Sunday, September 03, 2017

Cauliflower Rice


Why I Hate Eating Out

Every now and then, I happen upon food in a restaurant so absolutely wonderful I have to either figure out how to recreate the recipe in my own kitchen or be forced to visit the restaurant again, requiring yet another meal out.

Eating out demands a whole social system I’m usually just too exhausted to deal with. Other diners, the host person and waitstaff all require my interaction. Most of them – well intentioned, I’m sure – want to chat using that hideous manifestation of extroversion connection: Small Talk.

Server: How are you today? (Translation: Are you going to be low-maintenance, or…gluten free?)

Me: Fine. (Translation: Please don’t tell me your name…)

Server: My name is Ashley/Bradley/Brooke/Chandler and I’ll be your server. (Translation: You’re going to complain about the air conditioner hitting you in that seat. I know it.)

Me: Hi. (Translation: Oh my God! Now I have to remember his/her name. I’ve already forgotten it! What ever happened to people named John and Mary? What do kids with weird names do when they want pre-printed stickers to put on their notebooks and they can’t find a sticker with the name “Tracey” spelled “T-R-A-Y-S-E-E?” They would have to special order…)

Server: Ma’me? Ma’me? (Translation: Are you having a stroke? You didn’t hear me ask what you wanted to drink and you’re tipping the chair over and dropping the cutlery all over the place.)

However, Dirtman requires I go to restaurants on occasion and going with him doesn’t make matters any better. Dirtman doesn’t go to restaurants so much to eat, as to socialize. (Yeah, I know – how have we stayed married 30 years?)

First Dirtman scopes out the room, looking for someone he knows… or someone he might know… or someone wearing a Virginia Tech t-shirt… or someone wearing anything. He chooses his victim, wolfs down his food, excuses himself to go to the bathroom, never to be heard from again.

This leaves me at the table alone and at the mercy of a server who, now feels sorry for me and wants to ramp up the conversation.

Server: Are you enjoying your meal? (Translation: Jeese, even her husband doesn’t want to eat with her.)

Me: … (Translation: My mouth is full of food. Is it more rude to answer with a mouthful or try to swallow first and risk that, since this is small talk, she/he doesn’t really care and will move on before I get a chance to answer, in which case she/he’ll think I’m rude…)

Server: I’ll just take some of these dishes away. (Translation: Maybe I should go get her husband who is sitting at that table chatting with that group of bewildered Buddhist monks.)

I carry my Kindle with me always for just such occasions. I act like I’m reading something requiring full concentration. (Translation: I am deep and too focused on my reading to discuss whether it’s hot enough for me.)

During one of these meals I was introduced to a magical manifestation: Cauliflower Rice; specifically, cauliflower rice from Zoe’s Kitchen. Zoe’s is fast food (ish), without the health risk – and they make an incredible hibiscus green iced tea. And cauliflower rice answers the prayers of a 60-year-old woman who has finally admitted her carb-loaded days have passed (begrudgingly -- I still sneak in a pasta day. I'm not a psychopath).

Zoe’s Cauliflower Rice, infused with wonderful fresh flavors, forced me to spend half the time I should have been focused on the Charlottesville Opera’s performance of Oklahoma! instead trying to figure the interesting seasoning mixture that made the dish so captivating.

My first attempt contains the obvious flavors of lemon and dill and is very good. But it lacks the one very important spice that gives Zoe’s version its unique flavor. Cardamom was acceptable, but I have to own up to a miss.

You know what this means. It means another visit to Zoe’s Kitchen. Otherwise I’ll never be able to eat Cauliflower Rice without pants.*

*For those that know me – sorry for that visual flashing in your brain.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Thank you, Middle Eastern cuisine, for baba ganoush

Here's the thing about eggplant: I love eggplant. So, on a Saturday when I do my bi-weekly shopping, I buy an eggplant.

I’m going to make eggplant parmesan or eggplant melanzane (which is like saying “eggplant eggplant,” but in Sicilian it’s pronounced “moo-lin-yan’” and that’s what my grandmother called a casserole with just marinara, eggplant and romano cheese).

On Saturday I have great plans for that eggplant…

…which don’t take place that night because – duh – I’m tired out from shopping and doing all the stuff that doesn’t get done during the week. Fire up the grill and let Dirtman do the cooking. Men like that, right?

So, Sunday…we take a drive on Sunday, just anywhere. We try to get lost.We come home late. Too late for eggplant anyway.

