Happy Birthday, Mr President

Right off the bat, HAPPY HOLIDAYS! I know mine were fantastic, filled with family and presents and food and fresh blankets of snow. I hope yours went equally swimmingly, and that you’re returning to the interwebs refreshed and full of vivre for the new year to come.

We just got back the other day, and have been in a sort of self-absorbed coma trying to regain our equilibrium. It’s quite the shock to return from the fun of Colorado house-hunting, family time, snowshoeing, and watching Willie romp in the snow to the drear of a silent house in Texas. One that needs cleaned, and has a dried-out Christmas tree shedding needles all over the dining room carpet. So much WORK.

So I’ve ignored the work for the past couple days. I’ve made due with Chipotle and PeiWei and microwave Amy’s Organic burritos (delicious). I’ve played a lot of video games, and I’ve gotten 10 hours of sleep a night, or so. I’ve worn nothing but pajamas, and haven’t put on makeup.

Until today. Today I had the pleasure of driving down to WhoFo for fresh produce and dairy (can’t live on frozen burritos for too long, or you’ll get scurvy or something). I love WhoFo, and they had fresh truffles, again, which fill me with something like oxytocin, or the “bonding hormone.”

But then I had to go over to the base to get my bacon fever vaccine (H1N1). I’ve been really eager to get it, since I like to imagine myself surviving various outbreaks of disease that wipe out entire populations. Robert Malthus has predicted it so. Plus, I found out there is a nasal spray version, and that seals the deal.

I don’t do needles. Never have. There is a hole in the bathroom door at my parents’ house from the last time I was almost tricked into going to the doctor for a booster shot, and I had to kick it to make my point. I think that was 8th grade, maybe. I’m still reduced to tears by any potential blood draw or needle stick or finger prick that is suggested to me. Actual, sobbing, semi-hysterical tears.

So I cheerfully waited in my husband’s office while he grabbed the nasal spray, which I administered to myself because I have a firm believe that bodily functions, including any potential nose-running, should in no way involve the knowledge of my spouse. No way was I letting him shoot liquid into my nose, nor was I planning on waiting in the crazy line at the actual shot clinic. I got my things to leave while he entered confirmation of my vaccination into the computer system.

Imagine my dismay when he said “about your tetanus vaccine…have you had one in the last ten years?” He knows damned well I haven’t. He knows that I cannot remember the last time I had a tetanus vaccine, and that it was probably 15 years ago at minimum. This is something we’ve argued about since we met. He thinks I should be current on tetanus, and I think it’d be lovely to have lockjaw because I’d probably lose weight. I also think it’d be lovely not to get the vaccine that has been voted “most painful” by basically everyone in the universe. He looked at me hopefully, and I acquiesced, thinking I might as well do it while I was all psyched up and already at the clinic and before I could chicken out. Piss.

Immunological rape, that’s what it is. When you show up expecting a harmless nasal mist and instead get toxic, painful fluid shot into your tricep. Not okay.

So now I’m sitting in my house, cradling my arm like a five year old after a skiing accident, and waiting for the pain to kick in fully. It’s been twinging since before I even got the vaccine.

While I wait it out, I figure it’d behoove me to throw down some facts about food in the Quantico region of the US, since I had promised my lil’ bro, and I’ve almost entirely lost interest in that project. I’ve got cool new Christmas gadgets to play with and blog about!

Anyway, since Washington, D.C. is a possible next base for us, and since Quantico is where my brother will definitely be, since he’s ignoring our recommendations to run away from the military as fast as his legs will carry him, before he commissions, I would be remiss in my duties if I didn’t examine the food scene a little.

First thing’s first: Washington D.C. is like a big neon sign that blinks in a bar window, saying “Terrorists: stop here!” Any time I spend living there, outside of the odd vacation, is the safety equivalent of giving Osama Bin Laden a lap dance with “Hooray America!” nipple tassels stuck to my chest. I would spend the entire four year stint being terrified every time I heard a plane or a siren or an old beater car backfiring in the street three miles away. And maybe any time the icemaker in the fridge dropped some fresh cubes.

That said, there is some hella food in D.C. And Quantico is less than an hour from D.C. To review the food scene at actual Quantico would involve me listing the number of Burger Kings and Godfather’s Pizzas they had on base, which would bore both of us. Internet reviews also suggest there is a “Command Post Pub” and “General Java,” which would be sad were it not quite so hilariously representative of the entire military base culture of pumping themselves up and giving themselves the reacharound. Basically, “Amurrica, FUCK YEAH!” It’s how they compensate for the sheer number of devastatingly low ASVAB scores.

Anyway, I have faith that my bro will be able to trek away from base for some remarkable grub. And I know that I would do the same. Grocery shopping can take place in WhoFo, Dean and Deluca, Roots, and Bloom. There are farmers markets coming out the kazoo, and to be totally honest, Baltimore isn’t that far away either. An hour and a half. Which means I fully expect an awesome Ace of Cakes cake at some point while he’s stationed there. Or every Saturday, if we’re stationed there.

It’d be difficult to justify cooking at home, though, for two reasons.

1) D.C. hosts a number of fantastic restaurants, including CityZen, L’Auberge Provencial, TenPenh, and the Capitol Grille. And if famous restaurants aren’t your thing, consider the ethnic diversity of the city. You could trip on a stray sesame seed outside a chinese restaurant, only to land with your feet at the door of an Indonesian Bistro and your face smashing the concrete outside a Scandinavian breakfast spot. I can’t think of a cooler food surrounding, really, than to have access to every ethnic cuisine imaginable, as well as the ingredients to make it at home. You’d be hard-pressed to find it outside of major metropolises.

2) The houses are laughably tiny. Seriously. A $420000 house in a decent location will give you 3 bedrooms and two baths in a tiny condo, with a crockpot plugged into a closet for the kitchen. You may or may not have a roof, but that roof won’t protect you when the terrorists come anyway, so you can just let that dream die. It’s awesome. I guess the assumption is that most people in the D.C. area will be far too busy doing important things like legislating and lobbying and cupping the balls of old, right-wing senators while they preach about the sanctity of marriage to spend any time in their actual homes.

Despite both of these downfalls, it was EASY to find a representative recipe for the region, and it was damned delicious if you want my humbug opinion.

Senate Bean Soup

1 smoked ham hock or, better yet, shank
2 lbs navy beans or great northern beans, rinsed, sorted, and soaked
4 qts water
1 onion, diced
1 medium carrot, diced
1/2 t thyme
s and p to taste

Simmer ham hock or shank with water and pre-soaked beans until the beans are just tender (about 2 hours). Brown the onion and carrot together in butter, and add to the soup. Remove ham and pull the meat off into bite-sized pieces. Set the bone aside, if you wish, for another time. It can be reused to make ham stock. The meat should go right back in the soup. Add thyme, salt and pepper and simmer another 15 minutes. Serve with crusty bread and a salad.

Easy, right? And relatively low-calorie. It fills you up with protein and fiber, but is mostly liquid and bean so won’t make you chunk out like a jar of Jiffy peanut butter. The ham is delicious, and really assertive, but the little shreds of meat aren’t substantial enough to add much to the final calorie count. I know, you don’t care. But it’s nice to know sometimes, right? So you can polish off a bottle of white with your meal and be like, “I’m totally still at a calorie deficit, because I’m basically eating bean water.”

Senate bean soup was invented at the Senate cafeteria, and has achieved notoriety from either Senator Frank Dubois of Idaho or Senator Joseph G. Cannon–there’s some debate–walking into the cafeteria and saying “Thunderation, I had my mouth set for bean soup! From now on, hot or cold, rain, snow or shine, I want it on the menu every day.” What we can really learn from this is that “Thunderation” is an AWESOME swear word. And that senators get whatever the hell they please, despite being unable to enact any real change because of interparty bickering and general ne’erdowellingness. But bean soup remains delicious.

