Sunday, March 29, 2009

Don't put this letter in the pocket near your heart

What kind of crazy, mixed up, muddled up world is it where it snows the last weekend of March? Yesterday was a terribly gloomy day of non-stop clouds and rain and very chilly temperatures. Knowing that I had to work this morning, I was in serious denial about the predicted snowfall. Yet, I awoke to see the grass, trees and cars covered in a heavy, wet snow and a temperature in the lower 30s. Ugh. I was especially annoyed that I had to wear actual pants to work. Even me, with my apparently chill-proof legs, still felt the need to wear jeans in the face of the low temps and the snow. Bah.

Luckily, the sun finally came out (just as I was leaving work) and shined brightly all afternoon, happily melting all that pesky snow. Not that I enjoyed it as I was encamped on the couch with various tasks. First, getting tomorrow's edition of Emotional Rescue ready. It's a particularly important show as it's KDHX's spring pledge drive time and I need to raise some serious bucks. Second, some chatting with the Scottish Correspondent, some laundry and, finally, some painting. At any rate, I have high hopes the the temps in the mid-60s tomorrow. Shorts it will be.

Yesterday I was starving at lunch time. Steve was working on our taxes and I knew he'd want something substantial to eat as soon as he was done. My default in these cases is usually eggs to an omelette it was. I had bacon and cheddar cheese so it became a bacon and cheddar omelette. I had bought some sweet little new red potatoes and I wanted them badly so I made a warm potato salad of the cooked baby spuds, chopped kalamata olives, and a couple spoonfuls of capers, dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Gosh, I wish I had some more...

Last night we had pizza and salad from A'mis and it was very good indeed. The house dressing, called creamy Italian but unlike any of that ilk I've ever had, was thick and textured and full of garlic and, I would guess, anchovies. The pizza, classic New York style and topped with spinach and tomatoes, was delicious. A bad photo, courtesy of my mobile camera:

For dinner tonight I pulled boneless skinless chicken breasts from the freezer along with the most miraculous product of Trader Joe's, the Thai-style Prig Khing green beans. I don't think I've gone longer than a couple of weeks without eating these since Trader Joe's came to town. Add some brown rice (cooked easily and quickly in the pressure cooker) and you have a meal. I marinated the chicken in soy sauce, lime juice, fresh ginger and garlic and then sauteed it with a little sherry for extra flavor. It was all done fast and tasted great. I find it very interesting that after a lifetime of disliking it, I have grown quite fond of ginger. I wonder if there will ever be a day I appreciate cilantro?

I feel a trifle stressed over the beginning of the week as I have pledge drive tomorrow morning for my show, then work, then a work meeting later in the evening, then pitching on a colleague's 5-7am show on Tuesday, then more work. Then two more mornings of work, pitching on Steve's show on Friday, and then work. Then I do have the entire weekend off, which is nice. It's not like I really have a ton of stuff; I'm just made uncomfortable by a schedule. I'm weird that way.

Friday, March 27, 2009

There are two colours in my head/What is that you tried to say?

This past week or so I've been drawing and painting, while not furiously, at least steadily. I have five small pieces in progress, but I can only show one of them because four of them are for a special purpose and a surprise would be ruined.

What I'm sure I've said before is how much I love getting completely focused and lost in drawing, even if I'm just doodling. It really is an exercise when time passes so quickly and the incessant voice in my head shuts the fuck up. Regardless of my skill (or lack thereof) I really love doing it.

So, with that, here's the latest thing. This was the first thing I tried using a sort of doodling technique; just drawing and filing in spaces with shapes and designs. I definitely need to keep working on my watercolor technique, but I just love painting in that medium. I was reading a Robert Silverberg novel, "Majipoor Chronicles," and I think this sort of turned out like an illustration of one of the alien cities described in the book, as filtered through my love of mid-century childen's book illustrations.

The pieces since have become more abstract and way less figural. Sort of. I've only worked on a small scale and I look forward, tomorrow, to working on something bigger. We'll see what happens.

And now it's time to journey to a fish fry and then back to work to tuck in the plants on this cold evening.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

What's for tea, love?

Since I was so negligent about photographing dinner lately, I've made an effort to snap a quick photo before digging in the last couple of nights.

Last night I didn't feel like cooking at all, but it was getting late and I knew I had a package of fresh chorizo in the refrigerator and still a lot of those tostadas. So I went the very, very easy route and cooked up the chorizo, heated refried beans, chopped up some lettuce and dinner was nearly ready. I smeared some beans on the tostadas, added some shredded cheddar, spooned onthe chorizo and topped with lettuce and salsa. Start to finish, cooking this meal took about 25 minutes tops.

