A Hot Date


One of the (many) reasons I adore my fiance is that he’s so much fun to play with. I’ll share some highlights of our day yesterday to prove my point:

-10:00 we go to the gym to lift. I spot him, I help by making iron-pumping noises (cushhhhhhhhh!). He does the same for me. We go to the tricep dip machine. He can do it without assistance. I try to do the same and fail miserably. He says that he used to lift with an Indian named Sandeep. I picture him doing tricep dips with a tiny Indian guy hanging from his waist. I laugh so hard I fall off the machine. He helps me up and explains that Sandeep was actually a big Indian. An “American Indian” he calls it. I picture a warrior wearing a headdress hanging from his waist. He says “stop picturing a warrior, I didn’t mean Native American.” I am astonished by his intuition. I am still picturing the warrior, who is at this point doing the hand-on-mouth whooping noise. I again laugh so hard I fall off the machine. We go home.

-12:00 we eat lunch and watch the Daily Show. I begin to get very, very upset about how much I despise Sarah Palin, and then become very upset that I know my family will vote fascist based solely on tradition and misguided loyalty to the military (which Chris assures me has been worse off during the Bush administration than under any liberal). I am crying. We engage in a religio-political conversation for two hours. It is intelligent and open-minded, and I think about how nice it is to be marrying someone intelligent enough to not only argue with me, but also to change my mind. I promise him I will not berate my family for their beliefs. I still hate Sarah Palin.

-3:00 we go to Barnes and Noble Starbucks so Chris can study and I can mentally jerk off over different cookbooks. I bring back a pile to see Chris staring into space. He tells me he wants a tractor. A red one, because he could ride it and drink beer which would make him hate mowing the lawn less. I tell him to focus on his allergy book. A minute later I look up and he’s again staring off into space. This time he’s thinking about how a tractor would fare in a robot takeover. We agree that by the time this happens, he will likely be hitting them with his cane telling them to stay off his lawn. He seems mollified. Two minutes later I look up and he’s again staring at the blank wall. This time he’s thinking of Halo strategies. I help him, because it’s important. We then spend 20 minutes quietly making fun of the San Antonians who are making caloric choices that are DEFINITELY not quite right, if you get my drift. Chris tells me about his fantasy where a giant blob of acid heads toward humanity at a reasonable pace, and only those fast enough to run are safe from it. I ask him about all the stupid or evil thin people who would make it. He tells me about the opposing cloud of concentrated methamphetamines that will take out the evil thin people who flock to it. This is a valid point. He has studied nothing. I look at the Martha Stewart Wedding Cakes book, and Chris helpfully comments on each one. “That one looks like they just glued tissues on it.” (response to a fluffed icing one) “That one has BEES on it!” (it had bees on it) “That ones got cigarettes all over it.” (response to one with white chocolate curls on it) and my personal favorite, in reference to the one I really like that has candy sticks of different pastel colors all tied around the side with a big ribbon “How come that cake is covered in tampons?” Priceless. Now I cannot use the candy stick design. We go home, having studied nothing.

5:30-Dinnertime looms and I have done nothing about it. I go into the kitchen to start looting. I find a box of frozen egg rolls. I become very excited because I had forgotten about them and our house is usually totally devoid of processed foods. This is a remnant from the week that I was so upset about Russia that I listlessly wandered around Central Market buying only pre-made food so I would take a weekend off of baking. You all saw how well that went. Chris comes in and offers to help. I decide that we can do a “tapas” night of small dishes. He’s had two or three of the Mike’s Hard Lemonades at this point, and is feeling creative, so I tell him he can invent his own dish. He immediately becomes animated and starts pulling things out of cupboards at an alarming pace. I mindlessly go about preparing the things I have decided on. I look up, and he is making miniature breakfast sausage corndogs. I am suspicious, but impressed. I think he just wanted to use the deep fryer. Turns out, and I am not in any way being falsely complimentary on this, his corndogs rocked the casbah. Dipped in maple syrup they tasted FANTASTIC. This is the first time he’s ever cooked for me, and I’m in awe. I will likely abuse this in the future, though I find it almost impossible not to meddle and offer advice in the kitchen.

