Thursday, September 27, 2007

Mortifications of the Flesh: Dieting By Mail II

Due to circumstances beyond my control, I find myself harboring a vegetable bin full of imported bottled beer, a bunch of cookies, and a far too tempting assortment of delicacies from Sahadi's. The only way to stop myself from doing something I'll regret is to remind myself of what I went through on Diet-To-Go.

Some of the more the more sensitive-stomached among you argued strongly that I should give it up after that odious Cioppino Seafood Medley, but I was not only determined to see it through, I promised that I'd drag all of you down with me. Welcome to hell.

I can't express how pampered I felt when I saw that the anonymous Diet-To-Go worker who prepared my turkey sandwich had apparently gone to the trouble of lowering her ass on it before flash freezing it. That's the sort of attention to detail Diet-To-Go prides itself on. They're too modest though! They shouldn't call it Turkey Sandwich! They should call it Ass Panini!

Look at that. The last time I saw that, I was kneeling on the bathroom floor, holding my hair back, and there was no broccoli.

That broccoli was like eating a goddamn dowel, its stalk ends were so woody. My children had been served broccoli that night too, tender, non-shitty broccoli that had never been inside of a freezer or a UPS truck. Rather than appreciate her comparative good fortune, Inky tried every trick in the book to get out of eating her portion. Milo ate his without complaint, but also made a point of screaming that my dinner smelled disgusting.

Which yeah, it did, but, really, the visuals were so much more repellent. That belongs in a toilet bowl, not my good china from Target!

That yellow mess is "creamy polenta", and given that there's no attempt to divide the various components of the frozen entree-n'-sidedish brick, it ended up being more of a creamed corn sauce. I was so demoralized that I thought I loved it maybe a little bit.

Also, I was pissed because I had misread 'snapper' as 'salmon' and when I saw that firm, white, and definitely far from fresh flesh, I felt like I'd been had not once but twice! The first time was when I signed up and the second time was up the heiner with no grease. Everyone knows salmon isn't white. Even, as it turns out, the fine folks at Diet-to-Go.

Ah, now here's some salmon, in burger form. Anything that shitty should really come with a Happy Meal type toy. That way you'll have something to play with in the hospital, other than the tube in your stomach. Assuming you don't die in the ambulance, that is.

On a related note, how much did I pay to have that can of V-8 overnight air freighted? I was so mad, I nearly substituted a tall glass of complimentary New York City tap water. I was all like, "I'll show them! I'm not going to eat their stupid chips. What kind of nutrition expert puts potato chips in a diet meal? I'll pack them in Milo's lunchbox to show my contempt."

Except that while these vengeful thoughts were taking shape, I accidentally managed to eat them all. I didn't realize what I was doing until they were all gone.

Has anybody else seen Shortbus? I loved everything about that movie, but one of the things I loved most was the way the decadent, deep-as-a-dingleberry model boy was shown breaking tiny shards of a single potato chip and eating those as casually as the rest of the general populace horks down our great honking fistfuls .

I know you're getting stomach cramps, so I'll take it out on a high note. It looks like French Toast, but it's really turkey-ham (I'm beginning to suspect Diet-to-Go is a front for the American Turkey Lobby) and cheese. I'm so ashamed that I'd never realized the nutritional value of processed American cheese. It's like celery, apparently. It actually takes more calories to burn than it contains. Were you aware of it? Neither was I.

Tell, you what, though, that apricot pudding wasn't the worst thing in the world. If I was going to sign up for another week of this hell, I'd request that they substitute extra helpings of that for everything else they were planning to send me. And then I'd eat it all in one sitting.

Can you stand one more round? Because the finale was really gnarly. Stay tuned.

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(UPDATE - the original title of this post has been changed at the increasingly desperate requests of the fine folks at Diet 2 Go, who didn't want the nasty opinion of some blog-on-ice to be the second thing search engines reached for when telling potential customers about their services. No key money (or thank Christ, Key Food) changed hands, and since they weren't asking me to alter the content, I figured I could be a sport.)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Danger and The Amateur Gourmet

A little over a year ago, around the time Dirty Sugar Cookies came out, The Amateur Gourmet, (also known as Adam Roberts) and I threw down some vegetarian dim sum in Chinatown so he'd know who the hell I was when he hosted a pitstop on the Dirty Sugar Cookies Virtual Book Tour. In between assorted treasure balls and monk dumplings, he told me how he was writing a book. Then we went to my favorite restaurant supply store and looked at rat traps and a wok big enough to stir fry a toddler.

