food


They say that you can tell if someone is a real chef by looking at their hands: hard core chefs’ hands are covered with scars, cuts, and burns.

Yesterday, while dicing onions, I sliced a dime-sized chunk off of my thumb, by the knuckle.  The wound keeps bleeding through bandaids, so there are little smears of blood all over my laptop.  That is exactly as creepy as it sounds.

This new cut matches nicely the bulging red scar from my last run-in with a knife. I am proud to report, though, that last night’s mishap with the chef’s knife did not deter me from finishing the overly-elaborate dinner I’d planned for last night’s book club meeting.  I just wrapped it in a bunch of bandaids and continued chopping.

I’m choosing to believe that this latest battle scar is evidence that I am a hard core chef, rather than draw the more-obvious conclusion that I am a huge effing klutz.

***

Reminder! My Earth Day giveaway is continuing through 5pm tonight- go enter to win a cool hand-made prize!

So, hey, today is Earth Day!  And for weeks, I’d been plotting a little Earth Day contest for you peeps, and then I went and forgot to post it, and now I’m at my office, where I have no camera to take photos of the prize, and where I should probably not technically be writing on my blog during work hours.

Briefly, then, here is the deal: as you might remember, I have taken up sewing.  Much like when I took up knitting and John and I ended up with like 15 hand-knit hats each, we are rapidly approaching our house’s saturation point for hand-sewn items that are within my skill level.  But I still want to sew!

So I’ve decided to sew something for an Earth Day contest.  I am giving away two hand-sewn picnic mats, complete with reusable plastic utensils.   I will update this post with actual photos of the actual items when I get home, but they look like this:

(Tomato not included.)  The mat rolls up and ties with  ribbon, making it easily portable for picnics:

These are a great way to cut down on the use of paper napkins and disposable utensils.  And they’re not just for picnics: I bring mine to work and use it as a placemat when I have to eat work at my desk (which is often).  I actually put regular old metal flatware in it so I can feel like I’m eating with real utensils instead of plastic.  Using a proper fork somehow makes eating at one’s desk feel a little less sad.

So! I have TWO picnic mats to give away to one lucky winner (perfect for use on a romantic spring outing.)  They are made with this gorgeous fabric:

If you’d like to win this set of two picnic placemats (and I know you do,) just leave a comment on this post.  If you’d like, tell me about your favorite spot to take a picnic.  (That’s not required to win, but I would like to hear about everyone’s favorite picnic places anyway!)

Contest will remain open until 5pm CDT on Friday, April 24, and the winner will be randomly selected.

Happy picknicking, and Happy Earth Day!

Though I’m not Catholic, or particularly observant of religion of any stripe, I still often give things up for Lent.  I like the idea of challenging yourself  to go without something that you normally enjoy, challenging yourself to be more mindful.  I usually give up either candy or soda, both things which I too often find myself mindlessly consuming.  Giving it up for 40 days is tough, and even though the reasons I do it aren’t particularly faith-based,  Lent forces my hand and keeps me from saying I’ll do it “later”  by providing a pre-determined length of time, start and end date, etc.

This year I gave up candy.  This nearly effing killed me on Saturday when we went to Bird and Bama’s house for their Easter party, featuring approximately 65 varieties of pastel Easter candies.  Bird kindly sent me home with a treat bag, and I’m not at all ashamed to say that I ate Easter Reese’s Pieces for breakfast yesterday.

I wish I could tell you that this act of going without candy for 40 days has broken me of the sweet tooth, and that I’m less likely to eat as much candy going forward.  If I’m totally honest, though, I’ve spent a fair amount of time this weekend thinking of the bag of leftover Valentine’s candy sitting in my desk drawer at work (oh delicious TenderHearts, how I regret forgetting to eat the last of you before Ash Wednesday!),  wondering if it would be gross for me to eat the rest of it, starting today.

In addition to my shiny new dri-fit shirt, the Shamrock Shuffle swag bag included a lot of ads and coupons.  Most were for things I had no interest in (Chicago Marathon! Indianapolis Marathon! Champaign Marathon! Twin Cities Marathon!  Sweet goodness, how are there so many crazy people out there keeping all these marathons in business?)

But among all the ads for crazy-long runs, there was a coupon for $10 off a $50 purchase at Whole Foods.  Ooh baby.

