Monday, May 30, 2011

Yes, Because We Needed Further Evidence

As if I hadn't already amassed enough evidence that online dating, and OkCupid in particular, SUCKS ASS, this past weekend I got matched with this guy. Apparently he hasn't had enough opportunities to screw with my life and interfere with my emotional health; nope, OkCupid thinks he needs another shot.

I hate online dating.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Truck Steak

The other day, as I was pouring myself a glass of wine and reviewing the recipe I’d be making that night for dinner (Gnocchi with Asparagus, Shrimp & Pesto), there was a knock at my door. Ever since I became single again I’ve been more cautious about opening the door to strangers, and I’ll often ignore solicitors completely. But I was expecting a package and didn’t bother to look through the peephole and just flung the door open. This was one time I really should have looked through the peephole first.

“Hi! How ya doin’?” asked a large, cheery woman wearing jeans and a black camisole tank top two sizes too small for her ample bosom.

“Um… fine.”

“Well, listen, I work for a business just down the road and we were making some deliveries in the area…” She gestured over her shoulder toward the beat up white pickup truck idling in the street with what looked like a used washing machine in the back.

My first thought was appliance deliveries, and the shriveled little bit of optimism that still lives somewhere deep inside me thought, “Oh, they’ve come to see if I need any junk hauled away! How nice!”

“Uh huh…”

“So let me ask you – do you still do a lot of cooking at home?”

My second thought was, “Shit, she’s trying to sell me something. I knew I should have looked through that damn peephole.” 

“Uh huh…”

“And do you like to eat good steak?”

That’s when it all came together for me. That large appliance in the back of her dirty old pickup wasn’t a washing machine but a freezer, and they were selling steaks out of it. That was also the point at which the dirty rotten liar in me kicked into gear.

“Oh, sorry, I don’t eat red meat,” I said, smiling and lying through my carnivorous, blood-thirsty teeth.

The poor woman looked genuinely confused. “Really? You don’t eat red meat?”

“Nope. Sorry. I really shouldn’t live in Texas, should I?” And then I promptly closed the door.

Here’s the thing: I do eat red meat. Not a lot of it, but I appreciate a juicy, well-prepared, medium rare steak. In fact, I even get a hankering for it once in a while. But I have a general rule about purchasing raw protein out of the back of a pickup truck: unless it’s at a farmer’s market and from a reputable vendor, I don’t do it.

Why? Two reasons. First, I watch a fair amount of the “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” on The Food Network, and do you know how not one single story on that show begins? “Well, you see, I was just minding my own business one day when some stranger knocked on my door and offered to sell me some fine steak out of the back of her dirty, beat up old pickup truck.” Nope, none of them begin that way. Not. one.

Second, I also watch a lot of Dateline NBC, and do you know how almost all of their episodes covering food-borne illnesses start out? Do you?!? With tales of poor sanitation, cross contamination, and improperly stored proteins. And that pickup truck looked like a breeding ground for all three.

And that is why I will not buy or eat Truck Steak.

I’m sorry for lying to you, Truck Steak Saleslady. I’m sure you’re a perfectly nice person just trying to make an honest living, and in all likelihood your steaks wouldn’t have left me dead, or worse – hunched over a toilet for days and wishing I was dead. But I’m just not willing to be famous for being The Idiot Who Bought Steak Out of the Back of a Truck and Then Almost Died. Sorry.

Now, my neighbors down the street, on the other hand… they’re a whole different story.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Kidding Around

Please pardon the pun in the title - I really couldn't help myself.

Recently I decided to break out of my comfort zone and start trying to make new, like-minded friends (and maybe meet some eligible bachelors with similar interests too?). I found out about Slow Food Austin and liked the sound of them. I signed up for their mailing list, and when a tour of Pure Luck Farm and Dairy in Dripping Springs, TX, came up on their calendar, I jumped on it.

Anyone who knows me knows that I have a mortal fear of goats. It dates back to a petting zoo incident when I was four, when I was surrounded by a herd of what seemed like menacing goats at the time, one of whom took it upon him (her?) self to eat my shirt. If you've ever been four and felt hairy goat lips nipping at your back, you can understand why this led me to burst into tears and scream, "Mommy! Mommy! He's eating me! He's eating me!" And thus a lifelong phobia was born.

