Sunday, November 30, 2008

A week of delicious food

Two weeks ago we were in Penn Station and killing some time in a magazine and convenience store. We were looking through a Cooking Light magazine and saw a few interesting recipes so we decided to buy it. My previous experience with it was only okay, and I wasn't that sure that it would be worth the trouble.

However, this past week, we made three recipes from the magazine or its online version. The first was a Potato, Corn and Leek Chowder that turned out spectacularly, thanks in part to 1) my having homemade chicken broth on hand to put into it and 2) I read comments online that it wasn't thick enough and so I added 2 tablespoons more flour than it called for. I don't make many soups, and this one was time-consuming, but I would have to say it was the best soup I ever made.

The second recipe was for Turkey Noodle Soup. It was suggested as a way to use leftover turkey from the Thanksgiving meal and, fresh off the success with the chowder, we thought it might be good to try. It was wonderful. I will definitely be making it again as chicken noodle soup. It was relatively easy prep, it was very filling and once again, having my own homemade chicken stock on hand in the freezer was what put it over the top.

Finally, tonight we made Spicy Chicken Sandwiches with Cilantro-Lime Mayo. The interest in this dish was the breading of the cutlets: it used egg substitute instead of eggs, and it used Baked Tostitos that had been ground to powder in the food processor for the flour. The cutlets were marinated for two hours in the egg, along with salt, some Franks Red Hot sauce (I prefer it over Tabasco) and oregano. They might have been even better if marinated longer, but they were pretty terrific as they were. Served on a roll with lettuce and onion and the cilantro-lime mayo, they were quite delicious, and I would definitely make them again, even for company.

All in all, a great week for food, especially with the Thanksgiving meal we had, with some spectacular sweet potatoes that even I liked.

I want to be done...

...but I am not yet done. Today, I baked 400 (yes, 400) cookies as part of the holiday candy prep. I'm more than two-thirds of the way done with the whole ball of wax, but I am tired and ready to be done. The problem is, I can't just quit at this point and say, "Okay. That's all I'm doing," because I have several batches of centers that are already made and waiting to be dipped. I also have to finish another 32 Key Lime Pie candies, because I only have about 25 at this point and 25 won't be enough to do more than one tray, because the two largest trays go to Jess' office and my administrative office. There's also a tray that goes to my staff, and they are expecting the Key Lime candies, as are my administrative staff, so I have to make more. Thirty-two may not seem like many, but they are time-consuming and difficult. Grrr.

I think I can, I think I can, I think I can...

Friday, November 28, 2008

Valley Stream, NY: Shame knows no bounds

The news that a rabid mob literally broke the doors of the Wal-Mart in Valley Stream and trampled a 34-year-old greeter in their bloodlust for bargain-priced merchandise is not just sickening, it clearly illustrates the level this country has sunk to when it comes to the value of courtesy, decency and human life.

What is wrong with people?

I witnessed this type of mob violence at an early age when I was a teenager working at K-mart. At that time, K-mart had blue light specials that ran for seven minutes each. The blue light box was on wheels, rolling from department to department. One of the store managers was pushing the blue light while another employee marked the merchandise, and a third employee (me) was assigned to assist the manager and the "tagger" keep things rolling smoothly by passing the tagged merchandise to the shoppers and warning shoppers that they must have the merchandise tagged with the special price or they would not receive the sale.

On this particular night, people were literally chasing the blue light from area to area. One shopper brazenly locked her fingers under one of the belt loops on the evening manager's pants (Angels Flight - they were practically sprayed on), which caused our very sassy manager to turn around and remark, "Lady, my ass is not up for grabs. Please let go." She complied, but she continued to follow closely and when the blue light arrived in the toy department, the employee began marking the dolls with the sale price and the ass-handling woman put herself in charge of handing dolls out to the right side of the crowd while I handed to the left side. She was handing them off to some other woman behind her, who was handing them back through the crowd. Everything was going fine, if maniacally, until the end of the doll supply was reached, and the tagger shouted, "last one!" Ms. Grab-ass tightly clutched the doll in her grip. Trouble was, the woman who was behind her hadn't kep a doll for herself and she was determined to have one. So she shouted at Ms. Grab-ass, "that one is MINE!" and attempted to snatch the doll from her. Ms. Grab-ass yanked back and beat the woman over the head with the doll, as she screamed that it was hers. Others began to try and take the doll from the woman.

