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 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.  :)