Thursday, July 31, 2008

I was pretending to be too cool, but watching the Blue Angels swoop and swerve from the 54th story deck of my office building was surprisingly impressive.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

As of last night, I have officially suffered through an entire unbearable season of "How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria," the Canadian version. I still don't really understand why I stuck it out, other than the fact that I never cancelled the DVR recordings of the show, so every Sunday and Monday evening, without fail, new episodes would deposit themselves into my cable box, daring me to delete them just in case this was the week that the show became a worthwhile use of human energy. I know why I started watching the show; I love The Sound of Music. I am the kind of person who gleefully attends "The Singalong Sound of Music" every chance I get, and a reality show dedicated to singing the songs of my favorite Rogers and Hammerstein musical sounded like a great way to spend an hour every week. Unfortunately, this show was not a genius melding of the best parts of American Idol and musical theater. It was just a low-budget, vapidly stupid mess connected to the saga of the Von Trapps in only the very barest sense. Much like Season 4 of Project Runway, it was shockingly clear from the first episodes that one contestant was heads and shoulders above any of the others, and most of the season was devoted to maintaining the charade that Janna wasn't the best contestant when she obviously was. The only truly inspired performance in the entire series was when, on "Canada" week, Janna somehow and against all odds turned Nelly Furtado's "Turn Out The Lights" into this crazy, awesome call-and-response musical theater anthem. Other than that, it was shocking how tone-deaf and boring the other contestants were, how small and orange the judges and host were (see photo above), how utterly inept the entire sound, lighting and camera crews were, and mostly, how annoying and egomaniacal Andrew Lloyd Webber is. I had placed my faith so blindly in Canada and CBC, trusting them to show the world how to do a reality show singing competition right. Sadly, it looks like the unwashed masses in Canada rest around the same lowest common denominator as they do in the United States (I'm looking at you, Brooke Hogan!). And I guess that helps to explain how Little Mosque on the Prairie happened.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Savory Sausage Bread Pudding

Seeing as I love things that are starchy and eggy and substantial, bread pudding is a no brainer. Rice pudding, for that matter, is also a long-time favorite of mine. Both can be eaten with lots of cinnamon and are uniformly palatable anywhere along the hot to cold spectrum. I was introduced to the universe of a savory bread pudding by Heidi of 101 Cookbooks with her recipe for Asparagus Bread Pudding and have made it several times over the last year. I love Heidi's website, and I enjoy the way she talks about cooking and living in San Francisco, but it drives me slightly crazy that all the recipes she posts involve three or more ingredients that not only do I not keep stocked in my (fairly extensive!) pantry, but would require a trip to a specialty grocery store to acquire. It might be a personal shortcoming of mine that I don't have 6 different obscure colors of rice in my cupboard, but I just don't. Because of this, I've enjoyed every recipe I've pulled off her site and recreated at home, but I can count the number of times I've done so on one hand.

Bread Pudding is a good thing to make when you buy those delicious two loaves of crusty French Bread at Costco every single time you shop there, even though you know there's no way you can eat both of them before they go stale. I'm not great at learning from experience; I usually make it 2/3rds of the way through one loaf before the outside becomes rock hard. With over a loaf of bread to use up in a short period of time, Heidi's recipe came immediately to mind, but not only did I not have asparagus, but asparagus falls into the category of vegetables that my boyfriend will not eat. What I did have lying around however, was delicious homemade sausage from Idaho. A little clicking around the internets landed me on this recipe from Cooking Light which I used as a basis for my dish. The awesome thing about improvising off an already "lowfat" recipe is that instead of my standard substitutions (less oil and butter, low/nonfat milk instead of whole, etc.), I don't feel naughty adding more delicious things to the basic recipe. For example, in this recipe, I probably used two or three times as much cheese as I was directed to, but overall it was less than three cups, so whatever.

