The Prophet Among Us

So I’m sitting in a coffee shop. One if those commercial ones. They aren’t paying me to advertise for them so I will not be plastering their brand name all over this post until they do. I haven’t say in a coffee shop for a long time. The last time I was sitting in one just to sit in one was last fall when all of my friends were struggling with the beginning of the semester and work and I was starting my stint as a professional beach bum/GRE studyer.

Its amazing how productive we feel in coffee shops sometimes. All I’m doing is sitting in a comfy chair, drinking coffee I had to pay almost $4 for and reading “Wathcmen”. How productive is that?

Watchmen: Before you judge my reading let me just say that this is actually reading material for WORK. That’s right. Curriculum development requires reading graphic novels and comic books these days. Well… When I’m the director anyways.

So here I am… Drinking coffee that I know is just going to make me need to pee and will inevitably bring on the lone-coffee-shop-patron dilemma (having a comfy seat and not wanting to leave your stuff to go to the bathroom). I look up and around at all the little peoples typing away on their computers or shuffling around a bunch of papers. Obviously there are other educators with their grading and then there are students with their papers and presentations. And in comes a family for afternoon tea and snacks… That one throws me off a little. Although, I suppose it shouldn’t because my mother would occasionally drag my brother and I into a coffee place of two and make us sit and do our work with our hot drinks while she worked.

I think there must be something about the atmosphere of other people that appear to be so busy that rubs off on us and gets us in the mood to be productive. So we read our comics with even more vigor. We’re analyzing the graphics, the play on words. It’s like we’re in school again and it’s almost soothing. To feel like we’re doing something with our lives. Why do we do that to ourselves? Why does it require some sort of setting like this to get our blood pumping, our brains working?

Whatever it is, this is the sort of place that does it and so it is done. The coffee and opening up neural pathways that haven’t experienced traffic this high in such a long time and it feels… magnificent. Suddenly I’m not just high on caffeine it’s like information overload! Oh my gosh! It’s Blake! It’s William Blake! No… not in person. That would mean I was high on something completely different. I mean in the book. “Watchmen” is just a reiteration of Blake’s “America a Prophecy”. Suddenly it all makes sense. We’re doomed.

America a Prophecy, by William Blake
If I haven’t mentioned it before I have a serious literary crush on William Blake. My iPad is even named after him (Billy) and has the following inscription: “I will not Reason and Compare: my Business is to Create”.

Perhaps the fact that there is a hurricane brewing off the eastern coast of America that has everyone in a bit of a frenzy that also lends to the statically charged environment (and the fact that I really have to pee!) but time speeds up (also the effects of the coffee) and I’m reading like crazy until it’s time to leave and go be productive by eating lunch. At this point I really wish I could get back into my office to start typing up all the incredible epiphanies I’ve just had so that I can release them on unsuspecting students next semester but it is never to be. The storm is getting worse and then they are giving it nonsensical names like Frankenstorm (doesn’t anyone actually read the source literature anymore?!). The university at which I work will be closed on Monday and Tuesday.

Sigh… The prophet is diverted from the cause once again. But I did get to bake! Since there was no school on Monday and that meant my brother didn’t have classes and my dad didn’t have to teach we all just stayed home, cooked, yelled, ate, yelled about cleaning up, cleaned up, had a party, watched a documentary about Sukiyabashi Jiro….

Click on the image for a link to the film website. Or go to the restaurant website here: http://www.sushi-jiro.jp/eng-index.html

On the menu during the storm? Well my Mexican sister/friend/roommate made some lentils and chilies rellenos (she had to improvise since she hadn’t bought enough chilies to supply the party people at our house). And I made: A chocolate mousse (the one I have tried and like from: “The Great Disappointment (of 2012)”); sticky buns (from: “Rising to the Occasion: Oci on Bread Part I”); Triple Bypass Mac & Cheese (from: “Take THAT!”); and of course, my favorite brand of coffee.