So our dinner was as follows: Awesome breakfast corndogs on skewers dipped in maple syrup, pretzel nuggets with spicy sweet mustard, grapes, bacon wrapped dates in garlic butter (a favorite of mine that I stole from The Med in Boulder, CO) smoked gouda on crackers, and egg rolls with sweet chili sauce. We eat while we play Halo for the rest of the night. I go to bed thinking about what a lucky girl I am to have so many nights that feel just like a grade school sleepover, only with the possibility of getting my sleepover pal naked without feeling weird about it…

Also, how the hell does he know what a tampon looks like? I have completely shielded him from this type of knowledge, hoping to preserve his boyish innocence on the workings of the female reproductive system (he managed to play hookie for the entirety of his ob-gyn rotation, and I am not kidding about that). I’ve had to use an elaborate system of combination locks, secret passageways, and pulleys to keep him from ever seeing such a thing. He must have seen it on t.v. I do wish they’d be more careful with their programming. It’s a wonder that more men don’t go through life thinking that a period is actually blue, given the nature of the absorbency tests.

I took a lot of pictures of him holding up his corndogs and smiling, but the cutest picture ended up being the one he didn’t know I took. That adoring gaze of “I MADE you and I love you” that I imagine he’ll someday bestow on our offspring. Possibly after dipping them in maple syrup.

Wok the walk


The other night I decided to go Asian. No, I wasn’t trading in my healthy British boy for someone of smaller stature. I was merely craving some good ol’ fashioned Chinese takeout, and San Antonio is worthless. So Chris and I used a bastardized version of a copycat recipe from P.F.Changs Mongolian beef. I can’t really use the recipe in my own cookbook, since I clearly didn’t come up with most of it, but I CAN share it with you because it’s different enough that it hasn’t been published. It’s really, really tasty and super easy to make. I would recommend having a relatively well-ventilated kitchen area, though, if you’re not very good at maintaining an oil temperature without things scorching. I may have mentioned this, and I may not have, but the American home is extremely ill-prepared for most Asian cooking. Our ranges just don’t get HOT enough to support a true stir-fry. A gas range and an extremely conductive wok might be able to get around this, but just barely. That’s why every time any of you have made a stir-fry, it has sucked. I don’t say that condescendingly, because every time I have made a stir-fry myself it has sucked. Until I discovered these secrets. And by “discovered”, I mean invented. Because I am awesome.

That sexy Brit I mentioned before is also a genius, because he had the idea of using the fryer, and that made a HUGE difference in outcome. Props to you, Chris. My little sous-fiance.
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Ingredients:
1/2-3/4 lb steak (I use NY strip, but you don’t have to. Just get the best steak you can afford. Meat that is sold for stir-fry is total crap, and designed for gullible twats)
4 T corn starch
3 T vegetable oil (don’t use olive oil or butter, their smoke points are too low)
1 C low-sodium tamari (this is a revved up version of soy sauce. You can use actual soy sauce, as long as it’s low-sodium.
1 C water or broth
1.5 C light brown sugar (packed)
1 t rice wine vinegar
1 T red pepper flakes (more or less, depending on how much of a wussy you are)
1 T ginger (not powdered)
1 T garlic (minced)
1 bag frozen stir-fry veggies (or green beans, if you’re not into the weirder Asian veggies)
Rice for serving

Preparation:

Put your steak into the freezer for 20 minutes. This will make it slightly icy and much, much easier to slice into paper-thin strips. When it’s icy but not frozen solid, take it out and use a sharp knife to slice it into those strips. If you know what the “grain” of a meat is, cut against it. If you don’t, well, you probably won’t notice slightly tougher meat. Toss the sliced meat in the cornstarch to coat each piece, making sure to shake off any excess.

Now here’s the genius part. If you DEEP FRY the meat strips very quickly, instead of just trying to stir-fry them, you’ll get that awesome crispy-outside, tender-inside texture of meat that comes in the better Asian restaurants (like P.F.Changs). If you have a fryer, use it. If you don’t, take a large, high-sided skillet and pour in about 1 inch of oil. Make sure there are at least 2 inches between the top of the oil and the top of the pan, or the oil will spill over and set your house on fire and you’ll end up homeless, turning tricks for a dollar in a rough part of a major metropolitan area. Heat the oil over medium-high heat, or until a drop of water sizzles like crazy when dropped in the oil. Don’t overheat it to the point where it smokes, though.

Drop the beef strips in the oil, heat until they start to have darker brown spots where the cornstarch has been fried crispy, and promptly remove. This could be as short as 30 seconds, so be ready. I assume you’re bright enough to know you can’t use plastic utensils to remove things from hot oil, right? Set the beef on a paper towel to drain.

In a separate skillet, add 3 T of the frying oil and heat the oil ’til it’s extremely hot. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes and ginger and stir around with a wooden spoon. When it smells like garlic and ginger, and before they begin to brown, add your water, tamari, vinegar, and sugar. Stir them over high heat until you have a slightly thickened sauce (that can coat the back of a spoon). Remove from the heat.

