Tuesday, April 26, 2011

About that Red Salad

Attention, all teachers and students who are feeling fried by the looming end-of-semester work load!  You need to make this:

Salad in Blue Bowl

This is Nigella’s Red Salad, and it’s terrific.  It’s what to make when you are feeling drained and delicate and ready to quit life or go drown your sorrows in a bottomless margarita.  It’s one of those recipes that takes a pinch of effort and rewards you handsomely with a healthy, delicious, and filling meal or two, depending on how hungry you are.  At its most basic, it contains five ingredients: red kidney beans, red onion, tiny tomatoes, red wine vinegar, and olive oil.  I would argue that if you can manage it, add two more ingredients to the list: salt and some fresh cilantro.

The charm of this recipe is all in the onions: they get steeped in the red wine vinegar for about 15 minutes, which takes that raw-onion sharpness out of them and replaces it with something more mellow.  Other than the onion trick, this salad is a straightforward chop-and-mix number.  If you do a little judicious shopping and get yourself some tortilla chips, some cheese, and maybe a piece of fruit for dessert, you can bang together a tidy little lunch or supper to keep you going during these busy spring days.

Happy eating, friends!

Red Salad Close-up

Nigella’s Red Salad

Adapted slightly from Nigella Lawson

Serves 2-3 (2 more heartily, 3 if appetites are daintier)

1/2 small red onion, finely chopped

2 tsp. red wine vinegar

1 15-oz. can red kidney beans, drained and well-rinsed

8 cherry tomatoes, halved

1 tbsp. best-quality extra-virgin olive oil

A few pinches of salt, to taste

A handful to fresh cilantro leaves, to taste

1)  Mix the chopped onions with the red wine vinegar in a small, nonreactive bowl, such as a ceramic bowl.  Let them steep for about 15 minutes.

2)  Meanwhile, prep the kidney beans and tomatoes as directed above.  Add them to a mixing bowl.  When the onions are done steeping, add them to the mixing bowl and toss everything together gently.  Drizzle the olive oil on, add some salt, then mix again.  Scatter the cilantro on top and serve.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

We Interrupt The Parade of Food to Bring You This News

Greetings, hungry readers!  This weekend I am hibernating inside.  Not only is it ridiculously hot outside, but I have a lab meeting presentation to give on Wednesday, and I am feeling far from ready for it.  So I’m hunkered down in front of my computer, trying to make sense of my data and staying cool in my air-conditioned apartment.  I sort of hate myself for turning on the air conditioner in April, but it is 91 degrees outside right now, and in my defense, it’s been a terrible week and I just cannot deal with physical discomfort right now.  If I weren’t at home with the AC on, I’d be at the coffee shop, where I’m sure they have the AC on.

Welcome to Texas.  Bikini season starts in April.

On a lighter note, check out this note that fate sent me:

It's Fate!

Do you see it?  These shoes are named after me.  My real name that is, not my blogging moniker.  I am loving all the cute wedges this season, and as soon as May rolls around, I’m scooting over to Shoe Carnival to see if they still have my Roseanns available.  I love the colors in the straps—so pretty!  I can’t wait to trip over my own feet wearing these shoes.

In other news, Pasolivo is having an Earth Day sale!  They are running a 15% discount until May 8, which means that now is the time to treat yourself to some fabulous California olive oil.  You might recall that Pasolivo’s olive oil is my favorite choice for a finishing oil—the olive oil that you drizzle over soups (just a few drops), salads, or a simple plate of fresh vegetables or slices of milky white mozzarella.  I’ve already bought my Pasolivo rations for the year, so it’s too late for me, but you can take advantage of this sale to stock your pantry with some excellent olive oil.