Monday…I work at the DM V. And it’s a Monday. Need I say more? Leftovers.

Tuesday…Again, DMV. Cheese quesadillas. Again. If it’s Tuesday it must be quesadillas.

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday are days I work at a food pantry. By the time I get home, playing with food is the last thing on my mind. I ditch my weekly pledge to cut down on carbs and boil up the pasta – a little olive oil, a little parsley, some garlic and a lot of cheese, done. Or eggs. (Yawn)

Back to Saturday and there is my lovely eggplant – only now it’s blotchy and sad.

Another eggplant destined for the trash…

…until I discovered baba ganoush*.

It’s simple, really. Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise, poke a few holes in the skin, brush the cut side with olive oils and bake, cut side down, for 35-40 minutes at 400 degrees. As it cools, finely mince a clove or two of garlic. Scrape out and mash up the meat of the eggplant, add the garlic, two or three tablespoons of tahini, the juice of a lemon, a teaspoon of cumin, ¼ teaspoon cayenne (this makes it pretty hot) and salt to taste. Use it as a dip for pita wedges, cucumber slices, celery – whatever.

(Disclaimer: Dirtman hates baba ganoush. But, then, Dirtman is compelled to dump cream sauce on fresh, tender asparagus and was raised on Miracle Whip. So, basically, he's brain damaged.)

The wonderful thing about baba ganoush, in addition to its snappy taste, is that it only uses the interior of the eggplant. So when I have a week like the one I just mentioned – which is, like, always – that sad, blotchy eggplant can still be a perfect starter with a smooth goat cheese... and a martini as dry as a Stephen Fry quip.

*I’ve seen this spelled so many different ways, I opted for the one that was phonetic. I’m sure it’s not authentic.

Monday, June 19, 2017

A Somewhat Delayed Fathers' Day Post*

PVT John Theodore EckersonGenealogy research is one of those activities, like bird watching, you don’t come to until you are older.

I don’t know why this is, because it’s rather counter-productive. By the time you’re interested, most of the people who could have provided the information you desperately need are dead or mentally incapacitated.

I never knew my paternal grandfather, who died in the trenches of World War I. I’ve been gazing at his picture from a newspaper article written about him in the early years of the war, when he voluntarily signed up to serve -- in spite of his military exemption because he had several children (my infant father) and one on the way -- because, as he is quoted as saying, “there are plenty of slackers.”

I want to slap him, knowing as I do the hardship his death caused my widowed grandmother, who was forced to dole her children out to boarding houses to raise themselves.

So I signed into an ancestry research site. A search reveals his name on the draft registration roster and in two clicks I'm looking at my grandfather’s signature on his registration form. Suddenly he is a person – my person. My grandfather. For a moment I’m stunned.

This man whose name, when spoken, resulted in an eye-roll from both my father and my aunt, was suddenly real to me. Would he have asked me to pull his finger? Would he have swiped in front of my face, bent his thumb toward his palm and claim possession of my nose? Would he like me?

And why, for God's sake, do I care?

At one point, the family tree splits, with each branch settling in two different counties in New Jersey, and two entirely different economic and social classes. I don’t think I need to mention which branch I’m descended from.

There are no Elizabeth Bennetts or Mr. Darcys lurking in my family tree; not even a Jane Eyre or Jo March. My people were servants to those characters, nameless, faceless workers who supported the romance that is presented as the Regency and Victorian eras.
Is it some sort of inherited memory that I never had the same romantic vision of the 19th century as the media presents?

Deep down I’m always aware that while a small population was fluttering about in hoop skirts and covering their noses with lace hankies, even more people were breaking their backs carrying the water to keep them in their dainty finery. That's my people.

I look back at my grandfather’s picture. Though he gazes back at me with my father’s eyes, I still feel anger at this arrogant truck driver who stumbled into the line of fire. Had he not been who he was, had he not died, growing up I might have actually had a grandfather.

But then, had he lived, my father might never have been forced to leave college to get a job as a jewelry salesman to support his mother. It was there he met my mother. Where it not for that arrogant truck driver (or as Pa used to say, “I think my father was sort of a jerk.”), my parents would have never met.

And you, dear reader, instead of reading this, would be scrolling through Facebook posts on “Look at These 70s Celebs All Grown Up!” And Dirtman would be roaming freely about the world, trying to engage anyone and everyone into conversations about the weather. (On behalf of my family tree, you’re welcome.)

Physicists say that it is humans who impose a linear quality to the concept of time; some claim that events just happen without regard to past, present or future.

