Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Lunch Time ie. Something Other Than Prosciutto and Cheese

Unlike the majority of America's workforce, I tend to bring my lunches in, often polishing off the previous evening's meal, or pulling together scraps from my cabinet (remember the "Risotto alla Tutti"?). Lately, I've been going to Whole Foods with the challenge of finding food that will last for four to five days, has some relatively "healthy" component by some standard, and is in a budget of $10- $15 (there goes the sushi). My go-to is a Greek salad/wrap. I splurge on a $4 pepper of some sort and then buy Cedar's hummus, fresh whole feta (don't be dismayed by the water it sits in, it only means it is fresher), a lettuce product (either a head of Romaine or gasp, even bagged; clearly, I trust Whole Foods to distribute reliable bagged lettuce), cherry or a whole tomato, red onion (optional; due to overwhelming fears of smelling like gas, I am trying to refrain) and pita/bread product, whole wheat preferred. Don't forget a Greek dressing of your liking and you'll be all set.
This week, I was at a loss. It was Monday, and even worse, rainy and miserable. I rambled around aimlessly, scouring the aisles, annoyed at the recent increase of food prices and even more annoyed by the individuals who remembered to lug their Wellies into the office that day. Finally, I identified a suiting direction; tuna fish salad, a lunchtime stand-by. Not only was it already packaged and reasonably priced, but it contained little jewels of Fuji apples, cranberries and a sprinkling of dill. Now that I had identified my gem, I needed to find additional fixings and holders. I immediately headed to the vegetables, where I grabbed a Santa Barbara lettuce bag, some string beans (for additional fiber/ nutritious filler content) and after careful debating, chose Garden City Stone Ground Whole Wheat wraps (great for your Mexican tortillas as well). I threw in another Greek dressing and a bag of 365 Ranch Soy Crispettes for kicks and I was set for the week. See, I knew I could blog about something other than prosciutto and cheese. More affordable, and long-lasting + relatively health conscience lunches to come.

A new one: so this week, I continued with the usual ___-salad item for lunch and went with chicken salad. After a thorough mayo inspection, I decided on an appropriate ratio and then wandered around for a bit looking for fillers. I picked out a whole wheat flax wrap, which sounded just too healthy to pass up, grabbed my go-to green beans, some tomatoes, apples and then frantically started looking for a wild card. Much to my chagrin, I stumbled upon a fresh bunch of watercress, which really got me going. To top it off, I bought a bag of spicy sweet potato Terra chips and called it a day.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Cocktail Party: Don't Scoop the Brie

