Friday, January 28, 2011

W&W "Red Velvet Soufflé"

Memorial Day 2010 I spent the day in Newport, RI. The last thing my traveling companions and I did before leaving was to have an amazing dinner at The Spiced Pear at the Chandler at Cliff Walk.

The final part of our meal was cinnamon soufflé with amaretto and apple compote. It was amazing. From that moment on I've wanted to make a soufflé. There was a day that we were going to make them for one of our Sunday Family Dinner nights. Not enough time was devoted to learning how to make a soufflé by any of us.

All these months later I finally decided it was time. I wasn't going to wait any longer. I have a tendency to do that - wait until someone will do something with me. I guess it's for support or maybe camaraderie. The waiting for me was over. I was nervous that I would mess up the mixture, but I really wanted to try.

The first thing I needed was ramekins. I had seen them at Crate & Barrel for $2.95 each. That was a great price. I wanted four. I went on a Friday night to purchase them in preparation for making the soufflé the following Monday. I left Astoria at 7pm and arrived just before 7:30pm at the door of a closed Crate & Barrel. I was shocked. The revolving door wouldn't turn. The lights were on, but I couldn't get in. Finally I noticed the posted hours. How could a Crate & Barrel in Manhattan be closed on a Friday night at 7pm? I looked around to make sure I wasn't in some Twilight Zone Manhattan. No such luck.

The next day I was scheduled off work before the ridiculously early closing time so I was prepared to bust a move across town before those revolving doors were locked on me two days in a row. I made it and purchased the 4 ramekins that I wanted.

I had most of the ingredients I needed in my kitchen already. What I didn't have was eggs, red food coloring, whipping cream and sour cream.

The day of baking had finally arrived. I had spent the day basking in and running away from the art at MoMA. I had indulged in lively discussions about art, family and religion. I was nourished with 16 bean soup; my thirst quenched with Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. The pièce de résistance was to be my first soufflé.

I chose red velvet soufflé. I had already made a red velvet cake on my own twice; it seemed the right choice for me. My close friends know that I love red velvet cake. I want it to be something I'm known for making. A red velvet soufflé seems like a city cousin to the Southern cake.

It was midnight by the time I started making the soufflé's. I was determined though and nobody was leaving until they were done and we had eaten them or thrown them away because they failed to rise.

I started by greasing the bottom and sides of my ramekins with butter - real butter - and then sprinkling them with sugar, lightly coating the butter. The next logical step was separating the eggs. Of the 5 eggs needed per the recipe, 4 yokes needed to be ready to mix into the chocolate as soon as it was melted. I chose Ghirardelli bittersweet baking chocolate per a recipe that I'd seen in a copy of Southern Living magazine. The recipe I had chosen and the one in the magazine were identical excepting the Ghirardelli suggestion.

When the chocolate was melted I stirred in the egg yokes, the sugar, the milk, the red food coloring and the vanilla necessary to flavor and color the soufflé. I actually used my whisk for the first time. I set the chocolate mixture to the side while I beat the egg whites, pinch of salt and more sugar into stiff peaks. As I said, the chocolate needs 4 yokes, but the whites of all 5 eggs are necessary. I couldn't help but be reminded of The Golden Girls episode where Blanche, delirious from staying up all night attempting to be the next great Southern writer, confuses Roses bag of egg yokes for little balls of sunshine. I laughed to myself as I threw a little ball of sunshine in the trash.

With the egg whites stiffly beaten to peaks it was time to fold them into the chocolate. I think the folding was what made me the most nervous. I mean does it have to be folded into the chocolate instead of just stirred in? What if I don't fold it correctly? Is there a right and wrong way to fold? I just had to get over the fear and start folding. As I did so the chocolate became lighter in color and airier in texture. That's what I'm assuming makes the soufflé rise - all the air created by folding in the light egg white mixture.

When all the mixing, blending and folding was done, it was time to spoon. I spooned the mixture into the waiting ramekins. The ramekins were on a cookie sheet for even baking. The oven was preheated to 350°. I placed the ramekins in the oven and set the timer for 20 minutes.

Time to make the topping. First nervous moment: folding; second nervous moment; too much noise during baking making the soufflé's fall. I had to use the beaters. I had to mix whipping cream, sour cream and sugar to a pourable consistency. It didn't take long and through the window in the oven door I could see that the noise had not disturbed the soufflé's. On the contrary, the soufflé’s had risen higher than expected. Thank goodness for the cookie sheet. It caught the entire overflow and prevented soufflé from burning on the bottom of my oven.

Twenty minutes of bake time and the stick came out of the center of one soufflé with a few moist crumbs. Done.

The three of us were standing in the kitchen. The anxious excitement of the rise had turned into anticipation of eating. I didn't even remove the ramekins from the cookie sheet. I poured the whipped sour cream on top of each of them and gave my guinea pigs each a spoon and we dove in.

It was light, fluffy, moist, rich and delicious. I was so proud. The whipped sour cream was such an interesting compliment to the chocolate.

Next time I will fill the ramekins with less mixture to prevent the unsightly overflow. I will also remember to serve it with a nip of Jameson Irish Whiskey.


W&W "Sixteen Bean Soup"

Four days ago I found myself bent over the trash can peeling carrots. I hadn't peeled carrots in about 5 years. The last time was when I made a carrot cake from scratch for my friend Matt's birthday. He didn't believe I had actually peeled and grated carrots and made the cake. It turned out fantastic if I do say so myself.

