Category Archives: food

The world as a restaurant

 

Here’s a headline we can all get behind:

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Several years ago I went to dinner in Korea with a group of co-workers.

If you know me you know that I believe there is nothing more fun and delicious than Korean barbecue so that dinner, in Korea with people I enjoyed, should have been awesome.

But it wasn’t. That dinner was a KBBQ exception. When the waitress brought out the platter of meat that day, it was drama for dinner.

The coworker to my right (Muslim) couldn’t eat pork but the restaurant (mad cow cautious) wasn’t keen to serve beef. The ensuing discussion prompted the coworker on my left to warn that if cow was procured it better (for the sake of their respective immortal souls) be cooked on a separate grate. Meanwhile across the table three American southerners used the confusion to steal the flustered waitress’ cooking tongs because they’d eaten enough KBBQ to know that no self-respecting Korean would ever let the meat char to the delicious carcinogenic levels said men desired.  

Now if you have ever convinced a Korea restaurant to alter their menu for you for any reason you…

  1. are my hero and,
  2. fully understand what a nightmare that meal was.  

(Actually grown guys playing tong keep-away was pretty amusing so maybe “nightmare” is a bit strong)

Anyway, I’d forgotten all about that dinner until last week when I read these two articles:

From the Irish Independent:

Burnt food may cause cancer

And (I kid you not, less than 24 hours later) from the NY Times

Charring is the new it cuisine 

So if I want to live long I absolutely mustn’t blacken my meals but if I want to live happy I absolutely must. Where does that leave me?

Hungry, that’s where. And maybe that’s been the problem all along. Maybe we’re all just hungry.

The world we live in (like that dinner and those articles) is fraught with people of differing ideas, preferences, beliefs, goals, sports loyalty, beverage addiction… Demand that it all mold into one unified path towards the future and you risk ending up (like me at that dinner and after reading those articles) – hungry.

(or on a diet of boiled chicken and I ask you, when has boiled chicken ever make anyone truly happy??)

What is the answer? I don’t know and I’m not suggesting we stop looking. I just think in the mean time, maybe we should all have a sandwich.

Yeah peace and sandwiches*… maybe some of that wine…it couldn’t hurt. 

I’ll set the table.

 

*lest my blatantly western sandwich offer offend, feel free to eat instead a panini, gyro, banh mi, kebab, arepa, bacadillo, taco, piroshki, vada pav, chivito…just stay away from the blood of your enemies. That would probably not be productive. 

 

 

Wrong, wrong, wrong

table

There are few things in life that I consider sacrilegious and almost all of them have to do with food.

For example, I will not tolerate overcooking fish and steak. Furthermore I believe those who claim to not like fish or steak while at the same time refusing to eat either unless overcooked, should be burned at the stake…perhaps with me broiling a filet to perfection on the same fire…

I also have no patience for people who’ve not learned proper foods identification. Last Saturday my son ordered “pancakes”. What arrived, however, was very clearly “crepes”. What?? Understandably, I nearly lost my mind. Though he insisted they were in fact delicious, I would not be tamed. Culinary anarchy it was! And resulted in a restaurant boycott. The world will not descend into madness on my dime, no sir!

Speaking of madness, everyone needs to sit at the table as soon as a meal is served (better yet, before) and stay until the end, no excuses. (Dear family, I love you but…legs will be broken…) Seriously, a tree died so you could park it while breaking bread! Shall you not honor that sacrifice??

Ahem…

Anyway, this list goes on. But rather than bore you with every tenet of my Foodology, Gastronomicism, Culinaranity…

I ask only for conversion, utter devotion and strict adherence to my belief system

tolerance.

There is room for all types of foodies in this world.

Except people who don’t know how to set a table, they have to go…and anyone who’s never opened a cookbook…or thinks cheese in a can is real…or eats spam on a regular basis…

I mean….Namaste

 

 

More conversations with the inanimate.

 

When Mowgli and I were preparing to move, we actively de-acquired. We did so with thought too. We weighed the importance of each item seriously before deciding its fate. Nothing was cast off, or kept, in haste. We were methodical, meticulous and mature. We were absolutely on our game.

Welcome to the flip side.

BUY BUY BUY!!!

Why do I have two of these?

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and three of these?