My Sausage Bread Pudding started by browning about a pound of amazing Idaho sausage in a pan over medium heat. I chopped one and a half Granny Smith apples into bitty pieces and added that and one chopped white onion to the sausage, covered the pan to keep all that good vegetable sweat in, and cooked that on low for 10 or 15 minutes until the onions were translucent. In a big ole mixing bowl I whisked together 2 cups of milk and 4 eggs, grated some cheddar cheese in there, and salted and peppered the wet ingredients. Carefully, with your serated knife, cube the stale bread into pieces about an inch to half inch square. With this bread, I found it was easier to slice the bread a half inch thick and just rip the slices in to little pieces. There's no need to make this part pretty or uniform. Throw your bread cubes into the wet ingredients, add your sausage mixture to the bowl and stir until everything is wet. I added some extra milk and one or two more eggs during this step, because you want all the bread to be moist. Let the mixture sit for at least 10 minutes, and pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Spray a 9x12 baking dish with Pam and dump in your yummy soggy concoction. Now is the fun part: I grated three different kinds of cheese on top. For some reason, I had a ton of cheese in the fridge last week, so I just went nuts. Cheddar, mozerella, and parmesan, all yummy and sprinkled on top of the pudding like a generous coat of freshly fallen snow. Cook on the center rack for 45 or 60 minutes until your pudding is fluffy and set and the cheese is bubbly and browned. Remove the pudding from the oven and let it rest for 15 minutes before serving.

I ate this plain for dinner the night I made it, but when I packed it in tuppers for lunch on the subsequent days, I put a good sized square of pudding and then stuffed the rest of the space with fresh spinach. Two minutes in the microwave to warm up the pudding is the exact right time to steam the spinach and get some extra iron and vitamins into your meal. Obviously, Cody's lunch portions did not include the extra vegetation, but he concurred that it was especially delicious the next day.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

I'm learning that one of the things about loving books in a heartbursting way is coming to terms with the fact that there is no possible way I can read everything good and worthwhile being published, nor can I hope to ever consume the entire cannon of past amazingness. And that is ok and normal. Obviously, this is going to be especially important to keep in mind in September when I start grad school and will have to stop sleeping and possibly forgo casual pleasure reading altogether. The great news is that because I can't know everything in its immediacy, I will continue to discover "new" writers for the rest of my life, and each time I will sigh as I drop the completed novel and feel as if I am looking at the world in a slightly different and more complete way.

The newest author that I'm embarrassed I've only been reading for two months is Jhumpa Lahiri. My mom and I had the nicest drive back from Idaho in June listening to The Namesake on cassette tape in my little car. 369 miles from Cottonwood to Seattle only got us about halfway through the story so I rushed out to bookstore back in Seattle to pick up the novel and, oh my god, I loved it all so much. I don't know if I connected so fully with that book because the immigrant, ethnic experience in America makes me imagine what it must have been like for my Greek grandmother to move to Seattle in the 50's or if it is just because The Namesake is seriously that good. Shortly thereafter I devoured The Interpreter of Maladies, and have Unaccustomed Earth on my hold list at the library, but there are still 342 people in line in front of me, so I'm thinking I'll probably just break down and buy it.
This week I watched the film version of The Namesake, which I thought was pretty good. It's difficult to give an opinion of an adaptation of a book you love, because obviously the book is able to do so much more than the movie. You lament the places where nuance and backstory were sacrificed because it is entirely impossible to shoehorn all that into two hours, and yet you love the screenwriter and director for knowing how good this work of fiction is and desiring to give it a face. This book is so anecdotal and the sheer 30 year breadth is just so staggering that the entire time I was watching the film I was wondering if anyone who hadn't read the book would understand the leaping in years and perspectives, and realize that as a whole, the facets of stories actually fit together seamlessly and poignantly. Kal Penn's performance earned him a slot on my list of crushes, and his role in the film was unique from the other (excellent) actors in that his portrayal of Gogol Ganguli brought something new and sharp to the character that didn't exist or wasn't as fleshed out in the novel. Incidentally, I admire Mira Nair's adaptations of novels. I was one of the few people in the world that didn't hate her film version of Vanity Fair. I thought it was clever, pleasurable to watch, and didn't abandon Thackeray's main themes while shifting the focus and tone. Similarly, with The Namesake, I can't really imagine a different treatment of the material that wouldn't have turned the wonderfully complex and convoluted story into a trite, feel-good cliche.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Once upon a time, three months ago, I was under the impression that there was no way for me to love the visual imagery associated with Feist's "1, 2, 3, 4" any more than I already did. I mean, the video. Rainbow sequins? Choreographed goofy dancing? Magical. It's like she made that up in my favorite dream.