Heat the veggies in the microwave (I adore the new ones that steam in the bag) until they’re warm. Then toss the beef strips and veggies in the sauce and serve over white rice. I promise you it’ll be the best stir fry you’ve ever made at your house, providing you don’t overcook your vegetables or noodles.

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The problem with almost all American chefs is that they overcook food. If meat is tough, it’s almost ALWAYS because it’s been overcooked. If spaghetti seems weak as hell, it’s because the noodles have overcooked. If rice is mushy and sticks together, it’s probably because you don’t rinse it first and then put it in an expensive rice cooker from Japan. Most vegetables are cooked far past the point where they’re palatable.

I’m not sure why this is. Are we so afraid of cross-contamination that we have to incinerate all of our food? Because I have news for you: the carbon that comes off of incinerated food from the grill is a well-known carcinogen and ages your skin. The bottom line is that you shouldn’t cook things for too long. It’s better to slightly undercook and allow the food to sit for a few minutes to finish its cooking from residual heat than it is to leave it on until it’s done and then allow the residual heat to cook it past its prime. I have learned this the hard way, on things like a standing rib roast, wherein I had to sell off a kidney to afford the meat, only to completely screw it up by accidentally venturing past medium-rare. Don’t let this happen to you.

Oh, and if you’re ever in San Antonio and have a hankering for Chinese food, feel free to call me. I don’t deliver, but I CAN assure you that there will be no roaches or bland, crappy food to poison your tongues.

It’s my blog, and I do what I want

This isn’t really going to qualify as a post, but it’s my blog and I do what I want.

Sarah Palin scares the shit out of me. She strikes me as being two dee-vine messages away from passing out poisoned grape Kool-Aid with our tax rebates, and seems to be at great odds with her vagina. I think she’d sew it up if she could. And one could argue she should, given that she seems to be kind of a terrible mother.

Here’s the deal:

I like wilderness
I like wolves
I am afraid of nuclear weapons
I am do not want to relive the Crusades
I am a big fan of making my own choices for my own uterus
I am not a big fan of bigots, homophobes, or morons
I am concerned that she doesn’t know what a vice president “does all day.”

In short, I’m terrified, and I hope they continue to uncover dirt on her, because while McCain is a perfectly nice man (albeit a touch senile), I cannot bear to see Palin take any kind of office in the continental U.S.

And I’m thisclose to severing ties with anyone who DOES think she’s a good idea.

Lamest Farmer’s Market EVER


See all this produce that doesn’t know what it wants to be when it grows up? Stay tuned to find out what its career counselor suggested!

I’ve been trying to figure out ways that I can save money on groceries in the futile hope that maybe, some month, I’ll be able to stay within my grocery budget. Or as I like to call it, my “grocery budget SUGGESTION.” One of the ways I’ve decided I can do this is to get some produce from farmer’s markets. So I hit up Google and tried to figure out where I could locate such a thing in San Antonio. I found one, and went, and I swear to you it was more pathetic than a child’s lemonade stand.

There were three vendors, total. One of the stands was manned by a Hispanic man who hid underneath what can only be described as a modern sombrero, and did not speaka the English very much. The second was a Hispanic husband and wife team, both of whom should have sought work for Budweiser as Clydesdales. The third was a lone white man with a grand total of MAYBE seven teeth. They had their stands set up right next to one another in an empty lot. There was no discernible parking, but that didn’t matter because I was the only car. I was tempted to fly in, hit the parking brake, and make a circle in the gravel ending parallel to their stands like in Fast and Furious 3:White chick in a Honda. I did not.

All three stands had the exact same merchandise, consisting of peppers, onions, and tomatoes. So what was I to do? I bought one item from each stall to avoid pissing off any Mexican farm gangs and booked it to Central Market where I was safe in a sea of nondescript yuppies. Phew. The produce I did get was beautiful, as produce goes, and I saved at least $2.00, making the entire risky venture totally worth it. Not. (Yeah, that’s right. I’m bringing back the ironic “not.”) At Central Market I did a half-hearted shop that resulted primarily in different grains for my breadmaking phase and some really attractive cheese. Have you ever had Cotswold cheese? It’s a creamy English cheddar with bits of chives flecked throughout. It’s awesome.

Once I got home, I laid all of my bounty out on the counter. I always do this after a grocery shop before I put anything away. People think it’s really weird, and maybe it is, but I get the same satisfaction from gazing at my food and reliving my grocery trip as serial killers probably get by taking out their token severed feet and Polaroids and reliving their kills. I think. God, now I’ve creeped myself out and have to go check the locks on all of my doors.

Okay, safe. For now.

