Monday, March 30, 2015

Marital Discussion - Bunny Foo Foo in the Zombie Apocalypse

My husband stayed up later than usual so we could watch the season finale of The Walking Dead close to live. Because he knows what's good for him.

(Side note the first: Monday morning, my FB news feed was not full of spoilers, which it totally would've been if we'd waited until Monday night to watch it. I don't know if this is a quirk of FB's algorithms, or my friends.) 

(Side note the second: I was prepared to watch it without him, which is now considered a form of adultery. I've managed to wait for him when it comes to The Gilmore Girls, but there are limits.)

So this meant that he had to go straight to bed after watching all the disgusting zombieness. So I made up a bedtime story to help him sleep.

Me: Little Bunny Foo Foo hopped through the forest, bopping all the zombies on the head.

Him: And then down came the good fairy and she said...

Me: "Good job!"

Him: "Those zombies had it coming."

Me: "But you should really hook up with Bunny FiFi so you have someone to watch your back. Bopping zombies is dangerous." So Bunny Foo Foo made friends with Bunny FiFi and they had lots of hot bunny sex and made lots of bunny babies so they could all hop through the forest and bop the zombies on the head. The end.

Somehow, he still didn't sleep well that night. (I know, right?) Next time, Bunny Foo Foo will bop insomnia on the head.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Appeasing The Wolf

This post originally appeared on The Famished Freelancer on 12/3/13.

Back in 2008, when the economy went to Hell (again), I knew it was time to hunker down. I'd switched to freelancing, which was great for my sanity, but not my checking account. But I didn't eat out much, and apartment living means I have no space for a recession victory garden. Still, the only expense I could seem to control was the cost of dinner.

I’ve never had a problem that couldn’t be solved by reading a book, so I decided to see if MFK Fisher had any helpful hints for me. Her 1942 classic, How to Cook a Wolf, was written during the Second World War, when even people who could afford food couldn’t necessarily find fresh eggs and meat at the grocery store, even without rationing. Maybe pretending the more expensive food in the supermarket didn’t exist could be an effective savings tactic.

I’d picked up the book years earlier at a used bookstore as part of The Art of Eating, a compilation of five of Fisher’s books. (The title How to Cook a Wolf refers to the wolf at the door and is not a suggestion to make a stew from that critter you just shot from a helicopter.)

All I remembered from my first reading was Fisher’s sludge of last resort, described in the chapter, “How to Keep Alive.” Rather than starve, she recommended dining on a mush of ground beef, cereal and whatever vegetables were cheapest. She claimed that not only would this concoction sustain life, but that the fried leftovers even tasted good. I briefly considered whipping some up just to see the look on my husband’s face when I dished it up. But that would mean having to eat the ridiculous stuff. Besides, unlike wartime housewives, I could fall back on fast food dollar menus, which are more appetizing, if not more nutritious. I decided to pass.

It’s just as well that I decided against it—later on she suggested using the sludge as dog food.

Still, I wanted to save money for all those flights to visit the in-laws without resorting to a daily dose of chicken nuggets, so I began rereading and marking up the book, seeking helpful hints and supercheap recipes. Between her conversational tone and desire for my well-being, I was talking to her in my head by the end of the first chapter. “Good idea, Mary Frances.” “What were you thinking, Mary Frances?” “How adorable that you’re suggesting I save fuel by cooking my food in a crate stuffed with hay, Mary Frances.” (Her own 1951 updates to the book smirk at that one, though I kinda wanna try it now.)

Her recipe for salmon pancake reminded me of the salmon cakes my mom and aunt would whip up on camping trips. I added canned salmon to the shopping list, even though I wasn’t sure my local supermarket had any. Once I looked past the two shelves of canned tuna, I discovered half a dozen brands of canned salmon, plus canned baby shrimps, clams and sardines. “Thanks, Mary Frances,” I thought cheerily as I contemplated the possibilities. Along with the salmon, I got a can of shrimp for shrimp cocktail, made a mental note to find a clam chowder recipe and renewed my conviction never to eat sardines.

On my way home, I checked the receipt. One can of environmentally sustainable, low mercury wild Alaskan salmon, large enough to feed two people, cost less than three dollars. I could buy seven cans for what I usually paid for two filets. I was saving a fortune.

At home, I smugly opened and drained the can and dumped the fish into a bowl. I then realized why I’d always been sent outside when my mom and aunt made salmon cakes. I’d heard to expect skin and short prickly bones, but vertebrae? Really, Mary Frances? I was sensing a secret plot to save my money by turning me into a vegetarian. I practically heard her talk back, “Stop being so prissy.”

