Thursday, January 31, 2013

You Know I Read it in a Magazine, Oh Ho

Where I work, even though it's Brooklyn, once I'm in the building there is no finding alternate food or snacks. It's like food prison lockdown. We have one vending machine that carries the usual suspects and a couple of trail mixes, breakfast bars. I get them. 75 cents. Not too bad but it does bother me to do this. I try to think ahead and bring Trader Joe nut sacks or I'll buy a box of the lesser-of-the-evil bars at PathMark and pack them in my biker bag. But still this bothers me. It was time to start making these damn things myself so I could control what is in them, like everything else. I'm perfecting the ingredients list. Lots of good suggestions lately from magazines and newspaper recipes and on the web. The binder has been the toughest element. Not enough will make them fall apart. For us occasionally these need to become meal replacements so I tried peanut butter as the binding agent. You need enough natural peanut butter with just enough of it's own oil to melt down and become silky along with honey. This helps penetrate ALL the oatmeal and pieces so that it can stick together. The other important step is to press down with all the firmness of choking someone to death. You have to really get in there and compress. I like the idea of a toasted taste so I put mine in the oven for about 10 minutes. So far one time I got them near perfect.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

You Don't Have To Live Like a Refugee

Sometimes being a Mexican-American from the Midwest is confusing. I know there are thousands of us out here but now being in New York, I feel like more of an alien than ever before. There is such a huge Latin community all of which have such strong roots here. But Latins from Puerto Rico, the Dominican, Cuba, Spain. And then there are all the actual Mexicans from Oaxaca and Puebla. Plenty of them. Then, way over here in the uber-hip young affluent African American community of Fort Greene, there is me, some nasal toned hick sounding, not even tanned, old bird from Indiana. And people that say, 'oh you're just white' because they also are Irish or German or Italian second generation. Well to them I say, no see that's where it also feels different. Growing up as a hispanic in the Midwest I was NEVER able to feel 'just white', never to forget that we were not the same. And just naturally being a little kid, I felt very different. My parents spoke a different language sometimes as did most of my relatives. We ate different food. We celebrated different holidays. We had a restaurant that served odd foods that the locals at the time had a hard time pronouncing. Some kids were prejudiced against me. Not because I was just like them but because there was some big so called difference. Just as an African American could never be white after being here for generations I suppose. And beyond that I can't even explain it too much. It is just what it is. I certainly didn't make that rule. Maybe if you have a different color of skin, that's when you can never totally cross-over? I don't even want to be anything other than what I am but I'm just saying that sometimes I feel odd, or like some freaky rare bird out here. Not a beautiful exotic one like a parrot but more like one you see and say 'oh that's a shame'. I know I wouldn't feel like this in the West. There are plenty of people all over there, even in office that are 2nd and 3rd generation. Even in Chicago I wouldn't be an oddity. I've talked about not eating all the regular foods at home during my childhood like meatloaf, fried chicken, casseroles but also not feeling cheated out of anything either. Most of the food I had at home was amazing, peasant type Mexican food, made simply and healthy. A real special part of my memories that I hold dear. And the nuns at my Catholic school made enough home-made dishes that I never felt deprived. The chicken soup I remember, my grandmother made with big chunks of cabbage and a crystal clear broth. A squirt of vinegar. Maybe you'd get a 1/4 piece of potato in your bowl along with big chicken chunks. Other than that, the only other soup I remember was Menudo and that was a more serious spicy soup eaten during special occasions or after a family night out that involved lots of drinking. But soups in general have always been a little foreign to me until recent years. Now I've made so many. Split pea, potato and leak, vegetable, beef with barley, bean soups, chicken and rice, and more. So my soup fear has left me now and I'm even able to do 'on the fly' type soups like this semi-pantry quick soup made with Turkey Sausage, potatoes, white beans, mustard greens, carrots and celery. The creaminess came from just smashing and blending up a 1/2 cup of the beans then adding that to the beef broth. Instead of cooking the vegetables first, I just add everything to the pot and let it come to a boil, then simmer about 1/2 an hour. Seems to make a difference and I like to think the veggies keep more of their vitamins this way. Lots of fresh cracked black pepper boosts all the flavors of this soup. I hope I don't sound like I'm complaining about feeling offbeat. In many ways it's been like having the swimming pool all to yourself. But I do feel a bit lonely sometimes, wishing I had a few more members, especially at times when I feel I could use some back up.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Oo-ooh Child, Things are Gonna Get Easier

Getting my hair cut has been a series of traumatic events for me throughout my life. I've usually only felt good when it's long and stringy. When I was quite young I got a shoulder length cut. My dad, didn't talk to me for two weeks. He was very upset and made me aware of his disappointment in me. Now thinking back, what a bizarre reaction from a dad. I don't remember why or who's decision it was to get it cut, maybe a suggestion by my sister M who always said my head smelled like a dog, but I know I regretted it deeply afterwards. I remember feeling so crushed. How could my hair have such a strong effect on my life? Deeming me almost unloveable? Dang, that's too deep for a kid.