These carrots were for homemade soup. I chose the three best carrots and the three best celery stalks from their respective bags. Let the chopping and dicing begin. After peeling the dirty skin from the carrots I diced them per the recipe I had chosen. I then washed and chopped the celery stalks. Moving on the onion, I peeled the outer skin from the onion and diced it. I was staring at a bowl full of color and freshness - orange carrots, green celery, purple onion. This soup would be nothing if not colorful.

Continuing with the slicing and dicing, I peeled and sliced 3 cloves of fresh garlic. Not only was my bowl of fresh veggies colorful, it now filled the room with the pungent smell of garlic. Mmmm!

The only thing left to do really was open the two cans of diced tomatoes. I contemplated the diced tomatoes with garlic and oregano added, but ultimately chose plain-diced tomatoes. It felt like overkill considering the recipe called for garlic and oregano already. I showed a little restraint.

The crock-pot was ready and the time had come for placing all these colorful, fresh, aromatic ingredients into it and letting it magically turn them into dinner.

I had been soaking the blend of 16 beans overnight. I drained and rinsed them in the colander before placing them in the crock-pot. Let the color parade begin. Mostly it was just beans in their brown, black and white shades, but the lentils were green; light green. Loved it! I added the fresh carrots, celery, onion and garlic. I poured in a 32 oz. container of vegetable stock. I chose the Kitchen Basics brand, unsalted. The recipe I used called for chicken stock, but as one of my guests was vegetarian I needed to use the vegetable stock. Seems to me one could use vegetable, chicken or beef stock. It's a matter of personal preference. I then poured the two cans of diced tomatoes in their juice into the soup mixture. The recipe suggests adding water should you need more liquid to cover everything. That wasn't necessary. With the 32 oz. of vegetable stock and the juice from two cans of tomatoes, everything was more than covered. I threw in 3 bay leaves and sprinkled the top with Goya Sazonador complete seasoning. I gave it a quick stir, secured the lid and set the dial to low.

All that's left is to wait.

Let's review:

1 package 16 Bean Soup
3 stalks celery chopped
3 carrots diced
1 large onion chopped
3 cloves garlic sliced
2 cans stewed tomatoes
1 tsp. ground oregano
3 bay leaves
1 32 oz. container of stock

My recipe called for cooking the beans, bay leaves, oregano and stock on high for 3-4 hours then adding everything else and cooking on high for another 3-4 hours. As I was going to MoMA in the afternoon I couldn't be at home to follow the hourly breakdown set forth by the recipe. Isn’t crock-pot cooking supposed to be fill it and leave it? I called my mom and talked to her about it. My thought was: Can't I just put all of it in the crock-pot at the same time and cook it on low for 8-9 hours? Mom thought that would be fine. That's how I proceeded.

Returning from MoMA, my apartment smelled amazing. The soup had been cooking for at least 7 hours at that point. One of my dinner guests wasn't going to arrive until 8pm so I was going to continue letting it cook for another 2 hours. I was dying to taste it and check the tenderness of the beans. My heart sank briefly when I discovered that the beans were not as tender as they should be. My first thought was that we would eat the appetizers for dinner if the beans were not fully cooked by the time we were ready to eat. I turned the crock-pot on high while Anna and I retired to the living for a little bagel snack and conversation.

If you're reading these entries in order, this is the point where I made the olive tapenade.

Brandon had a meeting after our trip to MoMA; a meeting he thought would last no longer than 30 minutes. It lasted almost an hour and a half. Anna and I waited as long as we could before I opened the bottle of Sauvignon Blanc I had chosen specifically for the olive tapenade. I had one bottle. One bottle seemed logical as it was for the appetizer course.

I'm going to jump past the appetizers now and tell you that no matter how put out or annoyed Anna and I were that Brandon took longer than he thought, I'm glad he took longer. The beans cooked on high for more than 2 additional hours. They needed it. It was just enough to push them into the tender end zone.

I had shredded cheddar cheese for anyone who might want it on top of his soup. It was hearty and filling and perfect for a cold winter night.

I searched for two days to find a wine pairing for this soup. Turns out people don't really pair wine with soup. I'm not exactly sure why. We had Pinot Noir. I had multiple bottles of that. There were no complaints from my guests. Who says one can't serve their favorite red or white with soup? Hindsight: beer might have been a better choice. Next time.


W&W "Olive Tapenade"

My friend Katrin made an amazing olive spread at one of her parties last year. I've been wanting to make it ever since. I can’t believe I waited so long. I asked her about the ingredients months ago. I could have been enjoying it all this time. I love olives, but I kept them waiting for months to puff up my face and dry up my blood with their salty tang.

I started with nearly one cup each of pitted Kalamata, green and black olives. To the olives I added a tablespoon of fresh capers, 3 teaspoons of lime juice and 1/4 cup of feta cheese. Not owning a food processor, I threw these ingredients into my blender and pressed chop. Once fully chopped, I added Extra Virgin Olive Oil. I didn't measure it; I added it visually. It's all about consistency. I pulsed the blender so that the chopped ingredients mixed completely with the olive oil.

It wasn't until I had emptied the tapenade into a container that I realized I had omitted the fresh garlic clove. I had looked right at it on my recipe and still left it out. Fortunately, I had some minced garlic in the refrigerator. I added a heaping 1/2-teaspoon to cover my blunder.