Purchased in order from right to left...
Purchased in order from right to left…

More curious, why is there a bottle of this in our cupboard…

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(in my defense, I can’t be the only person on the planet ignorant to the existence of “Alcohol Free” German beer. I mean, why???)

Don’t get me wrong. I expected to spend money. We are rebuilding a household after all. I guess I just wasn’t aware that said household would be one in which economy and forethought were alien concepts.

Is this us, really?

Perhaps it’s not entirely our fault. We are on the magical isle. Could we be under the influence of the supernatural?

I can tell you this. A few weeks ago, after the boys came to a last minute consensus to have fish and chips for dinner, I swear I heard delighted laughter from deep fryers across town.

“We have her now.” They chuckled as I ran to the nearest department store to buy one.   

(How the lot of them found out about the disaster of our last fish dinner I do not know. On that infamous day our stove decided (in mid fry) it was done heating on demand and left us with nothing but a greasy mess and take out.)

But…

…was that really a disastrous evening or part of the magic of living here?

The stove, continuing in its temperamental state, has me convinced it’s a wizard in cahoots with small appliances across town. I’m dreaming of rice cookers and electric skillets a lot…

I’m also considering an exorcism.

Until then though, I guess I’ll just keep shopping.

Ooo look! Shamrock salt and pepper shakers… No, we need them, I swear…

 

Not for the faint of heart.

 

I love being a mother of boys. Honest. I wake every (most) mornings bursting with thanks for the plethora of mismatched chromosomes racing though my home.

For reals.

However, could I make one (or two) teeny tiny request(s)?

WOULD EVERYONE STOP GROWING PLEASE?

Just stop. Now.

Not forever though. A little break, that’s all I’m asking for. They can start again next month,

or after summer,

maybe sometime around the new year…

And start at a slower rate this time. While it pleases me to see everyone maturing, I can’t keep up. We’ve already blown though this year’s back up supply of cold weather gear and we have 2 more months of snow to go. I’ve started telling people we live in a flood zone to explain away consistently short inseams. And how is it they grow out of shoes overnight? Shouldn’t there first be a month or two of becoming progressively tighter?

Speaking of tighter, another little change I’d like to see is with food. I’m having a small issue keeping it around…

BECAUSE THERE IS FAR, FAR, FAR, FAR TOO MUCH EATING GOING ON.

A loaf of bread lasts moments. A pound of cheese survives only the car ride home from the grocer. And how can one eat his weight in meatballs and still be hungry?

But I have to let them eat. Otherwise they’re completely unmanageable. So I do.

Even though I know what all the eating means.

Even thought I know that if they would only

QUIT EATING EVERYTHING ALL THE TIME,

They would probably stop

EXPLODING LIKE GAMMA RADIATED MONSTERS.hulk

I’m raising the Hulk. Three of them.

Oh dear…here comes one now…

QUICK, SAVE YOURSELF!

THROW FOOD!

 

 

 

Pumpkin remix

 

The other day I wanted to make pumpkin pie. My pumpkin pie, the recipe I painstakingly developed for Mowgli because it’s his favorite. The recipe of love that won me my man.

So I dug through my recipes pulled out the hand written, squash splattered, card and read it over. 

What happened next? This:

“What? That’s not how I make it! Only 2 cups of pumpkin? Ground cloves? I don’t buy ground cloves. 12 ounces of milk and only two eggs? No way it will be done baking in 50-60 minutes…”

But, it was my recipe. My chicken scratch is unmistakable. Beside, the truth is, that’s how I cook: ever changing. I don’t have a book of stone cast recipes so much as a collection of rough ideas paired with instructions that range from vague to nonexistent. A quick pass through and I found dozen of recipes with missing ingredients, inaccurate proportions, and what could only be flat out lies. (White wine in a marinade for flank steak? Written by a woman who has gone years without buying white wine?)

Should I die young, God save the poor soul tasked with reproducing anything I ever served. To my family and friends, I’m sorry. My penance follows.

 

Jolie’s Pumpkin (or other squash) pie

(recipe, instructions and explanations attached)

 

1 cup sugar (Less if you’re using pie pumpkins, more for the big jack-o-lantern variety. If you’re using canned mash, are dieting, or don’t have much sugar on hand, go with your gut.)

½ teaspoon salt (or not)

1 ½ teaspoon cinnamon (Less if you’re not a huge cinnamon fan. If you don’t like it at all, better make a different pie)

½ teaspoon ground cloves or nutmeg (I actually wrote that “OR”. Who knew the two spices were interchangeable?)

