29 September 2008

Back on it

I have shrugged off the carelessly draped sport coat of kitchen failure tonight, I tell you. Forty-five minutes from scratch to awesome:

Roasted Butternut Squash and Rice Pilaf, with Compound Butter
serves two for dinner and planover lunch; could serve 4-6 as a side to something else
~1 medium butternut squash, unpeeled, cut in half lengthwise, with seeds and pulp scooped out
~1/2 large (or one small) white onion, diced
~1 large carrot, diced
~2 ribs celery, diced
~1/4 tsp. dried thyme
~4 whole cloves
~3/4 c. golden raisins
~3/4 to 1 c. cooked chick peas
~3/4 c. uncooked brown basmati rice
~1 1/2 c. and a splash of water
~1/4 c. toasted walnuts, chopped and divided (see below)
~salt to taste

Set oven to roast (375-400 degrees). Rub cut sides of squash with olive oil and place cut side down on an oiled rimmed baking sheet. Slip sheet into oven and ignore while you prep pilaf. Squash is done when a knife point inserted into the thick neck meets no resistance (40 min? You'll know).

In wide skillet (with a tight fitting lid) filmed with olive oil, cook onion, carrot, and celery until soft. About halfway to soft, add raisins and toss. At "soft," add thyme and cloves, stir, and cook to bloom the smells, about 1 minute. Add chick peas and rice, stir, and heat through, about 2 minutes. When the heat has come up and rice has taken up some oil from the veggies and pan, add the water and pump heat up to get to a boil. After you reach a boil, reduce to a simmer and cover with tight lid. Shake periodically to ensure that nothing sticks and that moisture moves around the pan evenly. Simmer until rice has absorbed *almost* all liquid and is cooked through (30 min? Just test it and see if it's rice or it's twigs; again, you'll know when it's done.
"Doin' it all at once" tip: This is a great time to make the compound butter). Turn off heat, add 1/2 of the toasted walnuts, fluff with spoon, salt to taste, and let sit, covered, until ready to serve.

To plate and serve: slip your knife through the squash half lengthwise to create a quarter section. Place quarter section peel side down on the plate. Dish pilaf over/next to squash, all arty-like, and top with a generous dollop (about 1 T or more) of compound butter...

Shallot-Apple-Sage-Walnut Compound Butter
Soften 6 T of unsalted butter and mix the following thoroughly into it:
~1 shallot, minced
~1/2 small tart apple, peeled, very fine dice
~10-12 fresh sage leaves, minced
~1/8 c. toasted walnuts, chopped very fine
~dash white pepper
~pinch salt

+ + +

It's got beans, rice, squash, nuts, raisin: a meal in itself, but I imagine if you swing such a way that this would just kill next to a pork chop.

Also, you all know that these recipes are just things I make up, and that substitutions are totally welcome, suggested, and occasionally required, right? I have always hated the Tyrannical Recipe idea--that one MUST have all of the components on hand before making something. There are recipes I follow to the letter, faithfully, because I can: I have a very full pantry and spice cabinet, so I have shallots, white pepper, sun dried tomatoes, miso, molasses, chipotle peppers in adobo, etc. etc. etc. etc. on hand almost all the time because stocking is a priority. But I would never not riff on a recipe if I found I was without something--better that than not making it at all. So if you don't have something, leave it out or substitute it. I find it hard to write down what I cook as dinner recipes sometimes, because I really just grab stuff and throw it in without thinking about amounts or how someone else (or myself) might re-create the dish. But I am trying to more faithfully document dinner, both for my twos and threes of readers, but for a certain true believer who wants these for an assemblage of recipes she's finding time to put together.

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27 September 2008

Big Girl Bed, or, "Mattresses I Have Known"

Mattress: now to be filed under "Things I Have Impulsively Purchased Before Thinking Completely Through How to Get Them Home," joining such illustrious and relatively smaller-ticket items as a 12-pound watermelon and 70 lbs. of cat litter.

I'd been waiting out a coworker's moving sale, holding on until the day before his departure to ask "hey, still looking for someone to take that mattress?" in a very calculated attempt to pay less money for an already bargain-priced months-old queen sized pillow top mattress and box spring set. I have a cold, cold heart. In the end, I got a definite deal, paying only slightly more than my nearly insulting lowball initial bid. But this all went down in the space of an afternoon at work. I didn't take time to clear it with my bedmate and didn't really have a plan of how, in fact, I would get the large mattress and its box spring from his second floor apartment across two towns to my second floor apartment, that very evening, all whilst still wearing my work clothes (pencil skirt, kitten heels).