I served sliced beets, fresh mango and Gouda goat cheese as toppings to help cut the saltiness of the tapenade. I also served sun dried tomato hummus - store bought not homemade. The bread was a very crusty organic French baguette. It made the perfect base for all of the above. The dry Sauvignon Blanc had just the right bite to counter the salt.

Alas, the stirred in minced garlic had no flavor whatsoever. I will add that fresh clove next time and report the difference.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Spirit of Experimentation

MoMA - The Museum of Modern Art; I thought I'd been there before, but when I arrived I realized I was mistaken. I have been to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Museum and the Museum of Sex. In my nearly 14 years in New York City I've now been to 4 of the more than 80 museums that exist within its five boroughs. One thing that annoys me most about myself is that I don't take enough advantage of the glorious things this City has to offer.

Art is subjective. What is beautiful to one person may be ugly to another. What one person finds profoundly meaningful may be meaningless to another. There were things - sketches, paintings, sculptures, nets, videos - that I couldn't believe were art. There were computer monitors mounted on the wall with keyboards mounted underneath on which a person could type. The letters jumped; this is art? Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I had to remind myself that it was modern art: traditions of the past have been thrown aside in a spirit of experimentation.

Just when I couldn't take another second of design and architectural art I found myself in front of a painting bursting with blue. I was drawn to it because of its color. It was then that I began to notice its composition. Being drawn to the color seemed to be my calling card when it came to abstract art. The colors speak to me and lure me in and then I look at the piece as a whole and search for its meaning. I didn't always find a love beyond the color. Sometimes however I found a beauty I didn't even know was there.

Pollock. I will admit that I don't understand the popularity of Pollock. When I look at his paintings I can't seem to get beyond the drips and splatters passing for art. Somebody loved it though and deemed it worthy enough for the public attention. I can officially say I'm glad they did. I expressed my thoughts freely and openly with Brandon and Anna, two painters/artists in their own right. I didn't feel ignorant in my lack of understanding the Why? factor. We stood in that gallery and looked and talked. Brandon had plenty of knowledge on Pollock to share. He was passionate about it; passionate the way I get when I talk about something I truly love. We made our way to another of his paintings, White Light, 1954. We three stood in front of it, view unobstructed by other onlookers. We were then joined by a man who had been eaves dropping on our earlier discussion. It was not intrusive. He instigated another Pollock conversation. He had been coming to MoMA since he was 6. He loved Pollock. Now in his 30's he'd had plenty of moments at the painting in front of which we stood. I didn't interject much during that conversation, but it was interesting to listen to Brandon and the man discuss. As I stood there and stared at this painting of drips and splatters and lines and swooshes and smears, an image began to emerge for me. I saw it as the chaos of New York City, specifically Times Square. I think I can honestly say the yellow of the painting had something to do with that. It reminded me of the many taxicabs that permeate our streets and avenues. There are also spots of gray where the black and white have been blended together that reminded me of streets. My chaos idea is completely informed by the fact that I live in New York City. There's no way to know what I might have seen if I still lived in Arlington, KY. Maybe I was trying to find something literal in all the abstractness. I don't know. That's just what I saw. Art is subjective.

Van Gogh. I didn't realize until more than a day later how amazing it was that I had actually stood close enough to touch Van Gogh's Starry Night, 1889. Of course touching it would probably have set off some alarm and gotten me tossed straight out onto the cold, gray street. That painting is one that has been in my memory for many years. I don't even remember when I first saw it on a postcard or in a book. This was no reproduction though. This was the real thing. I went back a second time to gaze upon it again, the significance still not really setting in. Anna was very excited to be in its presence. I may be mistaken, but I believe she said it was her favorite painting. I guess for her, standing in front of Starry Night would be like me sitting in a theatre listening to an orchestra play any Sondheim score for the first time. It's heart-pounding, tear-inducing excitement.

Seurat. Speaking of Sondheim he wrote a beautiful score for the musical Sunday in the Park with George about the life of Georges Seurat. Seurat invented pointillism defined from Wikipedia as "a technique of painting in which small, distinct dots of pure color are applied in patterns to form an image." In the musical, Seurat is painting one of his most famous paintings, the gorgeous A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. I have a copy of that painting hanging in my apartment. I've had it for years. It's a beautiful piece of art. I'm sure that its beauty is enhanced by my love of the musical that tells the story of the painter and the people in the painting. I'm not sure how long it would have been, if ever, until I discovered it if not for that musical. I have no memory of ever seeing another work by Seurat except maybe in an art book. Nothing stands out though. I now have three more images in my memory from this trip to MoMA. The one that stood out for me the most was Port-in-Bessin, Entrance to the Harbor, 1888. I know myself well enough to know that it was the blues depicting the water that drew me to the piece. I also know that the scene seemed so peaceful. It's amazing to me that dotting the canvas with multiple dots of color can create such an image. Day after day of dot after dot and then you end up with water and land and sail boats and sky. Oh to have the drive and motivation to create something that creates beauty and stirs emotion.

Critics to make fun of what Seurat was doing used the word pointillism. All these years later he is credited with creating a new style of painting. Art is subjective. Creating a new style could be said of Pollack; most certainly if you ask Brandon. Pollock dripped and poured his paint onto a canvas he laid on the floor instead of placing on an easel. His technique is now thought to be one of the origins of the term "action painting". Boldly creating something new without worrying about the naysayer is something to aspire to. I can't seem to release my hindrance of caring what people think. It holds me back. It helps me to live in fear. I'm sure these artists felt a puncture wound to their souls when their art was spoken of negatively, but they didn't stop creating in their style or with their vision.