1 teaspoon ginger (Fresh, NOT POWDER. If you don’t have fresh, skip it all together)

2 cups pumpkin mash (Or 3 or 4. Depends on how big a pie you’re going for. Just add more eggs.)

2 or 3 or 4 large eggs (see above)

12 ounces evaporated milk (FYI 12 ounces is total over kill. 8 to 10 is plenty. But to my knowledge unsweetened evaporated milk isn’t sold in 8 to 10 ounce cans. So, 12 it is)

2 tablespoons natural unsulphured full flavor molasses. (Do not substitute, do not omit. Don’t even think about it… I’m not kidding…stop that…let it go…maybe I can interest you in a nice chocolate cream instead…)

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 Almost forgot. Bake 350 degrees F for 50, 60, 70…oh I give up, bake until it’s done.

 

 

Fish canning and the zombie apocalypse.

 

So you’ve decided to can your own fish.

Congratulations! Canning your own fish is fun and easy! It’s also a great way to extend the usable life of your catch. You worked hard to get that fish, don’t waste it!

(Plus, stores of fish at your disposal will be helpful when the zombie apocalypse hits.)

Let’s get started!

Essential supplies: jars, lids and a pressure cooker.

Buy the largest pressure canner available. We’re canning fish, remember? Canned fish an excellent source of calcium and omega 3’s. So save your pennies for that canner!

(And ammo. Ammo and a well stocked larder will mean the difference between life and death when the zombies come.)

Next: prep fish, pack jars and stack them in canner.

Yes, I am purposely NOT going into detail. Canning fish isn’t rocket science but it must be done cleanly and properly. READ THE MANUAL.

(Do not, and the only ones able to consume your fish will be the zombies. But they’ll be hungry, so maybe that’s not all bad)

Finally: Pressurize canner, start timer. Cook for 100 minutes.

Did you get that? This step is critical. 100 minutes.

That’s: 1 hour 40 minutes AT pressure, not below not above. 100 minutes. If pressure drops below recommended pressure, RESTART YOUR CLOCK.

For the next 100 minutes, do not walk away from the canner. Do not leave the room. Do not involve yourself in any activity engaging enough to take your mind off canning. Do nothing but watch that gauge for the next HOUR and FORTY MINUTES. Do not grab your favorite book, do not watch TV. Don’t call a friend, don’t catch up on e-mail. Don’t even pick up a magazine unless it’s short and dull enough to keep undistracted from the task at hand. For the next 100 minutes, you have one job. MONITOR that PRESSURE. Do not nod off, do not daydream. Do not stare idle out a window. Do not watch snow fall.

100 minutes. Focus. You can do it. Canning is fun.

 (and boring and tedious and life sucking, but look on the bright side you’ll fry your brain. The zombies wont want you.)

Not intended for the undead
Zombie proof

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pin-tervention

 

By now everyone heard of Pinterest, right? The web site harmlessly regarded as “idea central”?

Well, don’t be fooled. Pinterest is “dare-you” central, perhaps even “double-dog-dare-you-chicken” central. Yes, it is a plethora of creative ways to tweak your world into a better one. At the same time, however, it is an endless parade of what other people are brave enough to do. Spend five minutes on Pinterest and your inner voice nags… “Why don’t you do that? What are you waiting for? Look at how many people think it’s a fabulous idea.”

Of course it’s also possible that only happens to me and I’m in dire need of a Pin-tervention. You decide.

This week I re-stained my kitchen cabinets. Black with an incredibly expensive stain that some woman on Pinterest said she used on her cabinets that not only improved the looks of her home but made her more popular, added volume and sheen to her hair and removed her love handles. How could I not try it?

(It’s amazing what little regard I have for resale value.)

Then, I painted my KitchenAid. It was boring white because once upon at time that was on the only color they came in and I was tired of it. Now they come in silver, red and black right out of the box. On Pinterest the really cool people have ones with flames and flowers andDisney characters!

Is it wrong to want a full life?

This project is terrifying only because it requires you to do this to a $400 stand mixer:

Nobody panic, I was a mechanic in a previous life.

But it’s looking good so far!

I’ll get the mixer part back on
eventually.

 

And finally, this week I unsuccessfully attempted to blow up my slow cooker.

