Monthly Archives: February 2015

Foodie Fail Number Two

As was made clear in my post, Radishes, Carrots and Kale, Oh My! I am a foodie fail. In that post I tried a great service called Something GUD, which delivers farm fresh food to your (Boston area) door year around. The only problem was my taste buds were brought up on Cheez-Whiz and instant potatoes and they actually like that stuff. So in addition to not being able to identify a good half of the vegetables I received, I didn’t really have the skills and taste to whip up a dish worthy of their exotic stature. Although I admit I was able to make things more edible as time went on.

Still, it took a bit of convincing for me to try a free trial of Blue Apron, another great company that on the surface solves the problem I had with Something GUD. With Blue Apron you get all the premeasured ingredients to cook a delicious meal that serves two. You pick three meals and they send them to you in a hermetically sealed, properly cooled container that they deliver to your door and you don’t have to even be home. Sounds perfect for a foodie fail like me, right?

You underestimate the power of Cheez-Whiz and Potato Buds.

My main hesitation with the trial was that my son-of-Cheez-Whiz wouldn’t touch any of the food with a 10-foot pole or a six-inch fork. It seemed like too much food for one person, until my friend Joe, who sent me the trial, told me to eat the second one for lunch. Why didn’t I think of that? It’s like the idea of food doesn’t have the proper pathway in my brain. Pathway created, I signed up and chose meals that were the least fancy-sounding, and with the most ingredients I could recognize. It took a while. I could cross off all the seafood/fish dishes—don’t get me started about eating dead sea creatures and food that looks like it did when it was alive. And don’t judge—you’ve got something you won’t eat for a completely ridiculous reason, and I’ll blog about it if I find out. I settled on the steak and miso-roasted vegetable salad with ponzu dipping sauce, whole wheat rigatoni with wild mushrooms and Swiss chard, and pan-roasted chicken with mashed potatoes and maple glazed carrots. I like steak, don’t mind mushrooms, learned not to be afraid of Swiss chard from my Something GUD stint, and I’m not a huge fan of maple, but I figured I could leave that out.

Still I was a bit worried, not having any idea of what miso or ponzu was, but the website described the miso as sweet and the ponzu as mild, and I’m a smidgen more afraid of hot things than weird tasting things, so I committed.

A compact and very heavy box arrived at my door at the specified time. The organization and labeling of the ingredients was obsessive enough even for someone like me. Each meal came with the main dish, the side dish vegetables, and a bag of the seasonings cutely called “Knick Knacks.” I was momentarily calmed by the organized packing and the glossy magazine quality of the photo-rich instruction sheet for each meal. That is until I took a good look at those glossy photos. They showed a lot of different pots and pans being used and all the ingredients sat in perfectly sized dishes like on a cooking show. Hmm.

However, it was fresh and wouldn’t be for long, so there was nothing for it but to cook the damn stuff.

I started with the steak on a Sunday night of a long weekend, because I knew I wouldn’t have the energy to cook this comprehensively on a weekday, even though the instructions promised the cooking time was between 25 to 35 minutes. My preferred method of cooking is to spend 20 minutes during the weekend preparing food for a soup or stew that then cooks for two hours on the stove or for 8 plus hours in the crock pot. Then I eat it all week. I clean up once and my subsequent meals take 1 minute and 30 seconds to heat. But it was Sunday and I was rested, so I plunged in…to cooking show land. The instructions were precise, but for a foodie novice, slightly bewildering. I had to thinly slice the scallions on an angle and keep the white part separate from the green part. Why, I wondered? Will they fight? Have different flavors? And why at an angle, is cutting straight a cooking faux pas? Does it change the flavor of  the recipe? Look like a novice cooked it?

I was momentarily distracted with these thoughts, but there was really no time to dwell on what I might be doing wrong. There was much more food that needed chopping and cutting, like the kale and then the sweet potato and turnip. The last two I was instructed to spread in a shallow sheet pan and toss with miso and water. Perhaps others have mastered this technique, but all I could foresee were globs of miso, a quarter of the slices stuck to the floor, and precious little coating. So I dug out another bowl to add to the three that were already keeping the green onion from civil war and holding the chopped kale. I tossed the slices safely in the bowl. Next was making the ponzu dipping sauce, a fairly civilized affair restricted to one bowl, and then it was on to the main attraction, the steak. I started at the words “deglaze the pan” until I realized it merely involved putting a little water in the pan after cooking the steaks and swishing it around. That part was well within my abilities, although the dirty pan added another thing to clean in my already growing pile of bowls. The sheet pan in the oven was also taunting me from the oven with its roasting and browning. Like me, my tiny apartment-sized kitchen counter was way in over its head.