Here's to obtaining the freedom to drip the music, swirl the words and dot the i's with confidence. "White. A blank page or canvas. So many possibilities..."

Thursday, January 20, 2011

W & W "Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies"

My bestie, Neal, makes an amazingly good oatmeal chocolate chip cookie. He has since we were in college. I bet it's been 20 years since I tasted one for the first time. The first memory I have of those cookies is inside a car on the way to a Christmas party for the Western Kentucky University Dance Company hosted by our physical therapist, Dr. John. Neal had made his cookies and they were housed in a Christmas tin. I can still remember how they looked inside that tin when he removed the lid. I get a little hazy on whether we were allowed to partake of the sweet goodness in the car or not, but I do remember seeing those cookies inside that tin inside that car.

I do believe his are the first oatmeal cookies that I'd ever eaten made with chocolate chips instead of raisins.

He will not part with his recipe. It was his mother's and maybe someone else's before that. I'm not sure. What I do know is that it is now his. He has tweaked it and made it his own. It has become somewhat of a joke that he won't share the recipe. My mother has gone so far as to tell me to stand near enough to him to watch and mentally record the recipe. I don't really want the recipe anymore, but the joke is part of our history; our lives.

What I do want is a recipe for oatmeal chocolate chip cookies that I can call my own.

I'm kind of like Paula Deen when it comes to baking things that tingle your sweet tooth. I want real ingredients; real butter, real sugar, real eggs, etc. I am health conscious. I'm aware of what I put into my body, but when it comes to baked goods, I shouldn't be eating them anyway, so if I'm putting them in my body why not enjoy all the bad-for-me-goodness; rich in taste and texture.

I found a recipe that I liked that seemed to be everything one would need for an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie; butter, white sugar, brown sugar, flour, vanilla, baking soda, oats. It was all there plus a little something I thought would compliment the chocolate very well - cinnamon. I don't believe Neal's cookies have cinnamon in them. My mind was telling me all of these ingredients would bake up to a fantastic cookie, but I wasn't certain. I had already made up my mind that I would throw it all away and mark it down as an experiment gone awry if they tasted horrible.

I left the butter out to soften. I measured the sugars, the flour. I mixed it all by hand. I don't believe Neal uses a mixer of any kind. I didn't want to either. I wanted to actually feel the cookie dough as it got sturdier with each new dry ingredient. My right arm got quite the workout.

With all the ingredients married together in a commune of raw sweetness I was ready to start placing spoonfuls on my Pam® sprayed baking sheet. The oven had already reached it's 350° preheated temperature.

The cookies were supposed to bake for 8-10 minutes. I checked them at 8. I discovered that 10 was the right amount of time. They didn't get too crispy. That is my least favorite thing about a cookie: too much crisp. They stayed crispy enough on the outside, but soft and chewy on the inside. Neal's do that also. These cookies did not taste like Neal's though. Not because of the addition of cinnamon either (my mind was right by the way, it was a good compliment to the chocolate). The texture was different. I'm not sure what that's about. I do know that I felt my dough could have used some water, or maybe some milk. The recipe didn't call for it, but I think I may use one or the other next time I make them. Yes, there will be a next time. I enjoyed them very much as did all the people who got to eat them. It made me proud to share them.

These are not Neal's cookies, that's true. They're mine, and I get to spend time perfecting my recipe now.


W & W "Wine Brine Pork Chops"

Less than two weeks ago I went to a restaurant in Astoria that was a first for me and the two friends who went with me. The evening started out at my house with a couple of glasses of wine and was to conclude with us eating at a little Italian restaurant on the corner of 47th Street and 30th Avenue in Astoria. When we arrived at Cara Bella at 10:20pm on that Saturday night I guess you could say that shocked would be the best word to describe our reaction when a waiter told us they had sent the chef home for the evening. Who does that? It was another small downside, along with lack of taxi service, to living outside of Manhattan. Don't misunderstand, I love living in Astoria, but I am spoiled by the living, breathing, all-night-long energy that is Manhattan. Anyway, we had to come up with a new place. It was cold and the sidewalks still had snow and ice covering portions of them from an earlier snowstorm. We just started walking West on 30th Avenue. It was between the 35th and 34th Street blocks that we noticed a cute green sign on the corner building across the street that read Ovelia. We were hungry and cold and tired of walking and decided to give it a try.

Sometimes taking chances pays off. It was fantastic - from atmosphere to food to price. Right here I'm going to jump from our fabulous appetizers to what caught my eye for an entree - Olive Brine Pork; a grilled pork tenderloin marinated in olive brine. First of all, I love olives. Just ask the bartender who used to make my dirty martini's. I also enjoy pork. So, the combination of the other white meat and the salty swill of the olive intrigued me.

It didn't disappoint. It also led to a discussion on brine. What is it? How do you make it? How do you do it? One of my dinner companions seemed fluent in brine-speak so he informed me with all the knowledge he had on the subject. I decided right then that I wanted to make a brine of my own. One week later and I've got pork chops bathing in brine. (Remember the meatloaf and the addition of thinly sliced pork? Well, I bought 3 pork chops, used one had 2 to play with. I was thinking ahead.)

I used my favorite internet search engine (Google) to look up recipes and then decided to mix and match to concoct my own. I'm a tweaker can't you tell?