This is a woman who included a recipe for calves’ brains because she thought it was silly not to eat the less popular parts of animals. After reading about her culinary adventures, dinner parties, and fascinating friends, I wanted to be the sort of person who she would’ve liked. But my social conditioning about what was edible was more powerful than my desire to pass muster with someone who passed away in 1992.

After a quick consultation with the Internet, I knew that the canning process had cooked and softened the skin and bones. I could mash them into the fish and eat them without even noticing they were there.  But I’d know they were there and find myself completely unable to swallow.

I decided I’d rather be a hypocritical sissy carnivore than knowingly eat fish bones. Mary Frances would’ve been so disappointed in me, but I was too busy trying not to gag to care.

After diligently picking out the skin and bones, I added two eggs to the salmon, just like Mary Frances told me to. But as I started mixing, it seemed that there was entirely too much egg in the bowl. Only then did it occur to me that 65 years ago, no one had even dreamed of Jumbo sized eggs and that I should’ve adjusted the recipe by adding only one. I mixed in a ridiculous amount of breadcrumbs (homemade in the food processor from stale bread—Mary Frances would be proud) to keep the mixture from turning into a giant fish omelet while glaring at the book on my kitchen counter.

“I am a good cook, Mary Frances,” I muttered as I stirred. ”Stop trying to trip me up by assuming I’m using oldfangled small eggs.”

The recipe said to make one large pancake instead of smaller cakes, which would be easier to flip. I decided to avert disaster by making four little ones.

“Take that, Mary Frances,” I said triumphantly to her portrait on the book cover.

I served them up with some couscous and homemade tartar sauce and enjoyed every bite. 

My husband, whom I’d banished from the kitchen so he wouldn’t see the bones and start refusing to eat seafood, asked me to make it again soon.

I went online the next day to confirm the existence of boneless, skinless canned salmon (available only in the past 10 years or so) and I started looking for it in my local supermarkets. I could’ve ordered a dozen cans online, but I doubted Mary Frances would approve of my paying for shipping and handling.

Later in the week, I attempted her clam chowder. The recipe is simple and straightforward and calls for so much bacon that she should’ve called it bacon chowder. After polishing off the first bowl, I grabbed a pencil and made a note to use two ounces of bacon the next time instead of the whopping half pound she calls for. It made sense that eggs had gotten bigger since 1942, but had bacon gotten more bacony in the intervening years?

Her Parisian Onion Soup was easy to make and stood up to my memories of eating some in a café near a friend’s apartment in the 20th arrondissement.

Intoxicated with success, I decided to try her gazpacho, even though I’ve never eaten gazpacho and had no idea how it was supposed to taste or if I’d like it. After chopping vegetables for an hour, I could only force down half a bowl. I wasn’t sure if I’d used too much cucumber or not enough garlic for my taste, but the flavor was just wrong. I’d never be able to face Mary Frances again if I threw it out and let all that food go to waste. My husband had the idea to boil it down into pasta sauce, and, with the addition of an excessive amount of garlic and oregano, it was palatable, but not the sort of culinary triumph that I knew Mary Frances expected of me.

I consoled myself with the thought that it was still better tasting than the sludge would’ve been.

I needed a few weeks to recover until a repeat of the onion soup restored my faith in my ability. After that, armed with slightly more expensive, bone-free cans of salmon, I only had to check the recipe once to whip up salmon pancakes. Using only one egg this time, I needed a mere two spoonfuls of breadcrumbs and finished cooking without a single moment of panic or trepidation.

I felt so proud. Making fish at home used to require so much planning and precision. It would mean a trip to the fish market on the way home from work and no last minute menu changes, because that meant risking $20 of fish going bad in the refrigerator overnight. But now I could keep cans in the house and make it at the last minute with barely an advance thought.


I couldn’t quite believe it, but a cookbook from the 1940s had given me convenience on top of cost savings. I felt so empowered. I knew Mary Frances would approve.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Who Would You Poison & What Food Would You Use?

This post originally appeared on my defunct food writing blog, The Famished Freelancer, on 11/26/13.


Poison
Photo credit: Andrew Kuznetsov
A friend of mine shared this news story with me about a teaching assistant who tried to poison a couple of teachers (on multiple occasions) with sleeping pills in cream puffs. 

