Monday, January 30, 2012

The cheese does not stand alone

My January posts seem to be a little food heavy. Fear not, readers, it's not because I've given up doing things that don't involve eating. It's just that none of the non food related things really warrant talking about in a public forum. Food, on the other hand, will always have an audience. This is all a build up to a let down though because this post, while about food, does not have an ingenious recipe such as maple bacon caramel corn at its end. Rest assured though, there will be bacon.

Yesterday, I attended Mac and Cheese Takedown in Brooklyn. I had assumed the "takedown" was so named because we, as participants and superior life forms, would be taking some mac and cheese down by force of eating it. As it turns out, it was very much the other way around, and I will humbly admit to being taken down myself by the sheer quantity of noodles and add-ins presented to me. In essence, the event allows participants to try 25 different versions of mac and cheese provided by 25 local mac and cheese amateur chefs. Naturally, tickets were sold out weeks in advance.

On arrival, my friends and I were cocky. Twenty five mac and cheeses didn't sound so hard. We even made plans to stop at a nearby coffee shop for pie afterwards. How quickly we would realize our error when we hit the wall of our carb threshold a mere 40 minutes later. There were two lines, each passing by half of the competitors, so that you could get little plastic cups full of their entry. It was necessary to have two lines and make two separate passes because 25 little cups, even with carefully planned stacking, will not all fit on one plate. Unfortunately, it also meant that the first pass (in our case, samples 11-25) received a greater advantage than the second pass because at that point I still enjoyed the taste of mac and cheese and wanted to eat more of it. By the second pass, after 14 little cups of mac and cheese and one beer, I no longer really listened as the excited chefs told me which combinations of cheeses and add-ins made their recipe special. The last guy in line, sample number 1, was pontificating so much about his "4 mushroom mac and cheese" and how it was "such a delicate balance of flavors that it absolutely must be eaten as a shot" that I grew fed up and skipped his sample all together.

A sample of some of the spoils. This was from pass 2. The first batch, I was too busy eating to photograph.

The competition was fierce. There was mac and cheese with lobster meat and truffle croutons. There was mac and cheese with spare ribs and bbq sauce and another that tasted like a rueben sandwich. Naturally, there was bacon aplenty: bacon in the middle of a ball of fried mac and cheese, mac and cheese with duck bacon (or quack and cheese, as it was called), mac with two different kinds of bacon AND cracklings, and any numbers of entries where pork fat featured heavily. My personal favorite, and the one that received my vote, was one of the more simple offerings. I would never consider myself a mac and cheese purist, but surrounded by so many very busy food items, it was nice to settle on something comforting. The woman said it was her mother's recipe--a gruyere base with some white wine for complexity. So basically it tasted like fondue with pasta. Texture wise, it was the best by far. I have to give her props for managing that level of creaminess after traveling with it in a chafing dish and then letting it sit over a sterno. Not all of the competitors achieved that.

I wasn't the only one who enjoyed entry number 16. It was voted second among the crowd favorites. But what was the judges pick for best mac of the day? The verbose mushroom mac. I guess I should have sucked it up and tried it.

Friday, January 27, 2012

A little greasy for holding hands

Lately, the food blogs I frequent seem to be hardcore pushing this Valentines Day thing. I can get behind stacks of red velvet pancakes for a "Valentines Day" breakfast or any number of random, ridiculously rich, indulgent desserts, but do they have to be exclusive to one day in mid-February? Is the food blog world trying to tell me that I shouldn't be eating French toast with chocolate sauce (heart shaped or otherwise) for breakfast the other 364 days a year? Also, it seems that they aren't drawing the line at only heart-shaped, chocolate, or champagne themed food items. Any food can be romantic so long as it's posted about in the one and a half month period following New Years but before February 14th. One blog offers cheddar biscuit sandwiches as the perfect Valentines breakfast in bed. And for the perfect Valentines dinner another blog suggests flank steak with mushrooms. I have a feeling I could enjoy these items just as well alone with my cat on any old Monday night (although I guess since my boyfriend's the one who likes steak, I wouldn't stage something that ambitious on a night he was out).