Finally, my CSN order arrived!  Oh goody—new ovenware just in time for the hot season in Texas.  What was I thinking?!?  I remember—I was thinking that we wouldn’t have this kind of heat until the end of May.  Silly me.  Anyway, my new cookware is beautiful and some day I will use it.  Right now I cannot contemplate turning on the oven, let alone keeping it on for an hour to bake something.  Once I have the chance to test-drive the new pieces, I hope to show them off to you in another burst of conspicuous consumption.

As for me, for the rest of the weekend I’ll be alternating between the kitchen and the computer.  I’m making Nigella Lawson’s Red Salad tonight, which just demonstrates how very drained I’m feeling after this week.  After dinner, I may just end up in front of the pool again tonight, which is how I spent the last two nights, lying comatose in a lounge chair watching the birds and letting the perfume from the flowers drift over me.  It was pretty heavenly, and I can’t wait to do it again.

Happy weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Soyrizo the First

At the Table

I believe that when a person chooses to eat sausage, whether of the porky or the veggie persuasion, they are not choosing it for health reasons.  Sausage is all about hedonism, an intensely flavored, delightfully meaty hedonism.  I love that about sausage.  It just seems to sit there, ugly as sin, and it says to you, “Come on, you know you want me.” 

Sausage has got my number.  There is no doubt about that.  As a vegetarian, I’ve had an on-again, off-again relationship with the different fake meats.  I have no illusions that fake meats are “healthy” or “good for me.”  Nor is my vegetarianism based on eating fake meats.  But some of them are really quite tasty and useful, like the fake chicken patties, which my friend Josh calls “crack patties” because he finds them a little too tasty.  I haven’t had a crack patty in a long time, and writing about them makes me crave one.  That craving will probably pass because the fake meat that I really crave is far more memorable and addictive: those delicious fake sausages.  They satisfy the shadow of carnivorousness that still lingers in my soul, much like the occasional meaty dinner eaten with my family in Michigan does.  The best part of being a vegetarian who very occasionally eats meat is that it is an incredibly interesting and eye-opening experience.  It reminds me that there are things you can do with meat that you just cannot do with nonmeat foods: the textures and the flavors are unique to meat.  Even though I choose not to eat meat 99% of the time, I feel like it’s good to be reminded of why people do eat meat.

I say all this not to make myself feel better for “cheating” with meat.  I’ve never been a militant vegetarian, though I’ve gone through phases when I felt more strongly about it.  For me, it’s just a way of life now, something that I don’t even really choose any more, in the sense that it’s so easy that I don’t have to make decisions about it.  I just do what I do.

That soyrizo, however, has opened some new horizons for me, namely horizons that are printed in cookbooks and call for chorizo.  I love trying to adapt recipes to my tastes, especially my vegetarian preferences.  Soyrizo, like a good fake sausage should be, is intensely flavored with paprika and something hot and spicy.  It comes packaged in a log-shaped plastic casing, but the “meat” is not tightly bound to itself—it’s more like ground beef that can be shaped into patties or broken apart for a taco filling.  For my first soyrizo experience, I tried an adapted version of Nigella Lawson’s kale and chorizo recipe from How to Eat.  I loved the idea of pairing the spicy soyrizo with something earthy and green like kale.  This dish is really lovely—a study in textures with the meaty, chewy soyrizo, the velvety braised kale, and the soft rice and onions.  It’s a one-dish meal, though I do think you should follow it with some dessert, like a chocolate pudding.  As Nigella might say, “Yum yum.”  (Anyone else like watching her cooking shows on youtube?  I’m always in shock and awe watching her—the sugar!  the fat!  the delicious onslaught of calories!) 

Soyrizo with Kale, Onions, and Rice

Braised Kale with Soyrizo, Onions, and Rice

Adapted from and inspired by How to Eat by Nigella Lawson

Serves 2

Believe it or not, this recipe is vegan!  Make it and delight all the vegans in your life.  Or heck, make it and invite me over.  Yum yum.

