Thursday, May 29, 2008

Return of the Grill: Dana Strikes Back

I got my replacement burner for my little grill!

I may try to fire it up this weekend, just so I don't blow a gasket if it doesn't work on Matt's birthday. The last thing that dude needs is me fuming about how the birthday dinner I carefully planned doesn't taste the way it was supposed to, like when I had to make my grilled shrimp dish in a frying pan.

I ACTUALLY have back-up cooking plans for anything I'm planning to make on the grill. Which isn't that much, really. It's not that big of a grill.

Meanwhile, I think some beef is in the near future...

Mom was right... or was she?

I've conceded that on a handful of topics of debate from my childhood, my mom was right.

She wouldn't let me eat the turbo-sugar cereals (unless we were out somewhere; once in a while wasn't going to send me into kiddie diabetes) and actually had a grams-of-sugar-per-serving rule. Over 10 grams and no way was she buying it for us. We could whine all we wanted, but all she had to do was point to the nutritional info box and I knew I didn't have a prayer. Years later, I don't even like that crap. I can't even eat it. I can barely handle sweets in the morning, let a bowl of sugar-frosted Froot Loops. In the long AND short run (because really, the last thing I needed as a child was a sugar buzz), it served me well.

Same went with peanut butter, but to less of an extreme. My mom always bought the natural stuff, the kind you had to stir with a knife because it would seperate. She got that because that's what she liked and the only reason I ever asked for anything other than that was, like any good consumerist American child, commercials. I'd see the ads where the moms (wearing way too much makeup for breakfast) would spread a creamy dollop of Jif on a slice of spongy white Wonder Bread (another just victory on her part; I eat wheat bread now like I did back then). The pliant peanut butter looked so smooth unlike the tempermental all-natural, which if not treated with care was near liquid for the first half of the jar and damn near unspreadable at the end. Of course, now what sits in my fridge (yup, gotta refrigerate that stuff) but a jar of Trader Joe's unsweetened, salted natural PB. I could eat it by the spoonful, I love it so much. The stuff Matt buys tastes like frosting to me.

Now all of this is not to say that I don't like sweets. I just think my early upbringing did a lot to curb my sweet tooth and sugar tolerance.


I do recall a needless tidbit of info that was tossed my way "for my own good". I already mentioned the wheat bread, which I protested once the media taught me that the pretty TV children ate toast as white as snow. One other such society-driven request, inspired by picky kids at school, was to have my crusts cut off. It was my least favorite part of the bread and I saw plenty of my cohorts with neatly-edged sandwiches. My mother told me "no" (fair enough) but it was because "the crust is the healthiest part of the bread" and therefore she would not cut it off or permit me to leave it on the plate.

Now, I was a pretty rational kid. Had she told me, "No, because that wastes food," I think I would have accepted that. She raised me Catholic, so I knew all about guilt. Heck, guilt was her chief bargaining chip in getting me to do what she wanted.

The points here are:

If you don't start eating excessively sugary foods, you won't miss em...

Your mom was probably right about a lot of things...

But you should still look back and review the things she told you.
Just to be sure.

In closing, I would like to point out that my mother did slip in her vigilance as we got older. I recall coming home from college to find *GASP* Uncrustables, the disgusting little pre-made sandwiches filled with that frosting peanut butter and gooey grape sludge, made from white bread, cut into a circle with nary a crust in sight and *sigh* individually wrapped in plastic for further convenience. My sister's, she told me.

My sister always did like to fight the power.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Lo, and she said, "No fair!"...

... and there was much complaining.

So, I recall mentioning previously how very excited I was to be getting a grill for myself with which to cook all manner of meat and veggies in the splendor of the outdoors. And I got that grill. Oh, did I get that grill.

I picked it up on Thursday, along with a little table to put it on. However, I decided to spray-paint the table and, after seeing what a toll the blazing sun was taking on the paint job as it dried (bubble bubble bubble), I realized that putting the grill on it would probably fuck up the paint job. It's cool. I like that table regardless.

Back to the grill. I had decided that Saturday would be my grill's inaugural meal. I found a super looking recipe for shrimp marinated in lemon juice, basil, garlic and whatnot. This was fortuitous since I had only Friday picked up a brand new basil plant brimming with enormous leaves which needed plucking and subsequent eating. I got the goods to make my shrimp dinner (along with asparagus to slap on the grill) and then... I headed to the box to put the grill together.