I, like many other female counterparts, can be labeled as a "cocktail party girl." I love getting a little dressed up, mingling, sipping on champagne and nibbling on caviar
canapés. But are cocktail parties all that they are cracked up to be? Let's dissect.
First of all, it can be awkward. You're basically transported into a world of buzzing strangers and somehow expected to carry on a conversation. Hi, How are you? What do you do? Where are you from? What NESCAC/ Ivy did you attend? Greek life? Sailing? French lessons in St. Tropez? You get the point. Not to brag, but this stuff is second nature to me. I come from a small family, in which I interacted with adults and can carry on a boring, mundane conversation and but will from time-to-time, try to spice it up (insert: lie), to make a dull conversation a bit more interessant.
Two, I find that it is important to attend these soirees with a goal in mind. One must align their aspirations prior to entering the hectic arena. Personally, my main concern is the food, but this can prove to be quite challenging. The second I arrive in a social arena, I need two things: a drink in hand and food in mouth. That being said, I try to make a bee line to the bar while observing and pin pointing food locations around the room. Often time hors d'oeuvre are delivered by a wait staff. Noted. Both situations acquire adept skill. A novice would think presented food is easier to conquer, but this common misconception can be quite the opposite. Since many people assume that cocktail parties are for mindless chatter and a possible networking of-I-may-use- your-name-on-a-cover-letter, these chatterers often pop up as obstacles, just as you're bee lining to the blue cheese and grape platter. Eff. You're stuck listening to financial jargon and where to find discounted Tori Burch shoes (Marshalls). One must be direct and even abrupt. I have been known to say, "Excuse me, I really need that crab cake over there." Often times that can be a conversation starter/ender in itself, whatever you prefer. Although I may be a social creature by nature, but food trumps all.
Now, the latter issue at hand also has it's downfalls. It is important to strategically scope out the wait staff. Are they male or female (this can be important)? Can you manage to make initial eye contact? Where do they appear to be coming from? It is not a faux pas to align yourself near the kitchen door to receive first dibs. Nor is it a faux pas to "casually flirt" with the wait staff. ALWAYS say thank you. Even if you're not interested in the chicken satay because you know you will be inevitably stuck with an awkward stick,* alternatively, always say "no thank you," with direct eye contact and a smile. These people will be come your best allies over the course of the evening. Also, it is imperative to at least mumble some kind of response when refusing a beef tartare as you are masticating on a stuffed mushroom. Timing can be bad, but it's not their fault. I've also been known to be direct with my newly founded friends, often times saying things like "Oh, I really like these!" Miracles have happened; I once was gifted with a small plate stacked of bacon wrapped scallops entirely for me. And yes, I was near the kitchen area.
Here are a few other quirks or advice. Stay away from the spinach. I'm sorry, it's hard, but it's a must. You may not be on the "is there anything in my teeth" level with your cocktail partner.
Even if it's not polite, I try to stuff the
canapé in my mouth in one fell swoop. You don't want any chick peas falling to the floor, or worse, in your chardonnay. Just chew as fast as you say, cover your mouth and make a joke after to ease the tension. Or, it can be best to avoid the two-bite toasted bruschettas, but where is the fun in in that?
When asked a question mid-bite (wait staff excluded), make them wait, you don't want to be caught talking "sea food" My Girl style.
*Always grab a napkin. It can be a great covering tool for the annoying toothpick booby prize you will get stuff with.
When at the cheese platter, don't be intimidated and pressured into the small awkward plates. Just go ahead, scoop into that melted brie. What's the point in hand-picking your grapes onto a plate, you're going to eat them in two minutes? Plus when you have a plate and a beverage in hand, how will you be able to do either? Exactly, ditch the small plate, like I said, go ahead, scoop that brie.
Don't worry about being too direct when it comes to finding food, it's on everyone's mind, you'll just be praised for being so honest. Unless you don't like food and that's a whole other issue.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Other White/Pink Meat

After being terrified by stitches, busted lips and Javier Bardem’s performance in No Country for Old Men, I decided to lighten up the Sunday downer mood and create un petit masterpiece. I was in a creative spirit and wanted to venture out of the chicken / steak box. Although this may sound silly, my knowledge of the Other White/Pink Meat is minimal at best, so I decided to play around with pork to boost my confidence. I played around with a past recipe that used apples, whiskey and balsamic and eventually reduces to a glaze. To boost up the recipe, I sautéed shallots and garlic in butter (decadent, I know), browned some onions, seared the thick pork chops, added apples, balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard and a dash of grenadine (I know it doesn’t replace whiskey, but it's used in alcoholic beverages so I let it slip). I also roasted some red potatoes with herbs, olive oil, some cubes of butter (!) and bread crumbs, roasted a yellow summer squash and made a basic stuffing ( I lie! I used a pre-stuffing mixture, no judgments, I’m not Martha). I learned that I can now comfortably use butter to my liking. And I also learned that the Other White/Pink Meat is as easy as they say it is to cook. It was juicy, flavorful and lends itself well to a mustard-balsamic-fruit glaze.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Food for the Masses