Today I wasn't really thinking about what I was going to make for dinner. However, I knew that I wanted to use up the feta I bought the other day. I started to take inventory of the ingredients I had on hand and decided to make a pie with phyllo dough sheets, broccoli, feta, and mushrooms. When I got the frozen phyllo out, I saw the leftover raw shrimp and pulled that out too.

The pie went together easily: several layers of phyllo sheets, then the broccoli mixture (chopped raw broccoli, feta, two eggs, salt, pepper and garlic), then a few more layers of phyllo on top. For the shrimp, I let it marinate in garlic olive oil seasoned with oregano, paprika and red pepper flakes. The broccoli worked better than I would have imagined as this is usually a dish made with spinach.

Today at work I heard birds chitter chattering and I looked up to see a house finch feeding his potential mate just a couple feet above me. It was sweet and cute and a privilege to see. A few seconds later they went flying off together in that flirty, playful way birds do this time of year. I really like my job a lot and the fact that I get to bird watch at the same time only makes it better.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

You put the tofu in the coconut and eat it all up

A trip to Jay International, the market on South Grand, usually finds me with a promising pile of recipe ingredients. On some meandering trips I don't have a specific goal, or I pick up my one intended item and then grab things that catch my eye. My head is always spinning with the possibilities as I peruse the products. I confess that I don't delve very deeply into the more exotic of Asian ingredients, both because of unfamiliarity and because I try to stick to fresh or simple processed items (e.g., I'll buy a jar of tahini, but not so interested in pickled/preserved/prepared things (except olives!), much like I shop for regular old Amurican food). I am always amused when I check out and my hodgepodge of Latin, Middle Eastern and Asian/East Asian products are laid out on the conveyor belt; the combos always seem a little grotesque mixed together like that.

On my last trip I got fresh feta (as far as I know, the best feta bargains are at Jay's - I prefer the Bulgarian, which is the cheapest but also the least goaty/sheepy), bean sprouts, snow peas, coconut milk, fresh Chinese noodles and mushrooms. On that day I also bought Latin ingredients at the Supermercado on Cherokee: crispy corn tortillas, refried beans, dried pasta and achiote seasoning.

I was in a Mexican mood so the first meal created was veggie and bean tostadas. I chopped potato, green pepper and onion and sauteed them with plenty of garlic and lots of a pollo asada seasoning I have in a bit of canola oil. To serve I smeared the hot refried beans on the tortillas, topped with cheese, then the veggie mixture, then salsa. I was afraid I should have heated the tortillas first, but the hot fillings made their texture perfect - somehow soft and crisp at the same time.

The next meal utilized the pasta and feta cheese. I kept thinking of a Greek-flavored pasta salad rife with feta and olives, so I used the adorable little gear shaped pasta. I mixed the rinsed, cooled pasta with olive oil, white wine vinegar, dried dill, parsley, pepper, a liberal amount of chunked feta, chopped kalamata olives, sliced sundried tomatoes and a couple spoonfuls of capers. I thought this would go great with chicken so I drizzled thighs with garlic-infused olive oil (thanks, Dana - she gave me a lovely bottle of the stuff, made by Francis Coppola!), lemon juice, oregano, salt, pepper and capers and baked in a slow-ish oven for 45 minutes or so. The chicken was crispy and juicy, tart salty. And we've been eating the pasta salad for days. So good!

I have been seriously craving shrimp so the next planned meal was a shrimp stir fry. As with most things I cook, I started by sauteeing a lot of garlic in canola oil, then added the shrimp, some soy sauce and a couple squirts of sriracha and cooked until the shrimp was almost done. Then I removed the shrimp and dumped quartered (or halved) button mushrooms in and let them cook down a bit before adding more sriracha and Chinese rice vinegar. Once the mushrooms were well on their way to being done, I added snow peas, bean sprouts, more vinegar, more soy and a sprinkle of white sugar. Once the vegetables were nearly done, I put the shrimp back in and added about a tablespoon of a cornstarch and water slurry to thicken it all up just a bit. In the meantime, I boiled water to cook the fresh noodles and, admittedly, fought with them a little to get them separated and cooked properly. (Any hints on dealing with these tightly packed little bundles?) Into bowls went the noodles, topped with the stir fried shrimp and vegetables. Though Steve would have rather the shrimp been peeled before cooking, I left the shells on because 1) I was lazy and 2) they are more flavorful when cooked that way.