Now this is technically a travel grill but I like it because it's compact and self contained enough to be stashed away in my closet. There were many little screw attachments and handles to be put on, burners to hook up, this and that. It took me a good 2 hours, but I finally got it together. All the pieces were there.

Hot damn.

I went off and prepped my food; cleaning, chopping, marinating, etc. Once all this was done, I grabbed the little grill and a propane tank and hauled them outside to fire that bad boy up.

As I began to screw the propane bottle on, I recognized that something wasn't right. It didn't seem to be getting much tigher. Then it happened. The threaded piece attaching the gas regulator to the burner straight up FELL OFF. Bad weld or bad adhesive or something, but it just was no longer attached.

Now I don't know if it was the heat of that day or phantom fire from my non-functioning grill, but I swear I felt flames, flames, flames . . . on the side of my face!

So. Mad.

Anyhow, I emailed my problem to the manufacturer and hopefully they will send me a new goddamn burner. You know, in like A YEAR. Greg suggested that I just take it back to Lowe's, but then they'd give me a whole new grill and then I'd have to put the whole fucking thing together again. And that shit ain't happening.

So, grilling's out for now.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

New Shameless Plug

Wait a sec! It's my blog! Why should I feel shame??

Yup, I play a drag queen. A singing, dancing, kicking drag queen.
Should be fun.

Recent Movie Rundown #1

I'm just going to smash through a handful of the movies that I saw recently.

Iron Man
Hot fucking damn! So good! I thought it was well made, well cast, well acted and well balanced all around. Well! Robert Downey Jr. is walking sex in an iron suit as Tony Stark. And of course he's smart, witty, and charming without being that "good" of a guy. Gotta admit, there's something kind of hot about that. I also especially appreciated that neither of the two main female characters (Pepper Potts, Stark's loyal assitant and Christine Everhart, the socially-responsible journalist) were idiots. Sure, the journalist sleeps with him... but come on! Did you see him? Plus afterwards, she doesn't merely act bitchy because he blew her off or act too nice to him because they had a fling: she's all business all over again. And that girl plays hardball. I'm just glad to see a superhero movie that doesn't have that vapid chick who is the love interest then gets herself into some stupid scrape and needs to be rescued.
Regardless, the movie also provides an even balance of action scenes to plot setup. What's the point of fighting if we don't care about the people in the fight? In this way, I liked how the movie allowed the viewers to discover the characters. The film starts with a very in-your-face opener, only giving you a few lines of slick dialogue to establish that everyone thinks Tony Stark is the coolest guy ever. And then... well, I'm not into spoilers, but it's cool that you get to go back a few days and see what the guy is really like before you start to feel too sorry for him. Also, the build of Jeff Bridges' villain ensures that the audience is totally on Tony's side before the big final battle. Attaboy, Mr. Favreau. You done good.

Baby Mama
I went through a rollercoaster of emotion before even seeing this movie. I found out that Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, two of my favorite people I don't know, were doing a movie together and I could have bought my ticket right then. I was planning to see it opening weekend but then... well, I didn't. I'm cheap and lazy and I found out that Creative Screenwriting Magazine (good people, good podcasts) was screening it. However, it wasn't until then I did any research into the writer/director. Michael McCullers is the mind behind the second and third Austin Powers movies and Undercover Brother.
Oh god. Oh god god god.
What have my girls gotten themselves into?
DESPITE MY TREPIDATIONS, I totally enjoyed this movie. Sure, it's not breaking too much new ground (aside from the fact that no one really makes female buddy comedies) in terms of the material, the jokes are a little mean but more legitimately funny than anything, and sure, I could take my mom to it, but it's not a "mom movie". I liked it and so did the two guys in their late-twenties sitting with me. More than anything, I LOVED that they didn't have one of those terribly drawn-out and painful birthing sequences, where the pregnant woman looks on the verge of death, some douche in a lab coat yells "Push!" and whatever supportive person next to them repeats "You're doing great, you're almost there" about 8 million times and, you know, that's not entertaining! Kudos, Baby Mama, for realizing this. Now go kick Knocked Up in the balls.

