Sunday, November 23, 2014

Just call us Abbott & Costello

So, as I predicted, the boyfriend and I have not gotten around to the second edition of Good Eats, Julie and Julia style.

However, we've had other big news:

That's right. The boyfriend changed his name. But, I think for this little blog's sake, he'll stay the boyfriend. Fiance just doesn't suit him.

Besides the big news, we have been homebodies this weekend--cooking and binging on Netflix. This morning we had mimosas and acorn squash, stuffed with bacon, brown sugar and sautéed onions. With an egg on top, of course!

I was trimming the thyme from our potted herbs to add to the pan and the boyfriend said, "Killing some thyme, are you?"

I reached for the sage and said, "Yes, I am. Do you have any sage advice for me?"

He said, "I'll have to ask Rosemary."
He cracks me up, that one. I think I found a good match. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Today's Food Rant: Military Edition

From TNO and here.

So, I read this article on NPR yesterday, and it sent me into a little bit of a frenzy. I imagine that most people that read it will have a pretty positive reaction like, "Woah, we live in the future." In fact, at first glance, I thought about the "kitchen" in the Jetson's house where they pushed a button and a steaming, well-balanced meal popped out of the dispenser.

If you still haven't clicked the link at this point, essentially the Army is setting out to do research on 3-D printed personalized cliff bars. Here's what they say:

"We envision to have a 3-D printer that is interfaced with the soldier. And that sensor can deliver information to the computer software," Oleksyk says. "And then they would be able to have either powdered or liquid matrices that are very nutrient dense, that they have on demand that they can take and eat immediately to fill that need."

And, to be honest, I am so disgusted by this, I don't even really know where to begin my rant. I mean, liquid matrices?!?! Yum.

And, before you accuse me of being sensationalist, let me explain the rest of my critique. So, I think, more than most, I have a pretty good idea of what being "in the field" looks like for a soldier. The boyfriend was a recon marine and he paints a pretty clear picture. As soon as they mentioned they wanted this 3-D printed food on the battlefield this Oleksyk-person lost almost all of her credibility for me. The official regulation is that soldiers can carry no more than 50 pounds of equipment into the field. In reality, they carried 80 to 100 pounds. The idea of adding a 3-D printer, plus the sensors and the computer needed to run the shiny piece of technology is so ludicrous, I, one who is never at a loss for words, can't quite explain my outrage. It feels, to me, like a shameless grab at hip technology, mostly, well, because it is cool. I think about a lot of things. I think about burst bags of powder or liquid, for, you know, the matrices, that mean soldiers go hungry. I think about the fifteen pound radio the boyfriend's platoon had to carry with them. Fifteen pounds. I mean, you have the free time to imagine 3-D printed food, but you can't get our soldiers a radio that weighs less than 15 pounds? It makes it very hard to be excited about things like "advancements in technology" and "the future" when I know hard-working marines that haul around a 15 pound radio. Real hard.

Now, before you tell me that I don't have any "vision" and can't imagine the "future" and that progress comes from research, let me assure you that I believe in DARPA. I think NASA is great. Sometimes we have to do crazy things to make progress. Naysayers be forewarned. I am with you.

But, and here is the big however--imagine a future in which soldiers on the battle field pop "matrices" for sustenance. Imagine an entire meal's worth of nutrients in a single bite. How efficient, right? Right? 

Wrong, I think.

And here's why: the communal act of coming together, cooking and eating is one way soldiers can still feel like humans, like people. MREs come in all sorts of new-fangled flavors like chili mac and cheese, chicken fajita with tortillas and some old favorites like beef stew and, until recently, lasagna.

Is it any coincidence that all of those options are "comfort foods?" I may be labeled as anti-progress and what-have-you, but our troops deserve the dignity of an honest meal. I want to give them that much. And yes, in some supplement-y way, 3-D printers could have a role. I'm not saying otherwise. But, a private forced to carry a printer into the field a long way from home so that he can settle into some powder and liquid options chosen for him by a pile of sensors and software is about the saddest advancement I can imagine.