First of all, I love red wine so I thought why not use some of the wine I had in the open bottle sitting in my kitchen. It was a Cotes-du-Rhone (60% Grenache and 40% Syrah). I liked it to drink so how bad could it be? I decided that it would be the base for my brine. I used almost 2 cups of it completing the 2 cup portion with water. I added the necessary salt (sea salt) and brown sugar (dark brown) along with some pepper and minced garlic. I also added a bit of apple cider vinegar. In retrospect, and by retrospect I mean as soon as I'd poured it into the mixture, I realized that with nearly two cups of wine I didn't really need to add vinegar. With all the ingredients combined in a pot on the stove, I cooked it over low heat, constantly stirring, until the salt and brown sugar were dissolved.

Most of the recipe's I read called for the addition of ice water or cold water to the mixture to cool it down before adding meat. The hot fluid can begin to cook your meat and that's no way to treat your dinner. I added the cold water and then placed the entire pan in the freezer to further speed the cooling process.

Maybe and hour later my purple concoction was ready to host it two visitors. I poured it into a plastic bowl and added the two pork chops. There it was, my first brine. I sealed the container, placed the bowl in the refrigerator and left it there. There was magic to be done inside that bowl.

24 hours later...

I reached my hand into the cold, purple, garlic-floating-on-top brine and what emerged in my hand was a purple-dyed pork chop. How could I not have expected that? I mean red wine is purple and it stains things. Of course it was going to stain the meat. I was not worried, just amused.

I poured a small amount of vegetable oil in a square baking pan and placed the formerly white now purple meat into my preheated broiler. Eight minutes on one side, flip, repeat on side two.

For a first attempt at brining it wasn't bad. It just wasn't as juicy as I thought it would be. The olive brine pork at Ovelia was juicy enough to wring the olive brine out of it. Mine was not that juicy. It then occurred to me that alcohol dehydrates the body. What if the wine was counter productive to the salt and water making the pork chop juicy. Lesson learned. Next time I'm going to use a different base for my brine and maybe even brine the meat a little longer.

I'll save the wine for my glass.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

W & W "Meatloaf & Rosemary Potatoes"

As the smell of fresh garlic filled my apartment it occurred to me that I should write about my cooking experiences - the triumphs and the failures. Cooking is a new adventurous undertaking in my life. I've mostly been one for take-out or dining out in my 13 years in New York. So along with the regular stories I tell and the fiction I write, I've decided to add a spinoff blog called The Whisk and the Wine. Pour yourself a glass - my favorite is a California Pinot Noir - and enjoy the dish on my latest dish.

I decided just before Christmas that I wanted to make meatloaf. I have this memory of making a meatloaf once in my life. I was still living with my parents. I have no idea how old I was. It's more years than I really care to think about or reveal at this moment.

I needed a recipe. The first person I thought of was Paula Deen. I enjoy her and she's southern so it seemed the perfect fit for me. She actually demonstrates her recipe via a video clip. I wrote down all the ingredients. Later, I looked at the list and decided to start tweaking it.

The first time I made this meatloaf I added a Granny Smith apple to it in lieu of bell pepper. It doesn't necessarily do that much in the form of flavor, but it adds an interesting texture. Maybe there's just a bite of sweetness. I'm not positive on that though. There's such an explosion of flavors in the meatloaf that pinpointing the flavor of one ingredient is difficult. That first time I cooked the meatloaf I used a Pyrex® loaf pan. We live and learn. Paula's demonstration had the meatloaf baked in a regular 9" x 13" pan. What my friends who ate the meatloaf with me suggested was that the larger pan would allow for the juices to run off thereby letting the meat cook more to the texture we all associate with meatloaf. Baking it in the loaf pan kept everything completely contained. It took longer for the loaf to cook in its own juices than it should have.

This second time I again tweaked the recipe. I left out the Granny Smith apple and added back the bell pepper albeit orange instead of green. I also added pork to the mix.

I started with ground turkey instead of ground beef. I do want to be more on the healthy side. To the turkey I added thin slices of pork. I substitute some of the salt (sea salt) with garlic salt. It adds a nice flavor. I add more onion (purple) than necessary. I like it; what can I say. The orange bell pepper is a bit sweeter than the green and the color is amazing. I discovered a long time ago that color is important to me and food is no exception. Paula's recipe calls for a can of diced tomatoes in their juice. I like to use diced tomatoes with garlic. Can there ever be too much garlic? I mean really, most of the time I'm cooking for me. I'm not kissing anyone after. Bring on the flavor. Instead of bread crumbs the recipe calls for oats. It's supposed to make it fluffy. I just find it more interesting than bread crumbs. Bread crumbs are boring. Oats add an air of mystery and intrigue.

When the meat, salt, black pepper, purple onion, orange bell pepper, egg, oats, and diced tomatoes were all thoroughly mixed together I halved the meat mixture. I took half of it and placed it in the pan and coated it with cheddar cheese. I then took the remaining meat mixture and covered the cheese, forming one cohesive loaf.

Instead of using ketchup with the mustard and brown sugar for the topping this time, I substituted chili sauce. Don't be scared of chili sauce. I used Heinz®. It's not hot and they even suggest it for use on burgers and fries. It just has a different flavor than ketchup. The spices are different and it's less tomatoey.

I wanted to make Rosemary potatoes. I found a recipe and decided to make them as a side dish for my meatloaf. I had already scrubbed and dried about 15 small, red new potatoes earlier in the day. Now it was time to prepare them for the oven.