Well, now that book has been published and it's a real corker, complete with recipes, celebrity appearances and, the author takes care to note, Asian lesbians! It's titled The Amateur Gourmet, after his blog and I'm thinking a tv show and a line of salad dressing can't be too far behind! Read it to relive the sensual, saucy, fire-fuelled awakening that laid waste to your culinary virginity, then pass it on to a friend who can't tell the difference between a kitchen timer and a vibrating egg.

Lest I mislead you, this book is also clean enough to lay on your Lutheran granny, Asian lesbians and all. (As far as I can tell, Adam has nothing but respect for them, in a chaste and non-objective sort of way that acknowledges their individual strengths, weaknesses and kim chi preferences.) Especially if you're granny's a timid-in-the-kitchen type who needs to bust out a bit. Right off the bat, Adam airs his numerous failed dishes, as if they're nothing to be afraid of! Rock on! The man's got a good handle on the the kinds of things that can freak even an experienced amateur way the fork out:

Knives. Farmer's Markets. Cooking a big holiday dinner for parents who are accustomed to dining out every night.

I decided that rather than discuss the perils of publishing, I'd ask Adam to delve deeper into the dangers lurking in the average home kitchen. This approach unleashed a bloodbath of traumatic memories that won't get me hired as an interviewer any time soon (mostly b/c the lion's share of the memories are mine...)

Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together for Adam Roberts, The Amateur Gourmet!

DSC: You devote an entire chapter to knives and I must admit, I do fear my uneducated knife work may lead to injury. My worst gash thusfar came from a tomato juice can. I couldn't tell what was blood and what was juice and it was spraying all over the place.

I also have fond memories of the time one of Greg's predecessors had bought himself a new set of cheap knives that came glued to a sheet of cardboard. He was trying to pull them off the cardboard and one of them flew off and gouged his finger pretty good, just as the pizza delivery man rang the bell. It was quite a frenzied scene, and in retrospect, I probably looked like some sort of spattered, wild eyed lunatic when I yanked the door open for the delivery guy, who took his money and fled. After the wound was bandaged and the blood mopped up, we sat down to eat and I was like, "Damn, he forgot the beer!" So, I call the restaurant and tell them that their delivery guy forgot the beer, could he please bring some more? About twenty minutes later, the doorbell rings. I open the door and there's nobody there, just a six pack on the door mat. I bring it inside and that is when I see the original six pack on the floor, where the delivery guy must have abandoned it in his haste to flee the murder scene.

How about you, Adam? Any bad knife stories? What should we look out for besides tomato juice lids?

TAG: It's really hard to one-up that story!! Luckily, I haven't impaled myself with a knife just yet. Like you, I did cut myself on a can just the other day. I was making a coconut cake and I opened a can of cream of coconut and cut myself on it. Not too bad, though, the Band-Aid stopped the bleeding. And the blood gave the cake a nice beefy flavor.

DSC: Let's talk about scaldings. I have a fear of that too, but thankfully no first hand experience. The closest I've come is a friend from college who caught her nightie on a pot of boiling water and it spilled all over her and the wet flannel wrapped itself around her and... oh man, I don't want to go on, but that just reminded me of another friend from college who was making spaghetti with her pet bird on her shoulder and her best friend, who was kind of loud and theatrical said something in a loud and theatrical way, startling the bird, who fell to his death in the pot of boiling spaghetti water. What a way to go, even for a pasta lover. Have you ever scalded yourself?

TAG: Ayun, following these stories is like following The Beatles! A bird boiled in spaghetti water?? My God. I haven't really scalded myself either. But I will tell a story about killing pets. When my family moved to Florida from New York in 1990, the coolest thing about our new house was there was a beautiful aquarium in the kitchen. Without question that was the new house's best feature and I was stoked to fill it up with fish. So, once we moved in, I dragged my parents to the pet store where we bought all these cool looking fish, plopped them in the tank and my brother and I delighted at our first and only pets. Then, after a week or two, it started to smell. Really bad. We cleaned the tank but it didn't matter. Our kitchen smelled like a sewer. So dad, an enterprising spirit, did what any college-educated dental professional would do: he poured a tablespoon of Chlorine into the tank. "It won't hurt the fish," he promised us. "It'll just get rid of the smell." We watched as the syrupy blue substance permeated the tank and then we started screaming: the fish's skin started melting off, and other fish flipped upside down and started zooming to the surface. It was a great fish massacre--fish around the world still talk about it--and my brother and I were forever traumatized.

DSC: No hot oil mishaps, I hope. When I was 3 or 4, I was helping my grandmother make pancakes and before she could stop me, I reached in to flip one the way I'd seen her do with a spatula, except I had no spatula. I still have a small circular scar on my back of my hand, though in full disclosure, it's sort of like my invisible friend. It exists but very few people besides me can actually see it. Tell me about yourself. Any burns? Any scars?

