Sunday, January 28, 2007

Pears & Cheese – FB2B, part 46

Still not completely healed, I’ve been trying to come up with some more creative ways to get food into my system without expending too much effort or getting bored. This whole experience has given me a greater respect for those who cannot have certain foods or have dietary limitations. I have generally been fortunate not to have those.

Because I’m still not supposed to bite into anything at this point and my pears were getting so ripe that they dripped juice when I cut into them, I needed to find a way to eat them soon. [Having memories from my childhood of the aroma of fermenting rotting pears (my parents still have a pear tree in their back yard), I am adept at picking up the point at which they become inedible.] Chewing the peel would, at this stage, still be kind of difficult. Baking them seemed to be a good way to work around these two issues.

When I lived in Italy, I had a friend who adored truffles, mushrooms and anything of that variety. He would gather up folks to make a trek outside the town were I lived to this restaurant that specialized in showcasing these foods each fall when they were in peak season. It was here that I first had white creamy cheese studded with black flecks of truffles. The marriage of dairy and fungus was heavenly to my tastebuds and senses, and it just melted in my mouth.

This was an extraordinary food memory I filed away along with others from my time in Europe. Then, a few years ago, at a wine and cheese catch-up evening with a few friends who’d also spent time in Italy, I was reintroduced to this combo. I fell in love all over again.  Fortunately, this time, I was able to get a name and tracked down this particular cheese at a gourmet shop. Sottocenere (meaning under ashes) has a dark, black coating, a white interior, and flecks of truffles embedded throughout. For this dish, I wasn’t able to locate it, so I found a substitute at my local Italian market.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

So, What AM I Supposed to Eat? – FB2B, part 45

“Granola. That’s the food of death.” Those were words I had never expected to hear in my life. Having just come out of dental surgery a few moments earlier, however, I was getting the lowdown on what I could and couldn’t eat for the next few weeks while my gums heal. Thusly, I was told on no uncertain terms to steer clear of my usual yogurt-and-granola breakfast combo, at least until I’d seen the dentist again. Where did that leave me?

“Soft foods,” he said, “soft foods for at least the next two, in your case, I’d say, three days. And no biting into anything or chewing on the side of the mouth where I worked.” Ggrreeaaatt. So, what was I going to eat? How was I going to eat?Did he not know how hard this was going to be? I’m not exactly a fan of mushy things; I want food to have texture and taste. I have vivid memories of the Cream of Wheat that they tried to serve us at summer camp being turned out of its serving dish like a Jello mold. (Maybe it’s a consistency thing, as I’m not fond of gelatin things or stuff in aspic either.)

I started the next day with eggs, then a lunch of “don’t-shoot-me-I’m-not-a-deer” orange mac & cheese from the company cafeteria – for all my food snobbiness, I will still eat this – and ended with dinner of oatmeal with slices of a very ripe banana. This is a far, far cry from my normal day’s eatings.
By the second day, I was a bit light-headed (too many carbs and too few calories with the painkillers and antibiotics I was taking) and [shock] a bit turned off to eating in general. This was probably due to the fact that my teeth were hurting, and I didn’t even feel like cooking for myself.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Donuts, Hot Chocolate & Religion – FB2B, post 44

Why put these three things together? You may ask. Well, in the suburban, ordered world in which I grew up, donuts (specifically, plain Krispy Kremes, which were then solely available in the South) and hot chocolate were what we had each Sunday after Mass and before religion class. Years of this routine – go to church, trudge reluctantly to the senior school with the pack of other kids, munch on this snack, and sit through an hour or so of learning about the Catholic faith – instilled this ritual as part of my spiritual development.

I didn’t realize how much this combination might also be stored in the memories of my siblings, until one of them called me a few weeks ago to mention that she’d had hot chocolate and a donut (not Krispy Kreme, though, as she readily admitted) after church. She instantly drew us both into visions of Sundays when we were growing up, nothing more needed to be said. I’m not really sure who came up with the idea of selling these things to us for 25 cents apiece, hyping us up on sugar just prior to herding us into classes that none of us wanted to take but were forced to by our parents in the hopes that maybe we would absorb some catechism.