I think too many food bloggers are overlooking the bigger food holiday coming up that allows--nay demands--foods with the highest possible contents of fat, sugar, and salt. Even non-football fans such as myself can appreciate the unhealthy food opportunities presented by Superbowl Sunday. But I don't think it should really matter about having an excuse, be it romance or pigskins, to eat poorly. (And yes, I realize this goes against everything I said in my last food post about baking healthier.) To that end, a week ago I had a true stroke of inspiration: maple bacon caramel corn.

I know, right?

This genius was the product of having an overabundance of bacon in my fridge and a love of sweet and salty combos, especially on popcorn. It might need some fine-tuning, but here's my process thus far:

1/2 unpopped popcorn
3 slices bacon
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup maple
a couple of dashes of salt

Preheat oven to 375.

Then cook the bacon to the crispiness you desire and move it to some paper towels to cool. Make sure to reserve the bacon grease.

Add the bacon grease to a large pan with a cover. Turn on medium high and add the popcorn. Cover with the lid and shake until most of the kernels are popped. Remove from heat and transfer to a large bowl.

In another pot (or if you're like me, the same one, rinsed and dried), add the maple syrup and butter and heat over medium heat. When bubbles start to form, stir vigorously with a whisk for 4-5 minutes until thickened. Remove from heat.

Crumble the bacon and add it to the bowl with the popcorn. Pour the caramel sauce over the popcorn. I then tossed it with salad tongs to evenly distribute. Pour the popcorn onto a cookie sheet lined with foil or parchment paper (or one of those slipat mats if you have one). Put in the oven for around 10 minutes until the caramel is dry and delicious.

Separate any globs of popcorn that may have become stuck together and enjoy!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Tři veteráni: A Review (sort of)

Back in January 0f 2008, I went to visit a friend in the Czech Republic. I was ostensibly in the country on a grant to study "Czech ballroom dance culture" because one of the advantages of going to a small liberal arts schools is that they will give you grants to research such things. However, my true aim was both to visit said friend and have a nice winter vacation in a place that, for obvious reasons that I somehow reasoned wouldn't phase me, has much fewer tourists in the winter. I did the usual site seeing in Prague and then rode a train 6 hours (a journey I think would have been much shorter if I'd spoken enough Czech to know how to ask for the express train) through the snow covered countryside to the town of Prostějov.

My friend was working on a paper while I was there, but I realized all I really wanted to do was relax after some busy traveling. There was thus a full day spent in which I didn't leave the house once. I enjoyed being warm inside and watching the snow, and while my friend worked on her paper, I drank copious amounts of tea with some sort of delicious cookie I've never found in the United States and watched children's programming with her nieces. Children's tv is actually perfect both for young speakers of Czech and adults who don't know it because I was able to follow along and shout out the word I knew meant "spider" thanks to the corresponding image on screen. However, the most enjoyable part of this day, specifically in terms of Czech children's media, was the discovery of the movie whose title translates in English to The Three Veterens.

I've always enjoyed an offbeat fairy tale and after seeing this one, felt that this story was too enjoyable to not be better known. I was even convinced that it should become a project of mine to translate the screenplay into English. Ever since that visit, I've been hounding my friend to procure me a copy. This year for my birthday, she sent me the movie on DVD (a most welcome gift--thanks, B!). Watching it again I realized it probably wouldn't be as easy to Americanize as I had thought. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it just as much the second time around.

The movie tells the story of the three titular veterans who, released from the army, find themselves on hard times. Luckily, they are visited by three dwarves who give them magical gifts--a hat that can create anything out of thin air, a purse that always has gold coins in it, and a harp that when strummed will create people who do whatever the harp's owner requires. The three men have differing opinions on what they should do with their newfound fortune--one wants to conquer the world, one wants to go fishing, and the last just wants to laze around and do nothing (which, as an editorial note, is probably the camp I would fall into were I to experience such a windfall). Hijinks ensue when they meet a greedy king and his beautiful and manipulative daughter. Not to spoil too much...but to give you a sense of the film...there is a long series of scenes in which a woman's nose grows so long that it visits multiple countries in Europe. It's madcap situations like this that I worry would fall flat with American audiences, despite being some of my personal favorites.

The nose makes it to Germany where it is initially mistrusted, but eventually given a medal.