We live walking distance from a Whole Foods, and while I do go there fairly regularly, I am VERY limited in what I get there.  This may be more than you wanted to know, but I am one of those crazy annoying people who frequents like 4 grocery stores: the little produce market for cheap veggies, Trader Joe’s for cheap snacks and string cheese, Jewel once a month or so for things you can’t get anywhere else, (like Triscuits and pretzel-flavored goldfish) and Whole Foods.  At Whole Foods, I limit myself to things that, to me, are worth the insane markup: chicken and ground turkey in those fairly rare times we eat it; fancypants cheese for company; the brand of hummus we love that’s not available at Jewel or TJs; gorgeous berries when they’re on sale and/or in season; and bulk dry goods, like barley flakes and quinoa, that can be hard to find other places.

So usually, because it’s so close and because I don’t buy too much there, I’m in and out of Whole Foods for substantially less than $50.  But this coupon presents the perfect opportunity to try out some yummy new and/or exotic food items.  You know, something like thai-spiced sweet potato chips, or wasabi-roasted pistachios, or $10 vanilla extract.  Something I would never buy otherwise but which might, just might, be worth the crazy price tag. I could, obviously, just get a bottle of wine, or some stuff from their deli takeout counter, but that doesn’t seem as special.

So tell me: are there any wacky, crazy-delicious food items that you think might be available at my local Whole Foods that I should try?

In our first corner, we have:  Power Breakfast!

Healthy Breakfast

Brown rice cakes, spread with a little peanut butter, plus an apple and a nice full bottle of water!  Nutritionists would be proud!

And in the other corner, we have….the Healthy Diet Underminer!

Yumyumyumyumyum

Also known as Tenderhearts, or “my favorite candy in the whole world which I discovered at a store across the street from our office for 75% off so obviously I had to buy all they had left which ended up being, um, kind of a lot.”

Let’s go down to the ring for the blow by blow:

Power breakfast opens strong with a one-two punch, reminding pseudo that she is on a health kick, and that by eating fiber and protein first thing in the morning she will feel full all the way until lunch!

Tenderhearts counters with a cheap, but effective sucker punch, appealing to pseudo’s sweet tooth: “but we’re deeeliciousssss.  And you don’t want us to go stale, do you?”

Power breakfast breaks back in with a quick jab: “with as many preservatives as you’ve got in there, you won’t be going stale for MONTHS.”

Tenderhearts takes that one on the chin, and asks, with puppy dog eyes: “why do you hate us?  we loooooove you!”

Power breakfast continues the attack with a stiff uppercut: “you’ll regret it if you let them win!  Fight the good fight! Being healthy means striving to make healthy choices every day!”

Just when it looks like it’s down for the count, Tenderhearts roars back with a stunning hook!  “Have we mentioned we taste like cherries?  Cherries are fruit.  Eating us is like eating fruit for breakfast!  Who can criticize you for wanting to eat FRUIT? Fruit is healthy!  You’re doing the healthy thing here!”

I think we all know where this is going:

mmmm...cherries.

Round 1: TENDERHEARTS!  (And the crowd goes wild!)

Dear Body:

Two colds in one month is just not acceptable.  If I wanted to be sick every two weeks, I’d still be teaching 5th grade.  There, one was guaranteed to catch every pestilence that floated through the greater metropolitan area, but at least there were art projects and the wacky humor of 10 year olds.  Now I work in a law firm.  If I’m going to leave behind fun and art projects in favor of cubicles and a persnickity copy machine and hours spent redacting and editing, it seems the least you can do is agree to stay mostly snot-free.

Also, if you could buck up and start responding to the one million crazy-ass crunches and pike crunches and scissors crunches and other ridiculous maneuvers that Jillian keeps making me do, I’d appreciate it.  I resent having sore abs and no visible results, ever.

Finally, would you be interested in negotiating some sort of deal whereby I’ll agree to drink my minimum 8 glasses of water a day and take my multivitamin, and you agree to stop responding to all delicious spicy Asian foods with excruciating stomachaches and lethal heartburn?  It’s making me feel geriatric to have to say “no no, I couldn’t possibly have any of that amazing looking panang curry.  If I do, I’ll be up all night.  I’ll just have some plain white rice and couple of tums.”