TAG:Same kind of story (and I tell it in the book). My mom was making eggs with me when I was very little and I stupidly reached up and burned my knuckle on the side of the pan. It all happened very fast but I remember how freaked out I was. Years later--in fact this very year--I was making onion rings and I added too many at once and the oil started to boil over. That was FREAKY: I remember Mario Batali saying on TV that was the most dangerous thing that could happen because the oil could ignite as it spills all over your kitchen, burning everything down. But I quickly moved the pan away from the flame and carried it to the other side of the counter saving the day and earning the title: Apartment Hero.

DSC: Ever had a kitchen fire? I've had a bathtub fire, but the only time I had the kitchen in flames was when I left a popcorn pot unattended and that wasn't too tough to get a lid on. (And once I was a bit hasty in calling 911 when the neighbors' barbeque grill reflected off their second story sliding doors in such a way as to make it look like the whole building was on fire. I think I may have lay on the floor until the firemen went away.)

TAG:No kitchen fire to speak of, except the one I mention above. I do, however, remember going to the Hard Rock Cafe with my high school debate team and one of the girls on the team had long frizzy hair with lots of spray in it and it was her birthday. We got her a cake with candles and as she was leaning over to blow them out, her hair ignited and we all enjoyed smacking her on the head to put out the flames. That's a fond memory.

DSC: Let's move on to food poisoning. Those who've retained their Dirty Sugar Cookies know I had listeria while I was pregnant with Milo, thanks to my good friends at Boar's Head, as best I can figure. I don't think I've ever gotten sick off of something I actually cooked myself. You?

TAG:No! And it's pretty incredible. And I don't want to jinx myself, but isn't it crazy that in almost four years of food blogging---eating all kinds of weird food in weird places and cooking things I don't know how to cook--I haven't gotten sick? Ok, now I'm giving myself what Jewish people call a kanuhura. I'll probably barf up the sushi I just had for lunch.

DSC: Have you ever lost a friend because of something you did in the kitchen?

TAG:Remember that story I told about my dad and the fish? Well I had a really dirty friend and I put some chlorine in her sherbet. I'd tell you more, but I don't want to incriminate myself further.

DSC: Thanks for giving all us dirty folk nightmares!

TAG: Thanks for having me!!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Dieting by Mail - Cioppino Seafood Medley

Many women resolve not only to shed a few pounds in anticipation of bikini season, but to keep them off until Labor Day, when the pools and beaches officially close. I, on the other hand, start bikini season bulging like dough that will just keep rising until I am tan enough to enter myself in the bread competition in the Indiana State Fair's Homemaker's Barn.

I spent the first six weeks of summer living it up at the summer palace (mojitos, s'mores, ice cream, beer and all sorts of grilled recipes that I will endeavor to share with you once your grill has been mothballed for winter).

Then we went to Alaska and that was mighty good eatin' too, because in addition to all the salmon (which ain't all that appetizing once you've seen 'em spawning), there's an abundance of cheap Asian food in restaurants catering to the cruise ships crews.

I was bustin' out all over by the time the kids and I returned from Juneau. Greg stayed behind to midwife his new musical, Yeast Nation. I decided that given my temporarily husband-less status, I could kill many birds (you know, in that lapsed semi-vegetarian, responsibly farmed, metaphorical way) by signing up for this diet meal service a friend of mine recommended. (No, not The Zone. Though the friend may or may not have been Jennifer Aniston.)

Let's review my thinking:

1. I've got a lot on my plate given the ratio of little monkeys to big monkeys from September 1 – October 15.

2. The kids don't like to eat what I eat and the feeling is mutual. What I wouldn't give for one of those wonder children who's like, "Mommy, mommy, let's eat in Chinatown every night! I love chipotle peppers!" If Greg were here, I'd be cooking for 2 and 2, which, of course makes four, but I'm not really into cooking for one, when all things considered, I'm cooking for three.

3. My pants don't fit anymore.

4. Jennifer Aniston said Diet-To Go's food was good! She started sampling her husband's portions and liked them enough to order some for herself. No, her husband isn't Brad Pitt. That's Angelina Jolie's husband (by Hollywood standards anyway.)

5. If I pay for it, chances are good that I'll eat it, not cheat it. (Hey kids, let's all lose some prepositions along with some weight!)

Now before I introduce you to your meal plan for the next week or so, let me state that I'm all for a big, juicy woman, size-proud, sexy and sassy! But, I'm in no position to buy a whole new wardrobe, and even my bras were starting to pinch dewlaps into my back. If you don't feel good, you don't look good.

