Saturday, November 29, 2008

Portions, Age, and Heat: How i learned to recook the thanksgiving's of my youth

Grandma Starkey (see earlier post for her on rowboat), as she got older, would unknowingly, increase the size of some ingredients in dishes as it became harder for her to see/read things with a high degree of granularity.

On one occasion, this included a pumpkin pie with whole cloves in the mix instead of ground cloves. it was a treasure hunt to eat the pie and pick out the cloves without letting her see you were doing it (she could still see well enough to scold!)...if you missed one of those little nuggets of pain, you had a big hot and spicy surprise in your mouth as punishment. These thanksgivings though, when everyone was still around and alive, are always in my mind every year when I go to cook my own thanksgiving meal. It is a continuum.

Growing up in the midwest, thanksgiving food was always a bit cold, bland and ill timed. Then again, almost all central Illinois food was (is...) always kinda like that....

Anyway, i digress...when Jeannie and I moved to Seattle in 2001, I was sick for two weeks and we were living in crappy corporate housing right near pike place market and i watched the food channel for two weeks straight. (didn't waste money on cable when we lived in Chicago.) A connection was made and it started with seeing all of the crabs at the market...and watching Emirll...i wanted to make crab cakes! (it's still an obsession of mine.)

Fast forward to our first thanksgiving in Seattle later that same year...many crab cakes later. Remember, we knew no one when we moved friends. But as the year progressed we slowly made connections with a few people, and being that we weren't near our families, we decided to have thanksgiving at our house and invite all of the people that we knew up to that time...which was about 8 people. Inspired by my new found love of making things that i actually wanted to eat...I took it upon myself to create the most perfect of all thanksgiving meals and correct the errors and missteps of the past.

Hot food, timed perfectly, delicious turkey, and real mashed potatoes like i'd seen on TV.

So...that year, i brined a turkey (i'd never even roasted a chicken before) for the first time, bought a couple of used crock pots, small chaffer from the restaurant supply store and proceeded to kick the shit out of myself for two days trying to get everything perfect for our 8 guests. I was exhausted...i used crappy pans, a dull knife, just bad tools...but it all worked. everything was hot, nothing was gummy, there was no jello in the cranberries (not judging!...just wanted to try the real thing!), the sweet potatoes were beautiful, the roasted pumpkin and mushroom soup i'd been reducing for over a day was thick and beautiful..i'd never had soup like that before. I was also wiped out, my legs were killing me, i'd burned my hand in more than one place, sliced my thumb ,and was generally beat down just like the potatoes (although i used a ricer for those)

But the food was awesome (at least that's what they said to my face...) And thus a tradition was started. Since then, every year, we have invited our old friends and new friends to our house to eat dinner and to watch me stress out as I throw down the hardest things I can muster to cook, with the best ingredients I can find. i have wised up a bit though and i do ask people to bring certain things...but every year i also try and find new ways and new recipes and new techniques so that i can experience the exhilaration of doing something i've never done before by creating a meal that our friends (our guest list has more than doubled in size) will walk away thinking that it was the best thanksgiving meal they've ever had.

And the food is always hot and the cloves are ALWAYS removed from the pumpkin pie, when we have it...I, myself, prefer pecan or macadamia nut pie...)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


From this post from National Geographic's website. Yes, it seems a little weird / sad / unsettling that this video was captured by a Shell Oil robot, since Shell owns that part of the Gulf of Mexico. Yes, it totally looks like the big guy is fishing. Yes, HE TOTALLY LOOKS LIKE A SPACE ALIEN. Yes, it is really kind of neat that this video was sent out via email from Shell Oil employee to Shell Oil employee. I really like my job, but I never get work-related email like this.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Guess I'll be making skull-OPS for dinner then

Sunday night Aa, our friends R & H, and I went to dinner at Poppy, one of the new restaurants here in Seattle that's been getting a lot of attention. (The chef-owner was head chef at the dizzyingly expensive Herbfarm for several years, and garnered just tons of foodie praise during that time.) It was a meal I'd been looking forward to for a while. And the food was really kind of amazing, like the culinary version of seeing a technically perfect gymnastics routine in the Olympics. Flawless, but kind of sterile. It kind of felt like the food came out of a very clinical kitchen. And the restaurant felt weirdly clinical too. Our main waitress lady talked to us like we were kids and she was our teacher. People kept trying to take H's food away before she was done eating. All in all, I don't know if I'd go back.