Mwah,

pseudo

An assortment of minor annoyances that accompany the onset of winter weather:

  • I perpetually forget to put my wedding rings back on after applying hand cream, which I have to do approximately one million times per day. Fortunately, I usually leave them sitting safely in my ring dish in our bathroom at home, but it still feels strange to have naked fingers.
  • One of the only places I’ve found to buy sort-of reasonably priced winter pants (you know, tweed, wool, that sort of thing) that are long enough for tall people is Benetton. Their pants? They are cute. They are also usually unlined. Commence all-day-long itchfest on legs. Bah.
  • The hair. It is fluffy. ALL THE GODDAMNED TIME.
  • John keeps getting nosebleeds and stealing all the Kleenex to fix them.
  • Face skin: flaky.
  • Commuting is a pain – you have to bundle up for the walk to the el, then either unbundle yourself on the train or swelter for the entire ride in, then bundle up again for the walk to the office. Plus you have to wear boots and schlep your work-appropriate shoes to the office. Irksome.

But, despite all these annoyances, there is one thing about winter weather that makes it totally worth it, and that thing is: layers. My friends, layers of clothing are a blessing. Layers allow one to eat (to take a totally hypothetical example) a truly embarrassing amount of cheese with bread and crackers and nuts and wine, call it dinner, and then follow it up with three large cookies. Several days in a row. In summer, one could not get away with this shit. But winter? With layers? You look like a puffy penguin in all those clothes anyway! Bring on the cookies!

Speaking of cookies…this year, as part of my effort to do a mostly handmade Christmas, I’m planning on assembling tins of cookies for neighbors, friends, etc. I am telling myself that they will love it, and will enjoy indulging knowing that the layers are there to protect them. I’m currently planning on including:

  • molasses spice cookies
  • lemon shortbread with lemon glaze
  • chocolate toffee walnut cookies
  • salted caramels (not technically cookies, but so good I’m willing to overlook that)

I feel like my assortment is missing something. Rolled sugar cookies with sprinkles would be an obvious choice, but I find rolling cookie dough to be a tremendous pain in the ass, and rarely worth it. Any suggestions for one or two more varieties I might include in my holiday cookie tins?

While I keep reading of other offices that are easing gently towards Thanksgiving, and people who are already on planes to go visit far-flung family, my work has decided to schedule a huge! very important! requiring a tremendous amount of preparation! meeting for….tomorrow.  Wednesday.  The day before Thanksgiving.  Swell.

So people in my office are running around like crazy, everyone scrambling to finish projects, (or at least finish them enough that they can report at the meeting without looking like a total doofus).

I am no exception, since I have no fewer than FOUR things about which I am expected to present tomorrow.  (Upside of being a staff attorney: you get to work on lots of different projects with lots of different people.  Downside of being a staff attorney: you get to work on lots of different projects with lots of different people and are expected to be the one to write up all the summarizing documents and present out at big meetings.)

So it’s a leeeetle hectic around here right now,  and that’s unfortunately distracting me from my favorite thing to do in the week before Thanksgiving: plan menus.

See, my family are amazing, lovely, wonderful people, but we have some dietary restrictions.  Sister can’t eat gluten.  Father can’t really eat much salt or fat.  Mother (god love her) appears to not like flavor, and prefers all foods to tend towards the bland.

Since my parents live close by, tradition dictates that we eat at their place, which means my bland mom has control over the menu.  For her Thanksgiving, I try to plan at least two things that I can bring that I will love to eat but will be consumed by people other than me.  (Seems kinda rude to bring something that only you can/will eat.)  This year I’ll be doing roast asparagus and an apple-cranberry crumble with gluten-free topping.  Not bad.

But I dream about hosting my own Thanksgiving, where I am in charge of the menu, and can make whatever wackadoodle version of Thanksgiving classics I want.  This year, the menu would be:

Appetizers:

  • Spinach artichoke dip with homemade pita chips
  • Pomegranate salsa and tortilla chips (if you are looking for a delicious, different winter appetizer for Thanksgiving or holiday parties, email me.  Seriously.  This salsa is AMAZING.)
  • Crostini with brie, honey, and pears
  • Champagne Cocktails

Main:

  • Adobo Turkey with Red Chili Gravy
  • Stuffing made with actual onions and actual butter (this is the saddest one for me about our Thanksgiving- stuffing without onions and butter is a travesty.)