Interestingly, I often feel good when I don't look good, but this wasn't one of those times.

So, I went on Diet-To-Go's website and ponied up for a week of flash frozen meals. They're shipped from Virginia in a big Styrofoam cooler packed with dry ice that I always wanted to give to the kids' science teacher, because my science teacher used to do nifty things like dry icing bananas until you could use them as hammers and hurling dry-iced hoses at the wall to watch them shatter. I think her dry ice was liquid though, and mine was a big chunk that came in a plastic bag printed with warnings about touching, tasting or otherwise handling the contents.

I realize that not everyone has hundreds of millions of dollars to spend on weight reduction, the way the Anistons and I do. Rather than fan the fires of class envy, I thought I could share a week's worth of celebrity meals with those less fortunate than myself.

So without any further ado, let's put our hands together for Cioppino Seafood Medley!

Doesn't it look delicious, folks?

It's accompanied by a "petite grain roll", some suspiciously "lite"-tasting chive cream cheese and a Dixie cup's worth of chocolate pudding! Yum! Chocolate pudding, unlike banana pudding was always a favorite of mine in the school cafeteria. (For more on banana pudding, read Dirty Sugar Cookies, the book. Amazon's got it priced to move.)

Here's what it looks like after I heated the roll in the toaster oven and the cioppino in a pan. You're really should have a microwave when you're dieting-to-go, but for the appliance-challenged among us, the alternate heating method is on the right side of the label: Pre-heat conventional oven to 325, remove meal from plastic tray, and heat for 15 - 20 minutes if defrosted in the refrigerator, 40 minutes if still frozen. The directions for heating never vary, though I might humbly suggest that they should.

Mmm! Tastes just like something you might have gotten on an airplane, back when the airlines actually comped their ticketed passengers meals. If I was on an airplane, I would have given up after a couple of bites, but given that this was actually my second week of Diet-to-Go, I ate every morsel, because I was so damn hungry. Also, I knew that a half bag of chocolate chips was not the option it used to be. If in a moment of weakness, I horked some down, I'd be squandering my girlish figure, along with the family fortune.

Speaking of chocolate, I bet you want to hear about that pudding! All I can say is, the experience was greatly enhanced by eating it whilst reading Judith Thurman's New Yorker article about her visit to a fasting spa. Now, I'm a fast reader, but obviously, any New Yorker article is much, much bigger than a tiny specimen cup of pudding. The part of the article that I was reading while actively engaged in eating the pudding was the part about colonics. Ah, delicious irony. You want to know the worst part? Judith Thurman makes sure to tell her readers that she is naturally skinny. Her only reason for visiting this super deluxe-o fasting spa was that she was on assignment for the New Yorker. That irony is not quite so delicious.

And that's just the beginning! Are you ready for a Turkey Sandwich and a Mexican Style Burrito? mmm-MMM!

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(UPDATE - the original title of this post has been changed at the increasingly desperate requests of the fine folks at Diet 2 Go, who didn't want the nasty opinion of some blog-on-ice to be the second thing search engines reached for when telling potential customers about their services. No key money (or thank Christ, Key Food) changed hands, and since they weren't asking me to alter the content, I figured I could be a sport.)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Watermelon Basil Margaritas

With the possible exception of Butternut Squash Plugged With A Bottle Of Grain Alcohol, I really can't think of a more perfect fall cocktail. Because I don't know about where you are, but back here in Brooklyn, it's as humid as the inside of a dog's mouth, and seedless watermelon remains widely available, if not in the farmer's markets, at least in some of the less discerning bodegas and fruiterias. Can we, in the name of refreshment, agree to temporarily forget about what that long-distance trucker once told me about the horrorshow inside his rig after 3 days of hauling strawberries coast to coast? Because it probably applies to watermelon too. I should've posted this back in July, when I was at the summer palace, but I was too busy drinking Watermelon Basil Margaritas and overlooking the fact that Inky was doing her mandatory homework packet. (I thought it was one of those optional mandatory type of deals.) Any parent who makes their kid do homework in the summer is either way more compliant than I am, or severely lacking in the Watermelon Basil Margarita Department... Anyway, if I delay this recipe until next summer, I'll forget to publish it at all, and then I'll owe myself a kill fee, which, however large it is, will not be sufficient to cover the price of a seedless watermelon in Cape Cod.