But as I was midway and working up an appetite, I had to stay calm and cook on—the roasted salad needed assembling. I had to scrape the thinly sliced vegetables from the sheet pan and tried not to mind that I left a bunch behind. I started to toss them in with the kale only to realize the bowl I picked wasn’t big enough. I got a bigger bowl, (another thing to clean!) and delivered the white part of the scallions into the mix, having successfully kept it segregated from its green brethren. Next I had to slice the cooked steak against the grain, which I was pretty sure about, and then I assembled the whole thing prettily on a plate. Now sweating, I put the plate in the only empty spot left in my kitchen, took a picture, posted it on Facebook, and thanked Joe for giving me the trial.

Of course it was delicious, and if I can make it, most people can. But as I looked up from the deliciousness, all I could see was state of my kitchen: the stove covered with seriously cooked in pans, the ends of all the vegetables still I the sink waiting for disposaling, and most of the bowls I owned mocking me like a demented Van Trapp family standing out of size order.

I sat on my couch in a stupor as I realized that I would have to do this three more times in a week. I had the next day off, and made the rigatoni dish that night with the same result. An absolutely delicious meal bookended by lots of cooking and cleaning. I lived off the leftovers for two more days, but I bailed on making the chicken dish when I saw “mash the potatoes.” I only cook and mash potatoes on Thanksgiving, for 10 people, no exceptions. I froze the chicken and will use it some other way. Apologies to the “Knick Knack” bag that is going to meet its maker, but not in its intended way.

I felt bad canceling my account with the good people at Blue Apron. God knows they tried, they really did. I told them they were awesome, it was me—I just don’t love food enough to work that hard at it. They offered to just send one meal a week, or some other combination, but it’s just no good. I’m no good. I’m nothing but a foodie fail with a slow cooker habit.

Photo: My steak and miso-roasted vegetable salad with ponzu dipping sauce from Blue Apron.

The Girliness Adventures Go UnderWard

Just to get this out of the way: yes, I live in the Boston area; yes, we have more snow than is necessary; yes, that which does not kill us makes us stronger; and yes, it’s getting personal, and I will win. Now on to our regularly scheduled blog post.

I haven’t reported on my girlie girl adventures since my September 22 post, where I attempted to be an alluring vixen while falling out of my dress and pulling a necklace out of the arm hole. The truth is there hasn’t been much to report since winter has set in. While I have made a commitment to being more of a girlie girl, I did not commit to being a frozen one. I see the young ones out there climbing snowbanks in their high-heeled boots, dresses, and bare legs, and I wish them all the best of luck. I’m confident that my new long underwear is positively racy, especially when layered under my snow boots and ski pants. Oh, yeah, don’t you worry, I’m smokin’ hot.

I thought I would have to wait for spring to pick up my girliness pursuits until I found myself chatting with my coworkers and I realized I could bring my girlie girl ambitions inward, or rather underward. We were discussing bras, you know, as one does at work, and the sheer number of colors they owned to match their outfits revealed to me this: a superior girliness honed to near perfection by 40 plus years on this earth. It also revealed to me my own bra bias. Somewhere along the way of being married for 20 years and having a kid, I assumed those pretty bras were for young ones only. Or maybe I couldn’t see the point of spending a gazillion dollars on something that was just going to get spit up on, drooled on, and yanked at, and that was just the interaction with the kid. And so, I became a woman with old lady bras. Solid white with support, god help me. Thus re-educated, I renewed my commitment to girliness, and with gravity snuggling up against me a bit too closely, I took the, uh, plunge into the world of brightly colored bras.

I’m easily overwhelmed by many choices, but I also I knew I had to start in a store because I needed to try these things on. Sizes in women’s clothing vary from brand to brand and so mean diddly squat. With grit and determination, I headed into the “intimates” section of the closest store to my house, Target.

This is not for the intimately faint of heart.

It had been awhile since I had spent quality time in these Labyrinthian isles, and I was unprepared for the uniformity of what I can only describe as the matching snack bowl design of all the bras in the place. Seriously, rows and rows of hanging bowls. While I was grappling with that, it occurred to me that these snack bowls were only possible with serious padding. My gut reaction was the re-opening of an old wound. Before the snack bowls fashion, padded bras were only found among the more modest sized bras. I’ve never been big, and I resented the fact that fashion and society informed me I needed to supplement what I had with padding. However peering through the stacks of snack bowls, I could see we’d evolved, if you can call it that, to a kind of egalitarian place where all women were being told how their boobs should look in a shirt. Perfectly padded, smooth, and shaped.

I didn’t last very long before the snack bowl thing started to freak me out, so I backed away slowly and retreated home, where I ransacked my underwear drawer. I finally unearthed two older, but hardly used bras, in black and beige. They were from a time before I had gained weight, so they actually fit again. I had been granted a small reprieve.