So whomever is stationed in or near D.C., be sure to get some authentic bean soup, or make it at home and then go out and get something at least remotely interesting to eat. Probably from the Scandy restaurant. Go Nordies!

Pros and Cons of D.C. area

Pro: Lots of great grocery stores
Con: Pantry is so small that Harry Potter would reject it as a sleeping cupboard

Pro: Lots of great restaurants from which to chose
Con: You probably can’t even get IN to a McDonalds without wearing Dolce and Gabbana, as I’ve heard it’s a pretty dressy city who may not appreciate my version of dressy is when my sweatpants are Abercrombie instead of Nike.

Pro: Interesting mix of people who can each contribute some great ideas and diversity to your personal global view
Con: Terr-rists.

Pro: Culturally rich epicenter of US History
Con: Terr-rists.

Pro: Multiple opportunities to make out with Obama, who is still kind of a babe for being a president, and also is just a good person whom I adore
Con: Terr-rists.

So, D.C. Rock on with your bad self. You’ll be hearing from my brother soon, and possibly from me. He’ll be at Quantico, and I’ll be in a bunker somewhere, far beneath the city, trying to get Dean and Deluca to deliver me ham shanks for my soup.

Guantanamooooo

There are SO many presents in this house that need to be wrapped. It’s ridiculous. The dining room table, which is no small hunk of wood, is completely obscured by a mound of shopping bags, each containing one or more Christmas gifts that must be wrapped, packed, and loaded into the car. And I don’t really like wrapping gifts. I know that some people say that it’s soothing or exciting, but for me it seems like such an exercise in waste. It’s taking enormous quantities of bleached paper, died with toxic chemicals, and then wrapping them around gifts that are likely already in boxes, just so they can be ripped open days later and have all of the paper thrown into the recycling bin.

What’s worse, it really appeals to the meticulous nature of people, with all of the creasing and measuring and smooth cuts. And I do not have that nature as a part of my personality. In each cut of the paper, midway through, I just start ramming the scissors through as fast as I can, invariably leaving a sheet of wrapping paper that is half smooth elegance, and half ugly mess that looks like I chewed through it. Usually about 1/3 of my gifts have tape just wrapped around a crumpled wad of paper, mummy-style, over and over. My ham-handed attempts at creasing really just kind of mush extra paper into clumps that can be easily taped-over. It’s no good.

And if I do ribbon, which I sometimes do, my cat eats the ribbon the second my back is turned and then vomits lengths of it up on whatever spare surface he can find. Because he’s an asshole, and he really loves Christmas.

That’s not to say I don’t participate. Despite all of my misgivings about wrapping, I have also seen the alternative. My brother is also not a big fan of wrapping, and usually waits until we’re all opening gifts under the tree to run up to his room, extract a gift and a plastic grocery bag, and then stick the gift in the sack and hold it behind his back to give when he gets downstairs. It’s adorable, but because I’m a girl, I’m not allowed to do that. Except this year, I convinced Chris that for OUR Christmas, we’d be able to do the same thing. I also said it’d be okay to wrap gifts in t-shirts that are waiting to hit the washing machine. Classy girl. But for our family Christmases, we’ll be wrapping Mount Gift all afternoon and through the night.

I don’t even remember how many gifts there are. I learned a habit from my mother which involves stockpiling gifts from sales and clearance racks all year long in a closet somewhere, then unearthing them the week of Christmas. Then forgetting where I hid some of them, and finding the lost gifts in July of the next year.

We leave for Colorado when it’s still dark tomorrow morning. I am SO excited, but it doesn’t give me a whole lot of wiggle room on when these gifts finally get wrapped. It’s today or not at all.

So with all of the commotion and hustle and bustle of Christmas, you’ll have to forgive me for getting slightly off track with the daily posts. I do have things to write about, just no time to write about them. Yesterday I catered a lunch for fourteen people, which is no big deal except for that they wanted lo mein, which is an a la minute preparation. So I stir-fried lo mein with various proteins 14 times in a single kitchen in a 20 minute time frame. And then I spent the afternoon cleaning garlic sauce off of the ceiling. It’s nice to make some extra money around the holidays, but I have yet to figure out how much I actually made, if I’m counting dollar-per-unit-of-frazzled.

I have to write about Quantico for my brother, and I’ve already even made the meal in question, but the writing about it is going to have to wait for another day. It may be that I have time in Colorado, or it may have to wait until we return home. I promise, it’s coming.

Today, I have to wrap and pack and mentally prepare my dog for the world’s longest car ride in a Honda Civic with two cranky adults and five thousand individually wrapped gifts and probably a cooler of sammiches so I don’t have to stop and eat fast food on the way. I haven’t had a fast food hamburger/sausage biscuit/chicken sammich in about two years, and I’m not about to start now. It took some doing to break the fast food habit, and now I’m completely grossed out by the idea of it. And 7-11 fare? Arguably worse, except that they have bags of Sun Chips and granola bars and stuff that I will cheerfully maw down should the cause arise.

Our housesitters get to deal with all the cat vomit. I rewarded them by hand-making a box of chocolates including fondants and caramels and other wildly labor-intensive treats. When will I realize that chocolate-making is actually far more work than it ends up being worth? WHEN??

Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Joyous Kwanzaa, Diwali, belated-Ramadan, and any other religious or non-religious themed holiday that I might have missed.

Peace out.

Meh, pie

The ocean scares the shit out of me. It’s unbecomingly large, powerful, filled with violent predators like sharks and jellyfish, salty, angry, and requires me to don a swimsuit, which I hate. Because even on the *rare* days where my abs are behaving themselves, I’m constantly worried that the bottoms are going to wedge themselves between my butt-halves or a titty is going to pop out of left field when I reach over to grab my margarita or someone will show up at the beach in the same swimsuit I’m wearing, but will look way, way better, and then I’ll have to slit my wrists with a sharp shell that may or may not still house a hermit crab.

When hurricane Katrina happened, I was very, very sad for all those suffering people. I was markedly sadder for all the suffering pets, but that’s just a side effect of my pet-centric sociopathy. I did feel, however, a very strong sense of “I TOLD you this would happen.” I’ve been warning anyone who would listen about the ocean for a long, long time. “It’s dangerous,” I’d say. “It wants to kill you. It wants to blow you around with hurricanes and swallow you with a giant tsunami and unleash jellyfish onto your legs, and they’re invisible, which is completely unfair because how many other predators are invisible? Besides viruses and bacteria and fungi, I mean. NONE. That’s how many.”

I’ve remained comfortably landlocked for as long as I can remember. When hurricane Ike came sweeping through Texas, I listened to the reports very carefully, finding out that we’re too far inland to experience much more than a fairly intense rain. I liked that.

But now my landlocked status is being threatened directly from multiple sides. The worst of which is not only an oceanic threat, but a GULF COAST oceanic threat, and I’m pretty sure the gulf coast is the worst coast for hurricanery.

What adds insult to substantial injury is that the base I’m discussing is a giant bunghole even when it’s NOT being attacked by giant bodies of water. I’m looking at you, Keesler Air Force Base.

BILOXI, MISSISSIPPI

Can you IMAGINE? No, you can’t. Not unless you’ve lived there. But let’s try to paint a picture for you, shall we?

First, the food scene. There does appear to be a food scene of some sorts down in Biloxi. And it centers on two basic principles.

