Friday, December 31, 2021

I'm Your Vehicle Baby, I'll Take You Anywhere You Wanna Go

New Year's Eve Loaded Tater Tots
Not exactly the party of your dreams for New Year's Eve but fun is a relative term these days.  Loaded tater tots are a blast to make at home (if you're old and lonely).  A bit more filling then chips and you can get much more creative then I did here.  In fact after meat and cheese, you can do small chopped tomatoes, green onions, pickled jalapenos.  Or again, everyone loves a theme, how about pizza toppings, make it Greek, because baked Feta really is all that.  BLT style, you name it, the tot is your oyster.  
R.I.P. to the beautiful soul Thich Nhat Hanh

This new year we could all stand to remember that our minds are not our best friends.  They are useful tools, certainly, but not to be taken too seriously.  On my bike ride home tonight, my brain busied itself by feeding me an ugly scenario that never even happened, and another that did, but years ago.  Yet it got me so riled and upset.  Think about it the next time you flood with negative thought. You recognize it more like a bratty kid brother to send packing out of your room!  Beat it, loser!

We must get past this ignorant stage of our evolution.  And this is not to say we should ignore our gut.  So far, this is a better resource even though it too can steer you wrong on occasion but mine has a fairly good track record.  Every year we allow ourselves to believe we are the being we created in our mind, is another lost.  That's just me being honest, as my sister likes to say. 

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Let Your Body Find, Freedom in Your Stride, Love Peace of Mind

Take advantage of these pre-made fresh pastas for nights when you can't be bothered.  They can be jhuzzed up to rival good take out, at the least.  Here I made a quick canned whole tomato sauce with mushrooms, zucchini, sweet onions and ground turkey.  Because they are delicate, I wouldn't roll them in the sauce beforehand.  Plus, there is something to leaving the little pillows undressed and peaking out, their sacks filled with warm welcoming mushrooms and cheese.  
I packed leftovers for lunch the next day and quietly ate them while listening to the roar of the staff cafeteria conversations. I can in the same breath feel so happily content, reveling in my allotted solitude, amidst the welcomed chaos.  I truly appreciate the laughter and liveliness.  At the same time, I admit I do fight back slight disgust of the boorish behavior of some, entertaining as they are.  Some people's idea of a break are clearly varied.  I'd say, too many, choose to FaceTime with their families, hellbent on focusing on unimportant details, which by itself sounds endearing, young mothers connecting with their children.  But on speaker and of course full blast, you're less enamored with this ridiculous non-conversation.  And without fail there is always a baby screaming at the top of their lungs in the background non-stop as the older child strains to be heard, leaving only an ocean of Huh??'s on both ends until they finally no longer require an answer.  
I am taking my cue from the elderly Asian man that calmly eats his meal, sets the empty plastic container aside before shutting his eyes while sitting up straight and somehow reaches a meditative state by the looks of his peaceful, relaxed expression and manages to ride out his remaining minutes as if he's surrounded by green grass, sunshine, butterflies and blue skies.  

And You're Looking for the Answer in Her Eyes

Chocolate Chunk Shortbread Cookies
Or, as they have come to be known, the cookies.  These salted and edge sugar coated cookies, for me, really were all that and a bag of chips.  And, as I came to find, so is Alison Roman, the gal who invented them and has lived an admirable foodie life.  I only discovered her during the pandemic from her YouTube Home Movies segments.  There I fell in love with her style and humor, and mainly, her unapologetically relaxed way of cooking.  She's since moved but she was living in a very modest, very similar kitchen to mine in a neighborhood near me.  She's one of those women, that other women appreciate.  Even though, she has a heavy LA accent and way of speech, it hasn't tainted my view of her.  Having an annoying nasal Midwestern tone of my own, I realize it's nothing we easily control.  Of all the video cooks, I feel her love of food and cooking the most.  She is a genuine person, unpolished and real.  She's entertaining by nature.  
I watched her make these cookies one night and thought they would make the perfect xmas gifts for a few coworkers.  Whoever doesn't love Shortbread, I would prefer not to know, so I just assumed everyone does.  I purchased the fancy flaky sea salt and Demerara sugar, and other simpler ingredients.  I made two batches and put them in cute little Holiday bags with International Santas coinciding with the coworkers' country of origin, which I thought was a cute touch. 

May I say, that these are as promised, special and addictive.  I happily passed them to select work buddies, hoping they would be as delighted as me.  One gal actually did write late that same night.  She said, although she was not eating sugar herself, she shared them with her pals at the bar and they raved about them, and couldn't believe they were not from a high-end bakery.  That should have been enough for me.  But no one else bothered to give even one word after.  Finally, in a weak moment, I asked the one gal who is often in a tizzy about something or other, losing her wallet, plunging her phone in the toilet, needing a few bucks to buy lunch and not someone who I'd imagine ever had someone make her fresh baked goods, if she liked them.  She simply said, they were very rich.  Nothing more.  No, hey, that was cool of you to think of me or how sweet.  I didn't give them in order to get accolades, although it sure sounds like it right now, however my coworkers reaction or in this case non-reaction to almost everything never ceases to surprise me.  