It was simple enough. I cut the potatoes into quarters and placed them in a bowl. I am a lover of brussel sprouts and have been known to coat them in olive oil with garlic salt and other spices and bake them. I decided to add brussel sprouts to the potatoes. That was my tweak of plain Rosemary potatoes.

I took 6 crushed cloves of fresh garlic along with dried rosemary and infused them in extra virgin olive oil. I poured the oil infusion over the potatoes and brussel spouts and used my hands to make sure everything was coated. Yes, they were clean. I don't suggest this though. It worked; everything was coated, but so were my hands - with pieces of garlic and rosemary. I didn't want to lose any of that flavor so I had to use the spoon to remove the pieces of garlic and sprigs of rosemary from my fingers and add them back to the bowl. I should have just used the spoon for stirring and coating to begin with. Hindsight's 20/20.

Both meatloaf and potatoes needed to be baked at 350°. I put the meatloaf in the oven first at it needed to bake longer. When my timer dinged 20 minutes into the baking, I added the potatoes and brussel sprouts to the oven.

Those of us who only have one oven only have one real option - we have to bake multiple things at the same time. I learned that I should have placed the potatoes in to bake at the same time as the meatloaf, but the brussel sprouts needed less time than I actually cooked them. I should have known that from my prior experience of baking brussel sprouts.

The meatloaf turned out better this time cooked in the larger pan. The juices did run off but so did some of the cheese from the middle. The texture was better, but truly it was all about the taste. It is still an amazing meatloaf. The pork, an interesting idea to me, did nothing in the way of flavor. The chili sauce was fantastic on top. Personally, I think the topping needs a little more brown sugar. That's for next time. The potatoes were good, but needed more garlic in my opinion. I could probably aid that by dashing some garlic salt on top of them before placing them in the oven. The brussel sprouts were over cooked, but still worthy of eating.

Here's to flavor, texture & color (purple, orange, red) and here's to trying it again.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

COMMON GROUND "The Toilet Seat" - Part 3

Upon entering the bathroom, Miller was aware of his surroundings enough to be relieved that there was no one else in there. He didn’t have to wait for the stall; he could just proceed right inside and shut the door. Being pee-shy had its drawbacks. If there was a line of men waiting to urinate and he was in the front of the line he always felt a sense of embarrassment telling the person behind him that a urinal was available. He just couldn’t make himself urinate in front of other people. He thought it stemmed from an awkward experience during his childhood that involved his father and a church service, but as he’d never seen a therapist about it that was pure speculation.

The bathrooms had changed since Miller, Nicholas and Max had first discovered McKenna’s. The first time Miller had gone to the bathroom he was shocked to discover no lock on the door and no stall separating the urinal from the commode. He couldn’t pee fast enough. His heart was racing at the thought of someone coming into the bathroom. He knew he would cut off midstream if that happened. It didn’t; not that night anyway, and it wasn’t going to happen this night either because there was now a stall he could lock himself in and that’s where he was.

Miller turned to face the toilet. The margaritas and tequila shots and water had filled his bladder to capacity. He needed to pee badly, but he was suddenly stuck there looking at the toilet, contemplating. He put the seat down and looked at it. He wanted to sit. He started unbuttoning his jeans then remembered he was in the men’s room of a restaurant; a public establishment. He stopped unbuttoning and lifted the seat. He would just stand there and pee like a man. He went back to undoing his jeans. Then stopped again.

Talking out loud to himself he said, “I’m locked behind a stall door. What does it matter if I sit or stand? No one is in here and even if they were they don’t know if I’m taking a shit or just pissing.” He lowered the seat again. “I mean so what if I’m just pissing. Maybe I have to sit down because something is wrong with my legs or my penis or something that makes me have to sit to pee. You know people really shouldn’t judge each other based on what they don’t know or what they think they know.” He lifted the seat again.

While Miller was in the bathroom contemplating the hazards of being caught sitting down to pee, Nicholas and Max continued to talk.

“So, what’s the next step?” Nicholas asked. “Have you seen a lawyer?”

“I saw a billboard for a lawyer,” Max responded. He smiled the cute smile Nicholas had seen him use on a thousand women before. It was the smile that always got them to accept the drink he wanted to buy them or got them out of their panties. However, it didn’t work on Nicholas. He knew Max was a procrastinator and finding a lawyer was just another procrastination.

“Can you be serious,” Nicholas said as he took a drink of his water. It was almost laughable for any of them to try and be serious after that much tequila on an empty stomach, but he was going to try.

“Yes,” responded Max, every bit the scolded child.

“So, are we talking a No-fault divorce or Irreconcilable Differences or what?”
Max was watching Jillian cross the room. “I haven’t had sex in so long,” he said in a dreamy voice. He had his right elbow on the table with his chin firmly placed in his hand. His half-lidded eyes were the window to his brain, which was in some place of phantasmic ecstasy; add to that the sly smile parting his lips and he looked like Pepe Le Pew after he’s caught the pussy cat who always tries to get away.

Nicholas lowered his chin and raised his eyebrows as he watched Max watch Jillian. He then started to whistle, as if calling a dog and snapped his fingers in front of Max’s face. “Here boy. Come on back now. Put your tongue in your mouth before you drool on the table.”

Max begrudgingly let Jillian trail out of his sight and turned to look at Nicholas.

“That’s a good boy,” Nicholas said in the voice the millions of people use to talk to their dog.