Sides:

  • Mashed sweet potatoes
  • Cranberry sauce with pear and fresh ginger
  • Brussels Sprouts Gratin
  • Popovers and homemade crusty wheat rolls (I like contrast.)

Desserts:

What about you all?  What are your favorites?  Any dishes you’re dying to try when you finally get control of Thanksgiving?  (Or is that just me?)

Friday:

We’re drinking margaritas out of low-slung glass bowls, chatting away with some of the nicest people I’ve ever been lucky enough to meet through the internet. I introduce a story with an offhand comment about how “I was a chatty kid.” “You, chatty? No! Impossible!” says Sweets, and I realize: I have been totally teasingly called out on my chatterbox tendencies by a person who I’m hanging out with for only the third time. This is either totally mortifying or totally awesome.

Saturday:

Sitting by the lake checking out the air show, the blue angels roar overhead in perfect v-formation. Thirty seconds later, a small group of geese thinks “What’s the big deal? That’s not so hard!” and to prove the point flies over the exact same spot, in the exact same formation. Charmed, the audience bursts into applause.

Sunday:

We wake up early and skip our planned workout in favor of one of our favorite brunch spots, run by a fairly innocuous-seeming cult. (No, really. Truly.) We arrive to find a sign in the window: “Closed for our August retreat to celebrate [our guru's] birthday.  See you September 2!” But! But! We were counting on delicious french toast! Why does the cult-run brunch place always close right when our french toast needs are most acute? And why is it that EVERY SINGLE PERSON IN THE WORLD, even my favorite purveyors of french toast, seem to be conspiring to rub it in about how awesome it is to take vacation in August?

What do you do when your husband goes off to hang out with his college buddies in California and you’re left all alone?

You go to the state fair to eat a bunch of fried crap, of course!

My friend Mooks and I battled through surprisingly bad traffic and a few wrong turns and finally arrived in West Alles, Wisconsin, home of the state fair grounds, and center of all things fried.

Not sure what, precisely, is French about cheese curds, but its all fried, so I wont argue.

Not sure what, precisely, is "French" about cheese curds, but I won't argue.

We wandered through the livestock tents:

Nonplussed

Nonplussed

We looked at prizewinning homemade foodstuffs:

SO MANY CATEGORIES of jam and pickles.  Was stunned.

SO MANY CATEGORIES of jam and pickles. Truly, this is less than a 1/3 of them. Was stunned.

And saw winners in categories I never imagined existed:

Let’s look a little more closely at that tag:

There is a Cheese Party Tray category!  I would EXCEL at this category.  Its a shame I dont live in Wisconsin, so I am ineligible.

There is a Cheese Party Tray category! I would EXCEL at this category. It's a shame I don't live in Wisconsin, so I am ineligible.

But the real draw of the Wisconsin state fair is the world-famous cream puffs.  Truth be told, my memories of these cream puffs are not fond.  Whenever we went to the fair when I was a kid, I just remember waiting for what seemed like forever for a messy, not-that-delicious wad of cream.  Of course, when I was a kid, I didn’t like fresh whipped cream, preferring instead the chemical, stable-textured Cool Whip.  I have since come to my senses, and decided it was time to give cream puffs another shot.

Shirts were not for sale.  Yes, I asked.

Shirts were not for sale. Yes, I asked.

They sell something like one bajillion cream puffs during the fair, and it’s quite a high efficiency operation.  First, slice open puff:

I totally didn’t notice this at the time, but the glove/knife arrangement in the lower right corner there is a little creepy, isn’t it?  It’s like someone left it that way on purpose to freak people out- “oh, that’s just the ghost employee- he’s really fast, and doesn’t take up hardly any space!”

Then, you fill the cream puffs:

They go through an INSANE amount of cream.

They go through an INSANE amount of cream.

And then, finally, most importantly, you EAT the cream puff:

Public service announcement: if you are eating a cream puff, and you get powdered sugar from the top all over your shirt (this will happen,) please look at your hands BEFORE you absently try to dust off your shirt, as your hands are likely to be even more coated with powdered sugar, and you will only make the problem worse.

On the whole, it was a tremendously successful afternoon.  I think, in fact, that I probably had a better time than John had with his 5 best friends, camping in Sonoma and then going wine tasting.  Oh, wait, that’s false.  Why does everyone, including my husband, insist on taunting me with their vacations?

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