A) Things that are fried
B) Things that can swim

There is an active fishing community, including sportfishing, and when they’ve caught things, they take them to shore and batter them and fry them. And then they win awards like “biggest fish” or “most successful catch” or “most obese state in the history of the United States of America.” No, I’m not making that up.

What a gifted state.

But surely there are some other things to keep me occupied in the area, right? Like, oh, say…gambling? Yeah. TONS of gambling in Biloxi. It’s like Vegas if Vegas got cheap and moldy and smelled like fried fish. I’ve never gambled. Not out of virtue or anything, but more because I prefer to spend money on tangible things and also I hate playing cards so, so, so much. Like, I’d rather spend an evening participating in major acts of arson than sit down for a “poker night.”

Here’s to hoping that the blanket of casinos in Biloxi have at least given rise to some decent Vegas-style restaurants.

Real estate in Biloxi is almost too depressing to mention. There are plenty of grand, sprawling antebellum homes to be had, but so many of them were just gutted by hurricane Katrina, and now they’re building these high-rise apartment buildings, and EW. EWewewewew.

The nearest Whole Foods to Biloxi is 80 miles away. EIGHTY MILES. In a different state. There are three Wal-Marts within 10 miles. Can souls bleed? Because mine is right now.

When I tried to find out what foods I could make that were native to Biloxi, or at least Mississippi, it was one giant FAIL. Everything was fried-catfish-this and po-boy-that and oyster-this and September-seafood-festival that.

And there’s nothing wrong with those things, if you’re a seafood lover. IF you are a seafood lover. IF.

But I am not, and I didn’t want to cop out and make the good ol’ Louisiana gumbo or traditional southern fried chicken and biscuits. I wanted to make something truly Mississippian.

Two things:

First, every time I have to spell Mississippi, my brain things “em EYE ess ess EYE ess ess EYE pee pee EYE.” That’d drive me to drinking mouthwash after about 2 weeks.

Second, I did make fried chicken using sous-vide a few days ago, and it was FANTASTIC. I marinated boneless, skinless thighs in buttermilk, then dried them off and put them in a plastic bag with butter and Frank’s Red Hot sauce. They went in at 160 F for 4 hours, then got dipped in egg and salted panko crumbs. A brief swim in some 375 F oil and they were golden brown and delicious. The outsides–perfectly crispy. The insides–flavorful and juicy and perfectly done. I ate mine with honey and a salad. It was the best fried chicken I’ve ever had, and it all came from cheapo boneless, skinless thighs.

Back to em EYE ess ess EYE…whatever. I decided to make a Mississippi Mud Pie, both because it didn’t have seafood in it, and also it was not fried. And also it had Mississippi in the name.

Mud pie is basically a semi-liquid brownie in an oreo crust, topped with either frosting or peanut butter or toasted marshmallows. Sometimes there are pecans. It sounds great, right?

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. No. It was not great. Maybe I’m a shitty cook. Maybe my heart wasn’t in it after looking at real estate. Maybe the thought of early-onset diabetes shivered my timbers. But I didn’t like it.

I didn’t go fancy, but went with the slapdash homey version. There are some versions that involve coffee ice cream and some other business, but everything I read said the authentic stuff was this brownie-like concoction in a crust. I made a crust out of graham crackers and cocoa, since I didn’t have any “chocolate wafer cookies” like it requested. Then I made the filling of egg yolks and butter and chocolate and sugar. Then I baked it until a crust formed on top. I slathered the top with creamy peanut butter, then stuck wads of mini-marshmallows on top to toast. In Colorado, marshmallows dry out, so you have to keep them tightly sealed. In Texas, the humidity is so pervasive that, even tightly sealed, the marshmallows glob together into great hunks of marshmallow. I was drinking wine and watching Criminal Minds on A&E;, so I wasn’t about to start picking individual marshmallow hunks off of the glob. I just stuck wads here and there and then toasted them with the blow torch.

I called Chris over to try the pie with me, and it was the second time in my adult life that I have not finished a dessert. So sweet and cloying that I felt my teeth rotting in my head like a meth addict, and so sticky that the greying stumps of tooth left in my mouth were cemented together. No thank you.

I will happily admit that this was poorly made. But as delicious as “cake in a pie crust” sounds, it really is excessive. Maybe the extra sweetness cuts through the coating of fat in your mouth after eating a meal that consists solely of fried food. I don’t know. But I didn’t like it, and I really, really, really love sugary food.

So, the pros and cons of Mississippi.

Pro: It is in the contiguous United States
Con: Barely. And not anywhere near to home, nor close enough for family to visit

Pro: It has an ocean view
Con: Sometimes that ocean view is extra close because the ocean is coming in through your windows and doors, driven by gale-force winds and spite. “Oh look, honey! We can see the ocean from our front.. *gurglegurgle*

Pro: It has a very pronounced food culture
Con: of foods that I won’t eat

Pro: It is close to New Orleans (about 80 miles)
Con: I don’t care

Pro: It has an active casino nightlife
Con: I’m not a showgirl, my name is not Lola

I’m too emotionally exhausted to think of any more pros. Please, military. Please don’t make me go to Biloxi. Please. Or Alaska. Or Ohio. I’ll be good, I promise. I’ll bake cakes for my soldiers and play Lee Greenwood on repeat and stop plotting with Chris for him to wander the streets in assless chaps in a direct flout of don’t ask, don’t tell. PURLEAAAAASE!

Oh, hi!

When I met Chris, he was very embittered toward the Air Force. I didn’t understand it. Coming from a very pro-militia family, I couldn’t wrap my brain around a military man who didn’t WANT to be a military man. After all, I thought it was all Hoo-rahs and Hoo-yahs and Boo-yas and general chest-bumping enthusiasm for war. What’s more, I didn’t know why he didn’t just GET OUT if he wasn’t in love with his job. It can’t be that hard to leave a job. I’ve been forcefully ejected from plenty of them, sometimes for offenses as grave as showing a sliver of shoulder from a shirt-neck that was askew. And no, I’m not kidding. Working for Seventh Day Adventist organizations isn’t all fun and games and brimming glasses of wine.

It turns out that my adorable, handsome new boyfriend had merely had his fill of living on a particular military base, in a particular city that he hated very, very, very much. And he’d had to live there for the duration of his residency, and it had seared into him some very deep, festering wounds. That city? Dayton, Ohio.

Which brings me to the next possibility on our endless list of giddy housing joy: Dayton, Ohio.

That’s right! Dayton! And it’s a very, very real possibility. Far more likely than Travis AFB in California, which I have on good authority is the CROWN JEWEL OF AIR MOBILITY COMMAND. Balls.

Here’s a fun fact–When Chris and I were not yet being threatened with a return to his geographical nemesis, it was always fun to remind him that he had a faint birthmark shaped exactly like Ohio on his shoulder. That’s the kind of behavior on my part that earned me the moniker of “spiteful girl,” which is how I became “the spiteful chef.” I can only imagine how horrified I would be if I found a birthmark in the shape of Texas on my own personal body. I’d end up in an emergency room, having carved off a hunk of my own skin. It’d take me a while to explain I wasn’t on PCP.

So the familial hatred of Dayton is one of the very first impressions I had of Chris’s past. I knew he’d spent 6 months locked away in Mountain Home, Idaho as a trade for being stationed back in Colorado the first time. What I know of those months is that he played a lot of video games in a dark, military apartment and drank a lot of Cap’n and Coke out of a coffee pitcher, because he had no cups and hated life. But Idaho, he said, was joy unbounded compared to Ohio, especially since he knew he’d be going back to Colorado soon. Where, shortly after returning, he would locate me. And I, my loves, am the CROWN JEWEL OF CHRIS’S MARITAL COMMAND.