But then, oh then, last spring Feist visited the Colbert Report and not only made me squeal by interacting with total crush Stephen Colbert, but gifted him his own sequined jumpsuit before performing, and that miraculous image has been happily burned into my brain. And I thought: "Surely, this moment in time is the happiest that this lovely song will ever make me."

And lovely universe, sometimes you like to show me how very very wrong I can be about things, because on Monday as I was clicking around on the internets, I found this:

And if Leslie Feist bopping around with monsters and penguins and chickens in sunglasses isn't the greatest thing to ever happen ever, then, well, I guess I better work on getting out more.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Below: The Big Krassowski
(our namesake is the one in the plaid pants.)
I don't really have a good explanation for the way that I have been gravitating towards recreational sports this summer. I am neither coordinated nor particularly athletic, and all I'm really bringing to the table strength-wise is a wardrobe full of knee-socks and a vocabulary of shockingly creative swear words. And yet, I agreed to play on a friend's softball team, and signed up for my own office's softball team later this summer. On Fourth of July, I lead the charge to trek to the park and play badminton before retiring to the hot tub with dessert. For the last three weeks, I've been playing Miniature Golf in an official league on Wednesday nights. Currently we are in 16th Place (out of 19, ouch.), but the leaderboard does not yet reflect our strong showing from this week. I can't really take credit for the low stroke count part of this week's strong showing, but I like to think I was partially responsible for the spirit points we were awarded. All this is fun, of course, but has reminded me that I am much better at dressing up and yelling than catching, putting or hitting balls.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Deviled Eggs - (I just found out that another name for Deviled Eggs is Eggs Mimosa. I wish I would have been aware of that fact earlier so I could have been calling them that all along.)

If you would like to make your friends love you, I recommend bringing these to a barbecue, party or gathering of any sort. Peoples' responses will help you differentiate between the awesome people you like and the dogmatic vegan types. Just kidding. Sort of.

Boil six (or more!) eggs. My procedure for this is to place the eggs in the bottom of a pot, cover them with cold water, and heat the water on high until it boils. Once the water is boiling, wait 6-8 minutes, remove from heat and stop the eggs from cooking further by putting them in cold water. What I usually do is pour as much of the boiling water as I can out into the sink and run cold water into the pot. Let the eggs cool as much as you can. Ideally, you'd let them rest for half hour or so, but the time will obviously be dictated by whether or not you've planned ahead and if you were supposed to be at your barbecue 45 minutes ago.

Once the eggs are cool (enough), shell them, slice in half lengthwise and dump the yolks into a mixing bowl. Mix the yolks with a few tablespoons of mayonnaise, some mustard, a teaspoon or two of white vinegar, salt, pepper, paprika, and about a tablespoon of sugar per six eggs. Dude, the sugar is the secret in the recipe, it makes these eggs magical. You want this mixture to have the consistency of toothpaste, so add the wetter ingredients slowly and sparingly until you figure out what you're dealing with. Taste and adjust seasoning.

At this point, you can spoon the filling into your egg white cups with a little spatula and a spoon. Or, if you are too much of an over-achiever for your own good, as I tend to be, you can transfer the mixture to a pastry bag fitted with a large star shaped tip. Pipe the filling into your egg cups in a circular motion, arrange prettily and give the whole plate a sprinkle of paprika. Practice smiling graciously for when people tell that they have determined that you that you are a wizard disguised as a regular person for crafting these eggs.