My first thought is that's a terrible waste of cream puffs. They're really tasty, and not that easy to make. When Beard Papa, the Japanese cream puff chain came to NYC, they had all these complicated instructions - refrigerate them if you're not going eat them within 30 minutes. And definitely eat them within a day. But really, eat them right away for maximum yumminess.

Defusing a bomb is easier than taking cream puffs anywhere.

Now, if I were the homicidal type, I'd probably go with co-workers. (And that's how you know this is an entirely hypothetical discussion - I've never had a co-worker pass away while we were working together.) But we usually only see co-workers in the context of the office, so it's far too easy to decide that certain people are complete wastes of space, who must be destroyed because God knows they're never going to be fired. 

Every office has them: The one guy who does nothing all day. The guy who gets ahead simply because he has good hair. The senior manager who makes everyone's jobs miserable because they don't actually understand how the department works. The person who is in way over their head because of The Peter Principle, and instead of asking for help, they're just nasty to everyone.

Within the work environment, these people are The Worst, and your friendly neighborhood psychopath could easily decide that their deaths would be for the greater good. 

Of course, outside of work they may be perfectly lovely people who make their families happy, which is why we don't go around murdering our obnoxious co-workers. 

Also, they could totally murder us back, which would take all the fun out of it.

But we're playing a game, so let's pick a food to contain the poison. Because cream puffs? How would that even work? Whip the poison into the cream? It takes long enough to make cream puffs that only a really dedicated murderer wouldn't change their mind by the time the cream puffs were finished. And then you'd be stuck with poison cream puffs. 

If I'm going to go to the effort of making cream puffs, I'm going to want to eat them.

So cream puffs are out.

Maybe cookies. They come together pretty quickly. You could make two batches - one regular, one poison. That way you could take them into the office and the non-victims wouldn't be all, "hey, why don't I get cookie?"

Bagels are popular office food, so maybe poison cream cheese. What could be easier than tossing some cream cheese and poison into the stand mixer? (Besides serving non-poisonous cream cheese, of course.)

OK, now you play. You don't have to be a murderer to know that cream puffs are a stupid way to try to kill someone. So how would you do it? And if you're having trouble getting into it, just imagine that you'd be poisoning Joffrey Baratheon from Game of Thrones. That guy really is The Worst.

Months-old spoiler alert: I haven't read the books, so when I wrote this, I had no idea that Joffrey was going to get poisoned. Poison in the wine glass - what a classic.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Imaginary Mexican Lasagna

This post originally appeared on The Famished Freelancer on 11/19/13


I used to make a dish called Mexican Lasagna pretty regularly. It was one of those casseroles in Cooking Light magazine that you an throw together by opening a bunch of cans. Perfect for someone like myself back then with barely any time to cook dinner. At the time, I was commuting an hour and fifteen minutes each way, then volunteering in the local volunteer fire department/ambulance squad. 

So quick meals - yay!

I remember telling my then boyfriend about Mexican Lasagna. Either I was suggesting making it for us, or I already had. His response? "There's no such thing."

Yes, J was the sort of guy who could deny the existence of food on a plate in front of him, and no, I don't have an explanation for why I was dating him that doesn't make me sound like a schmuck.


He wasn't saying that the dish lacked cultural authenticity. I mean, he was, but he was also denying this dish's right to exist because...I'm not sure. Because he'd never heard of it, I guess. He had no objections to eating Chinese takeout, and most of those dishes are American inventions. Just like most "Mexican" food we eat in the States.

He asked to borrow the recipe (which I had ripped out of the magazine), so he could show a Mexican-American co-worker. She also had never heard of Mexican Lasagna, and I never got the recipe back. 

So as far as I was concerned, it didn't exist anymore because I couldn't make it.

I'd actually have more respect for the guy if I thought that was part of his plan. The dish didn't exist as far as he was concerned, so he made sure that it didn't.


Since then, Cooking Light has made their recipe archives available online. So I can now make Mexican Lasagna again. I printed out the recipe, bought the ingredients, whipped it up, and expected it to taste like triumph.

Instead, it tasted like disappointment. And a little like self-punishment. 

Maybe I should've drained the diced tomatoes first. And pureed the hell out of them because I'm not that crazy about diced tomatoes. Maybe it's because Cooking Light's La Bamba casserole is a more satisfying execution of the same concept, and now this earlier version pales in comparison. Maybe there's a lesson in there about how I can't recapture the past. Or that I don't want to, since that past included judging food based on calories instead of taste, and weeping while I worked out because I was overdoing it, but if I didn't, no one would ever love me.

And that's what the Mexican Lasagna tasted like - the pale imitation of life I was living while I was waiting to be thin enough to start living for realsies. 

