacks. And I felt less trepidation asking a cab driver to take us to the old synagogue then I would have felt if I did the same thing in Virginia. Barbadians - black and white alike - take great pride in being independent from England, and the island itself is so small that perhaps country takes precedence over race...? No idea. But still interesting.)

Anyway, back to the scheduled discussion of rum-soaked vacation. In lieu of going on a tour of Mount Gay, we continued our highly scientific test of Barbadian rum and purchased Cockspur brand rum. The medium aged one was so good, Danny and I swilled it from the flask straight. (For the record, I now hate Bacardi. It is complete and total shit.) To accompany our rum, we got some chicken, locally grown tomatoes, some onions, a Bajan marinade, and some Bajan hot sauce. When we have the marinade decoded (it involved shallots, salt, pepper, marjoram, thyme, basil, onion, and garlic, I think), I'll post it here. Until then, the most I can do is tell you that all those herbs grilled on chicken were unbelievable, as was the hot sauce.  There was a grill where we stayed, so we BBQ'd up a storm.  

(I haven't mentioned it, but we did breakfast pretty much the same every day; we had a thing of nutella, some bread, cheese, tomatoes, kippers, local mangoes, milk, and juice. We combined everything in sane combinations - cheese, bread, and hot sauce = awesome - which did the trick, along with mango smoothies every morning.)

Our fourth day in Barbados, it mostly rained on and off. We took that day to laze around the apartment, watching the birds in the sea grape trees outside our balcony, and admiring how the sea changed color when the weather turned. It was a lovely lazy day culminating in a trip to Oistins in the evening for the Friday night fish fry. Oistins is the place to be if you're a fisherman or a fish eater. There's a fish market, and like 12 feet away is the fish fry. The fish fry is wonderful; rows of stalls of people selling fried or grilled fish in steaks, fillets, or whole, on plates loaded with rice and beans, macaroni pie (read: mac and cheese), and salad. Those are the pictures at the top of this post. I think the fish we ate was swimming a couple hours ago. Everyone goes on Friday nights, locals and tourists alike. The place really gets packed, and there's music and booze and dancing and stalls selling junk. It's definitely something to do if you go, but be aware that Barbados is where 80's dance and Michael Jackson music go to die. The local reggae is much better.  After we ate, drank, checked out the junk being sold, and people watched to our hearts' content, we got back to our hotel and crashed hardcore, full of fish. 

The next day we rented a car so we could drive through the island and check out the less developed east coast.  The interior is beautiful, hilly sugar cane fields and some more wild areas.  However, you do see where the less well-off live.  There are small groups of houses, tiny and without foundations, cars up on blocks, and goats and chickens wandering around.  To any tourist renting a car, do not stop for anyone for any reason.  We got accosted by a man trying to turn a dollar as a tour guide.  Danny stopped the car, and I started yelling at him, sure we'd get killed when he in his eternal brilliance opened the window.  Luckily we didn't get killed, but don't stop.  And don't open your bloody windows.  

That being said, we found the place for our one big-ticket lunch, The Roundhouse.  After some maniacal laughter about not being dead at the hands of possibly the only tourist-hating Bajan on the island, we noticed how awesome the view was.  The food delicious (more grilled fish!), and wandering on the beach after we ate was perfect.  The Atlantic side of the island has a very different character from the Caribbean.  The ocean is rocky with big waves and very strong currents.  It's more dramatic and sharp.  We wandered along the coast, snapped some pictures of the interesting rock formations, and then drove back to our hotel, this time without harassment.  

That was it for us.  We packed up and got ready to return to reality.  And of course, we finished up with one more curried goat roti and pineapple juice.  The cab back to the airport the following day was uneventful.  We endured a screaming child sitting immediately behind us for 4 hours.  Happily, I resisted throwing him out an emergency exit.  (I mean, I know children will scream, but the parents weren't handling it properly.  The kid wanted attention and they gave it to him.  It was really pathetic.  I never want to have kids.  They're monsters.)

But that was our trip.  It was nice.  I had a great time.  I highly suggest surfing, Cockspur rum, mangoes, checking out the synagogue if that's your thing, roti, swimming, Oistins Friday night fish fry, and a trip to the east side of the island.  Definitely do not stop for the dudes hustling tour gigs in the interior, and don't buy into people renting hovels for $45 a night.  If I were going back, I'd spring for a fully A/C'd place to stay not because you need A/C, but because there are no screens and mosquitoes are an issue.  If I had the dough, maybe I'd rent a car, but the reggae buses are kind of silly and much more fun.  There was a bar, Mojo, right across from where we stayed.  Nice people, good way to slowly enter into the Barbadian rhythm.  They mix a good rum punch.  

You should go.  :)