I am one of the pathetic members of the population struggling to feed her family with only 1 oven. (Mowgli, are you reading this?) With the holidays looming this inconvenience threatens to transform my existence into culinary chaos.

Enter Pinterest spreading the rumor that it’s possible to bake yeast bread not in an oven, but in a slow cooker.

Never mind that most slow cookers advise to never, ever, never, under penalty of violent death, turn one on without first adding liquid. Never mind that the only food dryer to bake than yeast bread is crackers. Never mind that there are children in my house, watching me… People had tried this recipe and, therefore, so must I.

Happily, not only did this work, no limbs were lost.

 

You only live once you know.

 

Besides all this, Pinterest reminded me today that November is NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month, that crazy time of year when writers around the country trade grounded reality for the chance to pen an entire novel inside 30 days.

Why not? It’ll be hours before all that paint is dry.

Besides, everybody swears it’s awesome.

 

 

How not to skin a bird.

(Warning! This blog contains graphic material disguised with questionable humor. Vegetarians and readers who only eat meat from cellophane packages are advised to proceed with caution.)

How not to skin a bird.

Dinner

Step one: Completely ignore the possibility that you may one day need to skin a bird.

Close your eyes to the hunter gatherer lifestyle of the region you’ve chosen to live in. Pay no heed to the frequency that self slaughtered main dishes are served in your neighborhood each week. Disregard the fact that you married a man so enamored with the bounty of edible wildlife around you that, in lieu of lunch, he tromps through the woods daily “just to look”.

Step two: When the aforementioned husband informs you that the .22 rifle he is carrying is only “to scare away bears”, believe him.

Step three: When the day arrives (as it undoubtedly will) that this same husband wanders up the driveway with the warm carcass of a plump Spruce hen, assume the poor bird died of natural causes and that your husband brought it home to bury. Immediately. Then toss common sense out the window, unlock the door and let both husband and bird in.

Step four: Unwittingly volunteer to be a party to slaughter by stupidly exclaiming “And I suppose you think I’m going to cook that! (Note to self: work on your sarcasm and stop emphatic gesturing with flat up facing palms.)

Step five: Put bird down and make a drink.

Step six: Completely space out that you know at least five people in a two mile radius who would willingly take the bird off your hands and instead rifle through your books looking for a game processing guide.

Find one.

Kick yourself for ever making that purchase.

Step seven: Open the game guide to chapter on foul handling. Do not read. Lay book next to bird on the kitchen counter and attempt to butcher line by line.

 

GG: Grab bird firmly by the feet.

Grab.

GG: Make incision around the vent hole.

? Get dictionary. Oh, vent hole.

(If you are still lost: a vent is the one hole in a bird that is not anywhere near its head.)

GG: Poke fingers through incision and into bird all the way up to its neck. Rotate fingers to loosen all the organs. Remove everything making sure to not puncture the intestines or gall bladder.

Step eight: Do none of this. Remove a store bought Cornish hen from freezer and compare with Spruce hen.

Spruce hen: tiny, wild, dark meat.

Cornish: fat, farmed, and white.

Chance of swapping the two and not being found out: 5%. Sigh.

 

Step nine: Remove bird innards.

Step ten: Take a moment to fling bird guts at children. Totally gross them out. Enjoy a good laugh at their expense. OK, that’s enough. They’re just kids.

Step eleven: Return to game guide. Read paragraph on cleaning a bird without using water because it encourages bacterial spread. Fight the urge to quit and take a shower. Continue reading.

GG: Pluck feather away from carcass. Avoid tearing the skin.

Pluck, pluck, pluck, rrrrrip!!

 

Step twelve: Reread last passage. Decided that authors meant ‘avoid’ as a loose suggestion. Continue plucking.

Pluck, pluck, rrrrip!

Again?

Pluck, rrrip!

Good grief.

Pluu, rip!

Stupid game guide.

Stop plucking.

Step thirteen: Violently tear every remaining bit of skin and feathers off bird. With a large meat cleaver whack off wings at shoulder joint. Do likewise with feet at ankle and head at neck. Raise cleaver high overhead. Swiftly lower it planting it between the breasts and cleanly splitting them in two. Wipe hands. Grab drink and sip until all psychopathic twinges subside. Replenish drink if necessary.

Step fourteen: Bake breasts at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. Serve with fava beans and a nice Chianti.