Emboldened by black and beige, I threw fitting caution to the wind and decided my next assault on the intimates section would be online. At least I could control the number of snack bowl views per page and maybe there would be some non-snack bowl choices. I started circling the internet like a vulture searching for its next meal. I landed on Victoria’s Secret because of dim memories of going there with my college roommates during big sales. It turned out to be far worse— a 1,000 more styles, still all snack bowls, and these came with bewildering  names. There’s the T-shirt bra that is supposed to be invisible under a T-shirt, but as it looks like all the other bras, how it’s invisible escaped me. Even more confusing was the push up plunge bra—am I being pushed up or plunged? Then to add to the matrix, each of the styles comes with “coverage” options. I guess sort of like insurance, but even more baffling: full, demi, unlined (but all those models looked like they were 12—we seem to have reversed our societal padding norms). I needed a spreadsheet to keep track of this stuff.

Now where was I? Oh right, pretty colors! When I finally came to, I understood the easiest way to sort through this infinity of bowls: price. 80 percent of pretty bras cost a gazillion dollars and the prettier they are the more gazillions they cost. So then I became the circling vulture looking for the best deal. In the clearance section I found two bras, purple and animal print and labeled as push up. They looked like all the others, so I plunked down my credit card and clicked “buy.”

About a week later a roomy package thinly disguising snack bowl shapes arrived in my mailbox. When I put them on I realized that the push up part meant there was more padding under the snack bowl than on the top. I guess this is meant to make your boobs tastefully spill out like some period dress from the late 1700s. In any event  the real shape of your breasts is immaterial, or rather safely hidden in the material. The bowls call all the shots and your boobs sit in them obediently, high or low depending on your age. But the seductive, disturbing beauty of it is that all boobs have the same smooth shaped look. Despite this, I didn’t like them at first. I felt like I was a horse hitched up to a snack bowl farming wagon. But my laziness for repackaging and returning mail order items is pretty entrenched, so I decided to suck it up and keep them. After a few outings, I got used to them and was thoroughly seduced by their perfection. That’s when the addiction started. I wanted more colors. I returned to circling the website for more bargains, more colors. T-shirt bras were in the clearance section so I found a blue one and clicked. By the time this one arrived, I was thoroughly broken in by the heavy padding of the push up bra, and so the lighter padding of the T-shirt felt like light a light carriage harness in comparison. I was, pardon the pun, hooked.

Now that I know the T-shirt bras are my thing, my addiction continues to get fed by the tantalizing onslaught of emails I get on a daily basis from Victoria’s Secret. I decided I spent enough on bras only to get lured in by the “Free shipping!” “Buy 2 and get one free!” “2 for $50” and there I was back in the demi T-shirt bra collection, hovering over Tangy Sorbet and Pink Daisy Tie Dye. Click, click. How many is too many? At what point is girliness fully achieved? How do I resist this Siren call to the molded perfection of the snack bowl? Spring and looking outward is my only hope–a return to my girly dresses, accessories, and shoes. Til then, I stare longingly at Neon Citrus and Bright Cherry. There’s still a bit of room in my drawer.

Photo credit: http://www.funny-potato.com/biggest-bra.html

Long Winter? I Think Not

Saturday was Laura Ingalls Wilder’s 148th birthday. Being an obsessed fan of the Little House on the Prairie books, I had a very visceral reaction to the Google doodle, which was made out of some kind of textile. First, I uncharitably thought that the textile image was some cheesy nod to being a pioneer. Other doodles don’t get that kind of patronizing treatment. Then I got mad because in the scene Laura and Mary are next to each other, with Laura in front, but still close to Mary; yet she’s noticeably taller than Mary. Laura is the younger sister and she shouldn’t be taller, even given the perspective of the scene. (I told you I was obsessed). Third, Mary is holding a stick with a ribbon on it. That’s just plain ridiculous. They never played with a stick with a ribbon on it. If there were a scrap of ribbon around, and that was a big “if,” she would have put it on her corn husk doll, not tied it to a stick to run around with. On top of it all, the proper visuals for Little House on the Prairie, as anyone with any brain cells knows, are the marvelous illustrations of Garth Williams. Although the first book, Little House in the Big Woods, was originally published in 1932, a revised edition with Williams’s drawings was published in 1953, and then again in 1970, which is the version I have. Sadly, I only have the slowly disintegrating paperbacks that I painstakingly bought over a period of years, on an allowance of 25 cents a week. I know it sounds like those stories of being a pioneer and walking 10 miles in the snow to school, but it’s true. And at $1.50 a pop, plus tax and having to wait for the trip to the mall, that was a labor of serious book love. It should not be a big surprise that I could slip comfortably into an indignant rant about this weird doodle.

But then I clicked on Google doodle link.