Anyway, if anyone wants to take over the project of Americanizing a Czech children's classic--let me know. I might just have a copy I could lend you.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Love, loss, and what I ate

I haven't been posting many food updates because I haven't been baking as much. It's this whole "it's January and no longer my birthday so I should pretend to eat healthier for a few months" thing. I try to eat healthy most of the year, but baking is generally my undoing. I find reading food blogs is a gateway because once I read about something the idea is planted and I have no choice but to make some absurd cheesecake rich in refined sugar. However, as luck would have it, January is the time that everyone posts only their "low carb" "low sugar" and (a recent addition to the health party) "gluten free" recipes. As such, I've yet again embraced my oven for things other than broiling salmon and making kale chips.

Here are two recipes I've tried recently with great success. I'm a big believer in adding a vegetable to something unhealthy and thus claiming it's healthy. Butternut squash mac and cheese? Been there. This first recipe is in that vein. I saw another blogger posted a recipe for pizza crust made from cauliflower . I'm not going to post the recipe because I essentially followed her process (well except that my microwave is clearly far more powerful than hers because it only needed about 6 minutes). Also, my toppings of choice--based on what was in my refridgerator at the time--were blue cheese and bacon. It's no wonder I require vegetables in my pizza crust when the contents of my fridge at any given time are blue cheese and bacon.

I guess the other reason I haven't been posting about food much is because I still haven't figured out how to make the finished product not look like crap on a plate. I think a big step in that direction would be using an actual camera instead of a phone.

The second recipe that I met with some success with was for a dessert with no added sugars or oils. Yes, I was skeptical too. It's for a sort of clafouti but with raspberries instead of cherries. Actually, in the original recipe I adapted it from, she used cherries, but I'm not as into pitting them. I actually used frozen raspberries in this recipe because the fresh ones cost about the same as plutonium right now and if I bought them I would eat them before they made it into a dessert.

Here's the recipe (followed by the finished product, which I swear tastes better than it looks--stupid iphone in bad light):

2 bags frozen raspberries or 2 containers fresh (if you have more self control around them than I do)
1 1/3 cup almond meal
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
2 large eggs beaten
4 egg whites
1 cup unsweetened apple sauce
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp almond extract
1/4 cup sliced almonds

This is really very easy. Preheat the oven to 375. Now, just put the raspberries (no need to thaw if you're using frozen) in the bottom of a tart pan. In a small mixing bowl combine the two flours and in another bowl combine all other ingredients (except the almonds). Add the dry to the wet, mix well, and then pour over the berries. Sprinkle the sliced almonds on top and put the whole thing in the oven for 50 minutes. Comes out delicious and plenty sweet.

Again it's so much better than it looks.

Today is the first real snow of 2012--so I might just be doing some more baking tonight! From what I can see there are already a couple of inches on the ground. Stay warm readers (for those of you who don't live in Texas, that is), and have a great weekend!

Monday, January 16, 2012

The year I DID see Book of Mormon

Yesterday, the stars aligned, and I was finally able to see the much ballyhooed Book of Mormon. I credit the victory to logical statistics over time and also the fact that it was 19 degrees yesterday. Although I was actually surprised that the lottery enterers numbers hadn't really dwindled and that there were already a large number of people standing in the standing room line (people usually wait there for something like 8 hours for the privilege of paying $20 to stand for the duration of the show). However luck prevailed, and they called my name for the second to last pair of tickets that were front row center.

I'm not really posting this as a review of the show because the show certainly doesn't need any more publicity to keep selling tickets. But just in case my readers are more swayed by my commentary than the New York Times, it was the funniest musical I've seen (followed closely by Avenue Q, fittingly as both shows share a composer). I will say that I'm kind of surprised that the show is as mainstream as it is because it definitely has some humor that toes the line of bad taste. Then again, it's probably not any worse than South Park in terms of offensiveness, and that show has also never really suffered for viewers.

We would have had a better camera, but frankly we didn't really think we would win tickets. Note how frozen I look.

In addition to being hilarious, the cast was all excellent. I can see why both Andrew Rannells and Josh Gad were nominated for Tonys. Josh Gad is particularly funny and apparently a correspondant on the Daily Show. I haven't been watching the Daily Show much ever since I discovered Law & Order was streaming on Netflix, but I recognized him from the episode of Party Down where they cater the College Young Republicans meeting. He's the treasurer who gets a war torn flag as a gift for Arnold Shwarteneger. Which is really neither here nor there except that Party Down is also really great, and I hear they're making a movie.