Fast forward 20-something years to my wedding day at a small ranch house that had - you guessed it - two goats on the property (in retrospect, a bad omen). I never saw it, but several people reported that the goats got loose on the dance floor before the ceremony began. I can only guess that they planned to take a chunk of Alençon lace out of my dress and further scar me for life. 

Obviously, goats have it out for me.

Despite what was clearly a decades-long plot by the global goat cabal to take me out, I decided that 30 years old was quite old enough to be afraid of domesticated livestock. So I pulled on my big girl panties and headed out to Pure Luck determined to conquer my fear of goats - or die trying.

I wasn't expecting my foes to be so damn cute.

This one was the social butterfly. She wanted to meet everyone.
The farmers and cheesemakers took us on a tour of the farm, from the milking room to the cheesemaking operation to the pen with the kids. Most of the owners live on the farm, and it was really neat to see people who clearly love their work so much. 

Goat kisses.

This one scared easy, but she was pretty darn cute too.

All the goats were sweet, and not one tried to eat me or my clothes (although I did see that one had learned how to untie shoelaces, and she happily went from foot to foot, tugging on the ends of laces until they came undone, and then moving on to the next pair nearby).

Then we ate the cheese...

Pure Luck feta dressed with olive oil and fresh herbs from their certified organic farm.
Our hosts provided about four different kinds of cheese to sample with herbs, quince paste, Round Rock honey, and sun dried tomatoes. John Antonelli of Antonelli's Cheese Shop brought ciabattas and cold beer to go with the tasting too.

And then, because our hosts hadn't been generous enough already, they sent us home with goodie bags.

The Saint Maure was definitely my favorite. But really, I'm not a girl who turns down cheese of any kind.
I had some of the extra-aged Hopelessly Bleu and June's Joy on a whole wheat pita for dinner when I got home. I'm saving the Saint Maure for another day (or night) when I can really savor it. I'll definitely be seeking out Pure Luck next time I'm looking for a goat cheese, not only because I know how much love and care the owners put into raising the goats and making the cheese, but also because their cheese is just damn good.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The "Oh My God" Meal

I'm not exaggerating one bit when I saw that I am deeply involved in a long-term love affair with food. In fact, I have a pretty hard time naming more than one or two foods I don't like. Luckily I also love to cook and grow my own food. New recipes are my friends, so much so that I subscribe to a couple cooking magazines and belong to a cookbook club with several fine ladies. I know it's always helpful to me to have other cooks' notes handy when I attempt a new recipe, so I'm going to start blogging some of my favorite dishes and sharing my tips. Pardon me if I omit the failures.

Last week I tried something new from Eating Well. This is my absolute favorite food and cooking magazine, and if I were ever forced to cut back to one subscription this would be the one I kept (but please, cooking gods, don't ever do that to me). Each issue of the magazine has some sort of featured ingredient, and last month's was asparagus. This happens to be my favorite spring vegetable. My mom used to prepare it steamed, but these days I'll eat it steamed, roasted, stir fried, and sauteed. I love asparagus.

So you can imagine how absolutely over the moon I was when I got last month's issue in the  mail and saw all the recipes it had inside: Indian-Spiced Chicken & Asparagus, Panko-Crusted Asparagus Spears, Asparagus-Goat Cheese Souffles (Eating Well loves a hyphen in a recipe title, by the way), and Asparagus Salad Topped with Poached Eggs.

That last one stopped me in my tracks. A whole salad based on asparagus? Poached eggs? How would that work...? I stored the recipe in the back of my mind and decided to come back to it some other time. And then suddenly the timing was right.

One of my coworkers raises free-range chickens in her yard, feeding them organic, high omega-3 feed and selling us the eggs for $2.00 a dozen (and no, I haven't told her what a steal that is). I got a dozen earlier in the week, and happened to have some leftover asparagus in my fridge from another recipe the week before. Clearly, the fates had aligned. Asparagus Salad Topped with Poached Eggs it was.

And oh my god, this meal was SO GOOD. Seriously, I loved it. I'd make it again in a heartbeat. I'll probably make it again a couple more times this spring, and all next spring. It's that yummy.

Oh, you're looking for the money shot?

Click on the photo to enlarge it and see how good that looks up close.

My mom noticed a couple decades ago that I tend to hum when I like the food I'm eating. I hummed the entire time I ate this meal. In fact, I'm humming right now as I remember it. 