And of course it was a fascinating (and I begrudgingly admit fitting) story about twins Jack and Holman Wang, the creators. They are about my age and remembered the show fondly. Harrumph! The image depicted is loosely based on the opening credits of the TV show. Hmpf. The fabric was created by needle felting, a labor-intensive process that enables sculpting with wool. All right, all right. Uncle! I still went to my bookshelf and pulled out the books to look at them again. Look at the real illustrations.

The Google doodle was timely–Laura Ingalls and her books have been on my mind this past month as part of my no-heat saga. If you missed it, my house was approximately 60 degrees for about three weeks—not life threatening, but certainly annoying. One of the thoughts that kept me calm was comparing it to a couple of winters described in the Laura Ingalls books. The scenes are so vivid and well written, you can’t have been a kid and read them and forgotten. In fact, a friend had a similar thought when she was reading my no-heat blog posts. For her the stand out scene was during a days-long blizzard and Pa had to hold on to and follow a rope from the house to the barn to feed the animals. It wasn’t that far away, but the wind was so severe and the visibility so bad, Pa could have easily gotten disoriented and frozen until spring. Which at that time on the prairie came in July.

For me there are two other scenes that made me feel like my no-heat situation was the height of decadence. In one of the houses they lived in, Laura and Mary slept in a loft in the same bed with like 100 quilts. One morning they woke up to snow on the quilt. Snow. On the top quilt. It had come through the cracks in the roof. Think about that for a minute. Um, yeah, 60 degrees is a pretty lame thing to complain about.

The other scene that I remember is in The Long Winter, which I should reread because we here in New England are definitely feeling like we are reliving it. We’re not, and here’s why: For Laura that winter on the prairie was an ongoing series of blizzards that lasted three and four days. As a kid I was astonished that a blizzard could even last that long, never mind have them one after the other. The trains from the east couldn’t get through, and the supplies dwindled, including firewood. But they did have hay and Pa devised a way to twist lengths of hay into hard sticks they could burn. Of course it burned quickly, so Laura and Pa had to twist hay whenever they weren’t doing anything else to survive. It kind of blew my kid mind. And if that wasn’t hard enough, when they weren’t twisting hay, they had to grind up wheat kernels into flour. Constant hours of survival tediousness for months. Wicked fun.

As I stare down the naked barrel of yet another multi-day storm that will dump up to two feet of snow in the Boston area, I realize not only have I completely mangled that metaphor, but I have also very little to complain about. I have to hoist snow up a five-foot pile. I have to work from home. I have to negotiate two-way streets that the snow has reduced to one lane. Boo hoo. Laura turned 148 on Saturday, and if she were here, I’m sure she’d brush the snow off her quilt, turn over and tell me what I could do with that pile of twisted hay sticks she made while I was moaning about shoveling. Happy birthday Laura.

Photo credit: http://www.guy-sports.com/humor/christmas/christmas_snow.htm 

And the Repairman Sayeth “Let There Be Heat”

And lo, there was heat. For those of you who have been following my no-heat saga for the past two posts (and the checks are being cut and sent, I swear, scouts honor), at the three-week mark on Thursday, I decided I had given my landlord and his, er, colleague enough time to fix the heat and there had been enough of a series of unfortunate events. Wait for it…I called a professional heating company, imagine that! On Friday they came to my house, at the appointed time, diagnosed the problem, spent a little bit of time tracking down the correct part, went and fetched it, came back, replaced it, and then fixed two other things all by lunchtime. My landlord was gobsmacked, and also agreed to foot the bill. I don’t know what else to tell him, except that maybe friends and heating jobs don’t mix.

But there seems to be a controversy around me using my lack of heat for three blogs. The National Blog League (NBL) is investigating me for possible misconduct in allowing the lack of heat to go on for three weeks. They are alleging I did it to get more blog posts and that I could have called in professionals at any time to get my heat. I would like to say, absolutely, I followed all the rules of blogging to the letter. I did not invent my lack of heat, nor did I inflate the length of time I went without heat merely for my own blogging use. Sometimes the environment can influence a topic, like lack of heat. My landlord said his friend would fix it. His friend also told me he would fix it. Whatever they said there, is what I believed they would say here. I believed them because I am not a heating expert, and we all know that heat is a function of a working furnace. So, in no way did I extend the no heat situation to improve my blogging. It’s really a scientific thing, the restarting of the furnace, and I’m a writer, so what would I know about it, really? How would I know when the right time to call in another heating person?

Thank you everyone for your support during this trying time, and I assure you and the NBL that next week’s blog post will be on a fresh topic. Heat does wonders for your ability to think.

Oh, and I have to say these sorts of thing in order to not get kicked out of Massachusetts: Congrats Pats! Your balls are the best ever!