My In-laws immediately send a photo enjoying a sent gift with a quick gushy text, and I've adopted that tradition.  Although people shouldn't give to get, it does give the sender a quick little concession.  Niceties.  There was solid social benefits to these small gestures of etiquette that are slowly dissolving but could be revived with a tiny bit of effort.  It's even easier for someone to give a shout out these days, so there's little excuse.  Why not take two seconds right now to say hey to someone who might really enjoy hearing from you? I'm probably one of them!

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Goodbye Stranger, It's Been Nice

There might not be such a thing as too much ham in my book, but there definitely is a limit to what you should eat.  I probably reached that a few days ago, so today I'm really gonna stop.  I took the rest of my corn meal masa and topped it with cheese, ham and pesto.  Um, I did serve it with a side of kale because as you can see I'm all about the health.  
I have to remind myself all the time to live my life!  I talk to myself just like that, scoldingly, because I tend to shut off, go on auto pilot, forget that we're in the main event.  I need to be shook or shaken or slapped.  In the meantime, the world keeps turning and I keep getting older and less impressed with myself.   At the same time, I'm trying less to be me, or who I thought was me before I realized that we are all one.  I believe that is the key to this whole mystery and the joke on us is that it is unattainable.  It's hard to shed yourself though, even if you weren't that fond to begin with.  Old habits are hard to break.  You go two steps in any direction and there you are again, same old stupid thoughts and actions.  Coincidentally, as I write this, on the television a movie is playing and the actress reads from a book 'Be happy for this moment.  This moment is your life'.  That's probably it in a nutshell, which is another irony, that it would sound so simple, taunting our lizard brains.  The only thing I know is that I don't want to be thinking about that extra serving of ham on my last day on earth.  

Monday, December 27, 2021

This is Ourselves, Under Pressure

Crock pot Black Eyed Peas and Hambone Soup
This is heavenly and you can make it as brothy as you like it.  Personally, I'm a thick and chunky lover.  As stated in yesterday's post, this is an excellent use of your holiday ham bone. 

I'm steadily working to finish my mate's record, including inviting in some professionals to help with artwork and production.  As my mate and I bump heads over which recordings to use or what style is appropriate I do worry a little now, whether I'm more Sandy Wexler than Jimmy Iovine. 

A lunch of delightful beans!

Sunday, December 26, 2021

You Can Do Magic

Ham and Eggs 
There are tons of ways to eat breakfast and you normally appreciate it whether it's mind boggling or just good enough.   But there is something about a real ham slice from a recently baked shank, that has the glazed bits on the edges with soft poached eggs together, that is irresistible.  The eggs, so delicate and pure, the cream dripping down onto that salty meat.  Couple all of that with some toasted up corn meal mash, pico de gallo and fresh avocado and you have yourself a genuine post holiday extravaganza that rivals any morning meal without cheese, that I can think of. 

Then, if you've cooked for the holidays, you most likely have some leftover onions, carrots, celery and herbs in the fridge losing their shine, so why not put it all in the crock with beans for a kick-ass soup to enjoy later or for lunches?  Actually, there is no reason not to do this, other than the fact that you already have a ton of food to eat in the fridge.  But the Food Monkey suggests freezing this for future meals in January.  No food will be left behind.  In those cold heartless, grey months, you will be so much more impressed by the built in magic that this leftover bone gives to the soup. 

Friday, December 24, 2021

Carry Me Back, Baby Where I Come From

The Christmas meal this year was a combination of snacks in order to roll across two days of quiet, understated celebration.  
My Christmas Sausage Roll
For me the highlight came in my attempt at a Fort Wayne, Indiana institution, the famous Sausage Roll.  Not just any roll, but one from Laycoff's Tavern, where they make the perfect one in all the land.  Simply, American sausage, Mozzarella and pizza sauce, allegedly.  So you know the dough has to be on point, crusty with a little pull.  The sauce should be mild but zesty enough to get hints, nothing overtaking the main star which is the sausage.  Not sweet Italian sausage, as you'd expect.  This is all from memory (and the little I could extract from the internet) but I believe the magic lies in the sausage ratio to Mozzarella cheese. They serve it with BBQ sauce surprisingly enough or Marina.  I was told I needed to go BBQ against my better judgement, and they were right.   I reached out to my sister Mary, the chef, for guidance, and who is a regular patron of this establishment.  She said to mix the sausage with the sauce before rolling but not too much.  
The last time I had one of these was while I was in town for my brother David's funeral, so the meal was bittersweet.  On one hand, this was the first time I'd been with all my siblings in over 30 years, which says nothing good about me but was a beautiful thing that I will always cherish.  But sitting at that bar bench I remember being transformed at first bite and unable to concentrate on the conversations.  I felt terrible, the amount I enjoyed this unassuming little bundle.  They told me it was special.  That's why we were there, to experience this Fort delicacy.  But I had no idea the taste would haunt me for years until, finally this year, I had to attempt to make one on my own.  Different regions have their own specialties and I've yet to find the grinders and sausage rolls of my home town here in New York.  Like Mexican food with similar ingredients, one would think, one taco can't be too different than another but that could not be less true.  That being said, I've not met an Italian pastry that I have not liked because cheese, sauce and dough can ne'er do wrong.  These rolls were unique though and I will have that taste again if I must travel to do so.  In the meantime, my first attempt was much better than expected and well received within my small 1 man dinner crowd. 
Laycoff's Tavern, Fort Wayne, Indiana
The Laycoff's Tavern roll in 2017 as it was presented to me