Come on, people. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Welp...that didn't take long

I know you were all eagerly awaiting the next installment in the Alton Project, (the title still a work in progress...) but I am disappointed to announce a delay.

If you follow me on twitter, you probably saw that the bone saw at Whole Foods was busted, so they couldn't get us a rack (and actually, two racks) of lamb to make the crown roast we had in mind. And, I'm worried because I think this is what happens to projects. 

The boyfriend and I laid very simple plans. Each weekend we would watch an episode of Good Eats, shop, and cook. However, we've had a hiccough. A bone saw hiccough. And, now, this week is Halloween and we will be exhausted after all of the festivities. Plus, I am working Saturday and Sunday this weekend, so I worry we will offer ourselves another out. 

And then, two weeks will have gone by without Alton and then we might just say, "Well, this was a good idea, but, apparently it was just too much." 

And we'll assuage ourselves by saying, "It's probably for the best anyway. The Holidays are coming and there just wasn't going to be time." 

And we'll comfort ourselves by saying, "Maybe in the New Year we'll start again." But, then we won't. And, I think this happens all too often. To us, to you, to everyone. 

So, my question is simple. How do you keep yourself going? Where do you get, not just inspiration, but the grit to keep on keepin' on? How do you push through when life seems to get in the way? 

My friend Carina manages the most fantastic space on the interwebs for writers, filled with writerly inspiration. It's called The Curious Cat Project, and if you are here because you are a writer, leave here now and go there. Seriously. 

But, for the rest of you, when it isn't a writerly project, what do you do? I'd love to hear. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Let's get ready to ... CRUMBLE!

Good news! The boyfriend and I set out on a new project. Our plan was (and is) to "Julie-and-Julia" the Good Eats episodes that have recently made their way to Netflix. There is a smidgen of hero-worship where Alton Brown is considered in our house, so it seemed like an obvious decision. We think it will make us:

1. Cool.
2. Better cooks.
3. Fat.

Here we are making stiff peaks. This is new territory for as. At this point, we are still feeling very accomplished. 

The first episode covers Alton's Chiffon Cupcakes. Though the boyfriend insisted one batch would be plenty, I wanted to make the chocolate batch as well, plus the frosting. I felt like something worth doing is worth doing right, and the only right way was to make ALL the recipes in the episode. So, we separated yolks from whites, made stiff peaks, and generally made quite the commotion with my fancy stand-mixer.

They came out ugly. I had hoped for plump little muffin tops, and, instead, got dents and indents, crispiness and wrinkles. If I am honest, this is the impossibly high bar that I hold myself to in all things, golden rounds of perfection. And, more often then not, I find myself with the same degree of shortcoming - sad, disheveled bits of disappointment.

At first, this revelation made me really upset. Aw, RG, why do you have to go and screw everything up? Alton gave you a perfectly good recipe and a step-by-step video tutorial and you have to go and ruin it. I thought about some recent short-comings at work, the way I flaked on a friend recently and really shouldn't have and the state of uncleanliness that has become all-too-familiar at my house. And then, I thought some more.

Here we are with the chocolate batch. You can see my little batch of cretins on the left.

I made some delicious maple-butter cream frosting (just a slight autumn-adaptation from Alton's original recipe) and thought, "Frosting fixes everything." After all, as one of the best bosses I've ever had used to say, "Perfect is the enemy of the good." With a thick coat of frosting, no one would be the wiser about my cupcakes' lumpy deformities. Then, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that maybe I need more metaphorical frosting in my life to help me overcome the not-quite-perfect paralysis. Have you ever experienced this? I'm not going to go be a writer, because I don't think I could win a Pulitzer. I'm not going to play that game of Scrabble because I'm not sure I'll be the champion at the end of the night. I'm not going to try to make tur-ducken because I don't think I could cook all three meats so they were simultaneously tender and delicious, but also not under-cooked and salmonella-y. Not-quite-perfect paralysis. It's actually quite amazing that I even manage to get out of bed some days.

Powdered sugar for the frosting. We also purchased a new scale for this whole project (since Alton swears by them). It is pretty fancy. Like an ipad made out of bamboo. That only has one function. But still.