1 tbsp. vegetable oil

1 medium or large onion, chopped

3 ounces soyrizo, “sliced” into rounds (I recommend slicing to help break up the soyrizo during the cooking)

2 large cloves garlic, chopped

1 cup vegetable stock

1 bunch kale, rinsed, then soft leaves stripped from the hard middle stem and torn into bite-sized pieces

Cooked white rice, preferably leftover, enough for two servings

Salt and pepper to taste

1)  Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and cook for a few minutes, allowing the onion to soften and begin browning.  Turn the heat down to medium and cook for several more minutes, allowing the onions to brown some more.

2)  Add the sliced soyrizo to the onoins.  Break it up with a wooden spoon and stir it around.  Let it cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally.

3)  While the onions and soyrizo are cooking, get the kale going.  In a medium-sized pot, heat the vegetable stock to simmering, then turn the heat down to medium-low and add the prepped kale leaves.  Cook for a few minutes to wilt the kale, then take it off the heat.

4)  Add the garlic to the onions and soyrizo.  Stir it around to mix everything together, then let everything cook for a few more minutes to take the raw edge off the garlic.

5)  If you are using leftover rice, here is an opportunity to add some more flavor to it.  Put the rice in a medium-sized pot, then use a ladle to add some of the kale’s cooking broth to it.  Try not to add any kale leaves, just swipe the broth.  Don’t make it soupy; just add enough broth to moisten it, plus a little extra.  Then heat up the rice by letting it steam in the broth.  The rice is ready when it’s warmed through and its texture is soft.

6)  To serve, divide the rice between two bowls.  Use a pair of tongs to divide the kale between the two bowls, placing it on top of the rice.  If you like, spoon a bit of broth on top of the kale but not too much unless you want to make it soupy.  Finally, top with the onion-soyrizo mixture, again dividing it evenly between the two bowls.  Season both servings with some salt and pepper, then serve.  Eat with soup spoons. 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Faking It in Texas

Now that we’ve established that I live in the unhip, so-called “normal,” big-university town in Texas, let’s get back to the important part of this blog: the food!

Bouquet of Radishes

Grocery shopping in College Station is a bit of an adventure.  It’s not a reliable process.  Many is the time I have gone to a store in search of this or that, only to find that the kale is wilted, the onions are sprouting, and the baby spinach is MIA.  I try to shop with a list and a recipe or two in mind—it keeps me focused during the hunt—but when your key ingredient is in sucky condition, you must be flexible.

My two favorite places to shop for produce are Brazos Natural Foods (the hippie store) and HEB, a big conventional grocery store that often has good organic produce.  I try hard to buy organic produce, and those two stores have the best selection and location for me.  Yesterday morning, instead of going into the lab like I planned, I treated myself to an HEB trip, riding over there on my bike.  I had a short list—lettuce, kale, carrots, and raspberry kefir—which meant I would have plenty of space for spontaneous extras.  I was very lucky and found everything on my list in good condition, except for a tiny bit of kale wiltage.  It was a slow morning, so I had plenty of time to browse and consider my options.  I found amazing, crusty French baguettes, the kind that poke out of your grocery bag like you are some French beauty buying her daily rations.  The radishes looked terrific, so I took some of those home too, which meant I could make open-faced sandwiches with slices of French baguette slathered in butter and topped with thinly sliced radishes and a sprinkling of salt.  I picked up a bunch of asparagus, my first of the season, and I’m not sure what to do with it.  Normally I’d just roast it, but on Facebook, Pasolivo wrote about a side dish from Cooking Light in which they boiled asparagus briefly, sautéed grape tomatoes with lemon olive oil and garlic, then added balsamic vinegar and cooked a little longer.  Toss the asparagus with the tomato mixture, sprinkle with goat cheese (Shannon’s favorite!), and season with salt and pepper.

Doesn’t that sound totally delicious?  If I don’t make it with this week’s asparagus bunch, I definitely want to do it before spring ends.  