So when I think about Dayton, the only thing I really know is that Chris thinks it’s like being stationed in a root canal, only without the benefit of local anesthesia. And I trust Chris’s judgment.

What I know about the food scene is that there isn’t one. Googling Dayton restaurants leaves a distinctly Cracker Barrel-ish impression. Speaking of Dayton Googlin’, Wikipedia has some pretty fascinating, hysterical sentences about Dayton.

“Dayton’s primary nickname is the “Gem City”. The origin of the name is no longer clear”

Uh…lolz? Translation: “at some point, somebody thought this city was awesome, but now we can’t figure out, using the collective genius of almost 2 BILLION internet users, why anybody would say this city was a gem.”

“In 2008, Forbes magazine included Dayton on its list of the ‘Fastest Dying Cities’ in America”

translation: “Dayton wins top honors in major magazine rankings!”

“The region is dominated by a humid continental climate, characterized by hot, muggy summers and cold, dry winters.”

translation: “Fuuuuuuuuck.”
and, this is the ENTIRETY of the section on Dayton’s food scene,

“Dayton is home to a variety of popular pizza chains that have become woven into local culture, the most notable of which are Cassano’s and Marion’s Piazza. Also based in Dayton is the Mexican Restaurant chain Hot Head Burritos, which was ranked by AOL.com in 2009 as one of America’s next big chains. Other Dayton-based food chains are Super Subby’s which specializes in submarine sandwiches and chili, The Flying Pizza which is a New York-style pizza chain,[56] Fricker’s which specializes in chicken wings, and The Submarine House which specializes in submarine sandwiches.”

Translation: “Dayton is a veritable cesspool of fast food and ‘popular’ pizza chains that nobody has ever heard of.”

Please do forgive the mess of punctuation in the above list. My soul has become one of the fastest dying souls in America, having read the Wikipedia stats on my potential new home.

Housing is really a delightful prospect. $420,000 will buy you a 4 bedroom, 4 bathroom, newly renovated, beautiful home with a guest house, swimming pool, private duck pond, gazebo, playground, and 5.4 acres of quite attractive forest. They’re just giving homes away out there. But back to the food.

Now, I could have copped out and made you a sub sammich for your Dayton specialty food. Or I could have cheated and made you food from Cincinnati. They do have some specialty grub there. Their most famous creation is that they put chili on top of spaghetti. And then they top it with cheese. And onions. Not really an innovative food. My mom does that too, on occasion, where she cleans out the fridge and mixes whatever leftovers together and calls it “leftover pie” and none of us kids will eat it because we feel strongly that leftover Chinese food and pickles and meatloaf aren’t ideal bedfellows, and also we are not pregnant.

Not to insult chili on top of spaghetti. If I were stoned off of my ass I’m sure I’d be like “Hell yes! Bring on the chili spaghetti! And also some root beer! And then let’s play MarioKart!” But I’m woefully not stoned, and not planning on becoming so.

So instead I tried to focus on a positive aspect of living in Ohio. I don’t want to be a negative Nellie, or insult the stunningly, gob-stoppingly beautiful installation and people of Wright-Patterson AFB. And I noticed that Dayton is only a hop, skip, and a 5 hour drive to Chicago. And Chicago is AWESOME. And Chicago has a FANTASTIC food scene. And Chicago has fun things to do and culture galore and athletic events and really cool row-houses, and ALINEA.

So I made you a dish out of my Alinea cookbook. Cheating? Absolutely. Comforting? Even more so. Just let me have this one, okay?
Bacon, Butterscotch, Apple, Thyme

Dehydrated Nieman Ranch bacon
Homemade, deeply flavored butterscotch
Apple that was baked, pureed, and dehydrated into fruit leather
Thyme (dried because I forgot to get fresh and I was not about to leave the house in my pajamas)

I put slabs of bacon in my dehydrator, and turned them into delicious jerky

I drizzled them with butterscotch

I cut the apple leather into crude strips and wrapped them around the bacon

I sprinkled the edge with thyme

I laughed

I cried

I swooned

And then I made the leftover butterscotch into ice cream

I also had bacon jerky and Monster for second breakfasts this morning. First breakfasts was Kashi GoLean and blueberries, so I don’t feel too bad.

Now, the pro and con list:

Pro: Chris knows the area well

Con: Chris loathes the area with fiery passion

Pro: Ohio is close to Chicago, which I love

Con: Chris is likely to balk at the idea of a 5 hour commute each way, meaning I will not be living in Chicago.

Pro: There are no polar bears or mudslides

Con: There is absolutely zero scenery, unless you call looking at submarine sammich shops “scenery”

Pro: Very nice homes cost NOTHING

Con: That’s because nobody wants to live there

Pro: Um…uh…

Con: It is literally 1200 miles from my family

Tune in tomorrow for the next installation. I’ll give you a hint: I had to think really hard to avoid having to make oysters for dinner tonight.

So Sous Me

Good heavens, all that talk about moosen and bears and salmon has got my entire system in a paralytic state of fear. Look, I don’t care what anyone says, I would survive for approximately three weeks in Alaska, and then I would probably die of seasonal affective disorder, even if a wild animal didn’t catch me. So let’s write that off, okay? I don’t want to have to have a long distance relationship with my husband, while he shacks up with an arctic wolf (do I mean the animal? Or is that what they call Eskimo women in their forties who wear Bebe Sport sweatpants and hanker after younger men?)

In order to self-soothe, a technique that I have only recently learned, despite all the baby websites who say I should have learned this at 4-6 months, I have chosen to review a location that has some very obvious merit.

Napa Valley.

I’m getting ahead of myself. There isn’t an Air Force base IN Napa Valley. It’s actually just outside of Fairfield, CA. I don’t really know anything about Fairfield, but when I Googled it, two of the first three results had the word “ghetto” in the tagline.

An aside: When I was in culinary school, I did a presentation on a restaurant that was in the ghetto part of San Antonio. When I said so, I was immediately greeted with the shrill, harpy voice of an older woman in my class, notifying me that “ghetto” is all kinds of inappropriate and offensive and blahblahblah. I disagreed, and still do to this day. A ghetto is an actual thing, and this restaurant was in a ghetto. Whatevs.

But after consulting a map, I noted that Napa Valley is 45 minutes away from Travis AFB, and if you think that I’m living near some ghetto-ass military installation when I can live in Napa Valley, then you are clearly smoking drugs and should probably share with the class. I feel strongly that Chris could make a 45 minute commute each way so that we could live somewhere pretty. I’ll even buy him an electric car, so as to minimize the affect of such a commute on the environment.

The benefits of living in Napa Valley are myriad. The weather is gorgeous, there are mountains close-by, there is ocean close-by, there are wineries coming out the wazoo…I mean, it’s a really, really nice location.

And there’s the food. Oh Lord, the food. Farmer’s markets and organic groceries galore! Upscale food boutiques and CSAs and pluck-your-own-grape-a-thons, I could go on and on. On any given morning, I picture myself tromping outside, breathing glorious, semi-dry, temperate air, and plucking a caprese salad off of my caprese bush in the backyard. There are no fire ants in Napa, and the obesity rate is next to nil. Everything is fresh food and health and exercise and beauty. And Michael Doucharello, but I’m pretty sure I could convince Chris to help me TP his house.

The restaurant scene is inSANE down there. I’d be living 30 minutes away from Thomas Keller’s storied restaurant, the French Laundry. A quick commute could land me on the steps of Chez Panisse, Ubuntu, Bouchon. Honestly, it’d be a life of multiple foodgasms on any given day. Drawn out, tantric food sex. My blog would flourish, my abs would flatten, and my hair would always look fantastic (it’s like Narnia up in that mothah).