But the thing that sticks with me is this odd discussion we had with the runner who dropped our food off. She explained what each little dish was as she came to it. And one dish had shallots in it. Her description: "...and this is the black cod with fried shul-LOTS and peanuts..." At which point everyone at the table started looking confused. Shul-LOT? What the hell is a shul-LOT? One of us, I can't remember who, asked "Is it really prounounced "shul-LOT"? Someone else piped up: "yeah, I always thought it was "SHALL-uht". The runner looked at all of us. "Uh, no. It's shul-LOT. That's how we all say it here." In saying that, it was clear she meant "that's how our superstar chef guy, the reason you're probably here, says it. There's no way he's wrong and you all are right." We were all silent for a moment, until one of us said something like, "well, you learn something new every day!". Then we all chuckled and the runner went away. We mumbled amongst ourselves ("that can't be right"; "seriously? Shul-LOT?") and then went on with our dinner.

For some reason, four days later I am still thinking about this. I mean, I worked in restaurants before, and I can imagine the kitchen staff deciding to mess with the cute, naive young runner. "Yup, it's definitely shul-LOT. Everyone knows that. All serious chefs pronounce it that way." Which makes me feel a twinge of compassion for the young woman. But I think what sticks with me is not how funny that interchange should have been, or should be in my memory (because, shul-LOT? That's funny. It's like saying I had len-TEEL soup for lunch today or something). It's the snootyish certainty the young woman had when she explained the right way to say shallot. I mean, if you look it up it turns out you can say it both ways, but who do you know who says shul-LOT? Thinking about how and why the runner felt so certain about her pronunciation does make the memory sort of funny, and that makes me feel even worse for some point she will realize she sounds like a crazy person when she says shul-LOT. And that singular exchange won't keep me from going back to Poppy. Probably it's the rest of it, the weird hermetically-sealed-clinical-technical-perfection part of it. I like my food with a little feeling, I guess. Kind of slop-PEE.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

all i have to say...

All i have to say is that Zack's new name, at least for the remainder of the week is "Stoney".

Stoney the Basenji.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Bad Day

This morning, after my shower, I headed into the kitchen to grab my coffee and toast. There, on the floor, was a plastic bag with a bunch of pearl onions Aa'd bought the day before. Zack had clearly taken a couple of big bites out of the plastic bag (he chews plastic when he's worked up about something). What I couldn't tell, though, was whether he'd eaten any onions. Onions, along with garlic, grapes, chocolate, and caffeine, are toxic to dogs. With onions, there is some sort of chemical thingie that happens that basically makes their red blood cells fall apart. The loose hemoglobin eventually causes kidney failure.

I called my vet to tell her what happened. I expected her to tell me that I should watch him for signs of toxicity (the first of which are sluggishness and disinterest, which is basically what Zack is like every morning anyway). Instead, she told me to bring him in immediately so they could induce vomiting. Aa was unreachable, and he had the car. I called a cab, grabbed the Zacker, and headed to the vet. They checked him in around 11 am and asked me to "stay close". So I spent the next 3.5 hours wandering aimlessly around the neighborhood near our vet's office. It was really strange to just walk around, not knowing how my dog was doing, and not knowing what to expect next. I mean, I wasn't even sure if he'd eaten any of the damn onions. But clearly it was serious enough for my vet to want to take immediate action.

Around 2:30, my vet called. They'd used morphine and a water flush to try and get him to puke - no dice. Zack was just refusing to throw up. We needed to decide whether we were going to take him to an animal ER to have his stomach pumped, or if we just wanted to give him some activated charcoal to help move whatever toxins he'd might have ingested through his body. I called Aa and updated him, and he left work to come meet me at the vet. It was then that he asked me if I'd counted the number of onions left over. No, of course I hadn't. My first thought was whether our dog was going to die from onion poisoning.