Mayorga’s “Cafe Cubano” (Click the image to go to the website). They used to have a coffee shop near my school that I used to study at and occasionally some of my professors would take us there to have classes. All their cafes have closed but I still got the coffee!

Now if only I could bottle the real productivity of cooking on a day off, getting work done, the coffee shop atmosphere, and my brain…

J’ai Faim

I hate how hungry my job makes me. It’s not always a physically tasking position (although there is always New Student Orientation and those darned meetings all over the place) but it is an emotionally and energy draining one. Perhaps my running of this blog while I eagerly await students with some SERIOUS issues (anything other than “I’m failing and I don’t know why… Attendance? What does attendance have to do with it?” would do really) is not the best tactic for solving the issue.

The sad this is that by the time I get home I’m too tired to cook all the lovely things I see online and in my magazines or to think of anything on my own. So I make soup in the crockpot or live off the everlasting grace that is the fact that my Indo/Chinese Apo lives with me. I stave off the hunger for better food while biking (a decent average of 35mph for 60-80 min) and then watching TV or simply face planting (as easily as one can in a loft bed) and getting in just barely enough of an REM-cycle before waking up and starting another day. It’s not an existence I’m particularly fond of.

I’m not complaining, however. Having a job in this area at the amounts I’m making is nothing to sneeze at and I am putting away a considerable amount for another step forward in life as soon as I decide what that will be and how much it will cost. But whatever it is there had better be more time to cook involved because I honestly feel lost without a day or two with no one in the house, my poor leaking fridge (he’s older than I am!), and a head full of plans to just cook and cook and cook. I used to do that a lot. It was fun. It was fulfilling. I miss it. Now I go to people’s houses nearly empty handed (going completely empty handed would just be rude) and I feel… Naked.

I titled this post “J’ai Faim” not only because I literally am hungry and ready to leave this place and go home for dinner but because I feel empty. I supposed I’m not the only one out there like this. Not people who feel like if they haven’t cooked they are on vacation but people who feel like cooking IS their vacation.

I don’t have Gma duty this weekend (although I do have students and a trip to Nando’s (Yay!) on Sunday) so that means I should schedule some vacation time. Friday is about to become cooking day. And I take the GastroGasms pledge as follows:

The GastroGasms Pledge

I pledge to take time out of my week to take part in the sacred art of creating at least one dish or recipe that I have not tried before.

I pledge to take this act of creation very seriously.

I pledge to look for more meaning in my life.

I believe that cooking has the power to heal our souls and our relationships with others and I pledge do my best to perfect my skills in the kitchen so that I can begin the healing process. As a part of this I pledge to share what I make with those who are special to me and to new friends that I will make in the process of sharing my experiences.

And I pledge to be awesome at all times throughout the process.

Take the pledge with me and let’s do some serious cooking!

Here is what I’m thinking to try this weekend:

Breakfast Bread: I’ve been falling behind on my project/promise to make more breads this year.

Find the pasta machine in the basement and USE IT (Pasta Verde)

French Onion Soup (This recipe happens to be a crockpot recipe, which would be nice too. I happen to love this soup and haven’t had it in years. And I’m not a huge soup person.)

What about you, Dear Reader? What will you be making this weekend? Do you have a Pledge? Have you taken the GastroGasms Pledge? Tell us! Share with us! Join Us… Okay, that sounded a little creepy. I’m sorry. Didn’t mean for it to get awkward and creepy there.

What’s in a Name…?

As a good English Major I’m opposed to the romanticization of Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet”. If you really want to argue with me about it feel free to try but if you win the argument just know you’ve got weird aesthetic tastes in literature. Just saying. But using quotes seems to garner an appropriate amount of attention and this one does apply…somewhat.