That's not to say you won't like it, since you don't have the same connections. And maybe you like diced tomatoes more than I do. Hell, maybe even I'd enjoy it better on a hot summer day when I didn't want anything too heavy.

But I probably won't try it again. There are enough recipes combining beans, cheese and tortillas that there's no reason to stick with one that doesn't rock my world. I thought I'd be reclaiming something that my long ago ex took from me. Instead, I discovered that I'd only been missing it on principle. I had no memory of the actual dish. I would've stopped making it long ago, even if he hadn't swiped the recipe. 

I guess my point is that even when we can reclaim what we've lost, it can turn out that it wasn't that great in the first place.




Do you have a dish that you went back to after a few years that disappointed you?

Thursday, March 5, 2015

My Family, Ladies and Gentlemen

As you know, my sister-in-law is with child. She and my brother make stuff from wood. Also, they don't live anywhere near most of the rest of the family. That's about all the context you need to understand this recent Facebook conversation (comments by saner people omitted):






My family, ladies and gentlemen.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Life is Just So Fucking Inconvenient

This is pretty much how my bathroom
ceiling looks.
I've realized that my life isn't hard so much as it is inconvenient. Also that complaining about how "fucking hard" your life gets you a lot of blog traffic from some very disappointed people.

Examples:

The closest drug store to my house has many shades of home hair dye. Unless you want to go red. So I have to go to the second closest drug store, which is a far enough away that walking there constitutes all the walking I can handle in a day. So the trip takes planning. Or my mom can pick it up for me at her local, but then we have to time our visits around my hair dying schedule.

or

There has been a hole in my bathroom ceiling since late November/early December. The bathtub fixtures in the apartment upstairs is leaking. For the second time in 4 years. The repair guy opened the ceiling to find out what the problem was, and covered the hole in plastic so water wouldn't drip on us when we showered. He needed the super to confirm his diagnosis so he could fix it. This never happened and I decided to let it go until after the holidays. During this time, the plastic would fill with water and it became a daily ritual to push up on the plastic with a mop so the water would fall down around the sides of the plastic. Otherwise, the weight of the water might have pulled the plastic and the rest of the ceiling down.

And then we developed a leak under the kitchen sink. The super gave my urgent repair request to the repair guy 4 days after I submitted it. The repair guy came as soon as he got it. While he was here, he took down the plastic in the bathroom and re-assessed the leak. As if it might have magically fixed itself. It didn't. Apparently, things have been sliding enough that the repair guy can now take action on his own. Sadly, this includes bringing in the plumber, so who knows when that will happen.

But the ceiling is now open. So I can't shower if Stompy Upstairs Neighbor is also showering. Unless I want cold water dripping on me mid-shower.

The other day, I overslept and had to shower, eat lunch and do some other stuff all in one hour before a conference call. I'd be rushed, but it was doable. Except that Stompy decided to take a shower at 1pm. Now, I have a chronic pain condition, so I keep erratic hours, but Stompy? The only time I've ever been awake and not heard someone moving upstairs is between 3 and 4 am. There's plenty of time when he's awake and could shower, but he had to do it exactly then. Which wouldn't matter except for the leak. Which I imagine is caused by him being rough when he turns the faucet on and off. Otherwise, why would it start leaking again so soon after the last repair?

I dunno. I just really hate that guy and feel that he's probably to blame.

or

Lemons give me migraines. So I don't eat them. Did you know that most commercially available mayonnaise contains lemon juice? Most of the time I make my own, which is exactly the sort of thing a chronically ill person has the time and energy for. Miracle Whip doesn't have lemons, but it tastes ew. Ditto for the one brand in the spanish foods section that's made with lime juice. There are a couple of organic brands that don't have lemon juice. but they do include honey, which I'm flat out allergic to. And how bad must it taste if they feel the need to sweeten it? It's mayonnaise for fuck's sake.

There's one kosher brand that has no lemons and tastes good. And is damn near impossible to find. A local supermarket has is sometimes, but they're under new management and may not be ordering it at all. I was able to order some from Fresh Direct, but they've had it marked as unavailable for months now. I checked with customer service and they plan to get it again, otherwise it wouldn't appear online at all. 

But like all online retailers, Fresh Direct sends me almost daily emails trying to get me to place another order. They're all, "hey buddy, have some free delivery". And so every few days I click on a link in an email and check to see if my new fave mayo is in stock yet. Which it hasn't been in forevahs. Do they have an option to request email notification when an item comes in? No, they do not.