Once I looked at all of it, an idea clicked in my head and I decided on grilled cheese and tomato soup. Apparently this is a really common and comforting meal for American children. I didn’t ever get this served to me, most likely because the traditional grilled cheese and canned tomato soup would have repulsed my little blonde ass and sent me sneaking the cordless phone into my room to call child services. But Chris has mentioned it before, and I figured I could probably turn out something that would be simultaneously comfort food for Chris and edible for me.

So the tomatoes got roasted, combined with onions, garlic, chicken broth, and hulking wads of fresh basil. I took out my immersion blender and pulverized it, leaving a creamy, fresh, tasty soup. As for the grilled cheese, well, I had made this loaf of oat and molasses bread the other day, so it went into service with the Cotswold cheese and a big pat of butter to make crisp-on-the-outside, gooey-on-the-inside sandwiches that would kick the shit out of, and probably steal the lunch money of, the traditional American grilled cheese sammich.

Mmmmmmmm!


Okay, here’s the post I had previously announced!

“One of my favorite things in the world is spaghetti. I have many reasons for this, but the most compelling of them is that it is very difficult for someone to cock up. Therefor, it is safe to announce that my favorite food is spaghetti. Even if the person preparing is not feeling particularly ambitious and uses a canned sauce, chances are it will taste at least passable. Unless they use the kind that already has meat in the can, in which case I’m sure I would have already ferreted out that level of moral indecency and terminated the doomed friendship before ending up eating at their house.

I don’t typically eat at potlucks. I get really nervous about the cleanliness of peoples’ kitchens, the freshness of the groceries they use (you KNOW that people go through their fridge before a potluck and say ‘Hey! This sour cream expired yesterday, but I can use it up instead of throwing it away!’), and the possibility that they might ruin one of my favorite foods for me by preparing it with some kind of edible disease like Velveeta. Even at a potluck, though, provided it has not been brought by the lady who smells like cat pee, or the single guy with the potbelly who had to clear his fetish porn off of the counter in order to set out his ingredients, spaghetti is USUALLY safe.

A good way to prove this point is that my dormitory in college, the very one that I had to move out of early so I didn’t starve to death, had one reliably palatable food. It was the “spaghetti bar.” They didn’t even attempt to hide the giant vats of Ragu on the counters behind them, but beggars can’t be choosers.

But if it’s passable when made lazily, then it should be no problem at all to make it phenomenally. I have experimented with various spaghetti recipes, and have come up with one that is simultaneously fresh and hearty, sweet and savory, spicy and comforting. It’s REALLY good, and was one of my very first recipes that I came up with free of guidance.

A note: If you overcook your pasta, you may as well just buy a bottle of Kroger brand ketchup, dump it over the top of your mush, and call it a day. Because there’s no way to salvage overcooked pasta. The first time I ever had the balls to yell at Chris when we started dating, it was because he had neglected to pull pasta off of the stove while I showered, despite very specific instructions, and the pasta was overcooked. I almost had to break up with him. Thankfully that’s among the worst things he’s done in our time together, so I’ve managed to overlook it. He has not made that mistake again. I’ve been told that soft pasta is one of the very few things in the world that can cause a sliiiiight break in my rosy, polly sunshine attitude. I say that with all the sarcasm I can muster.

Spaghetti Sauce with a Kick
Ingredients
3 T butter
3 T olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large Vidalia-type onion, diced
1 lb ground chuck (this is “hamburger meat” for those of us who live in a house with wheels)
½ lb hot Italian sausage, casings removed
½ green bell pepper, diced
3 (14.5 oz) cans diced tomatoes
1 (6 oz) can tomato paste
½ lb sliced FRESH mushrooms (white button or baby bella are good)
1⁄ 3 bottle good red wine (chianti works well). When I say “good” I mean “not from a box.” I’m only 26 for God’s sake.
1 splash Worcestershire sauce, which is full of anchovies, but we pretend it isn’t because…ew.
2 bay leaves
1 T sugar
1 t celery salt
1 t cayenne pepper (or more to taste)
1 t dried oregano
1 T dried basil
1 t kosher salt

Preparation

First, open your bottle of wine and pour 2/3 into a large tumbler to breathe.

In a medium-sized stock pot, sautee garlic and onion in butter and oil until translucent.

While the onion mixture simmers, brown the sausage and ground chuck in another pan and drain well. Add meat to the onion mixture and stir.

Add the rest of the ingredients and stir well. Bring to a simmer and slap on a lid. Let it simmer for 3 hours, checking after 2 hours to ensure that the consistency is right. If it’s too loose, leave the lid off. If it’s too thick, add some water or chicken stock. Do not add any more wine.

Take the tumbler of wine and drink that shit. Nobody eats spaghetti sober.