Still tooling around the grocery store, I bought some pantry staples, peanut butter and dried cherries, because I can never have enough of either of those.  And finally, I found something that totally made my morning: 

Vegetarian Delight!

I never expected to find soyrizo or vegetarian chorizo in my small town!  During my cookbook reading, I often come across recipes that call for chorizo or soyrizo, and I’d sort of resigned myself to not being able to make them unless I was procuring my ingredients from outside of College Station.  But poof!  There they were, sitting in a high rack in a most obvious place, the fake meats section.

So I scooped up a package, and now I have to decide what to make with my faux-meaty treasure.  Nigella Lawson has several tasty-sounding recipes in How to Eat: Kale with Chorizo and a Poached Egg or a Spanish Stew in which the chorizo is cooked in a sherry-spiked broth with lots of potatoes.  Another set of contenders come from The Cornbread Gospels by Crescent Dragonwagon: Southwestern-Style Cornbread Casserole with Chorizo (or soyrizo) or the Frijoles Charros, a big pot of beans seasoned with soyrizo, onions, fresh chilies, tomatoes, and garlic.  (Holy frijoles!)

All these options sound so good, and yet I might just wing it.  One time, Ammie brought over these little appetizer bites with a soyrizo filling wrapped in her signature pie crust, and they were addictively good.  Another option might be to make a soyrizo taco or burrito filling, using up the various bits and bobs hiding around my kitchen.  I like that sort of frugal, thrifty cooking, the kind that cleans out the fridge and gives you a unique, satisfying meal.

And that’s another reason why I love cooking: in a home kitchen, the options are only as limited as your imagination and your food sourcing abilities.  I like to think I do pretty well on both fronts, compulsive listmaking and small town notwithstanding.

Happy cooking, my dears!  I’ll be back soon to talk about very readable cookbooks.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Rivalry, Weirdness, and Homemaking in College Station

Pretty House

Those of you who aren’t native Texans or adopted Texans (like me, for now) may not be aware that there is a rivalry between College Station and Austin.  It’s not just about the two rival universities, though that is a big rivalry and one that doesn’t concern me at all.  I’ve been fraternizing with the enemy for a while now, and I plan to keep doing it because he’s cute and he makes delicious food for us to eat.

The rivalry I’m thinking about right now is between the two cities.  Even in university towns, there is a hope that there is life outside of the university, that there are fun things to do and people to meet and delicious things to eat when you leave campus.  As far as college towns go, College Station really is Aggieland, a place where the majority of us who aren’t students are employed by the university.  My sense is that this is not true for Austin, which is a much bigger city and the state capitol, so there’s all sorts of political business that takes place there, independent of the University of Texas.  Historically, Austin has been a haven for hippies, hipsters, and other folks who march barefoot to their own drummer.  They’ve got a saying in Austin, “Keep Austin weird,” which I assumed referred to all the hippies.  I was wrong.  Apparently, its real origins came from a desire to encourage people to support local business, to preserve Austin’s unique cultural heritage by putting dollars right into the economic heart of the city.

Or was I wrong?  If the slogan originated when some dude was looking around at all the tattoos and body piercings of the waitstaff at a diner, I might not be so far off in my guess about one thing that makes Austin weird.

Anyway, at some unknown point in time, College Station launched a counterslogan to Austin’s “Keep Austin Weird.”  Their slogan?  “Keep College Station Normal.”  I’ve seen it on t-shirts around campus, and to be quite honest, I hate it.  Because really, what does it mean?  What is normal?  This question leads me into Michael Warner territory, and while I don’t want to open that can of worms today, I do think that this slogan is ridiculous.  College Station, for its own prosperity and economic future, could use more of Austin’s weirdness, more local business, more quirkiness, more diversity.  It could use more hippies and vegetarians and poets, dammit!