Last night I was inspired to make what I thought would be my most challenging dish yet: a Thai-style coconut tofu curry. I looked at a couple recipes and figured I had a good enough idea of what to do. I speculated on the use of broccoli in the dish, but something about the gassy cruciferousness of the vegetable combined with the slightly sweet coconut milk seemed wrong. It occurred to me I had lovely green beans and the vegs were switched. For an accompaniment I started a pot of white rice made with half water and half coconut milk with a touch of salt. To start the main dish I melted a couple tablespoons of butter, added a heaping tablespoon or so of minced fresh ginger, and another of, wait for it, garlic. After letting it saute for a bit I added the cubed extra firm tofu, salted it, and let it get lightly browned over a fairly high heat. I poured in the coconut milk then started adding the rest of the ingredients for the curry: ground coriander, cumin, turmeric and cayenne. At that point, the fragrance was intoxicating - that rich coconut mixed with the those earthy spices. Yum. I added the green beans, a big handful of bean sprouts and a heaping tablespoon or so of dark brown sugar. Mixing everything up well and letting it simmer for a few minutes, I then tasted for seasoning; more salt and a few blobs of sriracha for that nice garlicky heat. After simmering for 10 minutes or so (until the green beans were still bright but tender), I spooned it over the coconut rice into deep bowls.

Because I thought such dishes seemed complicated when I've had them in restaurants, I was completely surprised at how good this turned out. It was, in my own opinion, unbelievably delicious. The rich sauce made the subtly flavored coconut rice clump up in these delectable balls of nearly dessert-like goodness. The burn from the cayenne and sriracha was slow and long lasting and left my lips feeling slightly swollen. What can I say, a meal that leaves my lips feeling like I've been snogging for hours? Perfect.

I'm sorry I was in such a hurry to eat all these things that I didn't take any photos. I will try to remedy this and keep my camera more handy. Gosh, I've taken so long to write this that it's now lunchtime and I can eat those curry leftovers...

Thursday, March 19, 2009

I met her in a club down in old soho/Where you drink champagne and it tastes just like Coca-Cola/C-o-l-a cola

Today I set off on a mission. Lest you think it was something heroic or of service to humanity or anything good like that, let me disabuse you of that notion. It was a mission of purely consumerist greed and desire.

I rarely drink soda (pop, Coke, whatever you want to call it), but when I do, I'm usually disappointed in it. It just doesn't seem the same as when I was a kid. Now, in all honesty, I do generally pick a diet version, but in the even rarer cases when I pick the non-diet version, it's always Coca-Cola, never Pepsi. There has been some discussion amongst friends lately about the goodness of old fashioned, pure cane sugar Coke. American Coke these days is made with high fructose corn syrup and apparently changes that delightfully sharp "burn" of the Coke I remember from my younger days. You know, that burn that used to make you gasp after taking a big gulp of cold soda. Mexican Coca-Cola is still made with sugar and there is also a kosher version that becomes available in St. Louis this time of year. Suddenly, I could think of nothing about that first delicious gulp of sharp, ice cold, old fashioned Coke.

Then this morning, out of desperation, I tore open one of my free packets of the new instant coffee from Big Espresso (why am I still calling it that? I don't work there anymore...) and had a cup. It was not bad at all. Actually it was quite good. I am not a coffee snob, and in fact, I haven't been drinking much of it at all lately anyway, so I thought I would do a little research on instant coffee. I already knew I would never buy the B.E. stuff because I am entirely too cheap to spend the kind of coin I'm sure it costs. (I read something about it equalling $1 a cup - you've got to be fucking kidding me. It's instant coffee Howard.) My bit of research revealed that the Latin version of Nescafe instant coffee was not only serviceable, but actually tasty.

So, two reasons to stop at Jay's on South Grand and the Supermercado on Cherokee. At Jay's I found the Nescafe Classico instant coffee easy. I so often go on wild chases for odd items that it's super satisfying to actually find what I'm looking for so easily. At the check out (after picking up some of that superb fresh feta they carry, some fresh Chinese noodles and some vegetables) I spotted that elusive target of mine from months and months ago: the Kinder Egg! Woo hoo! I snatched two of them, though I wanted to grab the whole display.

Onward to the Supermercado, where I quickly found the lusted after Cokes, in the cool old glass bottles. At $1.50 each, they aren't cheap (but hey, way less than the $2.95 online price) but I had to grab a couple just to see. Along with some Mexican dried pasta, refried beans and crispy tortillas I was one happy shopper. I was a little disappointed that I wasn't handed a giant bottle of Jarritos mandarin soda, which happened the last time I shopped there. I still have no idea why I got that bottle.