Sunday may have been more beneficial if I had merely written a check to Type II Diabetes, Attn. Diabetes Administrator c/o M.O. Then I could have avoided the fattening food binge I succumbed to. But that wouldn’t have been as much fun. Instead, I did it the hard way and participated in my fair share of consumption that will eventually contribute to my impending Diabetes case that I will develop in 35 years. But enough with the administrative details, I’ll delve into Sunday’s eateries because that was the most absurd. So I woke up, had a double dose of caffeine (black coffee and afternoon tea) and a handful of antioxidant infused Smart Start. That was my starter. Then my fellow comrades and I went to check out a new restaurant, Fieldstones, in Portsmouth, RI. Fieldstones was pretty good--they took the basic menu and turned up the volume. I ordered a smoked chicken sandwiches layered with alfalfa sprouts, cranberry mayonnaise and bacon. Although the bread was a bit too doughy, I certainly didn’t have a problem polishing off my sweet potato fries, and helping myself to my fellow diner’s waffle fries, Portobello burger and Rueben. After this greasy brunch, I was satisfied…for about 2 hours. Then I got a sudden craving for sweet so I rummaged through my host’s cabinets and had a handful of crystallized ginger and chocolate chip morsels. One hour later, I went to the Cookie Jar and had the tough decision of choosing between oatmeal chocolate chip and oatmeal butterscotch. I did what most people would do and got both. No use in driving yourself crazy. It is Sunday after all. Now here is the part that kills me. After scarfing down our treats my accomplice and I keep walking down the wharf towards the water, until we pass The Black Pearl. And although we have both frequented this Newpy establishment, neither of us had the pleasure of indulging for quite sometime. So that being said, we hastily conjured up some ridiculous reason as to why we needed to go to the Black Pearl after we had indulged in brunch and cookies. We cleverly came up with a desperate need to “re taste” the famed clam chowder and used this poor suggestion as our excuse. At least I was pleased. The Pearl is cuter than I remembered. It has that traditional New England sea fare flair—low beamed ceilings, dark wide set polished wood floors and walls, boat-like tables. If you were wondering, our re tasting was worth it. The chowder was delicious and the crackers and hot rolls with salted butter complemented the rich dish well. I was so full from the creamy soup and immediately vowed to have a small green salad for dinner, or at least something on the lighter side. But I was heavily mistaken and found myself eating beef fried dumplings, fatty spring rolls and pad thai noodles. Nicely done.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Hillster

Perhaps many of you are familiar with the Sunday F U. It usually begins with severe depression when you arise groggy in the am/pm (whatever your preference may be), then a manic happiness sets over when you realize you have a “full free day” (let's be honest, a half day), and then severe panic sets over again. Finally you attempt to get your ducks lined up in a row and enjoy your last moments of freedom before the Monday Grind. Sometimes this may involve going to a bar, attending a cocktail party ( my father's style), but I like to go out to dinner and indulge in some decent wine and food. So the challenge is to find a nice way to procrastinate into the work week, usually bearing a slight hangover, a nice "finger" to the upcoming week. Per my usual Sunday Funday I went out to dinner, and was politely convinced into going to the Hill Tavern, a local Beacon Hill mainstream haunt.I've been to this institution several times, mainly to indulge in the half price appetizers during an early "happy hour" at 4-6PM. My first sandwich experience was pretty blah. Eggplant, red pepper and zucchini. Unfortunately, cheese wasn't present and I don't think sandwiches or panini or wraps or any other bread product with protein and maybe some veggies should ever show itself the to the general public without adding at least a slice of cheese product. But that being said, besides contradicting the Cardinal Sandwich rule, the sandwich was....mediocre at best.

Now, after gently being coerced to give sandwich another try, I blundered over my decision once again. This time, I took my advice and ordered the mozzarella, avocado and caramelized onions and cherry tomato panini. Much to my dismay, this was a flop too. Yes, avocado, tomato and mozz produced a lovely basic blend, but another cardinal sin surfaced--the onions weren't caramelized. They were not sweet (hence the "caramel" function of the word) but mushy and lacking of flavor. Enough said.

At least I got a UFO in a frosted beer glass, approximately one foot tall.