Watermelon Basil Margaritas

Rather than coming home from the grocery store in a timely manner, push it by swinging by a nearby thrift store you had somehow never noticed before, in the 15 years you've been coming here. Your choice will be justified by a barely used electric juicer, still in its original box, priced to move at a mere 5 bucks. Arrive home an hour later than expected. Remember, if you want to find that juicer, it's essential to leave the children at home with their father. Don't forget to buy an armload of dying plants for a dollar a pop, and schlep them and your new juicer down route 6A on foot. (Given your conviction that you will accidentally manslaughter someone every time you get behind the wheel, it's best to leave the automobile in the grocery parking lot, and only drive it when you absolutely have to, like when you have to get $230 dollars worth of groceries home. Told you them seedless watermelons ain't cheap)

Denude the basil plant you've been babying since your first trip to the grocery, the day after you arrived. If you did not bother to transplant it to a bigger pot, you will have just enough. If you are one of those who immediately moves your basil to a cast-off bathtub or an abandoned truck tire so that it will bush out, 30 or so leaves should do you.

Put the leaves and 2 teaspoons of sugar in the bottom of a pitcher, and muddle the holy pesto out of them with a wooden spoon. I feel you that 2 teaspoons of sugar seems a tad on the skimpy side when you've spent half the summer drinking mojitos at four tablespoons a pop, but don't worry. You'll still manage to pack ten extra pounds into your bikini by summer's end.

Bravely pour three quarters of a cup of tequila, and one quarter cup of triple sec into that pitcher, even though you generally oppose Sarah Jessica Parkered-up takes on classic cocktails. I swear on a stack of Bibles, this is an entirely different animal than a chocolate martini or a green apple Rob Roy.

Now, haul out the juicer and feed that watermelon, rind and all, into its freshly assembled maw. Just kidding about the rind. Reading instructions all the way to the end is an important part of comprehension and compliance, or so Inky told me. She redeemed herself after the Summer Homework Debacle by being one of the two kids who turned her paper over instead of starting to follow the elaborate instructions outlined in an earlier step of a 10-step "quiz", the 10th step of which was "Do not follow any of the instructions in steps 1 – 9. Turn your paper over and wait quietly for your teacher." She was rewarded with a piece of candy, and, maybe even the possibility that her mother will forget to make her do next summer's homework as well.

Don't despair if you don't have a juicer. Your child can still do well on a 10-step faux quiz and you can still have Basil Watermelon Margaritas! The thing about the blender at the summer palace is, it's only good for using as a pitcher. If you plug it in and turn it on, the only thing that happens is it smells like burning. Those of you without juicers must have blenders, yes? If not, the thrift stores are full of blenders! Or go to the discount store and get a cheap one. You don't need to spend a hundred bucks on an Oster Contemporary Classic Beehive unless you're married to me and it's my birthday and I want it in orange. It's too overqualified to liquify watermelon. I could liquefy a watermelon with a marshmallow! However you do it, if you're not using a juicer, you'll need to strain it through something – a strainer, some cheesecloth, your husband's pantyhose – in order to have that Shirley Temple pink, sweet, clear juice.

Moisten the rim of four glasses – one if it's just you, Billie Holiday and your loneliness – with something, a rag dipped in watermelon juice, your tongue, your husband's pantyhose... I would say a lime, but these margaritas don't call for lime juice! That's great news because the only thing more expensive than seedless watermelon out there on the Cape is limes – 2 for a buck at the Orleans Stop N Shop. This is why all visitors to the summer palace must bring me limes and lots of them.

Pour the watermelon juice into the pitcher.

Dip the rims of the glasses in a saucerful of decent salt, not Mortons or those little packets you take home from the airplane. Add some ice, and divide the contents of the pitcher between them.

Promise your friend, Mrs. Big Sarah X, that you will not scandalize her Waldorf community by publishing a photo of her drinking alcohol while her children are Angelic Forest Sprite In The Moss knows where!

Next up: The chicken wings devoured by a certain Waldorf parent, who shall remain not only nameless but pseudonymless as well. (Photos available on request.)

Got any good ideas for my juicer? Lay 'em on me!

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Sunday, September 09, 2007

Your Pancakes Are Coming!

Thanky kindly for your patience while I took the long, hot summer off.
(Actually, I was in Alaska. It was cold and rainy, but I did inarguably take it off)

Anyhoo, in between purloining my children's rubber food to sew on my red 40th birthday dress and trying to see this novel I'm writing all the way through to the end (spoken like someone who's on chapter 4), I'm reckoning it'll be a recipe or two a month, starting with the greatest hits of summer. And please be sure to reserve a table on September 26, when The Amateur Gourmet swings by on his virtual book tour. (If you've got a question for him, lay it on me now).

Who wants a watermelon basil margarita before the second week of school???

Who wants pie?

2007 art parade
Originally uploaded by editrrix