Back home, I made myself a cup of the Nescafe and was pleasantly surprised. I do not particularly like stomach-rotting strong coffee, so I'm happy with a mild coffee taste and the ease of preparation is totally worth it. I think instant coffee is much more common in other parts of the world than it is here. I had it in London at our friend's flat every morning and I've heard it is more common there. Since it's even easier than a cup of tea, I might be back on the bean. Plus, I've already noticed my teeth getting stained from the tea after just a few weeks of one damn cup a day.

To go with my steaming cup of Nescafe, I popped open one of the eggs, having no idea what to expect. I don't think these are the standard eggs, but I don't care. I love them.

The egg, the anticipation.

Hmmmm, not what I expected...interesting.

The toy, before assembly. Like a little pile of toy bones!

The finished toy - a cute little robot creature!

In other news, the job is going great. I quite love it, I think, though perhaps that will be tempered when the days are longer and the weather is less gorgeous. I dunno. In the meantime, I feel energetic and happy and productive. I love being around plants and flowers all day, not to mention the sun shining and the birds singing. I really couldn't ask for more.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Yelling in unison/da da da/they can't be stopped/sitting at home making plans

Steve and I have spent the morning in a new (to us) coffeehouse, enjoying the free wi-fi, the excellent drinks and baked goods and the very nice selection of music. Walking into an establishment to the strains of Bob Dylan's "Visions of Johanna" certainly sets a very good tone for the rest of my day. Oh yeah, where are we? Mississippi Mud Coffee House, that's where.

I have been a very bad blogger lately. I don't suppose I've had much happening and I don't want to blather away about nothing. That's what Twitter and Facebook are for, right? Speaking of Twitter, I am only a little ashamed by my thirst for replies from the celebrities I'm following. So far I've gotten tweeted action from Amber Benson, Adam Busch (dude! one of the scariest characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer talked to me!), Alan Davies (Jonathan Creek!) and Michael Ian Black (snarky smart comedian!). Yes, it's somewhat pathetic that I care, but I suppose it's a game many tweeters are playing and I am not alone in my pursuits. Oh yes, Paula Poundstone is following me (granted, after I began following her).

Anyhoo...I haven't started my job yet. I have to go in for a couple hours on Saturday and then I assume I will start in full force the following week. Let's hope the nice weather is here to stay or, brrrrrrr, I'm looking at some chilly mornings outside.

On the positive news front, I've had many many good days, lots of lovely conversations and a general state of happiness and calm. And at this point, I think I might actually be looking forward to working. I think the warm weather and sunshine is coaxing me out of my hibernation cave of the winter. I've gotten a nice amount of jewelry done (though I need to work on more), and my Etsy store (see sidebar!) is full.

Since my bout with whatever it was that invaded my stomach, I've mostly been off coffee. I've had a couple of cappuccinos out and made a latte for myself at home the other day, but mostly I'm happy with hot tea. My mistake today was ordering the four-shot cappuccino. Now I am jittery and my hands are shaking. I don't want to return to my old coffee habit, so I'm kind of glad I've been affected this way; it'll keep me off the stuff mostly. I think coffee drinks will become an occasional treat rather than a daily necessity. Now, how to keep my teeth from turning brown due to the tea. Don't suggest green tea 'cause I just don't like it hot.

We are just about to decamp from the coffee house, hit the grocery store and then spend some time later this afternoon with birthday girl Deb on her front porch in the gloriously warm March weather.

And before I forget, the latest video from the Cold War Kids. This is beautifully done.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Pull the final splinters/Of missing picture winters/You have to give yourself a break

It may not use my intellect (though I think smarts help you do any job better) nor my many years of office experience, but it is a job (albeit a seasonal one): I am officially a plant merchandiser. Which basically means I will be doing my part to keep the garden center of a big home store stocked, designed, cared for and looking good. I'm sort of looking at it as a way to get paid (actually a teensy bit more than at Big Espresso so that's something, right?) to spend the spring and (hopefully) summer outdoors working out. Yes, this is a physical job. Lots of pushing of heavy carts, lots of really busy days keeping things stocked. I've been a shopper at his particular garden center on many occasions and I know how busy it gets, so I'm semi-prepared for it. I'm told the days flash by.

I'm also told the schedule is flexible, so I hope to be able to get most of my hours in early and get my day over as soon as possible. And, best of all, there is no conflict, no problem with my radio show, which is a giant relief. I was really starting to worry I would have to give it up in order to get any kind of a job.

At the very least, it's a placeholder. At most I will have a good time, get a killer tan on my face and build some major muscles in my arms and legs.