Son of Rambow
I saw this a while ago. It's really good. I don't have the energy to write too much about it because I'm thinking about The Dark Knight trailer (omfgkljdhf&$@!!^). The kids in it are fantastic first-time actors, and by this I don't mean that they are good for first-timers. I mean they are good AND first-timers. That settled, it's a sweet film following 2 young misfits who bond over a love of First Blood and decide to make their own movie. Sure, you have your stereotypical kid-movie plot devices (controlling parent influence), but this movie adds an odd religious-sectarian twist to it. I feel that more joy went into the process of making this film than The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Garth Jennings (of Hammer and Tongs)'s previous endeavor, and that sense of fun comes across.

Put it on bread and I'll probably eat it.

I've recently become obsessed with sandwiches.

I definitely go through phases with my food. Last year, I went through a big eggplant/red pepper phase (which will probably come back as soon as I get my GRILL). For I while, I was really into soup. Right now, my thing is sandwiches.

First, let me put in a plug for one of my favorite websites, Chowhound. It's a message board system where people will send in questions, comments and reviews on local eateries and food establishments. Go, quick, check it out and then finish reading this.


I know, isn't that cool?
I kept coming across discourse concerning what was the best sandwich in LA, the most frequently cited being The Godmother from Bay Cities Italian Deli in Santa Monica. Now, my personal favorite sandwich from the LA area is the Medianoche Preperada from Porto's Bakery in Burbank (or Glendale). Then I came across 2 other frequent entries: the Bahn Mi Special at Sandwich Express in Reseda and the Pastrami at Langer's Deli west of Downtown.

Well, shit. If people are saying that these are the best sandwiches in LA, I must have them! In my face! And subsequently, my stomach!

Before I launch into my 3 proposed acquisitions, I should tell you a bit about my beloved Medianoche Preperada.

The sandwich: served hot; roast pork, sliced ham, potato croquettes, swiss cheese, mayo, mustard, pickles on a sweet roll. A symphony of tastes and textures, from sweet to salty to tangy, mushy to meaty to crunchy, and of course, a bit greasy. My comfort food of choice.

So, my first target was The Godmother. I work in West LA, so it wasn't too much of a stretch to head out to Santa Monica. After perusing Chowhound, I had learned that the place is perpetually packed, so I thought ahead and emailed in my order. A lovely system and I encourage everyone to do it, because the deli counter is a frigging zoo.

The sandwich: served cold; a classic combination of top-notch ingredients. A lovely but not excessive amount of salty italian deli meats (mmmmm), their freshly-dressed hot peppers (available in "mild", but why bother?), veggies and... the bread. OH, the bread. Such bread. Such flavorful, chewy, wonderful bread. I could eat a loaf a day and not get sick of it.

Verdict: Awesome. Best italian sub I ever had. BUT... having had so many italian subs before, the Medianoche Preperada has a certain air of specialness that the Godmother can't compete with in my book.

Next came the Banh Mi Special. I had been reading about banh mi for a while and recently discovered that there is a treasure trove of banh mi shops in Reseda, just west of my locale. Last week, the opportunity presented itself to me in the form of my friend Cassie's piano recital. In Reseda. Guess I know where I'm going for dinner.

The sandwich: served cold, but not too cold; bbq pork, ham, pate (!!!), dressed carrot and daikon, cilantro, jalapeno, and thin-sliced cucumber, mayo on a freshly baked baguette. The French influence in Vietnam really shines through in this sandwich.

The Verdict: I now understand why there seems to be almost a sub-culture of banh mi addicts on Chowhound. That's one damn good sandwich. In my head, my rating seems to be which sandwich I'd be willing to go out of my way for. I have gone out of my way for the Medianoche (although don't let myself too often), I'm already planning to make a special trip out to Reseda so that Matt can try the sandwiches, but The Godmother might be reserved for times I'm in the area or going to the shop itself (there's a nice specialty grocery shop in there). I'd rank the Banh Mi Special between the two.

Someday soon, I'll get out to Langer's for that pastrami I've heard so much about.
Until then, here's my newest at-home sandwich creation.
(I ate it before I could take a picture.)

- par-cooked baguette from Trader Joe's (I could live on these)
- avocado, sliced
- tomato, sliced
- jalepeno, seeded and sliced thin
- extra sharp cheddar cheese, sliced
- egg
- sea salt & freshly cracked pepper (I've gone highbrow)

Alright, finish cooking your baguette according to the instructions. Also, boil a pot of salted water. Not a rolling boil, just barely.