My existence has depended on the trajectory of a bullet shot in 1918 by a soldier whose name I’ll never know.

This amazes and humbles me.

*Portions of this post were originally published in (an old, old) column of Spot-On.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

A New Year's Post In Which I Manage to Not Invoke the Name of the President-Elect*

Dear 2017,
Image result for Baby New Year
It’s been a long time since I’ve felt the need to address the New Year. Things seemed to be progressing at a pretty normal pace. It seemed my input wasn’t necessary like it was for your siblings 2012 and 2014.

And then there was your sibling 2016 – the Hannibal Lechter of years. I realize now that, as New Years go, these little discussions are mandatory since evidently subjective and arbitrary timeframes have no respect for decency.

In the past, I’ll admit I’ve judged you and your siblings on the crap you flung at me, personally. It never occurred to me that, lacking my direction, you’d expand your systematic destruction to the world at large.

So…2017…we need to talk. Because evidently, like a pre-teen, you seem to think that if I don’t specifically tell you not to do something, it automatically means it’s okay to do. For instance – I never said to my kids, “don’t play Jousting Tournament on your bicycles.” I went for the simple “don’t be a moron,” assuming that would prevent them from careening at each other with the gas grill rotisserie shafts. I was wrong.

Indeed, I never specifically told your sibling, 2016, to not bring our entire civilization to its knees. At this time last year, such as statement was sort of like telling someone “don’t take any wooden nickels.” Such a phrase was outdated because any idiot would know the difference between a sanctioned, intricately-minted coin and a piece of worthless junk carved to look like something of value that can slip through a dysfunctional mechanism.

And so 2016 was the year that was so horrible, a bevy of celebrities opted to jump ship rather than endure even one more week of it. It was the year so horrible that even the people who got their way still seemed to be really mad at the people who didn’t. It was the year no one was happy.

What has made it even worse is that 2016 packed up and disappeared, but didn’t take its garbage with it. So here we are, drowning in the detritus of your sibling and you show up expecting some sort of celebration.

Well 2017, you’re going to have to prove yourself. Frankly, you don’t have a whole lot to work with and Kardashian mutations are still infesting every aspect of our culture (deep down I suspect this is the root of all the world’s problems).

So for now I’ll wait…and watch…and find a nice, safe place for my spare pair of glasses.


*Sort of.

Monday, November 23, 2015

10 Things That Really Bug Me A Lot More Than They Probably Should

1. People who talk about their sports team in terms of "we;" as in "WE really tore them up this week;" as if the speaker him- or her-self had been out on the field instead of parked on the sofa eating tortilla chips.

2. Using Facebook to say "Happy Birthday, "Happy Anniversary," "I love you," etc. to someone you live someone you live with. For pete's sake, turn your head! There he or she is! Now speak the words. That's how we used to do it in the olden days.

3. (while we're on the subject of Facebook) Postings threatening me that if I don't "share" them, I don't love the poster, I don't love 'Murica, I don't respect veterans, I want people to die of cancer, will have something horrible happen to me.

4. Not just stinkbugs, but dive-bombing stinkbugs; dive-bombing stinkbugs IN THE DARK. They turn me into Tippi Hedren in The Birds when she for some inexplicable reason goes to the upstairs room, opens the door, sees big honkin' birds all over the place and then enters the room anyway.

5. When people write "Walla!" instead of "Voila!"

6. Owen Wilson. I don't know why -- might be his lips. He has Donald Trump lips (and I DO know why HE bugs me).

7. The fact that, in 28 years of marriage, Dirtman has not finished a single container of anything. He leaves approximately a tablespoon of product in any container -- whether it's shampoo, a box of cereal only he eats, or milk -- and then opens a new container. I guarantee, if I go into the kitchen right now, there is a bag of wheat squares on top of the fridge with precisely two squares in it. And, actually -- I think this bugs me precisely as much as it should.

...and yes, I've told him. I've gone on 10-minute rants about finding one freakin' cracker wrapped up in a big saltine box in a cabinet already crammed with a jar of Jif with a teaspoon of  peanut butter and a bottle of Log Cabin with a tiny pool of syrup at the bottom, along with almost-full opened versions of each product. I mean, how is that one freakin' cracker too much?

8. That there are people who will think I am overreacting to #7.

9. When my computer refuses to download something with the phrase "You are not connected." I take this personally and get really sad.

10. That every article you read these days is in the form of lists. It's a cheap trick to get people to read something absolutely inane.