As for housing, well, you definitely get less for your money. It wasn’t terrible though. $415,000 will buy you a 4 bedroom, 2 bathroom house with just shy of 2000 square feet. The kitchens seem very nice across the board, if a little small. The backyard is green and gorgeous and fenced, and there’s a pretty little garden plot for my dog to destroy. 2000 square feet seems just about right for Chris and me. It’d be much more manageable than the monster we have now. There’s a bedroom in our house right now that has ONLY a Norwegian flag, a small cabinet of blankets, and two 5 lb weights. And a room just for Chris’s transformers. And a man cave for Chris to play video games. You get the picture. It’s a waste of space and air conditioning, but was necessary to get a decent kitchen down here.

Overall, it’d be lovely. But there are some DEFINITE cons, and some of them are deal breakers. The biggest of which being that it’s STILL not Colorado, and I still can’t be there for my family. Which I hate.

But before I list my pros and cons, I did make a meal that seemed fit for a house so close to Thomas Keller’s empire. Thomas Keller is the sous-vide king, so I made a meal that was pretty much all sous-vide, all the time. I’m not going to include the recipe, because most of you don’t do sous-vide cooking at home. The flavor profiles, though, were quite nice, and I think you could recreate them for the most part using traditional kitchen equipment.

The main course was a sous-vide Hudson Valley moulard duck breast, cooked with a nice tawny port, salt, and pepper.

The raw duck breast, halved and scored.


Salted nicely and ready to go in the bag with the port


After 3 hours sous-vide, at 135 F (Keller’s recommended temperature), after which I removed the fat cap, rendered a bit of it down, and then seared the breasts on each side for color and caramelization factor.


See how the meat is cooked perfectly all the way through? Not a morsel of the duck was overcooked, and that makes it really worth the time and effort. My breasts (HA!) cooked while I was at the gym.


I also made a little baggie of garlic cloves in my “good” olive oil. This went into the water bath along with the duck, giving it 3 hours to infuse the oil with lovely, assertive garlic flavor.


The final dish was a creamy polenta, drizzled with garlic oil, draped with gorgeous slabs of duck, bathed in a port wine and duck stock reduction, and paired with artichokes (I used frozen, and didn’t regret it one bit) that had been tossed with that same port wine and duck stock before it reduced into a syrup. The flavors in this dish were incredible.


Dessert was a final experiment. While I played video games online, I allowed a sliced apple to sit in the sous-vide with a few slabs of butter, brown sugar, cinnamon and a touch of salt. The texture of the apples became almost like a firm pudding, but without any mealiness or loss of flavor. Really a nice surprise. I reduced their cooking liquid into a caramel butter of sorts, and drizzled it over the apple. The final touches were a dollop of mascarpone whipped with sugar and vanilla bean and a smattering of miniature amaretti cookies. Mmmmmmmmmmmmm.

I could eat like this every day, were I to live in Napa Valley. So I’ll leave you with a list of pros and cons.

Pro: Napa is gorgeously situated between mountains and the ocean, and has a great climate.
Con: Travis AFB, known as “The Gateway to the Pacific” will soon be the “Ramp into the Pacific, because I am 100% certain that California is going to fall into the ocean soon. It’s like one big natural disaster waiting to happen, and I have a serious fear of natural disasters. Do not talk to me about Yellowstone.

Pro: It is a wealthy, healthy community of beautiful people and beautiful amenities
Con: I would not be able to afford many of these amenities, because, while I am a baller in San Antonio, I would be considered dirt poor in Napa. Keeping up with the Joneses would be basically out of the question. Also, I think I would probably be considered ugly in Napa, unless Chris finds a way to provide me with a plastic surgery budget.

Pro: The access to great food is unparalleled by anything I’ve experienced, including Colorado.

Con: No family and friends to share it with.

Pro: Chris and I would have lots of fun adventures with each other, touring wineries and cycling through meadows and shit.

Con: It’s a much larger military installation, meaning Chris will have to a) go back to being on call occasionally, b) help manage pain-in-the-butt family practice residents, AND c) is at a greater risk of deployment or TDY (which is like a temporary deployment to a different military base, rather than a war).

Pro: Lots of other young, stay-at-home gals.

Con: None of whom would likely “get” my personality.

Pro: When I googled “Wal-mart Napa” to see if I could list “no Wal-Mart” as a pro, the second result (swear to God) was a review of Napa Wal-Mart that began “I was helping a family collect bunny rabbits for Easter to give to children that have cancer…” It’s really sweet if you can get past the glaring grammatical error.

Con: There was actually a result for “Wal-Mart Napa,” instead of Google giving me an error message saying “Uh, WTF? We would never allow such a store to exist in our verdant pasture of a town,” which is what I was hoping for.

Pro: I could probably be happy in Napa, despite all of the cons

Con: IF my family and friends were there. But they’re not. So that’s a big FAIL.

Howdy, Ruskie neighbors!


Back home, in Colorado, where you can climb a snowy mountain without the need for a hat, and the Whole Foods is just 45 minutes away, and also no grizzly bears are trying to have you for snack

The military has been giving me a headache lately. As of July 1, 2010 (which is 212 days away) I will no longer be living in Texas. Joy unbounded, right? Well, yes. But also no. Because I have absolutely no idea where we’re going to be stationed next.

I’d really, really like to go back home to Colorado. I’ve been banking on it pretty heavily, using the thought of places like Boulder, Colorado to get me through some dark, conservative, hot Texas hours. And up until recently, I was sure we were a shoo-in (I just had to google how to spell “shoo-in.”) But then the allergist who is currently stationed in Colorado failed to receive a promotion, meaning he isn’t compelled to leave Colorado, AND he was given the responsibility of deciding where each allergist out of Chris’s group will be stationed next. The guy has all of the power, and an obvious conflict of interest, given that he, too, would like to be stationed in Colorado. Which is bullshit, right?

So our chances feel pretty threatened. We need to get home to our families, but guess who doesn’t care about that whatsoever–yes! The government!

What’s more, they’ve been bandying about the names of possible bases that are opening up. Chris has subspecialized himself so intricately that there are only a handful of bases in the world who keep a full-time allergist/immunologist. As it turns out, many of these bases suck ass.

In order to distract myself from my new hobby of bitching and crying fits, I’ve decided to share the burden with you, my patient readers.

Remember how, back when the political leaders of Iran and North Korea were being assholes (hahahahaha–joke’s on us! They’re still assholes!)? And how I did a series of posts where I made a special dish from each of the countries who were pissing me off? Well, I’m going to do the same thing with the possible bases who carry full-time allergists.

Each day, I will feature a single base. I will note the pros and cons of living in each area, I will evaluate the major “gourmet” grocery stores in the area, the housing situation, the food scene, and I will make a signature dish from each region. You’ll get the recipe, and a broader understanding of both the local cuisine, and my own personal misery.

Maybe in my intellectual travels, I’ll find a hidden gem. More likely, we’ll all have a good laugh at my expense.

So, with great flourish, I bring you: ALASKA!

That’s right. Alaska. And when you’ve all finished urinating out of sheer mirth, you’ll realize that I am sadly not joking. It seems the military has seen fit to provide allergic and immunologic support to the fucking tundra.

Which is just super, because God only knows the SCORES of troops who are allergic to lichen and penguins. And it’s just common sense to send asthmatics to frigid, oxygen-poor environments.

The only part of this that I see making sense is that if some kid was born with an immunological deficiency, you’d want to send him or her to a place where they aren’t exposed to…people. They’re at a much higher risk of getting ass-to-mouth (or whatever kids are contracting these days) from a moose.