When I was 16 and in an awkward stage of late puberty I also chopped off my hair into a bob AND doubled-down on a really bad boxed permanent. Tight frizzy curls that seemed to grow like a Chia pet diagonally in the summer humidity. Needless to mention, this did nothing for my already lackluster confidence. My body had not received the memo that it was supposed to be developing and making me irresistible to boys. No, but instead I did acquire a patch of whiskers which gave me something in common with the boys in class! And a fierce case of measles that took me down another 10 lbs or so from my recent appendectomy, weighing me in at about 85 soaking wet. Not a great look, skinny, sickly, with very bad hair. It didn't help that I was already a small framed Mexican American in a town of healthy German and Irish decent girls that seemed to all form ginormous boobs at 13 and sprout up to heights not even my uncles had achieved.

Never being one to learn from my mistakes, back in 2004 I thought it was a great idea to get a multi-layered loose perm. Doesn't exist by the way. Almost as if an alien took over my mind, made me forget all the past trauma and replaced it with a passion for the dumbest idea ever! And trust, trust of a very bad stylist in the neighborhood. That whole event is almost too fresh to talk about so I'll just say one word. Unspeakable.

You have to cut your hair eventually even if you're Crystal freakin' Gayle. Mine was getting ridiculously long interfering with bodily functions and whatnot. I don't want to go into the whole story. Mainly because I think I left my body halfway through the experience so I don't even remember the sequence of events. I know beforehand I was considering a real cut, something new, something different, passing pics to the stylist. She had cut it before, a friend, past co-worker who had got her license and now worked at a salon fittingly called Revolver in Soho. Words were formed somehow, payments were made. All a mystery. The only thing I have now are pictures. Proof that I was there. And my hair. I probably lost a foot, slightly more. Does it look good? Do I feel better? No and no. End of story. Am I over it? Yes.

Many areas of my life, I am not one bit good at. I wear the most horrible coats. I never have cute scarves or matching anything. I don't know how to relate to most other women or form healthy friendships. I'm a discombobulated human and barely manage to get through an average day. Normal women get haircuts and manicures and spa treatments and have luncheons with friends on a regular basis. Will I ever be that girl? It's not looking good at this stage.

But somehow in all of this seemingly endless lists of failures, I have become better at my attempts for making Asian cuisine. Beef with broccoli stir fry, a little slurry for glisten at the end. I overcooked the broccoli so it wasn't perfect but I'm getting there. Something I never thought I'd accomplish.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Monday, Monday, Can't Trust That Day

It's so weird and almost cruel how somedays, mainly Mondays but Tuesdays too, can seem so horrible and wrong. Like your life has nothing pleasing in it. Work and the people and the situations are all things to dread. Yes, you're grateful to be alive and trying to keep the faith but secretly in your truthful mind you don't see the light at all.

Even your aparttment, the place that is normally a sanctuary is dirty and in need of so much. All you see when you look at it is crap you need to do.

But then, miraculously on a day off together the whole entire world becomes just fine, everything is in place and in order. If it's big deal. Life is good as my sister's husband says! Why am I so uptight all the time? My life as it is right now, is a beautiful place. The cats are stoic looking and picturesque in the sun. They are not puking up hairballs everywhere and I'm not cringing thinking of starting a new week. On a day off you can just rest and recognize that you did the best you could, the work is over. That break in the action changes the entire view.

Breakfast is perfect too. Eggs with lots of fresh vegetables and just a little cheese on top baked until fluffy.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Soupa Dupa Fly

No-fat creamy peppery potato leek soup!

...with sausage crumbles. Okay more like chunks.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

She's Like a Rainbow

When I shop for groceries I look for new fun exciting stuff that's on sale and save it like a squirrel to use for later. Like I had been storing a little booty of Asian ingredients. Cans of baby corn, bamboo shoots, etc.

So I also got a giant stalk of bok choi on sale that needed to be made. And ground turkey. Now one doesn't think of Asian necessarily with the ground turkey but I do remember being super surprised one time when trying a ground beef Japenese soup with Udon noodles in San Francisco. I went back to that place every chance I GOT to eat that soup it was so good. The broth was red.