When the bread is done (LEAVE THE OVEN ON!), saw off a hunk the size of the sandwich you want and split it in half lengthwise. Take the bottom piece and lay out your sliced cheddar. Arrange your jalepeno slices on top of that and put it back in the oven to get melty. Pull it out when things look adequate. Lay the slices of tomato on top of the cheese and jalepeno.

Take your egg, crack it into a bowl and slide it into your (gently!) boiling pot of water. That's right, you're poaching an egg. Let it cook until the whites are nice and opaque and set. Lift it out using a utensil with slits (You don't want to pour water on your fancy sandwich, now do you? If you do, gross.) and place the egg on top of the tomato slices. At this point, I like to break the yolk to ensure equal distribution across the sandwich. Just smear it across. Lay your avocado slices on top of the egg, sprinkle with salt and pepper, top it off with your top bread and put it in your face hole! Preferably with some white wine. That's a damn good lunch, vegetarian even. You vegans can stop your whining. There's nothing here for you. Move along.

Aaaand now I'm hungry again. Awesome.

Time of the season

About this time every year, I start itching to grill. 90% of the recipes I get from my 8-bajillion newsletters involve a grill in some way and it gets me going. Then I remember one crucial problem.

I don't have a grill.

Now, last year when this came up, I had mentioned to my roommate how cool a grill would be. He agreed and bought a little Weber charcoal grill. Eventually I decided to borrow it and grill myself up a lovely steak and some veggies. Then I remembered one more crucial problem.

I suck at lighting charcoal.

Let's backtrack even more to the summer before my senior year of college. I was living in a house affectionately called the Bat Cave, not because of any resemblance to Wayne Manor or die-hard love of the Caped Crusader. It used to have bats. That's all. One of my roommates, Katie Bouma, had gotten it into her head that we should grill out. She got some steaks and asparagus, dragged out the Lil Smokey and attempted to light the charcoal. I was there assisting/eagerly awaiting food.

We spent a good long time trying to get those coals lit.
A very long time.
We spent a very, very long time and a lot of lighter fluid trying to light those damned briquettes.
Eventually we got to the point where we could cook beef without having to classify it as "very thick carpaccio". But it took forever.

Flash-forward to last summer. I read the instructions on the bag of charcoal and, despite following them to the letter AND the fact that they were treated with lighter fluid, I still couldn't get them going above the temperature of my space-heater. When my roommate came home, he worked some voodoo on them and miraculously got it going properly, for which I repaid him with dinner.

The thing is that I moved last fall and though I very well could borrow my old roomie/still buddy's grill, I have no desire to do battle with briquettes every time I want to get a good char on my food.

My point is, I'm getting a grill.
A GAS grill.
Though I know I should learn to master properly lighting charcoal, though I know it provides that wonderful smell that makes you think of cookouts from your youth, though I know it's really not that hard... I don't want to. Charcoal grills take a long time to get going, you have to lug around that stupid bag of rocks it calls "fuel", they produce a huge amount of ash which inevitably gets everywhere. I'm getting a nice little portable gas grill that I can stick in the closet when it's not in use with a cute little propane tank that sticks off the side like a gimpy arm.

And hopefully I will use it.

Menudo. Now I double-hate you.

I almost feel embarrassed writing this blog.

Which is why I'm writing it. I was going to pretend this never happened, but I need to accept that it did and that I am not quite as bad-ass as I thought I was.

I'll stop being cryptic.

So, I take a lot of pride in the fact that I will try eating just about anything once. I like to order that thing on the menu that doesn't have much of a description. I like to go for the House Specialty, whatever that may be. Try new things! How bad can it be? What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Come on, you pussy, it's only food!

I read too much Anthony Bourdain.
And now it has bitten me in the ass.

The problem is that I clearly haven't retained enough of the knowledge I've gleaned from my inordinate amount of reading about food. The special of the day at Bronco was a word I had heard before, not only as the name of a shitty Latino boy-band, but also as a food.

It was "menudo".
(Those of you who know what this is can shut the hell up and quit LOLing.)

I knew the word in the context of being a food, but I couldn't recall for the life of me what it was. Now this is the point at which most people would ask the lady at the counter, "Excuse me, what is menudo?" and she would have told you that it was... well, let's not get ahead of ourselves.

But no. My inner Bourdain started taunting me, saying just to get it and have a mini adventure on your otherwise boring Sunday night. So I got it. Without a fucking clue what I had just ordered.