As for the food, well, excuse me for a moment while I brush hot tears from my eyes. Elmendorf Air Force Base is located, and I quote, “near Anchorage.” Not even IN a city, but, you know, vaguely near one. I looked at a map, and the way you get to the base is to drive to the outskirts of the “city” of Anchorage, and then follow a long road called “Arctic Warrior” until you reach the fortress. No doubt dodging icebergs and abominable snowmen on your way. Arctic Warrior. OMG.

Now, as for the vibrant food scene, prepare to be impressed.

Anchorage doesn’t have a Whole Foods, but it DOES have two (count ’em TWO) gourmet grocery stores. One of them touts its versatile gourmet selection of smoked salmon and salmon jerky. And the other has pictures of “party platters” that appear to be sliced pepperoni and cheddar cheese cubes with thousands of toothpicks sticking out, all willy-nilly. So, I guess my party planning needs are totally taken care of. Score!

The restaurant scene seems to be booming, with such Michelin-starred restaurants as “Humpy’s Ale House” and “Sacks Cafe” coming up at the top of the Google list for nice restaurants in Anchorage. When I get hungry, I get a solid craving for humping and sacks. It’s good to know that my favorites will be within my reach!

Housing options include log cabins, mountain shanties, and a smattering of regular homes. $400,000 will buy you any one of the number of 4 bedroom, 3 bedroom houses listed online, none of which have any pictures of the kitchen. Am I suspicious? A touch. Because salmon tartare and warm-from-the-kill whale blubber would be so much better if I could bake a potato to accompany them. I’m assuming much of the cooking is done on a Coleman propane stove in an igloo somewhere.

Food specialties abound in Alaska, with everything from smoked salmon, to salmon jerky, to salmon eggs, to salmon pie, to salmon sushi. It’s WILD (ha! get it?!) The Alaska folk (Inuit?) take their salmon very seriously. They also take their game meat very seriously. Which is extra-awesome because I would rather eat the dashboard of an ’87 Chevy owned by a greasy, ex-con smoker than game meat or salmon. They also have an abundance of fresh produce including squash, other kinds of squash, interestingly-shaped squash, and things you thought were possibly rocks but are actually just rustic-looking squash. Mmmmmm…squaaaash.

They also have berries, which is awesome because I ACTUALLY like berries quite a bit. So when summer hits, I’d likely spend the entire 2 week period of sunshine and warmth actively hunting fresh berries, befriending grizzlies and mountain goats who are competing for the very same fresh berries. If there’s one thing we can agree on about hungry grizzlies, it’s got to be their sense of friendly competition for food resources, am I right?

I’d be so thin in Alaska!

A bizarre Alaskan specialty, and the very one I’m sharing with you today, is Alaskan sourdough bread. I read online that Alaskans are so famous for their sourdough bread, that “old prospectors came to be called ‘sourdoughs!” Special. I also read that Alaskans are said to take their sourdough starters to bed when it gets too cold outside. Where I come from, yeast in the bedroom is actually considered a hygienic faux pas, but who am I to judge?

Anyway, while I can’t teach you to make Alaskan sourdough, which requires Alaskan yeast cultures, which requires being in Alaska, I can teach you to throw together a badass sourdough of your very own.

I’ve had the same sourdough starter since we moved to Texas. It’s a bit of a touch to start, but then keeps beautifully in the refrigerator. I take it out to feed and to bake about once every few weeks, but have gone as long as 2 months without using it.

First, either make or buy a starter. Sourdough starter is the “sludge” that consists of flour, water, lactic acid, and yeast. The following recipe is a combination of methods from King Arthur Flour and The Culinary Institute of America.

To make a starter:

Combine 1 C flour, 1 C water, and 1/2 of a raw, organic potato, grated in a plastic or glass bowl. Make sure the bowl is large enough to allow the mixture to triple in volume. Cover with cheesecloth and set aside at room temperature. In 24 hours, add 1 C flour and 1 C water and stir. Do this again every 24 hours for another two days. You can throw away some of the starter before adding more water and flour, if the bowl gets too full. You can continue to do this as long as you like, because every extra day of feeding and sitting makes the sourdough more flavorful.

After several days, you should have a bubbly-looking mixture that smells yeasty and sour, but doesn’t have any mold or rotted look to it. You can store your starter in the refrigerator indefinitely, using a glass or plastic jar with a lid. Be sure to keep the lid loose enough to allow gas to escape for the first 12 hours its in the refrigerator. Then tighten it up to seal.

To make bread from your starter, you must first make it a “fed starter.” This means you pull it out of the refrigerator, add 1/2 C flour, and 1/2 C water, stir, and allow to sit for 8-12 hours. It will begin to bubble again. When you pull it from the refrigerator, you will likely notice a brown fluid floating above the thick floury mixture. This is called “hooch” and is basically liquor that results from the fermentation process. Don’t worry, just stir it back together. It will bake off when it’s heated. Much of the sourdough flavor comes from the “hooch.”

Once your starter is fed, you can throw together some easy sourdough bread.

Ingredients:

1 C “fed” starter
1/2 t active dry yeast
1/2 C warm water
4 C flour, more or less as needed
3 T sugar
1 t salt

Method:

In a bread maker or stand mixer, layer the ingredients as listed. Knead together on the basic dough setting, or until the dough becomes a semi-slack dough that is soft and elastic, but not sticky. Add more flour or water as needed to achieve this consistency.

Allow to rise for 1.5 hours, or until doubled. This takes longer in Alaska. Punch it down.

Preheat the oven to 425 F.

On a parchment-lined cookie sheet, separate the dough into two equal pieces. Form an oval shape out of each. They should be far enough apart to allow for some spreading. Cover loosely and allow to rise for another hour, or until fairly puffy. Spritz with lukewarm water, slash two shallow, diagonal cuts on the top of each loaf to allow the loaf to grow in the oven. A sharp bread knife works well for this.

Bake at 425 F until the loaves are a deep golden brown. Remove and allow to cool before slicing. Serve with salted, organic butter and honey.

The smell that comes off of these loaves is incredible, and the flavor is assertive but mellow. You can wrap one in foil and freeze it, if you’re worried you won’t eat it quickly enough. The crumb is big and beautiful, but it’s just dense enough to hold its own as a panini or sandwich bread.

Now that you’ve got a basic grasp on the culinary traditions of Alaska, let’s go through a brief list of pros and cons to being stationed there.

Pro: There is delicious sourdough bread and fresh berries
Con: There is ONLY delicious sourdough bread and fresh berries, and lots of canned food and blubber.

Pro: I can spend weekends picking fist fights with Sarah Palin and probably Todd.
Con: Despite her fervent protests, I canNOT see Russia from my house.

Pro: Polar bears are super cute and look playful.
Con: Despite their look, they are decidedly NOT playful, and would likely result in my death.

Pro: As some have suggested, I can write a blog about my time in Alaska.
Con: It is so cold that my fingers would snap off, leaving me to type by holding a discarded caribou antler with my teeth. They would nickname me “Old Stumpy.”

Pro: I look really cute in my furry boots and eskimo jacket.
Con: I will have to gain 30 lbs of blubber to stay warm, and thus not fit into my furry boots and eskimo jacket.

Pro: Gaining 30 lbs of blubber would be hella fun.
Con: Not by eating salmon and twigs, it wouldn’t be. Also, looking like a sea mammal is NOT fun.

Pro: Alaska is absolutely gorgeous.
Con: It’s too cold to go outside and enjoy it.

Pro: I could participate in the Iditarod.
Con: My dog, Willie, would not appreciate that sport very much, and would get icicles in his beautiful, clydesdale-like paw fur.

Pro: Awesome wildlife
Con: Awesome wildlife that will kill and eat you.

Pro: I think you can still homestead land.
Con: The houses up there are spectacularly crappy.