At the G-Ma’s for the weekend again, only some minor medical hiccups and we’ll be off to test for blood clots after lunch but that’s just a safety precaution at this point. For a woman turning 92 this Sunday she’s got a lot of energy. Possibly even more than myself at this point in the week. I just found out that as “staff” at the Uni I’m not allowed to take off for the midterm break and I’m really not too thrilled about that. Especially when I’m AHEAD in my administrative work and there won’t be any students to council as they will all be off having fun somewhere else. Well that’s not true. There are students on campus, some of whom are planning to study, but I can almost guarantee that 80% of them are not Freshmen (i.e. not really my problem) and that out of the remaining numbers 99.9% of them don’t need my help as they are actually studying over midterm break. Who does that? I know I never did. But I’ve set up a cookies and milk party for my late night shift on Monday (if I actually have to stay for that) so all is not lost.  I think I’ll make these:

Brown-Sugar, Brown-Butter, Shorties

But here’s what this post is really about: Breakfast.

I don’t really like breakfast as a practice. I do it because it’s good for me and if I don’t I’ll be grouchy all day and eat too much junk food. But the idea of having to wake up at unGodly hours just so that I can have enough time to toast myself some bread and spread some form of lubrication on it is just horrifying. And all I really need the toast for is to having something in my stomach to make sure I don’t feel sick to my stomach when I drink coffee. This is what breakfast has become and it’s downright unacceptable!

So this morning I didn’t do it. I made tea (Earl Grey with goat’s milk) and helped my Gma make her warm soy milk (she’s between a walker and a cane while she recovers). Then there were texts and phone calls about what to do with her leg that was swollen to dangerous proportions last night (stockings are evil) and eventually I got around to having a proper “breakfast”: Waffles with poached eggs. Well one poached egg I can’t eat that many in a sitting.

I may be a Tobing by name but I am definitely a Flynn at heart. As a kid my grandpa (the Flynn side)used to gross me out with some of his eating habits. One of my biggest issues was with his method of eating waffles with eggs. He’d take these beautiful waffles and then put a fried egg, sunny-side up, on top and cut it so the yolk would break and mix with the syrup and soak into the waffle and run all over the plate… I used to make a face every time. One day he put his fork down and looked me straight in the face and said: “Josie, don’t you dare make that face one more time until you’ve actually tried it.” He then proceeded to cut me a piece of waffled soaked in runny egg yolk and syrup and told me to open up and try it.

To this day that is the only way I will eat waffles.

Without the egg yolk the waffles are incomplete and I simply cannot abide food that tastes incomplete. It leaves a big hole in my heart/stomach and I feel spiritually empty the rest of the day. As a quick disclaimer there are exceptions to the above rule and those are the flatter thinner waffles as opposed to the thick crispy-on-the-outside-yet-fluffy-on-the-inside waffles (see image below and the one below that). The thinner ones I eat with Nutella.

The “exception” Waffles: These can be served a variety of ways but I like them with either Nutella or cheese.

The kind of waffles I’m talking about

And if you’re looking to make your breakfast even BETTER you should poach your eggs in milk (with about a half a cube of chicken bullion). Of course, a good ol’ fashioned egg sunny-side up does the trick too.

Take THAT!

So I’ve been spending a bunch of time with my grandma (the one with the horrifying coleslaw memories. The other one lives with me. See: “A Tale of Two Grandmas…”). Staying in her house always poses a difficult scenario. Growing up I always associated going to my grandparents’ house with vacation. Their house is only about 30-40 minutes from mine but when we lived overseas the commute was significantly…longer (usually about 2 days). So when we’d come to the US we would spend longer amounts of time with my grandparents and I was often exempt from most of my educational obligations.