We picked up our totally high-on-morphine dog after asking the vet to give him activated charcoal as a precaution. The poor guy could barely stand up, and he was leaking black liquid out of his butt. "It's kind of like Ex-Lax", the vet explained, as she handed us some pads and garbage bags to line the car interior. We went home to count some onions and try to devise a method of diapering our dog. As we got in the car, Zack started leaking more aggressively while trying to lay down in the grass. Aa looked at me and asked if I was sure about wanting kids.

So it turns out that Zack ate either no onions at all or a very tiny bit of onion. I can't tell if I overreacted or did exactly the right thing or what. The vet's response made me think I responded the right way. But if I'd dug the grocery store receipt out of the recycling and weighed the onions before calling the vet, I would have known Zack was going to be fine, thus saving Aa and me a day of worry. And, it should be mentioned, saving Zack an afternoon of morphine and charcoal and leaky black butt and Pampers (I totally did diaper him for a couple of hours there). I'm so, so glad he's fine, but I am a little mad at myself that I didn't think about trying another means of verifying whether he ate any onions this morning. So I guess I learned a lesson today? Or something?

Did I mention I got a new library card today? There's a library right by my vet's office. I spent a lot of time there today. That was cool.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Dispatch from Chicago

  1. This morning, in the Barnes and Noble (where I was wasting time while my parents watched football, that's right I just don't care about the Bears anymore DISOWN ME NOW HOME CITY I JUST DON'T CARE), the four people in line before me all wanted help finding something with Barack Obama on the cover. Three people were looking for the Sun-Times; they were all sold out. The people all had clearly disappointed children with them, who were told, "Don't worry. We'll keep looking!". The fourth person, a man without children, was looking for The Economist. It was also sold out. When I got up to the counter, I asked why The Economist was sold out. The clerk said, "It had Barack on the cover. I sold the last one last night. We're also sold out of the New York Times, Newsweek, Time Magazine, and Us Weekly. They all had Barack on the cover too."
  2. Everyone here calls him Barack. Not Barack Obama, or Obama, like I hear in Seattle. Barack.
  3. Monday and Tuesday it was in the 70's here. Today it started snowing at Soldier Field.
  4. Yesterday was my sister's baby shower. She got so much stuff (admittedly much of it from my mom and me) her Subaru wagon deal couldn't fit it all. Babies apparently need a mind-numbing amount of things.
  5. I have eaten cookies at least twice a day every day since I got here. Paul, Liz, I blame you. It's super easy for my jeans to magically get tighter when I'm home, but you guys are absolute experts at compounding that danger.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

President Obama.

President Barack Obama. About goddamn time.

Watching, Waiting

I'm home, listening (of course) to NPR's coverage of the election results and (of course!) drinking a split shot Americano. Earlier I took my dog for a walk. He was wearing his little orange fleece (OF COURSE). So far NPR (and CNN, which the NYT is blogging) is calling Vermont for Obama and Kentucky for McCain. This isn't super surprising. Also, our hardly-ever-used land line has been ringing like crazy the past few days with robo-calls and volunteer calls. Which, I appreciate the effort, but I am not the person you need to talk to here! My mind is so made up.

Voting today was actually pretty fun. It's the last time I'll be able to go to an actual polling place in my county; next election, we're switching entirely to mail-in ballots, like much of the rest of the state. My polling place was a grade school, and I got there just as school let out. Bouncy, shrieky children were everywhere - I remember that energy of finally being done with the school day and NOT HAVING TO SIT IN A DESK ANYMORE. I was surrounded by that elated energy as I went to vote, which felt pretty neat and celebratory. There was a bake sale in the hallway on the way into the voting booths. You had to walk past the yummy baked goods TWICE, on your way in and on your way out. Diabolically clever. I totally bought a cookie.

Dude, Elizabeth Dole might lose her Senate seat? Wow.

OK! Going to our friend W's house. More later. I have champagne. Which I will be drinking no matter what.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Zack's Revenge

And with good reason. Two years ago, we made him dress up like a lobster. This year, we decided to do it again.

He managed to let us know in no unequivocal terms how displeased he was at this. Aa and I turned our backs for about three seconds. And in that time, Zack chewed off one of the lobster arms. I turned around and he was simultaneously trying to rip the costume off his body and eat the lobster leg he'd chewed off his costume. See how bad he wants to eat that lobster leg?