I think College Station suffers from an inferiority complex in regard to its feelings toward Austin.  Austin has worked hard to make itself a tourist town, a fun place to visit, a city with something for everybody.  College Station is more rural, more of a small town with a large university and a famous football program.  I hear rumblings of racism and homophobia in College Station, but I can’t say that there is more intolerance here than elsewhere.  And I can’t speak from experience because I’m a white woman with (comparatively) long hair and a closet full of skirts.  I hardly appear to be a target for hatred-spewing bigots, so I just don’t know what to say.

When I first moved here, Matt told me that there would be some gems in this area, but I’d have to work to find them.  That man speaks the truth because there are now many places around here that feel special to me.  All around town, I’ve sipped coffee, eaten delicious dinners, run miles and miles while training for half-marathons, and sat by a fountain and thought about life.  While I wouldn’t have chosen College Station for my home, College Station welcomed me with open arms and told me to settle into the swing of things.  And while I will look forward to more weirdness around here—please, somebody open a fresh juice bar!—I remain content that I am here, for now, gainfully employed and making friends and trying not to get sunburnt under the Texas sun.

* * *

I started this post thinking I was going to tell you about a grocery find from today.  I think I’ll save that for tomorrow, because I just love how this post demonstrates the meandering nature of writing.  I think it’s one of my favorite quirks about writing: one never knows exactly what the final product is going to contain!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Contemplation of Friendship and Past, Present, and Future

Drying Dishes

Hi, friends.  Happy Hump Day!  Or for the less provocative reader, happy Wednesday.

I’ve been in a contemplative mood since returning from Austin on Sunday.  Usually contemplation means I’m itching to write, but after sharing a little bit about dinner with friends at Fino in Austin, I haven’t felt much like writing.  Instead, I’ve been cooking, and cleaning my kitchen, and taking long bike rides.  I haven’t even been walking much, but tonight, I felt like taking a walk.  April is a really gorgeous month here in Texas; April and November are my favorite months in the Lone Star State.  Although we’ve had a lot of wind, we’ve also had warm-but-mild temperatures and enough sun to keep me happy.  It’s so easy to be outside at this time of year.

There was no sun this evening during my walk—the moon was already high in the dark velvety sky—and there was a touch of a breeze, just enough to keep the air moving.  I wore my favorite comfortable shorts and a soft black t-shirt, purchased on a whim from the men’s department.  And I walked, thinking about the same things that have been occupying me since leaving Austin: how very happy I am to have the friends I have.  I don’t know if you know this, but there are a lot of annoying people out there.  It can be tough to find people who are easy to get along with, smart, funny, kind, and generous.  And on top of that, these people know me.  They know me from the years we’ve spent together, in good times and in bad.  I can still remember one evening spent with my oldest friend out of the three with whom I ate dinner.  It was a summer evening in 2006; we’d gone to a Korean restaurant in her neighborhood for dinner.  I ate chapchae with tofu, the glassy noodles slick with soy sauce and covered in sesame seeds.  It was delicious.  We were in Chicago, and we’d been spending a lot of time together and having fun.  A few days before that dinner, I found out that my favorite professor from college was dying of cancer.  They thought he would live just a few more days before passing; indeed, he passed within a week or two of my hearing the news.  I found out by e-mail, one early Friday morning in the lab, and I sobbed at my desk for half an hour, with nobody else in the lab to hear my grief.  I think it was a relief not to have anyone else there—it just felt too personal, too heart-wrenching to try to explain.

After dinner at the Korean restaurant, my friend and I wandered around her neighborhood, admiring the pretty houses and talking talking talking.  We decided to get ice cream—this woman brings out the sweet tooth in my mouth; why does dessert taste better when I eat it with her?—and so we bought cones.  I remember they came with little spoons, for some reason, and as we stood out on the street on that summer night, the city all around us, our conversation turned to my beloved professor.  After all these years, I have forgotten what we said, and I don’t even remember whether he had passed away yet, but nevertheless, we both dipped our little spoons into our ice cream and shared a toast to Ned’s life.  An ice cream toast!  It was ridiculous, but somehow, it was just right.  Ned would have loved it—the spontaneity, the quirkiness, and two friends happy to be in each other’s company on a beautiful summer night.