During the day we’d all eat food my Gma approved of (low sodium, low fat, vegetarian, often vegan, and LOTS of fresh fruits and vegetables). But at night… At night…

When I was a kid my Gpa was still fairly feisty. He and I used to go into his basement office and play Myst and Riven for hours or record books onto tape together. He also used to have, what I now consider to be, the greatest sleeping habits. He’s wake up around 9am to do all his medicines and vitamins. Drink his coffee (thick, black and sweet). Then he’d go through the TV Guide and circle things he’d want to watch. He’d read in-between those things. After lunch he would take a good nap for an hour or so. After nap… more coffee. Then various activities including: Freecell with Gma, ordering new books, garden research, Chinese practice (to keep up with me once I started), Tetris, crosswords… and so much more. He also wrote a book about his time in China at some point. In the evening he and Gma watch “60 Minutes” during dinner and then my Gma would go and get ready for bed while Gpa would settle in for some late night TV and eventually a midnight snack. That’s where I’d usually join in.

On weekends it was the best because we would watch some of our favorite cartoons and shows, like “2 Stupid Dogs” and “Tom and Jerry”.

“2 Stupid Dogs”: Possibly the funniest, dumbest, and most mind shaping show from my childhood.

This is the time of midnight snacking. Cookies and milk. Ice cream. Desserts of all kinds. Saltines with cheddar and Worcestershire sauce (in the microwave for 20 seconds).

So now that I’m older I’m stuck having to help my Gma make her meals now that’s she’s forced to use a walker because of some recent accidents (the woman’s 91 turning 92 next weekend I think she’s earned a little service). So for breakfast it’s toast and fruit with some soy milk (no soy milk for me, thanks) and salad with soup that a swear has absolutely no taste whatsoever but Gma raves about it. And dinner was yogurt (because of the antibiotics in the hospital. Gma, not me) with something warm to drink down all the pills. My grandma also loves tennis. She made sure I knew that Roger Federer is her FAVORITE player and watched at least 3 games of his in a day.  I know she likes him as a tennis player but her sitting up straighter in her seat and clapping her hands and smiling/blushing every so often when they show his close-up or he wins would tell a different story. My grandma is adorable.

Roger Federer: My Grandma’s Indulgence

Well after all that healthy food (there was also a faux quiche made without dairy or salt) and watching physically fit people run around on the TV all day I needed to do something after Gma would go to bed in order to counteract it all. My taste buds needed some sort of reimbursement. So I would fall back on a couple old favorites while sitting up late at night playing on Pinterest and watching cartoons or “Top Gear”. Because my mommy loves me (and was more than excited to be able to take the weekend off to get some rest and help out with some international guests) she’d left me fully stocked with the works. Starting with this:

Ben & Jerry’s: “Chocolate Therapy”

As far as I’m concerned this is the top of the Ice Cream Food Chain right now. If you haven’t had it. Go have some. Even I can only eat it in small doses it’s so rich.

Also in the freezer, tucked behind the tower of frozen pizzas my grandma buys for my brother, was this:

Welsh Rarebit

I tried it two different ways. On tater tots and on toast. I prefer the traditional method with the sauce over toast but I found another use of the tater tots so it was not a disappointment.

As I was eating my sin on toast I was reminded of the saltines with cheese and Worcestershire meets macaroni and cheese. It was a beautiful thing. Brought me back to when I learned how to make macaroni and cheese from scratch. I’d always had it pre-made or one of those “kits” in a box. My Gma used to buy it for me at Christmas, the kind you put in the oven and you get those yummy burnt bits around the edges.

It was a picnic maybe 3 summers ago. Time is all winky wonky in my universe. It was a picnic for a group my brother was a part of  that all the families attend once a year. This year it happened to be in the house of a family where both parents were chefs who now teach cooking lessons somewhere in the Metro DC Area. All the details are fuzzy because I heard them 3rd hand. But whoever/whatever they are, they knew what they were doing in their kitchen. The wife/mother (who’s name I don’t think I ever learned) asked for a hand in the kitchen and my mom offered me up.