Purchasing condiments should be much easier than this, don't you think?

Your turn. What in your life is excessively inconvenient?

Thursday, February 26, 2015

UFOs No More

Every knitter has a few unfinished projects shoved in a closet. We lose interest, or maybe it's just not turning out right and we can't bring ourselves to unravel the damn thing just yet. So we shove the thing away and never look at it again.

Some knitters wisely go through their UFOs (UnFinished Objects) and deal with them every now and then. But, as with everything else in life, most of us die with unfinished projects. Our loved ones don't know what to do with them either, and so the UFOs remain stashed away somewhere.

Until decades later, when some poor knitter inherits it all along with ancient yarn and needles and notions. This knitter also leaves the UFOs untouched for years because of course no one ever stores the patterns with the damn things, so it's impossible to figure out what it was supposed to be.

Then one day, the knitter screws up her courage and discovers that some of the things are close to being finished.

So she finishes them.

And this is how I was able to give my brother and sister-in-law baby shower gifts from both our grandmothers.

One died 20 years ago, the other 40 years ago. The state of yarn being what it was in the 70s, 80s and early 90s, the acrylic projects are better suited for doll clothes than baby clothes, but I have no doubt my impending niece will be subjected to them for a brief photo op. 

More importantly, my super surprise mystery gifts* made people cry. I win! I win at presents!

* My mother had seen the patterns for the things I knitted from scratch, but no one knew the grandma presents existed until they were unwrapped.

And now the pictures:

My maternal grandmother (who died in the 90s) made this. All it needed was the button band. There was also one (1) baby bootie with it and something that was almost a hat, but not quite. Since I couldn't figure out how to finish the hat, I repurposed that yarn. Buttons are from Grandma's button stash. I gave them the bootie too since they have slightly more use for a lone bootie than I do. The cool that ends up wearing the sweater can also wear the bootie.


A baby bikini! Made by the same grandmother. Apparently, it's not the only one she made. Because why make one baby bikini when you can make 3 or 4. It was finished except for the weaving in of loose ends. I lengthened the ties because they seemed a little short. It's acrylic, so I can't imagine the baby comfortably swimming in it. But I can't stop picturing this outfit on a teddy bear because it would be so wonderfully wrong.


My paternal grandmother, who died in the 70s, set out to crochet a tablecloth.  I've stopped crocheting since you actually have to look at it (as opposed to knitting, which can be done by feel most of the time) and my poor vision just can't deal with it. This work is so fine that I'm relieved to know better than to try to continue it. She stopped when it was about baby blanket size. It's cotton and machine washable, so why not wrap a baby in it? All I had to do was finish off the one live stitch, weave in the end and throw it in the washing machine. Booyah.


Grandma #1 also made this weird random thing. The council of aunties determined that it was an egg cozy, meant to be placed over an egg on Easter. The ears don't stand up on their own, so until very recently, I thought it was a sheep. But it's a bunny.


My brother and sister-in-law beholding the wee tininess of the wee tiny sweater. Just like I did every time I picked up the sweater while I was working on it. 

BTW, this was not at the actual baby shower, but at the pizza dinner the night before. They live in Texas, so NY pizza had to happen. I gave these gifts early because I'm not an asshole. How is anyone supposed to follow up, "Here's a handmade gift from your long dead grandmother," with "hey, I bought you some onesies"?


There was, of course, a diaper cake at the baby shower proper. The addition of little cardboard baby feet made it look like the diaper cake was eating babies. Because a diaper cake isn't weird enough on its own. I had a picture of the whole diaper cake, but my phone seems to have deleted it because that shit's just freaky.


This one I made. It's the rainbow chain carriage blanket, made to match the pictures, not the pattern since even the corrected pattern doesn't match what the designer actually made. I made it with dishcloth cotton for maximum color choices and maximum tolerance for being spit up on.


And this is Anouk, a clever and adorable pinafore designed by Kate Gilbert. I've wanted to knit this since I first saw the pattern 10 years ago. It's open on the sides so that the baby has room to grow. It starts as a dress and can be worn as a tunic as the baby gets bigger. I used vintage butterfly buttons I bought at a shop in St. Louis.


Now I really need to go through my own UFOs. None of them are worthy of Gift From the Great Beyond status. And no one should be stuck figuring out what to do with the partial child's vest I stopped knitting because the yarn was just too awful to force anyone to wear. The pieces may work as microfiber cloths for cleaning up the kitchen counter. And no one is going to do that with the knitting of a dead woman.