Pro: Snow sports
Con: Your pee freezes into little peesicles before it can hit the snow.

And so you see, I cannot live in Alaska. What could be worse, you ask? Ohhhh, baby. Just wait until tomorrow.

Christmas Toys for Girls and Boys

This isn’t about food. At all. I can’t even twist it around to SAY it’s about food. I guess I could say that children eat food, usually. And these are gifts for said children. But mostly I’ll just admit that this post isn’t about food.

It is, however, about Christmas gifts. You see, I was Toys for Totting around my local Target store, and noticed an exceptional number of hideous/incredibly stupid gifts for kids. I don’t remember there being such stupid toys when I was a tot. We had Candyland, LightBright, SkipIt…the usual. But check out some of the things I found today (yes, I did take these pictures with my iPhone in the store. People probably thought I was spying, like the bad guy on Willy Wonka. Slugworth, I think).

Here’s to Christmas miracles!


This sounds like one of those slang sex acts. Like the dirty sanchez or the donkey punch. You should probably warn your kids that if a boy asks them to play “Mexican Train” that they don’t have to blow on their rape whistles.


I feel like this game would really piss Ben Bernanke off good and proper. I also feel like I have an innate ability to win this game.


Dude, this so isn’t going to end up under the Christmas tree of a 5 year old. If we’re going to be totally realistic, it’s going to be used as a sexual aid for lonely 40 year old women who want the magic back in their lives. And also possibly my sister. And maybe me, since my husband still refuses to glitter in the sun and/or buy me Ferraris


Don’t buy this toy for your little girls, and I will tell you why. Horse people are always totally weird, and start to look a little like horses. I don’t know why this is true, but it has been for years. There was a girl named Kelly in 9th grade who used to bring her horse dolls to school with her, and I had no choice but stage them in a mating position every time she left her desk. And that made her very angry. Do you want an angry child? Do you??


This is possibly THE most racially diverse group of lesbians I’ve ever seen assembled in one place. I have no problem at all with lesbian dolls. Hell, I support them getting married. But let’s not pretend that many girls are living together with cats and nobody is putting their gifts in boxes, if you know what I’m saying.


I actually have no idea what this game is supposed to be, but from 40 feet away I could’ve sworn it said “Shit in a box,” which I thought was really funny. Also possibly a better game than “Shut the box.” I think labeling it as “Cardinal’s Wood” is in exceptionally poor taste, given recent scandals.


“Baby’s First Doll” seems to be missing a torso, but comes with a fierce case of camel toe.


So…now we’re just preparing mediocre children to give up the dream of college. That’s fair. In Germany they sort kids pretty early, and send the slower ones to vocational school. This is very Euro-chic in that sense.


Whomever invented the Jack-in-a-Box should be taken outside and beaten soundly. What a terrible, terrifying toy. “Oh hey, it’s a box with a crank. Let’s just crank it and see what happens. Oh, that’s nice, it plays some fun music. This is a really sweet OHMYFUCKITSACLOWN!!!!!!!” Cue: child never sleeps in his own room again, and also develops a fear of music, boxes, and clowns. The sock monkey is no better, and its entire mouth looks like it’s been swallowed by a cold sore. Kind of like Angelina Jolie.


The awkward noise that may or may not follow the lovemaking of Santa’s helpers.


This isn’t funny, it’s just really, really stupid. At best, it could be used as a learning tool so that children can better accept the kid in their class who has appalling hygiene and picks their nose during storytime.


This game is very clearly teaching kids about whores. I challenge you to say otherwise. Even Reba McIntyre’s song “Fancy” is about whores. Jiminy Christmas.


Has childhood obesity really come this far?


Worst. Game. Ever. I spend most of my natural born life hiding from bees and wasps outside, and now I’m expected to bring them inside? I think not. What’s next? Milton Bradley’s “There’s a spider in your comforter that’s going to come out at night and bite your pee-pee”?


Is this not totally absurd? A scented puzzle? Really?? Kids could care less if their puzzle smells like cotton, so I assume this is made for moms who are tired of all their kids’ toys smelling like urine and Kraft cheese singles.


Actually, I really like this toy. I had one as a kid, but mine was primary colors. I guess these kids called “Granite Transformations” and had it redone. Mine also had an incident once where my goldfish got stuck in my pretend toaster, and I had to get it out with a plastic spatula. It lived for another year and a half, so I guess I saved the day, not to brag or anything.


Comes with methamphetamines. I have a headache just looking at these kids racing around on the box.


Well done, Texas. Well done. Probably the most realistic game in the bunch.

Good luck with your Christmas shopping!

Geography

Were you aware that Croatia is still a real country? I was not, but then again, geography is not one of my stronger suits. Ask my 9th grade geography teacher, Mr. Hermann, about that. I am quite good at back-sassing, note-passing, and pointing out which countries look kind of like wieners. You can ask Mr. Hermann about that, too. He probably has plenty of free time for interviews now that his afternoons aren’t busy presiding over my detentions.

The reason I have been re-alerted to Croatia’s existence is as follows: I was leafing through the Wolferman’s catalog, trying to decide what kind of english muffins I wanted to eat. What to my wondering eyes should appear, but a loaf of intricate, swirly bread. It jumped off of the page, incredibly beautiful and complicated. And since it was 2 p.m. on a Wednesday, and since I have too much time on my hands, I decided to research it instead of buying it.

The bread is called “povitica” or sometimes just “potica.” It’s a Croatian yeast bread, made for special occasions, that is rolled out painfully thin, slathered with some type of nut filling (usually), and then rolled up into a loaf and baked. The end result is a labyrinth of nutty goodness, with traces of sweet, yeasty bread just barely holding it together. It looks…really cool. And I feel like you should know how to make it too, just in case you get invited to a Christmas party potluck, and need to win. Or you meet some hot Croatian guy–they’re actually called “croats”–and he’s resisting your advances with an iron fist. You just say “hold on!” run to the kitchen, throw together a loaf of povitica, bring it back to him, and he’ll get all melty and be like “Oh, this is just like my Baka (Croat for “granny”) used to bake.” Then BAM. Pants-off-dance-off.

*Note: This method also works if you’re a dude and trying to get your multi-cultural freak on with a lovely Croatian female. If she’s being coy, just run into the kitchen, grab a loaf of povitica, and come back saying “my Baka made this for me. We’re really close.” Whammo.

So as you can see, it’s important that you give this a shot and get really good at it. You never know when it’s going to come in handy. I adapted this recipe from several that I found at allrecipes.com and about.com. I like to think it takes the strength of several recipes, but leaves the weaknesses.

Almond and Pecan Povitica (or “potica”)

-For the bread dough
1 stick (4 oz) butter, softened
1/2 C sugar
1 C warm milk
1.5 t active dry yeast
3 egg yolks
4 C AP flour (plus more if needed)
1 t salt

-For the filling
1 C milk, hot
1 C sugar
3 egg whites
1 lb ground almonds
.5 lb ground pecans (this can be done in your food processor
.5 C honey

Preparing the dough
-Layer your ingredients in the order provided in a bread machine on the “basic dough” setting. OR in a Kitchenaid with the dough hook
-Knead until the dough is soft and elastic, with slightly less firmness than you would use in a regular bread. It should be soft and pliable, but not at all sticky. Add more flour or water if you have to to achieve this.
-Allow to rise for two hours, or until doubled. This takes longer to rise than most bread.
-Divide dough into three segments and place on a large, floured surface (like a clean kitchen island or table)

Preparing the filling
-mix all ingredients together, adding more nuts or honey as necessary to make a mixture that has the approximate viscosity of corn syrup.