Seeing this friend again in Austin reminded me of how, for a short period of time, we were such good friends.  And then she moved back to North Carolina, and we drifted apart.  We share a lot of connections, professional and personal, but our daily lives do not intersect.  Before this past weekend, it had been so long since I’d seen her—three years.  I don’t want another three years to go by without sitting down to eat a meal with her.  That would be a shame.

I thought about all of this on my walk tonight, and something unusual popped into my head: Attraversiamo.  It’s terribly cheesy, I know, but I trust that you have all read Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert and remember that this phrase, Attraversiamo, means Let’s cross over in Italian.  I thought of that phrase tonight, and I’m not sure what it means to me, right now.  But it feels weighty to me, this thought, this feeling, like I’m about to cross over but into what?

Maybe into my future.  Because bringing those three friends together at dinner felt like pieces of my past, my present, and my future fusing together into one marvelous evening.  It’s hard for me to explain what I mean, because obviously they are all part of my present if I’m sitting there having dinner with them.  What I mean is a little more complicated: if I looked at the me that existed in 2007, each of those people would exist in a particular timeframe of my life: my oldest friend part of my past, my newest friend part of my future, and the last person part of my present.  But now, I feel like they are all my past, present, and future.  I didn’t know that before this weekend.

My road trip friend, the one with whom I made the journey to Austin, said to me, “Next time, let’s go out to Lake Travis together and spend the day.”  When she said the word let’s, short for let us, of course, I assume she means the four of us.  That thought made me happy: the four of us and a next time.  Let us cross over into the future together.  Attraversiamo.  Yes.

* * *

PS  I know, I know, I know: this blog is drifting far from its food-and—recipe focus.  But I’m thinking of giving you a little cookbook reading list tomorrow—a list of the cookbooks I’ve got piled on my kitchen table right now because I keep flipping them open for inspiration.  Would you enjoy such a list?  Should I get back to posting recipes?  I will, sooner or later, but for now, I’m heavy on the life and love part of this blog and a little lighter on the food.  I hope you don’t mind.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

To Love is to Share


One peculiar and lovely truth about my friends is that I never, ever worry about introducing them.  I think I take it for granted that because I adore each of them, they will, in turn, at the very least, get along, if not find one another as charming as I find each of them.  I take this all for granted, but for good reason: some of the happiest moments in my life have been those moments when the people from different parts of my life meet one another.

I want to tell this story because it makes me so happy, but as a friend, I will have to edit myself a bit here to respect certain boundaries of privacy.  I’m not going to name names here or define the relationships too precisely.  I don’t do this to tease you, dear reader, nor to make myself look like a Woman of Mystery.  But our personal lives can be delicate little creatures that must be handled gently.  And the thing about personal lives is that inevitably your personal life is not just your personal life—it intersects with that of your friends and lovers and family and their friends, lovers, family…it’s like the proverbial stone tossed in the center of a quiet pond.  The stone breaks the surface, and the ripples fan outward, reaching toward the edges, seemingly eager to find the boundary that will stop them and return the pond to its peaceful state.

This weekend I went to Austin, Texas for the first time.  It’s a trip I have wanted to take for a long time, but it took me a year and a half of Texas living to make it happen.  There were details that needed to be worked out, like transportation and lodging.  I don’t have a car, and while life in College Station is manageable on foot or on two wheels, road trips are an entirely different beast.  Then there was the question of lodging, which can get pricy.  I find hotel prices stunning—the amount of money that one can pay for what amounts to a roof overhead and a bed in which to sleep!  I’m underselling hotels a little bit here, I know, and our lodging in Austin was comfortable and reasonably priced—I have no complaints.  But still: if you are new to paying for a hotel room like I am, it takes some motivation to bite the bullet and find your credit card.