The scorchingly hot, watery, chocolately liquid searing down my gullet, chased with a light, fluffy, sweet morsel. I can still remember it vividly, even more so than any of the lessons that we were taught – sorry Sisters. With this rather dubious food memory in mind, you would have thought that it had put me off of hot chocolate forever.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

New Year, New Cafeteria Aggro – FB2B, part 43

Ah,…the start of a new year. New resolutions, a fresh start on those dietary and exercise goals, more promises to myself to stay away from the candy machine when the mid-afternoon slump hits. What?! What’s this? They took our holiday break to redo the company cafeteria and institute pricing changes that effectively jack up the cost of our subsidized lunches? There is something really wrong about that.
I’ve worked in quite a few places that didn’t have an on-site facility for meals so to me having a quick, cheap place to grab breakfast, lunch and/or snack is a bit of a luxury item, if it can be called that. I know, I know, they usually carry the same old boring standard fare. Most of you who’ve had access to them could recite the menu without ever having set foot in the one that I patronize most days between the hours of 12 noon to 2:30 p.m.

The folks who run this particular establishment, however, actually have tried to liven up the usual salad bar-sandwich bar-hamburger/grill-pizza/pasta station format. There’s theme days (although I’ve been to some of those countries and never seen what is served here), an Asian stir-fry stand, and one that rotates tacos, chilis, Mediterranean, and noodles. The real treat is the so-called “Chef’s Table” which bi-weekly has a sushi chef come to visit. On that day, the line is so long, you’d think that some major giveaway like free open gym membership, luxury apartments and speedboats for everyone had happened.

But it was the change in how they priced the food by the pound – it’s now by the ounce – and the fact that the set price for a hot entrée and 2 sides went from $5.00 to by-the-ounce and became self-serve in the process that has people talking. You’d have thought that they’d asked us to travel to the moon, or at least to Jersey, to purchase our lunch, which we’d have to pay for in Euros and then convert our change back into dollars [not to pick on the Euro-regions but you get the point]. We’d been living in our subsidized-lunch bliss world for too long.

Still, we are resilient. We will overcome these pricing changes. We will most likely still continue to grumble while at the same time continuing to eat there (although I really hope that the guy who sits in the group next to mine cools off on this topic soon as he’s been obsessing about it every day this week). And, I still have hope that somehow, I’ll find something more interesting to eat for lunch each day….

Buon appetito!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Resolving Some Things – FB2B, post 42

Yes, ‘tis that time of year again, the period in which some of us sit down and make lists of things we’d like to change in our lives. In keeping with the theme of this blog, I decided to narrow the field of my resolutions for 2007 to culinary-oriented ones.
1. Keep a closer watch on those “things in the back of the fridge” so that fewer foods go bad before their expiry dates and turn into missing science experiments
2. Make those recipes that I’ve been pulling from magazines and sort through the ever-growing pile of interesting ideas
I really need to spend the next rainy weekend on this!
3. Check spices for freshness – don’t end up with anything in the cabinet that looks like this:
Sorry to pick on you, Mom, but no one can remember when McCormick spices were 69 cents
Even McCormick suggests throwing things away after a certain point
4. Go through my cookbooks and use more recipes from them (and donate or get rid of the ones I will never use)
This is just a tiny sub-set of how many I own
5. Learn new culinary techniques – broaden my skills set
6. Try more restaurants to which I’ve never been and revisit ones I haven’t been to in a while
I really need to start crossing places off of my list
7. Visit some of the other great food markets in the city – Essex Street, Arthur Avenue, Jackson Heights, etc.
8. Work on my food photography skills
9. Blog more and have fewer gaps in posting
10. Attempt to make mayonnaise again!
It’s a long list, but I think it might be doable. I’m a little hesitant about #10, as those of you who read my post about that adventure will understand. If I get one thing accomplished this year, and that is it, I think that 2007 will have been a success.
Buon appetito!
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