The lotto dude always opens the lotto by saying "Hasa diga, everybody!" and then reminding people that the lucky winners will find out what that means (I've been to the lottery enough times to know every one of his jokes). Having seen the show, I now know as promised and can only say: well played, lotto dude.

I'm posting the photo below because it seemed to oddly tie into the theme of this post as this group looks very much the costuming of the dancing Mormons.
Practicing MJ's dance moves in the small side chamber of St. Marks Church

This was from a strange performance I did with the rest of the Thriller dancers (from the Halloween parade) at a church for a memorial service. If that sounds odd, that someone would want zombies dancing at a memorial, I thought so initially too. However, after hearing from her loved ones' remembrances and seeing a video of her learning the dance for her birthday a few years ago, it actually seemed really fitting. We're sorry she never got the chance to dance in the parade with us. It was nice to see everyone out of their flesh wounds though--we cleaned up very nice to look like a proper choir (we were in the program as the "Joyful Sounds Choir" because we were intended to be a surprise flash mob). All told it was a very surreal and moving experience (the latter not frequently associated with MJ), and I was glad to be a part of it.

Hope everyone is having a good Martin Luther King Day! I'm spending mine warm and indoors while Dinah sits vigil by her empty food bowl and occasionally sends me death stares. I don't think she realizes that keeping her at a healthy weight is actually harder on me than it is on her. I will say I feel a little guilty enjoying this yogurt in front of her.

Friday, January 13, 2012


I should be writing a number of things at this moment, none of which are this blog post. I'm working to finish writing samples for grad school applications (and bless all of those who read and gave thoughts on early drafts--gold stars all around). I also realized the deadline for a book that I haven't started yet is coming up faster than I realized. Normally, January in New York would be the perfect mix of biting cold and dismal slush combined to make my apartment the perfect forced writer's retreat. Alas, the weather has been lovely these last few weeks which can only mean that I will need to develop actual will power and work ethic to start/finish things. But as luck would have it 2012 is actually the very year I had planned to develop work ethic and will power so really it's just like everything is finally falling into place.

In light of this new Panglossian approach to life (to which I credit finally seeing the Muppets movie in all it's adorableness and thus to Bret McKenzie of Flight of the Conchords fame), I'm going to prioritize those thing which will get me paid and/or get me into a school that will then take all of that money. Never one to let such a resolution come at the expense of blogging (which as far as I can see neither earns me money or academic acclaim, but that's likely my own fault), I'm still updating today, but only to post links to other better things to entertain you. I'm actually not sure why I didn't think of this before. Enjoy!

A video montage of tumbleweeds in various films. More interesting than it sounds!

Photos of awesome street art from around the world. Who doesn't love street art? Well, the awesome kind anyway.

A totally different kind of street art--the less awesome and more morbid and sad kind. I found this because it was started by Sloane Crosely who writes the kind of personal essays that I think look easy until I really try.

This tumblr of ugly Renaissance babies was viral a month or so ago and was started by a guy I used to sit next to in a Postcolonial Lit class. Yet another famous artist to blossom from Hendrix College!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Karaoke and failure (surprisingly unrelated)

Since that last post, I'm worried I've begun something of a Book of Mormon lottery addiction. On Friday, because the evening performance is an hour later than on normal weekdays and thus I can make it to the lottery without leaving work early--I headed over there yet again. After another unfortunate failure (which actually ended up fine because the backup plan was to see The Artist, which was really enjoyable--definitely recommended), we headed back over there for the Saturday matinee lottery. Another loss. Interestingly, my fascination with the lottery seems to be contagious (although I can't really take credit for that, as who wouldn't want to win front row center tickets valued at close to $500 and unavailable at those prices for 6 months for $32 and a half hour of time?) because while waiting for the Saturday lottery, I ran into a friend and previous lotto compatriot with her family also happy to join the lotto hoards. They didn't win either, which is a shame because her family came all the way from Canada and thus chasing this particular dragon will be a lot harder for them.