A very fruitful bunch of scrambling produced the finest outcome I could have planned, had I planned. I booked a Zipcar--a pickup truck--from a location mere blocks from the mattress; my partner J just happened to be on the same train as me when I called to relay our new evening activity; the box spring turned out to be split, making it very much easier to move (split box spring! I'll never go back!); Thursday was the last non-rainy day predicted for the next four days; and it was rush hour, meaning my need to drive no more than 30 miles per hour did not make me the slowest person on the road. We trundled back in bumper-to-bumper traffic, stuffed full of pillow top mattress, making liberal use of the side mirrors. We even met a neighbor across the hall when, having firmly wedged the mattress vertically and about eight inches off the ground in the tight corner of the top of our stairs, we had to knock on her door to ask her to open up and permit us to infringe on that last crucial three inches of turn-around room her open door would provide. While giggling like maniacs. Maniacs in kitten heels.

That night, the pillow top sat on the floor in our living room, as we did not have the right sized sheets to put on it or the wherewithall to move the old full sized mattress out of the bedroom. Our living room, in scale with the rest of our modestly sized apartment, looked like a bunch of 5-year-olds were playing that game where the floor is hot lava, and you push the furniture together to avoid walking on the lava floor: from left to right as you "enter" the room, the bookcase was flush with the wall, the surplus TV (don't ask...) was next to the shelf, the mattress was flush with the shelf, the coffee table was flush with the mattress, the couch was flush with the coffee table, and the couch was, as usual, pushed up against the wall of the room. The cat thinks we bought him the World's Biggest Kitty Bed.

This is a Major Change around Chez Rocket. A months-old mattress is as close as I've ever been to a Brand New Bed, for one thing: our old bed was a busted-ass full size set handed down from J's sister when she departed Boston, and the box spring was cracked midway down the long axis of one side of the bed even then. We put it right on the floor, a throwback to the garret days of post-college graduation. The break was on my side, causing a sag that led to back pain as well as a certain mid-mattress slump that in turn led to domestic disputes about Your Side, My Side, and Stealing the Covers. Back in Chicago, we most recently had a bed frame--the brass-and-flowered-knob type--and full sized set from J's grandparent's guest room passed on to us as the result of the kind of grandparental downsizing that can happen around this time in our lives. It was serviceable, which is about all I have ever known a mattress to be. Prior to that bed, J had a second-hand set that she kept on the floor and I had a futon set permanently into "bed" mode. I remember her mattress as quite comfortable and I can say, still, that that original futon (bought while I was unemployed because I realized that I'd never get a job with the kind of sleep I was getting on my tiled floor on my inflatable camp mattress) has been more comfortable than any other mattress I've had. Up to this nearly new pilllow top queen.

So we now have the newest, biggest, fanciest, and most expensive mattress we've ever owned. The flip side is that we're now pretty much obliged to move it next time we move instead of, as has been our wont, abandoning the past mattress in favor of moving less and buying on arrival.

The other flip side (I'm employing a gaming die rather than a coin, apparently) is that we now have a bustedass full sized standard mattress on our hands, and we'd like to find it a third (maybe fourth--I don't know if J's sister bought it used) home. On the one hand, I can attest to the bedbug-free, clean, non-smoking home nature of this mattress, which gives me a leg up on some entries in the third- or fourth-hand mattress market in this college-filled town (Allston, particularly, went through some buggy times in the past few years). On the other, I also know that this mattress is uncomfortable for me and the box spring is certainly busted. So I put an add on Craigslist in the free section, employing humor to honestly portray my mattress and the things I think it can be now: basement soundproofing for your band! a prop in your production of Once Upon a Mattress! a guest bedroom bed, used only sometimes! I hope only to hand it off to someone in need of a clean free mattress.

I got five replies in 20 minutes. Still waiting for final word from my most interested party, but I hope to ditch this thing soon. I'm tired of staring at it from my Big Girl Bed, as it leans accusingly up against my bedroom wall as if to imply that I've gone soft, I've become bougie: what, you need your bed off the floor now? You require back support, weakling? You used to be cool, man. You used to travel light.

I am, however, sleeping like a baby these days.

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22 September 2008

Success; failure

This is embarrassing.