So there I was in a rather tiny kitchen space with a wooden spoon encouraging the melting of butter in a large saucepan while she was busy boiling a vat of water for the pasta. Here’s how the whole process was explained to me, keeping in mind that this was for a large number of people:

Put on a really big pot of water on to boil. In a large saucepan melt a stick of butter. Once melted add in a couple table spoons of flour and mix well until it looks a little like apple sauce. Over medium-low heat keep stirring the mixture until it begins to brown at the edges and smell fragrant. Add in about 2 cups of milk (that’s my years-later-guesstimate) and whisk. Then you start adding cheese. She used the pre-shredded stuff in bags. So about 2 bags of cheddar, 1 bag of mozzarella, and 1 bag of parmesan. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Mix it all until everything is all melty and gooey.  Somewhere in this process you’ve put in 4 boxes of elbow macaroni pasta into the boiling water and it’s cooked al dente. Drain the pasta and pour it into a large oven safe pan or dish and then pour the cheese sauce on top. Mix it all together and then sprinkle more cheddar cheese on top and put in in a 350 F oven for about 15-20 minutes until it’s toasted looking on top.

My brother being a mac & cheese fanatic has asked me to make this several times. For a smaller batch cut the butter to 1/4 stick and lower the amount of milk by about 50% and then add cheese to get the consistency you want. It’s still a lot of cheese no matter how much you’re making.

Needless to say I owe a good two to three hours on the bike with some heavier weights after all the making up eating I did to counter act the salads.

But to end this rant here is a montage of Macaroni and Cheese recipes and variations:

Southern-Style Macaroni and Cheese

Smoked Gouda Macaroni and Cheese

Greek Macaroni & Cheese with Roast Garlic, Caramelized Leeks

Smoked Gouda and Sharp Cheddar Mac and Cheese (with really good “How To” photos)

Beer Mac & Cheese

Fontina Mac and Cheese

Mac and Cheese with Roasted Chicken, Goat Cheese, and Rosemary (Although, in general, I’m not a huge fan of chicken)

Potato Skins Mac and Cheese (Also with good “How To” photos)

Gastroporn Menu – October.2012

October is like the perfect month for cooking. The weather is crisp but not frigid and it is energizing as your natural instincts are telling you to start storing fat for the winter. Unfortunately we also have Thanksgiving and Christmas coming up (two of the greatest food-related holidays in my world) and everyone is already thinking about all the weight they will gain from that.

I’ve also noticed that people seem to be going a little pumpkin crazy. It’s cool but there is such a thing as single-ingredient-OVERLOAD and a little goes a long way with things like squash and pumpkin. Yes, it’s healthy. Yes, it’s pretty. But no I do not want pumpkin spice lattes with my pumpkin bread after a pumpkin soup and squash ravioli lunch. And I definitely don’t need to be preparing my pumpkin donuts for the morning after all that. I’m gonna turn orange!

But without further ado, here is October’s menu:

Fall Lunch

Black Velvet (Guinness and Champagne)

Spinach and Smoked Salmon Salad with Lemon-Dill Dressing

Roasted grape, goat cheese + honey stuffed sweet potatoes (with step-by-step instructions)

Blueberry, basil, and goat cheese hand pies (A good use for all those blueberries I have from the summer. See “The Big Blueberry”)

Gastroporn Menu – September.2012

Dear Readers,

I apologize but this menu was not set to post automatically on Sept. 1 and is now several weeks late. The same goes for October’s Menu which will be posted shortly after this one.

Please accept my apologies and enjoy!

Regards,

Oci

September. 2012

It’s time for school (and work) to peak and become hectic. But one simply cannot push aside the small things in life that remind us that all that crazy is not what makes us human. Art is what defines us and so if we are what we eat….

Menu

Back to School Tea

Madeleines (There are several recipes on this site to choose from)

Shortbread Teabag Cookies (Site originally in French)

Frozen Iced Tea (Since September can still boast some pretty warm weather)

Cucumber sandwiches (These are vegan but that is easily solved with the right substitutions)

Saffron scones with rose petal jam

A Selection of Darjeeling Teas