Serves 4
  • 2 bunches asparagus (about 1 pound each), trimmed
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, divided
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallot
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup distilled white vinegar
  • 1 7-ounce bag baby arugula (about 10 cups)
  • 1/2 cup thinly shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  1. Preheat oven to 450°F.
  2. Toss asparagus with 2 teaspoons oil and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper in a large bowl. Transfer to a large rimmed baking sheet. Roast, stirring once, until very tender, 15 to 20 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, whisk the remaining 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon oil, the remaining 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper, lemon zest, lemon juice, shallot and dry mustard in the bowl. Set aside 4 teaspoons of the dressing in a small bowl. # When the asparagus is done, set aside to cool while you poach the eggs.
  4. When the asparagus is done, set aside to cool while you poach the eggs.
  5. Break each egg into its own small bowl. Fill a large, straight-sided skillet or Dutch oven with 2 inches of water; bring to a boil. Add vinegar. Reduce to a gentle simmer: the water should be steaming and small bubbles should come up from the bottom of the pan. Submerging the lip of each bowl into the simmering water, gently add the eggs, one at a time. Cook 4 minutes for soft set, 5 minutes for medium set and 8 minutes for hard set. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the eggs to a clean kitchen towel to drain for a minute.
  6. Toss arugula with the dressing in the large bowl. Divide the salad among 4 plates. Top with asparagus and a poached egg and drizzle with 1 teaspoon of the reserved dressing. Garnish with cheese.
  • Make Ahead Tip: Cover and refrigerate the dressing (Step 3) for up to 1 day. 

  • Tip: To make shaved cheese for topping salads or pasta, use a vegetable peeler to thinly shave slices off a block of hard cheese, such as Parmigiano-Reggiano, Asiago or Pecorino Romano. 
Per serving: 239 calories; 18 g fat ( 4 g sat , 11 g mono ); 217 mg cholesterol; 9 g carbohydrates; 0 g added sugars; 13 g protein; 3 g fiber; 360 mg sodium; 534 mg potassium.
Nutrition Bonus: Folate (60% daily value), Vitamin A (53% dv), Vitamin C (38% dv), Calcium (23% dv), Iron (16% dv), Potassium (15% dv).

I poached my eggs for 8 minutes to hard set, but next time I'd probably go closer to 6 minutes. I don't love a super-runny egg, but a little bit more would have been nice. Also, in the future I'd go a little easier on the lemon zest - I felt like it overpowered a few bites of the meal.

I did alter a few things my first time out - something I don't usually do with new recipes. First, I used baby spinach because I buy a huge container of it each week for my lunches, so I had it on hand. Plus, I'm not a huge fan of that much arugula in a single meal. Second, I didn't have shallots and for whatever strange reason, the grocery store didn't have them either. I had a small amount of white onion leftover in the fridge so I used that instead. And even with the modifications, it was still SO GOOD.

In short: do you like asparagus? Do you like eggs? If you answered yes to both those questions, go and make this meal now, then come back and thank me later.

Friday, May 13, 2011

I Can Do Hard Things

No, that's not what she said.

While browsing Etsy the other day I came across this piece of artwork and it made me pause, like any good art should.

Image courtesy of Barn Owl Primitives on Etsy.

At first I wasn't certain what about it I found so intriguing. It wasn't that the message was so bold or daring. In fact, the meaning isn't so different from the iconic Rosie the Riveter posters featuring the now-familiar refrain, "We Can Do It!" It also wasn't the sign's stoic tone, which now feels familiar thanks to the the vintage British "Keep Calm and Carry On" posters that everyone seems to have these days. The more I thought about it, I kept coming back to the simplicity of the message, which cut through all the layers of excuses and denial and fear with a simple, honest, no frills statement: "We can do hard things."

I appreciate the honesty of the message as well. It doesn't say we will do hard things. Acknowledging that it is our choice to do so, it only says that we can. It also doesn't mislead us into believing that we will necessarily succeed at these hard things. We will sometimes fail, but we will still have done them. It isn't the success or failure that we are certain of, only that it can be gotten through and done.