I'm not really concerned that it's a serious addiction, although I do plan to keep going back once a week where possible. (I likely would have tried for the evening show today if my boyfriend hadn't pointed out that laundry should probably take precedence). It will really only be an intervention-requiring issue when (not if) I actually win tickets and still can't stop the quiet twitch when 5:00 on Friday rolls around and I'm not heading to 49th and Broadway before happy hour. Until then, I'm counting on luck too prevail--which is a shame because it has only recently come to my attention that I might not be especially lucky. For some reason, I've always sort of thought I was, but racking my brain, the only clear memories I have of winning anything (well, anything that was completely luck) is a cookie at someone's birthday party at a roller rink when I was 7 and $50 from my school's prom committee at our after-prom extravaganza. For lack of luck, I will just have to make do with dogged perseverance. This isn't about the show anymore, this is about winning.

But anyway, unrelated to my total failure at achieving Book of Mormon tickets through the lottery--other than the fact that this is the reason I didn't try for the evening lottery on Saturday night--I celebrated my birthday this weekend with some wonderful friends. My birthday is technically tomorrow, but I figured people don't generally party it up on Monday nights. We got some Indian food and then headed to Korea Town for some karaoke. I'd never been to this particular karaoke bar, but I would go back just for the videos. They left us in the room with a complicated remote and few instructions as choosing songs was largely self-explanatory. About halfway through our time though, my friend found you could switch the back-up videos to odd little dumbshows that had no relation to the songs. There was one of a girl running in a wedding dress while her, presumed boyfriend falls off his bicycle and seemingly succumbs to his injuries, causing the girl in the wedding dress to jump off a bridge leaving only her shoes behind. The weird thing is, while I was able to piece this together as the prevailing narrative, these scenes were shown in indiscriminate order. There was another one of chubby children playing with a bear cub and another of people making out, interspersed with shots of different people (I think) doing karate. My personal favorite story (which, if I remember correctly, was set to Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline") involved a college student moving to some school in rural China that only had three students and winning them over with soccer. He also falls in love with their winsome teacher when they both reach for a nail on the classroom floor at the same time. It's worthy of Nicolas Sparks.

This post needed a photo. Specifically of Dinah.

You may wonder why I am recording all of this, in a post which at this point is quite clearly just a random smattering of recent events with no attempt at structure or relevance. The only reason is for posterity. Yep, playing the birthday card.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The year I didn't see Book of Mormon

Last year around this time, I fell into the trap of doing a recap of my year because all the cool bloggers were doing it. But really what is the point of it? I ended up just writing about the same stuff twice and some of it had just happened. It was like one of those flashback episodes on sitcoms that everyone always dreads in re-runs. Those of you who do want to recap my year are welcome to do so through the handy archives feature. For the rest, let's just move on to new, exciting 2012 things, shall we?

My sister was here (in both New York City and Astoria) to celebrate New Years. In the meantime, we kept trying to do things like ice skating or going to the Book of Mormon lottery (we tried and failed not once, but three times to get tickets) and deciding against it while marveling at the sheer number of people in the city also trying to do fun things. We had fun though, if for no other reason than because for the first time in four New Years that I've now spent in this city, it was not bitingly cold. In fact, up until this morning, it didn't even feel like winter. We New Years Eve'd at a bar in Manhattan (making this oddly my first non-Brooklyn New Years since moving to the five burroughs--next year Astoria, for sure!). There was an open bar, crowds, and questionable food stuffs, but overall it was a fun way to ring in 2012.

Here are a couple of photos from this part weekend. These were actually all taken in 2011, but henceforth all posts will contain nothing but the new, exciting, 2012 stuff I alluded to earlier. So far I guess there isn't a lot of 2012 stuff. All I've done is eaten tapas and lost at trivia night by not remembering that Peter Brady's real name, in full, is Christopher Knight. Nevertheless, I'm hoping for good things this year!

Walking through Central Park, shadowed by an iphone toting photographer.

You can't tell in this picture, but we're standing on a castle.

We made an important stop at the "Little Lebowski" a small shop in Greenwich Village devoted to fan merchandise of the film The Big Lebowski, of which my sister is a devoted fan. They seemed to be running low on merchandise (perhaps there was a Christmas rush?), but she got a couple of bumper stickers and a weird collection of movie tschotskes that included, among other things, a severed toe with green nail polish. Not that those are hard to find...

Hope you're all having a happy first few days of 2012!