I ran to the nearest phone to make an overhead page using the store code for all management to report to the area...which they did, and fortunately the fighting was quickly quelled. But the two women wound up in a police cruiser giving their reports to the officers, and all because they couldn't stand losing a good deal on the dolls, which were $3 off. The woman nearly put out the other woman's eye for three damned dollars. I never forgot that night. It demonstrated for me how stupid and pathetic people can be in the quest for themselves.

I have to praise the Wal-Mart trampling victim's father, who was incredibly composed and didn't rebuke. He stated that he could not speak against anyone, that it would not be appropriate. He praised his son as a kind young man, and I marveled at how he truly lived his beliefs by refusing to call for vengeance.

This brazen disregard for the welfare of others is becoming more and more prevalent, and it shows up everywhere, especially in traffic. People are too selfish to go around the block when they discover they're in the wrong lane, so they cut off a number of other drivers to crowd into a lane to make a turn. They value their own time more than everyone else's, so in a long line of traffic, they suddenly pull out of the line into heavy traffic, causing everyone else to stand on their brakes, while they run up the line and see if they can cut in fifteen cars ahead. They pull out into busy roadways from side streets and leave their front ends hanging out there so as to cause the oncoming traffic to have to swerve away, endangering others. It's really sickening.

Last week, I was in a Wal-Mart and was standing in the line for the self-serve checkouts. There's a single line that forms for all four registers so that the next person on line has the benefit of being able to go to whichever register clears next.

I had just progressed to the front of the line when a man brazenly walked by the entire line of waiting people, of which there were about seven of us, and walked up behind a man at one of the other self-serve checkouts, as if he would wait behind that man. I was just about to tell him where the line was when another register cleared, so I was directed to it by an employee who was watching the line rather irregularly. I went, but as I did, I motioned to the employee that Mr. Line-cutter had bypassed the line. The employee went over to the man and showed him the line, at which point the man in front of him finished and the line-cutter basically told the employee to kiss his ass and started to try to initiate his transaction. At this point, the next person waiting in line (who had been behind me) arrived at the scene and told the line-cutter to go to end of the line. This distraction gave the employee the break he needed, and he quickly touched the screen and did a transaction to close the register, forcing the line-cutter to leave the register. The fact that the line-cutter had the balls to wave his self-importance like a big flag to the rest of the people in the line really surprised and annoyed me. But I was glad the timing worked out as it did. I rarely shop Wal-Mart, and this type of activity is a very big part of the reason. It seems to be where this particular breed of person hangs out.

I don't know what the world is coming to, but this kind of activity almost makes me ashamed to live on Long Island tonight. This certainly has nothing to do with the spirit of Christmas or Chanukah or Kwanzaa or any other holiday. The evil that men do...

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Time to make the candy

Every year around this time, my candymaking goes into full swing. This year I got an early start because I wanted to have enough ready to take a box to Mario. We give Mario and his partner Jerry a box of goodies every year, and usually we see them at some point around the holidays. This year was a little early, though, since Mario was headlining at Caroline's last Sunday, so there was some scrambling to get stuff done. Thankfully, I had Jeff helping me last weekend or I would have never been ready.

At any rate, I had worked to get some stuff started before Byrne visited, about two weeks ago. I had made my hot peanut brittle, cashew brittle, caramel candy and about 6 lbs. of fudge. But that wasn't nearly enough variety. The following week, four batches of cookie dough: dark chocolate with peanut butter chips, chocolate chips and brickle; chocolate chip; gingered oatmeal raisin; and peanut butter. They all turned out nicely, but the oatmeal raisin dough turned out a little thinner than I like it, so the cookies really flatten out. But oh, do they taste spectacular. My massage therapist was sampling for me and said, "I don't even like raisins, and I love these! They're crazy good!" That made me happy.

So last week I was busy preparing for Sunday. I made up the centers for my cherry bon bons and coconut bon bons, and I also made some of my signature key lime pie chocolates in the new molds I bought this year. Those are about everyone's favorite, but they are incredibly time-consuming and labor-intensive.

I only dipped a small number of the bon bons since I was short on time; I'd do the rest of them later. The other problem was that I didn't have enough of my usual chocolate on hand to dip them. I typically only use two brands, Ghirardelli and Merckens. I used to get my Ghirardelli blocks from Trader Joe's but they quit carrying it about three weeks before I went into candymaking mode! And the only way I can get Merckens is by mail order, which takes about a week or so. So instead, I went to a local high-end market in search of some good block chocolate.