I think this sign struck such a deep chord with me now because the last year has been full of hard things for me. I took a huge leap when I separated from my ex-husband and eventually filed for divorce. I was leaving behind a very secure life with someone I knew loved me and who would have done nearly anything to make our marriage work. There were countless times when I felt like I was way out on a very shaky limb, and I thought that going back to my old life would have been easier. And perhaps in some ways it would have been. But instead I did the hard thing, the scary thing, the thing I wasn't certain I would succeed at, and I'm proud of that now.

Coming out of that chaotic year, one of the things I value most is truly knowing that I can do hard things. When I was younger I often questioned my abilities and was always very quick to say, "I can't." New and hard things petrified me. But now I know, without a doubt, that I can do hard things. I may not always do them gracefully, and I may not even succeed at them, but I can get through them, and that knowledge will give me the courage to keep doing hard things in the future.

Note: While I've included a link to the Etsy shop that sells this item, I haven't purchased anything from the seller and I won't receive any sort of compensation if you visit the store or make a purchase. This is just something I saw that made me think, so I wrote about it. No endorsement from me and no profit for me.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Apparently They Don't Speak English in Texas

I'm driving a rental car for approximately the next 11 days. How do I know it's 11 days? Because the body shop told me so. I'm not going to go into a whole lot of detail about why I have a rental car because it's stupid and embarrassing and really doesn't reflect well on me in the end, but suffice to say my own car needs about $3,000 worth of work and I'll be driving someone else's for the next week and a half. End of story.

Anyway, my momma didn't raise (much of) a fool, so when I switched car insurance companies last year I got myself some rental car coverage, which I'm really happy about because 11 days worth of rental car really adds up. Like, around $400 worth adds up. On top of my $500 deductible. So I feel downright thrifty in hindsight.

When I reserved my rental last week the guy on the phone asked me what kind of car I drove. "A Honda Fit," I said. "You know, a hatchback."
"So what kind of car do you want to reserve?" he asked.
"Something compact. You know, not big." I really did think I was being specific enough.

This is what I got Monday morning.

"Not big."

That, my friends, is a Ford F150. With a crew cab. Because only by Texas standards would a four-door pickup truck be considered "compact." It's like the guy making my reservation and I weren't even speaking the same language.

When I first saw this monster, I informed the woman at the desk that I didn't want it. In fact, I said, "I don't want it." She informed me that it was all they had, which confused me, seeing as how I had a reservation for something "not big." "Compact," even. She didn't seem nearly as confused as I was, and suggested I take it for the day and swap it out after 5pm. Since we were apparently unable to communicate in a shared language, I just went along with it.

After work I returned the big black behemoth for something more reasonable for daily commuting, as opposed to, say, hauling livestock. They gave me a Chevy Impala, and it felt downright zippy compared to the beast of a truck I'd been driving around all day. 

Also not "compact," but closer.
The Impala will even start itself, which is a little too Knight Rider for my taste. But, being a stranger in this strange Texas land (even after nearly eight years), I'm not going to complain anymore. I'm clearly never going to understand this state, no matter how long I live here. I'm just glad to be driving something that I can actually park in a single (non-compact) parking space.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

It's Not So Much a "Block" as a "Black Hole"

I've always valued this blog as a place where I can write through and about my life. I never wanted it to be the sort of blog that simply recounted my daily life, but rather a place where I could be somewhat thoughtful - if not always serious - about my feelings and ideas and experiences. My blogging has been one of my ways of working through my emotional life - figuring out how I feel about something, or how I'm going to proceed with it.

Lately I've noticed that I haven't felt the need to write here quite as much. It could be a symptom of my life being significantly more settled than it was a year ago, but whatever it is, I just don't feel like I have much to write these days. It's not writer's block, which implies that there's something in there that could come out. It's more a lack of anything to say.

I'm conflicted and a little sad over this. I don't want to let this blog wither with only sporadic posts. I love the community of people who have grown up around it. They've been wonderfully supportive of me in times when my more traditional support system has not. But on the other hand, I don't want to write just because I feel like I need to post something regularly. I value the honesty and authenticity I've been able to maintain here, and I think routine posts about mostly nothing would undermine that. It's a bit of a conundrum, really. 

But rather than simply give up, I'm going to try taking a new direction or two. Please bear with me. I'm certain there will be a few posts that will be miserable failures, but maybe there will be a few that work as well. My hope is that, just as I'm slowly finding a new path forward in my life, I'll be able to do the same thing here.