Anyway, I had this metaphorical epiphany (epiphany of metaphor?) and then we ate them. And, while we didn't spit them out back into their shiny red cupcake papers, we did a little extra chewing and took a couple of big gulps.

They were terrible. Dry and spongey. And weird.

And, while the frosting was great, they were pretty freaking bad. The whole thing was a debacle.

So, what does that mean? Frosting doesn't fix everything? Should we just give up and scrap the project altogether, given the results were  not so bueno? Somehow, I think we will soldier on another week because rack of lamb is on the horizon and the boyfriend will very likely have an opinion about that. But, in the meantime, what do we do with 46 more crappy cupcakes? 

Friday, August 8, 2014

Around the World in 80 Steps

Happy Friday, lovelies!

I'm happy to share that the boyfriend's computer was fixed without too much grinding of teeth, which means I can now share with you some snaps and stories from our Dominican Republic trip.

We stayed at the Dreams Palm Beach in Punta Cana, which is an all-inclusive resort. Personally, I'm still of two minds about this. Initially, of course, my thoughts were, "Twenty-four hour room service? All you can eat whenever you can eat? I am so in."

But, in reality, it is kind of weird. They had five restaurants options at the resort - Chinese, French, Italian, Mexican and "Steakhouse," which is clearly some weird code for American--still don't know what that is all about.

We ate Chinese the first night. Then French, then the Steakhouse and slowly we made our rounds through all of the offerings. The irony not being lost on us, our favorite was definitely the Mexican food. The reality, though, was that it was all a bit disconcerting. Not only could you get the "global cuisines," for the most part, the food was pretty good. Maybe trying a bit too hard to be fancy--with a lot of vegetable shavings and garnish and four to five courses on every menu--nonetheless, I was almost creeped out that there we sat, in a developing country, eating pretty elaborate food from most corners of the globe. It was weird. Good, but weird. The whole experience felt a little plastic-y to me, like we were at Disneyland.

As the week went by, however, I couldn't help but wonder: Where is the Dominican food? I mean, for me, one of the perks of a vacation is to try the local food and fall in love (or be disgusted by) something that you can't get at home. I call this "The Gelato Experience." When I first traveled to Italy as a high schooler, I remember one of the chaperones going on a mini-diatribe about how it was totally acceptable to eat gelato six times a day while in Italy because she had spent the past 25 years looking for it in America and it just didn't exist. Of course, as soon as I landed stateside, "gelato" was the next craze, right before cupcake wars. Also of course, it is okay to eat gelato six times a day. Nevertheless, part of the romance of a place, for me, is to really dig deep into its flavors and textures and come to know it through food.

This was not happening at our little resort. I mean, I spent a week in the DR and I can't say I know anything more about what they eat now than I did when I left sunny Los Angeles.

This could also be a result of the fact that buffets, in general, freak me out just a little bit. Though the resort had many separate restaurants, you could also go to the buffet and get the same gambit of culinary experience in about 80 steps. This just goes against all of my beliefs about what food should be - carefully paired meals created with care and thoughtfulness about flavor and texture coming together harmoniously on a single plate. Buffets are anything but that. More like scoops of mismatched, clashing slops piled haphazardly on the plate. And yes, I know I am going to get lots of complaints on this one. I know.

So, how did I make it through? The short answer: fruit plates.

Every night, regardless of what happened at dinner, I called room service and ordered a fruit plate. They were a little different every night, but came with beautifully sliced, fresh and juicy tropical fruit. This is a dream come true for a girl who suffered through three long years in New England. One night, though, I called and asked explicitly to have some mango included on the plate.

Room Service Guy: Mango? I no know Mango.
Me: ….
(Mango is a cognate to the Spanish word for mango - pronounced mahn-go.)
Me: Mango. (This time with the spanish pronunciation). Quiero mango, por favor.
Room Service Guy: I no know.

That night, I didn't get any mango.

I played this game again the next night, however, and got a whole plate of mango. With four grape halves, just for decoration. The server explained he wanted it to look "not-so boring." Delicious.

So, my take on resort food in the Dominican Republic? Like the first guy, all I can say is, "I no know."