“Hey,” Max responded, his irritation barely showing. “Honestly, I haven’t had sex with anyone but myself in 6 months, and the honeymoon is over. It’s not even exciting to use the left hand anymore.” Nicholas felt his face flush with heat as Max continued. “At this point I’m almost desperate enough to sleep with anybody.”

“You don’t mean that,” Nicholas shot back.

“Don’t bet on it,” Max said with the unmistakable tone of “don’t tempt me”. “With my beer goggles on even you look pretty good.”

“Huh,” Nicholas resounded flatly

“I need another drink,” said Max.

The words were barely out of his mouth when Jillian appeared with the three margaritas that Nicholas had motioned for earlier.

“Third round of margaritas boys. Enjoy!” Jillian walked away from their table with the eyes of Max following her hips.

“Where is Miller?” Nicholas said as he looked around the room.
“I don’t know, but my strict southern upbringing prohibits me from drinking until all the ladies are back at the table,” said Max with a matter-of-fact tone and face full of smirk that caught Nicholas off guard.

“Why are we friends?” said Nicholas as he rolled his eyes and nose laughed. “I’ll go check on Miller.”

Nicholas crossed the room to the bathroom. As he entered he could see Miller’s feet under the stall. He was momentarily stumped by the sound coming from inside of it. He then realized Miller was lifting the seat then lowering the seat. He reacted with the same eye roll and nose laugh he’d just given Max at the table.

“Hey OCD, just sit down.” Nicholas went to the urinal and proceeded to empty his own bladder.

Miller sat down and started to pee. “Oh thank God. I almost wet my pants.” His tone was grateful and relieved.

“Hurry up, Mill,” Nicholas said as he finished and flushed the urinal. “Max is alone at the table with 3 margaritas.”

Nicholas was drying his hands when Miller opened the stall door. Nicholas gave him a “bless your heart” look and pulled him out of the bathroom without giving him a chance to wash his hands. Miller’s face showed his concern for this action as he looked down at his hands then over his shoulder to the sink, but being more than slightly inebriated, he chose to go with the flow.

“Took you long enough,” said Max as they arrived back at the table. Nicholas did a quick scan to see that 3 full margarita glasses were still sitting there. “Did you wash your hands?” Max said with just the right amount of inflection in his voice so Miller would know he was joking.

“Did you have sex?” Nicholas was the one who resounded however with more than enough snark.

Miller’s ability to comprehend everything fully was clouded. “I didn’t wash my hands or have sex.”
Max raised his glass. “Shall we?”

“Have sex?” Miller looked at Max, his eyes narrowed in confusion causing him to wrinkle the space between them more than he would be happy to know he was doing it.

“Drink,” said Nicholas exasperated. He held his glass up the center of the table.

“Oh,” said Miller as he started to laugh and picked up his glass and toasted with his two best friends.

They each took a drink of their margarita. As they sat their glasses back on the table Max’s phone began to ring. He pulled it out of his pocket.

“It’s Meghan,” he said, his voice full of anxiety.

©2011 Michael Rohrer

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

COMMON GROUND "The Toilet Seat" - Part 2

Nicholas reached for his water glass and took a drink. As he sat the glass down he asked, “What’s the real reason you’re getting a divorce?”

Without missing a beat Max answered him. “The toilet seat.”

“Seriously?” Nicholas responded. His look of disbelief did not match the look of sincerity on Max’s face. “You went to therapy,” he said bluntly as the alcohol had removed all forms of filtering true feelings. “Did you discover nothing there?”

Max looked at Nicholas, the space between his eyes fully wrinkled as he was trying to swim through the river of alcohol back to the shore of reality and figure out how to convince Nicholas, and Miller, that he was telling the truth.

“Seriously, it was the toilet seat.” He looked at both of them waiting for a comment that never came. Miller and Nicholas just sat in their chairs staring at him, dumbfounded by what they were actually hearing. It didn’t seem real to either of them. Their alcohol consumption made the fact that they were hearing a story of a marriage ending over a toilet seat that much more outlandish.

Max continued. “The therapist tried to find some underlying problem. He talked about passive aggressive behavior, low self esteem, her mother, my mother…better aim.” Miller snorted before he could stop himself. Nicholas then chuckled to himself. Max’s expression all but growled “really.” Nicholas put his hands up to his mouth as if to pinch off the laughter. Miller folded his lips inward and bit his smile away.

Continuing, Max said, “He even suggested I try sitting.” At these words Miller perked up; a movement not lost on Nicholas. “You know, putting myself in her “seat”.

“How was that?” asked Miller, clutching on to something in the story that he found interesting. “Did you like it too?”

“Fifty/Fifty,” answered Max.

Miller nodded his head as a moment of clarity flooded his brain and he remembered that he should hydrate tonight or pay the price tomorrow. He took a drink of his water and looked at Nicholas with a big, goofy smile and mouthed the words “good call” in reference to the water.

Nicholas had a look of superiority on his face as he mouthed back “I know.”

While there was a lull in the conversation Jillian approached with another round of tequila shots.

“All right guys, second round,” she said as she took the shot glasses from her tray and placed them on the table. “You know what to do.

Before Miller could say anything Nicholas shot him a look and said, “Not a word from you.”

“Bitch,” said Miller as he melodramatically turned away from Nicholas, a look of wounded insincerity so contrived on his face that it was hard to keep his smile at bay.

“Shut it,” said Max gruffly, slipping into the role of mock referee as easily as falling asleep after sex.