After waiting (which, thinking back, I don't know what took so fucking long) for my food, I was handed a bag and I left. I stepped outside and peeked into the bag. There was a big styrofoam container with a lid. Some kind of soup or stew, I rightly guessed. I began my walk home.

As I neared my apartment, I became more and more afraid of the parcel in my hands. I started to fear my food as I have never feared food before, to my recollection. I began to (stupidly) imagine a scenario in which I entered my apartment where Greg and Nic were watching a movie and Greg asks, "Hey, what did you get?" and I say "Um... menudo?" and they both begin to laugh hysterically because they know what it is and I am the dumbass who ordered it.
Upon entering the apartment, I swiftly make my way to my room. I carefully set down my questionable meal and instead of tasting it, I google it. Of course, Wikipedia has the top entry (aside from the band Menudo's website). I'll take it. I click on "Menudo (soup)" and this is what I read:

The soup menudo is a traditional Mexican dish; a frequently spicy soup made with tripe. It is often thought of as a cure for a hangover, and is traditionally served on special occasions or with family.
In pre-revolutionary Mexico, poverty among the campesinos was chronic, and little if anything that might be prepared as food was left to waste. Usually, the best cuts of meat would go to the hacienda owners while the offal went to the peasants. These leftovers consisted of organ meats, brains, head, tails, hooves, etc. As cattle and sheep are ruminants that require lengthy intestinal tracts to digest their diet of grasses and raw seeds, the stomach is one of the largest pieces of offal available from these animals.
There are a number of variations on menudo, including blanco (white or clear), verde (green), or rojo (red). Typical condiments added to menudo are dried
oregano, epazote, ground chile flakes, lime juice, fresh cilantro and chopped onion. Due to the length of time needed to cook tripe to be tender enough to be edible, menudo is generally cooked in large batches and sold as a special menu item in Mexican restaurants, although it is occasionally prepared at home. In some areas menudo is sold as a weekend-only specialty in regular restaurants (typically announced by signs reading Rico Menudo fines de semana). In other areas, menudo is made daily, but mostly sold in restaurants and market stalls (fondas) that specialize in the dish.

Goddammit. I just bought tripe soup.

Knowing what it was, I finally unveiled my terrifying dinner. Alright. Looks like soup with... vague stuff in it. I stirred it and one of the chunks bobbed to the top.


I shit you not, I almost became vegetarian on the spot. All the bravado I had exhibited in the restaurant had faded, leaving only a squeamish girl and a styrofoam bowl.


I took a taste of the broth.
Not bad. Spicy. A bit meaty but kind of a... strange taste.
Now let's get ballsy.
I went in for a chunk.
Deposited in my mouth.

No thanks.

I tried my damnedest to eat the broth and got about 10% of it down (this was a BIG container), but then all those horrible looking (and I tell you, the chunks were HORRIBLE looking; weird, spongy, white blobs) pieces o' tripe began to gather in numbers at the top of the soup and I gave up. I had put up a valiant fight, but my pride finally gave out to my dislike of bizarre internal organ food. Mark it right up there with "chicken livers" as things I have tried as an adult an and find wildly disgusting.

Thank god it came with tortillas. For dessert, I had old Halloween candy.

On a side-note, I think it's HILARIOUS that a band notorious for casting off members for getting too old has the same name as a Mexican soup made of cast-off parts of an animal. According to Wikipedia, "Menudo (from Latin minūtus) also means 'small, thin, worthless, vulgar, (money) change'...", but in Puerto Rico, it also means "young folks".

Who's got two thumbs and learned a valuable lesson today?

Gonna have a revival!

Don't go thinking I found Jesus, it's just a revival of this blog.

I'm gonna do it better this time.
I'm going to stop being so anti-social that I neglect my own blog. Enough goes neglected in my life, whether it be friends, bank accounts or personal hygiene. This shouldn't be another one.

And so, I return to this blog with the full intention of having... a PURPOSE and a DIRECTION.

Dear fucking god!

I know.
Anyhow, this will be the place I choose to post whatever I have to say regarding food and entertainment (i.e. the great loves of my life). I'll (intend to) keep the posts on the short side, so as not to daunt myself from posting at all. With all the time I spend thinking about these topics (especially food these days), it shouldn't be too dificult.

There will probably be occasional posts which pertain to no relevant topic. I'm just saying.

Let the blogging begin!