July of 2017 - My sisters and I at Laycoff's Tavern
Fried Pickles and Sour Cream dip
Turkey Parmesan Meatball bites w/Marinara Sauce
Ham and Pesto Toasties

Chipotle Pineapple Glazed Ham
Stuffed Jalapenos - baked with chorizo, garlic, shallots and cheese

Fried Ravioli
P's Holiday Bloody Mary

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Vi Que Tu Mirada Ya Estaba Llamandome

I'm writing this weeks later, so I sort of know the outcome but this was is in the main uphill ride of the Omicron media train.  What the information will bring, no one knew.  From what I had read so far, I felt more apt to get the damn thing then do a booster but only because I see so many shots in my future.  Plus, surely my busy international, retail environment has my number written on it somewhere, especially for this particular virus that is so easily spread and Fauci says is coming for all of us.  If the effects are not that bad, and I can possibly get super immunity, then that sounded like my best plan.  
For people that are trying not to miss more work, the booster is a bit of a risk.  I've seen people get taken down a few days off it's reaction.  If you get the virus, your job and the law doesn't allow you to come in so sick days are automatically granted. No one wants you near them, so it's guilt free and that is a huge relief.  Some of us have to look at what makes more sense overall.  Also, looking forward to other countries, a 3rd and 4th full shot is coming for big cities, most likely.
An early Christmas gift from my niece of fruits, nuts and cheese.  I'm someone who loves a good gift basket!

At some point, it becomes where it's not healthy to keep up with the information or you'll go mad.  But just when I felt settled in my decision, almost as if my subconscious mind wrote the article, I was reminded that no one knows what these new viruses will do with pre-existing Long-Covid.  Again, the universe writing horror stories worse than you can muster.
Before Omicron reeked havoc on my department at work, a coworker got a huge tip and decided to buy us all lunch from the Puerto Rican restaurant.  I had the pork chops (two came with the dinner!), vegetables, saucy beans and a huge vat of white rice.  It had a very home-cooked feel, which I remember about the other Puerto Rican food I tried years ago.  It's neither spicy nor pepper hot, just very well seasoned good food.  I'm sure this dish is not the most accurate representation of the style, but I loved it.  The sauce on the beans mixed with that plain rice was a meal in itself and so delicious. Completely different to Mexican pinto beans.   The pork chops tasted like someone's grandma made them, that sincerely loves you.  

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Surry Down to a Stoned Soul Picnic

Spaghetti Squash Puttanesca
Puttenesca - Being or served with a pungent sauce of tomatoes, olives, garlic, anchovies, capers, and hot chili pepper.
If the sound of the above description gets you hot in any way, and you haven't yet, then you really must, get right to trying this sauce.  If you're someone that thinks adding ground meat, in this case, turkey makes it even more satisfying, then do that.  If you're more evolved and don't eat meat, even better, leave it.  It's good enough just finished with a good olive oil and doesn't need it.  Use your pasta of choice, but I will say roasted spaghetti squash dressed with Parmesan cheese salt and pepper is the perfect vessel. This succulent vegetable invites the tangy sauce in like an old buddy.  

The giant boat, more a ship, will feed 6 people easily, or in our case, we each get 3 refills.  The squash is great for packed lunches and the spaghetti strands freeze well for future use. 

Remember when we could invite people in and have guests and hold small get-together's, easily without the fear of someone potentially getting violently ill?  Seems like eons ago.  In trying to accept what is, I still like to throw little happenings in our living room with candles, good snacks or a special meal.  Maybe we watch a better than usual movie or documentary.  Other times we'll read from books, short stories and then talk about them afterwords, which is a favorite of mine.  This year P sat and learned some songs and we took turns singing.  Have you truly took in some of the lyrics of say a Christmas standard like, Oh Holy Night?  My God, 'fall on your knees, Oh hear the angel's voices', or 'until He appears and the soul felt it's worth'.  That bring real feels to your heart as you sing.  That's what we've been missing, real feels.  I realized then,  this is an effective way to replenish the soul.  Phones and computers down, and without sounding like a smelly hippie, acknowledging someone's presence in all the physical ways we used to do more regularly is medicinal.  Looking at someone in the eyes while they speak, listening only to them (not while also trying to read an article or write a text), sharing in some activity together, is incredible.  We all need this and isolation can do a number on those needs.  I get this same concentrated presence while on my bike alone, so its more about acknowledging the presence of a giant connected force or power source that we all share, I believe. I've never been an athletic person but the giant dose of aliveness I feel, how it shuts off mind loops and forces me to be present, and that in turn allows streams of positive verve to come in. This is how we should strive to remain, always.