Miller turned to Nicholas and the two of them smiled at each other at getting the appropriate response from Max. They had played their little faux anger game and he had once again taken the bait and fallen into their trap.

They did the tequila shooting ritual one more time and slammed their shot glasses down on the table.

“So, I really applied myself,” said Max getting back to challenges set forth by the therapist. “I tried to examine any underlying behavior – Why was I leaving the toilet seat up? What was I trying to say? I made an effort with the toilet seat.” Max paused to take a drink of his water. “Turns out it wasn’t me,” he said as he set his glass back on the table.

Nicholas was much more involved in Max’s tale of toilet seat self discovery than Miller who was known to be a little self involved and prone to tuning out as soon as he was bored.

“Who was it?” said Nicholas, his curiosity on the verge of exploding like a New Year’s Eve popper.

Max looked at him trying to figure out whom the “who” was in his “Who was it” question. Before he had a chance to ask however, Nicholas had taken a breath and launched himself into a scenario that he should have been too buzzed to create, but created nonetheless.

“She was having an affair wasn’t she? I knew it. And in your own bathroom.” The words “affair” and “bathroom” peaked Miller’s interest. He sat straight up in the chair with his hands folded on the table in front of him and willed his eyes to focus so that he could watch Nicholas continue. “She seemed so upset and unhappy lately. She was feeling guilty wasn’t she?” He was talking fast. “I knew she wasn’t good enough for you from the beginning.” Nicholas reached for his margarita glass, which was empty. Max thought he would have a second to put a stop this storyline before it continued any further, but Nicholas didn’t miss a beat. He motioned for Jillian as he continued. “You need someone that doesn’t care about the toilet seat or the toothpaste cap. God knows you don’t.” He said, almost as an aside. “You need someone willing to not hold all of your little faults against you, and who love’s sex with you as much as you love sex with you." Realizing what he'd just said Nicholas made an addendum to his speech. "I mean as much as you love sex. Ugh, an affair,” he tagged onto the end trying to get back on point.

Without saying a word Miller turned to Max waiting for the confirmation of the affair and name of the affairee.

“She didn’t have an affair, Nicholas,” said Max.

Miller’s posture abruptly crumbled in defeat as all possibilities of drama were removed from the situation.

“Huh?” said a confused Nicholas. He had spun such a tale that he didn’t believe it could possibly be untrue.

“It really was the toilet. She went crazy. Psychotically obsessive compulsive-“

“Hey, hey, hey,” interrupted Miller.

Max continued as he looked at Miller “-Turns out it runs in her family.”

“-Speaking as an obsessive compulsive, I don’t think-“

“I said psychotically…obsessive compulsive,” said a wide-eyed Max fully in teacher mode, speaking slowly so that Miller would comprehend what he was saying.

“Right.” Miller said full of realization. “We’re not talking about me.” Miller stood up and knocked over his chair in the process. “Oops.”

“What are you doing?” Nicholas chimed in.

“I don’t know if it’s the toilet talk or the tequila but I’ve got to go pee.”

“You think you can make it to the bathroom by yourself?” asked Max in a sarcastic, imitation-is-the-best-form-of-flattery voice reminiscent of Miller’s own.

Miller pursed his lips. “I think I can make it.”

Max and Nicholas laughed as Miller walked toward the bathroom.

©2011 Michael Rohrer

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Never Wear Mauve on a Bus...Or Fart!

"Now I'm standin' in the kitchen, carvin' up a chicken for dinner when..." Wait. What? That's not my story.

This is my story. So I took a bus to Boston; it was a pretty smooth ride when...I got gas - again! It felt like it had been pent up inside of me all day. Maybe it's because I had chili with extra beans the night before. I don't know. (Yes I do, it was the chili) What I do know is that when Kiah left work at 4pm, I was free to be me because Kenny can't smell.

Anyway, back to the bus; I had the pains of gas churning and I could feel the pressure release back into my abdomen as I struggled to keep it from seeping out into the world. I have no idea what that really is. It feels like instead of releasing the gas my body uses invisible hands to pull it way back up inside of me. Gross, I know, but an honest description. Eventually I had to start releasing it. I was a little worried about the poor girl in front of me, on our mostly empty bus, as she innocently watched the Gilmore Girls on her computer. I kept an ear alert for sounds from her, but nothing ever happened. Was I being paranoid? I wasn't actually smelling anything myself. Maybe the silent but deadly time had passed. Maybe I had moved past the beans into a silent, non-fragrant air period.

Around 12:30am, completely covered from the neck down by my coat and comfortable enough to sleep for the first time in about an hour, I released another round of gas into the world. The coat covering me created a funnel that routed the stink straight back to my nose. My toes curled a little. If a phosphorescent light had been shined on me I surely must have looked like Pigpen from the Peanuts comic strip except the dust would have been replaced by a green, pulsing cloud.

I truly felt bad for the girl who had been getting hit with those bombs all night. I wasn't sure I could make eye contact with her when the bus arrived in Boston. I envisioned her gazing at me, disgusted by what I'd put her through. I was hoping the smell would just dissipate under my coat. Then someone behind me started to cough. I thought to myself, "Oh dear Lord is he coughing from the stink of my fart? Is it making him gag?" Paranoia again. It wasn't me at all.

When the bus arrived and the lights came on, no one looked at me any differently than they would have at 2am after a four hour bus ride. Judgmental eye crisis averted.

When traveling: know how to get there, and how to get back, and eat first; just not beans!