My road trip buddy and I worked out the details fairly painlessly: she drove and paid for the gas, I booked and paid for the hotel room.  We did a simple overnight trip, leaving on Saturday morning and coming back on Sunday.  The rest of our trip was planned by our handsome Austin tour guide, who treated us like honored guests, showing us his favorite places in Austin, plying us with coffee and cookies and a terrific nature walk during which we felt like we were climbing up and down a mountain, so steep was the elevation in parts of the trail.  And as a reward for our persistence, we were treated to stunning views of a valley with a winking, sparkling river running through it.

For dinner on Saturday night, we went to Fino, which our tour guide described as a Spanish-influenced restaurant with touches of Tex-Mex style in its use of ingredients and certain dishes on the menu.  It was really a magical evening for me, not just because Fino’s food is delicious and the service impeccable, but because of the company with whom I dined.  There were four of us, me and the three friends brought together by their connections to me and each other.  My road trip buddy is my newest close friend and my best friend in College Station.  My oldest friend at the table is the one I see the least, but to see her was to be reminded of all that we had shared years ago, when we worked and played together in Chicago.  Seeing her was like slipping into a favorite but neglected piece of clothing; indeed, her hug felt so strong and sure that I felt this rush of affection and regret for letting so many years go by without seeing her.  We’ve kept in touch by phone, and I always try to remember to send a little card for her birthday, but it can feel intimidating to keep up a long-distance friendship.  I am guilty of letting our friendship settle into a dusty corner in my mind, but that doesn’t diminish my feelings.  Some old friendships are like a fine wine—they can not only tolerate some time in the cellar, but they actually grow better with age.  

It was through this old friend of mine that I met our tour guide, who was the one most responsible for the fine meal we ate together.  As we sat there over coffees at the end of the meal, after small plates of goat cheese toasts and chorizo-stuffed dates, bowls of white almond gazpacho (a revelation of flavors and textures—it was amazing), and big plates of trout, bone marrow, and vegetable cazuela, I marveled at the day, the evening, these people who have brought so much joy and laughter to my life.  I thought about the ways in which we met each other—two of us through work years ago, another two of us through work more recently, two of us at a long-ago party, two of us through a friendship with me, two of us meeting that very evening because of the other two, and finally, two of us through my oldest friend at the table.  We were so lucky, I think, to have found each other in whatever way, but more than that, we were lucky that we found ways to conquer time and distance so that we could still be in each other’s lives.

I can be a bit territorial about some things—my home, my work space, my time—but somehow, through some act of grace, I’m not territorial about my friends.  I don’t feel possessive or selfish about sharing my friends with each other.  I love bringing people together, being the Kevin Bacon for two people who otherwise might not ever meet.  As I get older, this desire to share grows stronger.  I like the excitement of making a new connection, of attaching faces to names for my friends who have only heard of one another and have little context other than my stories.  That evening, around a table for four, I just felt surrounded by love.  I was practically drowning in gooey sentiments, swimming through sappy, happy contentment.  If I could live a life where those moments of loving and sharing are not too far apart, then I think I could consider my life a good one.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Gratin Dishes and First-World Dilemmas

I am thinking about shopping and consumption a lot lately and here’s why: because I can and because I would like to buy certain things.  Like a gratin dish.

Let me assure you that I am feeling quite privileged and spoiled about this situation.  In my mind, I’m still a graduate student living on a reasonably modest stipend.  I should be shopping at Goodwill and secondhand stores, and I’ve done none of that since I moved to Texas.  When I lived in Evanston, just north of Chicago, I lived a few city blocks from many thrift stores.  Now, the nearest thrift store is a few miles away, and I just haven’t been in the mood for a bike ride and thrifting adventure.  Do you know why?  Because I spend all my best hours working!  First-world life indeed.