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Assembling the bread
-Working on one segment at a time, roll the dough out into the largest rectangle you can, then stretch gently with your hands to make it even thinner. It should be as uniform in thickness as you can get it, and you should be able to read a word through the dough.

-Spread 1/3 of the filling over the dough, being careful not to let your nuts tear through the delicate pastry. Heh.

-roll tightly like you would a cinnamon roll, and squeeze/tuck like a burrito to make it the size of a large loaf pan. Place it seam-side down into a loaf pan and set it aside.
-repeat with the other two segments of dough

Bake for approximately 35-40 minutes, or until deep golden brown ontop. You can brush with an egg wash if you want it to be shinier.

Feel free to substitute any filling you like that is a similar consistency. You can use cream cheese and jam, different nuts, peanut butter and marshmallow fluff (I’m so doing that, and I hereby declare that it’s my invention). The sky’s the limit. Actually, as you can see from the pictures, my bread experienced some slight tearing when it was being cut, mostly because it was still hot and the nuts were tearing through the delicate layers of bread. Hot nuts cause all kinds of damage. Let that be a lesson to you kids. So the other kinds of less-crunchy filling may make it easier to slice.


Now balls to the wall, get on it. You’ve got a sexy Eastern European waiting on you and your bread, and they know damned well that they don’t have to wait in line anymore.

The Whole Enchilada

I’ve had a long relationship with the enchilada. It wasn’t something I ate growing up, and I kind of (God forgive me) always associated them with the proverbial “po’ white trash.” Actually, that’s how I felt about tacos, too. My mom would occasionally make fajitas, but that involved hearty slabs of good steak and fresh vegetables. It felt nicer.

There was a girl I went to school with in elementary school–we’ll call her “T”. She was pale and exceedingly hefty, with stringy blonde hair and a love for “accidentally” dropping maxi pads out of her backpack at recess in front of the boys. I’m pretty sure she was trying to send the message of “look, I’m a real woman. I have a period. I probably wear a bra.” Really, though? 5th grade boys aren’t likely to become super sexually stimulated by the idea of a period. Most of them (all of them?) would run screaming, terrified at the idea of a cootchie stigmata. Once they established that the maxi pad was not, in fact, a high-tech whoopie cushion, they’d be out of there so fast that all you’d see on the playground was a tumbleweed and some of those eerily swaying, empty swings.

Anyway, I was not a 5th grade boy, and was thereby highly amused by this behavior. I also used to steal condoms from my friend Christy’s house, fill them with lotion, and leave them behind the outfield so the teachers would see them and freak out. So I was friends with T, and used to have sleepovers at her house in the country. She had an older sister who listened to graphic rap music and let us watch the scene in basic instinct where Sharon Stone uncrosses her legs like a skeezy hooker. Her parents not only smoked cigarettes, but smoked them IN THE HOUSE. And her hoarse, coarse mother would make us some of the trashiest food I’ve ever seen. Tacos made with bloody mary mix instead of tomato sauce and seasoning. Enchiladas that were just corn tortillas rolled around off-brand cheddar cheese and covered in CANNED enchilada sauce. Hamburger Helper. It was awful. I was spoiled.

I used to pack crackers and sandwiches in my overnight bag, then sit in her bathtub and eat them when everyone was asleep or smoking cigarettes with the windows closed or looking at Sharon Stone’s bajango or whatever it was that they did after dinner. That way I wouldn’t have to eat their scary, backwoods “tex-mex” food. Her parents were usually too hopped up on Zima to notice that I was just pushing the taco meat around on my plate, looking for cigarette butts that may have fallen into the food. I was a child of the Married with Children era.

Now, bring us back to today. I’ve had some excellent Mexican food. There are two great things about San Antonio, or at least about living here for two years. The first is that I have access to some of the most excellent, authentic Mexican ingredients I’ve ever seen. The other is that there are fewer wasps. Both the black and yellow striped kind and the white, anglo-saxon protestant kind.

So I’m trying to do as much experimentation with authentic Mexican food as a possibly can, and I’m fawning all over Rick Bayless’ books for learning. I’ve made some delicious tacos, and last night I made some killer enchiladas. All without the benefit of canned sauce or bloody mary mix!

In his books, Bayless discusses the origin of the enchilada, which is basically supposed to be a corn tortilla, dipped in chile puree, and then skillet fried and folded over on itself. Enchilada literally means “in chiles.” Or something close to that. I’m partial to filling my enchiladas, though, and I still have boatloads of delicious heritage turkey meat to plow through, so I made the traditional chile sauce, then assembled them slightly differently with a turkey and onion filling. Topped them off with Oaxacan cheese (which is very similar to mozzarella), and ate them with some lettuce dressed in salt and vinegar. You really do have to try this (especially you, Tina, who still has chiles sitting around the house). Do it with leftover chicken if you want, or even just black beans for you vegetarians.

Turkey Enchiladas
Served 2 of us, but could have stretched to 3. Just double or triple as needed.

10 corn tortillas
5 dried ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T vegetable or grapeseed oil
10 oz leftover turkey or chicken meat (or canned black beans, drained)
1/4 C finely diced onion
1 C shredded Oaxacan cheese, or mozzarella if that’s easier for you
2 C finely shredded lettuce
1 T apple cider vinegar
salt to taste

Method

-Tear your chiles into flattish pieces (about halves)

-In a hot skillet, blister the inside of each chile until it lightens in color and becomes very aromatic, but not burnt. This takes about 15 seconds

-When the chiles are all blistered, cover them with just enough very hot water to keep them all submerged. Put a plate on them to keep them under water for 20 minutes.

-When the chiles have rehydrated for 20 minutes, put them into a blender or food processor with 1 C of the soaking water and two cloves of minced garlic. Puree them all together, then strain through a medium mesh strainer to get out all the chunks of chile that aren’t small enough.

-The consistency of the paste should be like tomato sauce. Taste it, and it will taste really harsh on the tongue. Add enough salt, tasting frequently, that it starts to have a slightly salty edge as well. Don’t worry, it mellows as it cooks.

-In a food processor, mince your turkey or chicken until it looks like canned tuna consistency. Add the onion and a touch of salt. It can be cold.

-Set up an assembly line of: chile sauce in a pie plate, tortillas, a pan over medium high heat with 1 t oil in it, a cookie sheet, a bowl of your meat mixture, and a casserole dish for baking the finished enchiladas. Preheat the oven to 350 F.

-Assemble the enchiladas by dipping both sides in the chile sauce, placing it in the pan and cooking each side about 20 seconds, carefully placing the hot tortilla on the baking sheet, rolling the tortilla with some meat filling, and putting it (seam side down) in the casserole dish. All of your enchiladas should fit in a nice little row.

-Top with shredded cheese and place in the oven to warm through. When the cheese is melted and the filling registers 130 on a thermometer (stuck into the center of an enchilada), remove from the oven and set aside for a moment.

-In a large bowl, toss shredded lettuce with cider vinegar and salt to taste. Serve the salad alongside the enchiladas, and top with sour cream if you desire.

Just stunning, visually, even if my photography skills are lacking in pretty much every category.

And the first bite is still almost shocking. The authentic chile flavor is not one that many of us have had. Dried chiles have their own scent, their own flavor, and their own bite that differs so vastly from their fresh cousins. As the chile sauce bakes, it does mellow out a bit, but is still assertive and pleasing and so very…Mexican. It tastes like food would taste in Mexico, only not in the resort we stayed at while we were in Cancun. That food tasted more like vodka.

So give these a try, and really take the time to enjoy them, rather than just pushing them around on your plate looking for cigarette butts. And maybe enjoy a Negro Modelo with them, instead of a Zima.

I miss Zima.