So anyway, Bok Choi is a big vegetable - it takes up lots of space. So I did it in the wok. There is something about bok choi that is deeply satisfying. It has a high amount of vitamin A but I'm not sure if your body craves that at times. I just know when I eat it, a hole gets filled that is more than my appetite. Similar to broccoli rabe.

I added dried tomatoes for color and a touch of sweetness.

This was not only pretty but one of those dishes you have a hard time eating just one serving.

And of course I made of a huge vat of it.

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Prince and the Pauper

Thai Beef Salad from National Thai for dinner.

Leftover pinto beans and wild rice for lunch with yogurt and pickled jalepenos.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Tear the Roof Off the Sucker!

I mentioned PathMark seems to be run by new management. Lots of cosmetic changes, light remodeling, cleaning, prices sky-rocketing on lots of items. Is this the trade off? It sure would be great to start having some trust in the relationship with that meat counter again, especially regarding the chicken. Then again, it almost feels like they need to just completely overhaul the place to make a true difference. New floors, ceilings, fixtures. Some additions are positive though. Like these huge 'bag o' greens', a mix of baby spinach, bok choi, swiss chard, etc...and get this, for $2.99! What a bargain! I add big heaps to everything from eggs, soups, beans, pastas.

Spiral pasta with sun-dried tomatoes, smoked turkey sausage, lots of greens and olive oil. Oh Yeah!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

And It's Been No Bed of Roses, No Pleasure Cruise

For some reason, this month I am fondly recalling my mom and dad's restaurant dishes. I was young(er) and so I usually ordered the same thing, a combination platter. Always a piping hot platter of wonderfulness. My dad put together his burritos differently than you see them most everywhere. He never added beans and rice, always kept it minimal using small tortillas stuffed with seasoned ground meat, a mixture of chuck and round. Then if I'm not mistaken he used Colby cheese instead of cheddar melted on top and put under the broiler. The flour tort got all crisp and toasty. Honestly, I think this was my dad's genius. He wasn't the cook, he was more the mastermind. My mother made all the food. These were her recipes. She invented the sauces and salsas, which are still talked about to this day in that town and beyond. She laid a foundation of perfectly spiced and seasoned staples. He put the plates together. But he thought to mix the cuts of beef and assorted other difference making nuances. He had an idea of how to exploit everything (including my mom but that's another blog). In the restaurant my dad was up front like a rock star behind the hot lights, usually sweating his ass off but smiling a huge grin. Everyone came and shook his hand, not my mom's. Great job Sid! Amazing Sid! Thanks, everything was great Sid! No one really knew my mom's role. She was like the quiet virtuoso lead guitarist in the band. A real Brian May or Mike Campbell. Then there was my dad, the front man. I remember he would even come off stage so to speak like he had just performed a long set at the end of the night. He's sit at a booth and drink an ice cold beer from the tap with one of the towels around his neck. He looked exhausted. My mom didn't come out and sit with him. I think she put a chair outside the kitchen and got some fresh air in the back of the building. They both worked so hard, every day and never took days off. They both did so much.

The refried beans and rice were not an ignored side garnish on the platter by the way. They were a major part of the meal. My mom's Mexican rice is unbeatable, no question. It can bring tears to your eyes it's so good. Best I've ever had anywhere and unfortunately no, I can't make it. Mine pales in comparison. Similar to an oreo cookie, there was a best way to eat the beans and rice. Combine them, add lots of her warm salsa and then scoop it up with the just made salted corn chips being sure to add all the bits of lettuce and tomato that may have been left over on your plate.

But tonight, I start new traditions with my low fat beans and wild rice dressed with yogurt and cilantro. Yawn.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Wouldn't It Be Nice?

I buy my canned beans in the 'international foods' aisle because they're usually cheaper than the regular brands, don't ask me why. Sometimes there will be black beans right next to the black bean soup cans. I love Campbell's Bean with Bacon soup but I don't know why I never really get too excited about bean soups. Actually the 16 bean soup is great. But anyway it got me to thinking one cold day that I love pinto beans. I should say I love them now, since my sister R turned me back on to them back in Colorado. Wouldn't they make a great soup?

Yes, yes they would. And yes they did. Dried pinto bean soup, with celery, onion, jalapenos, carrots and cilantro as well as big thick smoked turkey necks for flavor. I used water to start the base and the vegetables and necks provided all the flavor. The beans thicken up themselves, so its an amazing low-cal hearty soup. Just throw all the ingredients in the pot and check in a couple of hours. Salt it at the end because the necks will provide some of their own.