Anyway, perhaps you have noticed that this blog has its very first sponsor, cookware.com, part of the CSN family of stores.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I love working with CSN Stores.  They’ve sponsored giveaways and product reviews here and at many great blogs around the internets, and to me, it’s a pleasure to work with them.  I’m always cautious about commercials and advertising on this blog because I want the focus to be on cooking and writing, not buying stuff.  But the main reason we cook is so that we may eat, and if that isn’t the definition of consumption, then I’m throwing away my dictionary.

Recently, CSN sponsored a little advertising on my other blog, Feels Like Flying, and as a result, I’ve had a $35 gift certificate burning a hole in my electronic wallet.  I’m leaning toward buying a gratin dish because I don’t own one, and it seems like a useful thing to have around the kitchen.  But here is my dilemma: most of the time I’m cooking for one.  Should I get a small dish for my small-scale cooking projects, or should I get a larger dish for those days when I’m feeding a crowd?  For the small-scale days, I like this one-quart Le Creuset gratin dish, which happens to match my soup pot:


For feeding a crowd or making lots of leftovers for myself, I like this three-quart Bonjour gratin dish in rouge (rouge! so fancy!):


Neither item is very expensive (~$25-30), and I know I’d get years and years of cooking out of them.  Which one do you like?  Am I completely spoiled rotten if I buy both of them?  I like to shop in bulk—it’s so efficient!  And I can be a bit of a priss who is difficult to please, so when I find something I like, it seems like the smart thing is to go for it with gusto.

Wallet, prepare to be opened!

* CSN Stores did not sponsor this post, but they are sponsoring this blog.  We have a business relationship, which of course means that I am biased.  Such is life in the marketplace!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Friday Evening at Home, with Snack and Novel

Snack Time

Reading Time


Sometimes, we all just need an evening to relax.  Whatever that may mean to you.  To me, it might mean different things on different days—a long walk, a dinner out with friends, an evening spent making a mess in the kitchen.  Last night, it meant making a decadent snack before dinner and curling up on the couch with Edith Wharton.

I arrived home from work feeling happy that the work part of the day was done, but I was also feeling flattened by it.  It definitely did not help that I had opted for tea instead of coffee that morning, and the previous night’s wine may have been hanging around in my system, trying to convince me Friday was Saturday.  But the science must go on, so I diligently went to work, did my thing, and came home, ready to unwind.

I’ve gotten into the habit now of making myself a pre-dinner snack, which means I eat two snacks between lunch and dinner.  I admit that it’s kind of ridiculous, but I really need to eat every three hours or so, and there’s just too much time between lunch and dinner to eat just once.  So I eat two snacks and hope that it’s truly hunger and not gluttony guiding my hands into the refrigerator.  It can be hard to tell the difference, you know.  Last night’s snack was two huge dates, one stuffed with peanut butter and the other with blue cheese, a skinny carrot, and a chocolate-strawberry egg cream.  It seemed like a lot of food for a snack, but I was pretty hungry and not in the mood to eat dinner right away, so I decided to go for it.  Such a large snack gave me lots of time to lounge on the couch, reading The Age of Innocence.

I discovered a serendipitous mistake in my 2011 reading list.  The Edith Wharton book that Matt had recommended to me was not The Age of Innocence; it was The Age of Mirth.  Clearly I was easily tricked, but I don’t mind because I am really enjoying The Age of Innocence.  I’m about forty pages from the end, and it’s been a delicious read.  Edith Wharton has an elegant, concise style that captures the temperament and emotion of her characters in a way that seems effortless.  Her writing is really lovely, and though she is telling what seems like a timeless story—a love triangle, told primarily from the perspective of the guy in the middle—the way she tells her story makes it seem fresh, intriguing, sweet, and sad.  The love triangle is one of the oldest tricks in literature, or so it seems, but this one strikes me as more mature than most versions.  And it has some great humor in it, too, which is really fun.

Between the stuffed dates, the egg cream, and a terrific novel, I was restored back to good health.  I think I am easy to please.