I know I put it out there like I'm some sort of kitchen demigod, at least, but I must tell you, some days it just does not come together. Tonight was one of those...days.

In the last few years, my facility in the kitchen has progressed such that I rarely fall flat on my damned face, cooking-wise. In the past, major failures have been the fault of the cookbook; the repeat offender was so consistently disappointing that we threw it away after the Nth consecutive disaster (celery soup...seriously? Seriously). But anything that goes awry now is pretty much all my fault.

I was getting fancy with some risotto this evening, and through a series of steps that I'd prefer did not enter the public record, I produced pretty much the same effect as if I'd made up a pan of Campbell's Tomato soup, cranked in a little pepper, and then made risotto in that. *shudder* It felt like the Methodist church potluck version* of some bastard risotto: "Creamy Rice Casserole with Cheese." Oh, the cheese--another in a string of shameful missteps. My laziness often allows some really excellent improvisation, if I come up short of an ingredient list, but in this case, I'll just say that Monterrey Jack cheese DOES NOT belong in risotto, even under duress. Even if you're, like, camping, do not sub in this cheese if you value your personal definition of risotto--it will so harm the definitional integrity of the concept of "risotto" that the eventual, inevitable result will be that you find yourself whipping up some "risotto" for an evening dinner party by thwumping a can of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom, a can of skim milk, one diced white onion, 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, and a jar of mushrooms (drained) into your slo-cooker in the morning, cranking that puppy to "low," and heading off to work, whistling that delightful theme from the André Riu special that aired on the PBS last night**.

In short, this dinner sits at the top of a very slippery slope. The planovers will only remind me of my failure, so I am abandoning them to my partner, who did not find dinner nearly as offensive as I did.

+ + +

As for my success: it's been just o
ver a year since I joined the gym and I am still going. This is major, as you may recall. My results are result-y, which is good because I went in with only one explicit goal: get ripped. I'm pretty ripped, I gotta say, and it's less difficult to haul ass up the hill on my bike. I have gained and lost no weight at all, which is interesting but not at all important to me. I find, however, that it is harder to keep pushing myself to do more, to max the envelope, as it were, without the encouragement of a trainer. I had one for about eight weeks when I started and I'm thinking about signing up for a few more sessions now that I have a little more experience and focus, routine-wise. Not that my liiiiifting isn't awwwesome, dude. So go me, go gym, go triceps!

And a second success: the following represents the final payment of one of my student loans, so take THAT, University Accounting Services!


* I must assure you that I love and respect the Methodist church's tradition of the potluck, and if you do not believe me, ask me for my Tuna Noodle Casserole recipe.
** I have only one beef with violinist
André Riu: WGBH plays the stuffing out of his insufferably bland, occasionally absurd concerts during pledge drive week(s), causing me to miss things like Masterpiece Theatre or, worse, Nova. This prompts me to only half jokingly call him "that André Riu fucker." Special message to Mr. Riu: Sorry! I know it's not your fault; I should be calling them "those WGBH fuckers," but that does not trip as lightly off the tongue.

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10 September 2008

On a wedding

I am lucky to have the kinds of friends who, when they get married, prompt one to think, that's it. That's why marriage is desirable, that's why it is wrong to keep anyone from marrying, that's why anyone wants to do this at all--because is can be this good, this filled with love, this riotous, this unifying, this affirming.

So DS and KP got married out here in Bostonland over the holiday weekend and it was grand. And when we were all dancing after the service and after the dinner, we realized that the reason that everyone gets all cuh-RAY-zy dancey-pants at weddings is that they've spent many minutes, maybe hours, being unable to leap off the bridesmaid line, past the groomsmen, and tackle the beloved bride and groom in a big, stuffing-busting hug. So we shake it loose, we drink it up and sweat it all out for a few hours on a lie-flat dance floor so we can do something with the hot heart energy that's been building up because we weren't free to hold them, because we aren't all together anymore, because there is so much that we don't get to do with and say to each other everyday anymore. We have to find a way to have years of love and dancing in one night, and this happens at weddings
because that's when adults can go on vacations together like big squalling masses of undergrads again, stay in hotels, drink champagne straight from the bottle, play dress-up, stay up late, eat cake, meet families, jump on beds, and carve out one or two nights from Our Big Kid Lives to celebrate our friends, their families, their love, and then the family we all make together.

Not to get all sentimental or anything. Cheers to the DS-KP union; couldn't have happened to a better pair of people.

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