The chocolate I bought turned out to be a disaster. I went with a grade of fairly expensive Guyanese chocolate that I was told was very good. It was a bit too bitter, for starters, and it would not temper correctly, so it made grey streaky lines on everything I dipped, which made my blood boil. I had bought 6 lbs. of it, and I took four lbs. of it back, having wasted two lbs. trying to get the temper right.

I replaced it with Callebaut, whose white chocolate I had used with great success, but whose dark chocolate I had not tried. What a disaster. When I began to temper it, I quickly discovered that it didn't temper at the same heat that most chocolate did (89-91F), it tempered out at about 102. So the first tempering didn't work and I had to start over again...and the tempering takes about 45 minutes each time. What a pain in the butt. And its tempering "window" was also tight. It was 101-102F or nothing. The stuff got so thick when it got below 101 that you couldn't work with it.

All this time, I'm thinking, "I am so screwed on chocolate and I should have just ordered the mail order stuff and waited on it." But a couple of days ago, I happened to be running a quick errand in Wal-Mart and it caught my eye that the giant Hershey Bars were on sale for $1.25; dirt cheap! You should know that I despise Hershey's Milk Chocolate. It's about the rottenest tasting milk chocolate there is, and I won't eat it. But I do like Special Dark, and since dark chocolate is what I use to dip with, I picked up about 4 lbs of Special Dark bars and got out of there for about half of what I had paid for the Callebaut, and about a third of what I had paid for the Guyanese chocolate before that. And you know something? The candies I dipped in the Special Dark not only came out beautifully, they taste great. I'll not be bothering with the expensive stuff any more.

So today, I have dipped coconut bon bons and made another batch of hot peanut brittle. I get raves on the peanut brittle every year, and it's one of the things I run out of first, so I made extra this year. Well, the first batch had turned out just perfectly: you eat it and it has a great taste, and then you get a nice spicy burn right at the end. It's not blazing or anything, just nicely spicy. But today's batch was something else. The only difference between it and other batches was a single habanero pepper, but that one pepper was the difference between nice and naughty. Today's batch is hot enough that it will not appeal as widely as the mild stuff. It really kicks your ass. It'll have to be served with a warning.

Last night, we went into the city to see our friend Patrick in some off-off-off Broadway theatre, which was a lot of fun. This is one of the things I love about New York; there isn't just theatre on Broadway, it's everywhere, and there's enough variety to suit about any taste. The fun part was that Patrick had not only written his piece, he performed it, and it was so engaging. It was very evocative and it really made you think about the things you take for granted (but enjoy nevertheless) in everyday life. At least that's what it was for me. At any rate, when the performance was over, we went with the rest of the cast over to a pub/eatery and had some dinner and fun conversation with Patrick, and Kate, the woman who ran the lighting. It was a nice evening and a much-needed break.

Tonight, Jess is at a black-tie gala for his work and I am sitting here blogging, having finished with the candy for today. Tomorrow is another day, as Scarlett O'Hara said, and I hope to complete a lot more candy tomorrow. I still have peanut clusters, cashew clusters, some more key lime pie chocolates to make, and I still have some cherry bon bons to dip. I also have to bake the cookie dough I've got sitting the downstairs fridge.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Now THAT's a big surprise

Yesterday, Jess sends me an e-mail message at work. Because they have had a rough couple of weeks, he had them organize a little party for Friday to lighten the mood. They responded with fun and games, one being Pin the Tail on the Donkey.

When it was Jess' turn, here was his result (his tail was #16):

He was so proud of his accomplishment that he sent me the foregoing cellphone photo of his work. Amazing, you say? Eh, not so much to me. I was NOT surprised that he could find ass blindfolded (not HIS ass, mind you, I mean ass in general). Those of you who know him well will know what I'm talking about.

Love you, honey!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

America gets it right: President Barack Obama

It's hard to express what I'm feeling right now, but elation would be a good word for it. America has gotten it right. Finally, a president we can be proud of after eight long years of total embarrassment to the U.S. and the world, and an economy in ruin, with a surplus turned into the largest deficit in history.

While I do remain concerned about president-elect Obama's foreign policies, I think his economic policies are exactly what this country needs, and I think that the world will have much more respect for the U.S. with Mr. Obama in the White House.

Good luck, Mr. President-elect. America needs you now. You are fortunate to have a Congress that can really help you accomplish the things you have promised. You have opportunities to change the country for the better with Supreme Court justice seats that will no doubt open during your term. It isn't going to be easy, but the opportunity is there. I hope you make the country proud.

And by the way, John McCain's very gracious concession speech surprised even me, who has been jaded by his absolute spitefulness during this campaign.