Tomatoes & Rice

My freestanding pantry

January can be a difficult time of year for most of us, financially, owing to the one-two punch of the holidays and the fact that most companies no longer provide any kind of Christmas bonus (and, no, Jelly of the Month clubs don’t count). It was particularly tough for me this year, owing to the dual facts that (1) getting divorced is rather expensive and (2) working at an alt weekly – while magical and fulfilling in many ways, including in the way they let us drink beer at work – means that I make very little money.

More destitute than ever, I’ve been hoarding the gift cards I received at Christmas – a $5 Chick-Fil-A card here, a $5 Starbucks card there – knowing full well that there will be dry periods when a chicken sandwich and a grande coffee materializing out of seemingly thin air will make me feel like a triumphant prince among men. Or princess. (It doesn’t have the same ring to it, really.) And I’ve been lucky recently to have meals paid for by thoughtful friends getting me back for a meal they owed me – a great system, I suggest everyone invest in it – or generous friends treating me to a night out for helping them with a project or just because we haven’t caught up in a while.

And while I’m sitting pretty today with $172 in the bank after all my bills have been paid, the shadow of being in debt as I have been so many times before and in much fatter, richer times looms overhead constantly. So on nights when I’m not working or going out, I patiently stare at my refrigerator, my little pantry and wait for ideas to spring to mind from ingredients that I already have on hand. It should be noted that I’m not very good at this. I’ve written about this process (and its accompanying failures) before. And tonight wasn’t all that different.

Tomatoes & rice in a bright green bowl

Tonight’s meal was Basmati rice with stewed tomatoes, cooked down in a little olive oil, garlic, balsamic vinegar and red wine. Not terribly interesting. Not particularly inventive. Not going into any recipe books any time soon. But it was tasty, it filled me up, it gave me leftovers for lunch tomorrow and it made me happy.

This isn’t some hoary argumentum ad lazarum where I’m going to try and convince you that I’m happier now because I’m poor. Am I making far less money now than I ever have? Yes. Am I more satisfied with my life now than I’ve ever been? Yes. Cum hoc ergo propter hoc? No. But it is one of the things that’s making me happier these days. I’m living on less and making more of myself and more of my life. I’m not living on anyone else’s money but my own these days. I don’t have to answer to anyone but myself. And I’m more accountable and aware than ever. And there is a quiet, calm beauty in that.

And in a little bowl of tomatoes and rice.

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“Defer no time, delays have dangerous ends.”

I’m thinking of roasting some beets today.

Unroasted Beets

Nothing fancy.  Just some roasted root vegetables in some olive oil and kosher salt.  Perhaps I’ll also do some parsnips and onions and fennel bulbs and sweet potatoes in a separate pan.  A good cool weather dish.

I miss cooking.  I haven’t cooked much lately, for a lot of reasons.  A food blogger that doesn’t cook?  Almost heretical.  But I can cook.  I promise.  Don’t believe me?

Blue Cheese Pork with Wilted Spinach Salad

Here’s a dish I made a while back. Pork cutlets with blue cheese on a wilted spinach salad with apples. Want the recipe? Here you go. I mostly made it up, but it was damn good.

Lamb Chops with Swiss Chard and White Potatoes

Here’s another one for you: lamb chops over Swiss chard in a rosemary-balsamic reduction. I made this one up, too, but didn’t even bother writing down the recipe. Then again, I’m sure it’s not that hard to recreate.

Scone Closeup

I bake, too. Much better than I cook. I used to make fresh scones in the morning, every weekend.

Ready to Eat

We would have delicious breakfasts with things like fried green tomatoes, eggs, thick strips of bacon and — of course — scones.

Roasted Asparagus & Spaghetti Squash

All of that probably sounded fairly unhealthy. The truth is that most things I used to cook were extremely healthy, like the roasted asparagus and spaghetti squash with homemade marinara sauce. I love cooking vegetables. I love roasting them, particularly. I love the intensified flavors and — with certain vegetables — the caramelization process that lends a subtle sweetness to their earthiness.

Bubbling Away

Trust me when I say that my marinara sauce is awesome. It’s also awesomely good for you, and my boss requests jars from me because it’s one of the only ways her little boys will eat vegetables (the sauce is chock full of carrots, celery, onions and — obviously — tomatoes). She pours the sauce onto broccoli and they go nuts for it.

Vegetable Soup and Bread

And it’s getting to be that time of year again — vegetable soup and beer-cheese bread time. There’s nothing better on a cold day than coming home to a homemade vegetable soup that’s been gently simmering all afternoon. Add in the fresh, yeasty smell of the beer bread and you’ve got yourself a fairly good imitation of heaven.

Pots and Pans

Yes, it’s time. It’s that time of year again. And it’s time to get back to the things I love, no matter what may stand in my way.

Google Fever

It’s been nearly a week since I posted anything.  A week!  What’s come over me, your daily (and sometimes twice- or thrice-daily) poster?  Work, people.  Work.  Like, real Day Job work.  I’m sorry; I don’t like it any more than you do.

Because I’ve been so busy with Day Job stuff, I haven’t even been cooking proper dinners when I finally get home at night.  My husband has been subsisting off old meatballs and beer-cheddar flavored Kettle Chips left over from our Superbowl party.  He’s not complaining, strangely, and I think he’s actually enjoying this whole week of junk food and random, assorted beers from the cooler in the back yard.  He’ll change his tune when all of that starts to catch up with his waistline, though…

Anyway, since I haven’t been cooking and have been doing really boring things instead, like CMS data match spreadsheets and TPS reports, I don’t have anything decently food-related to post today.  But I won’t let that stop me from posting something.

One of my favorite things to do is take a peek at the awesome page in the admin section of WordPress that allows you to see what search terms have led people to your page.  The vast majority of search terms leading people to she eats. are fairly average things like “spaghetti bolognese recipe” and “Landry’s goes private” and “J Alexanders review” and things along those lines.

But every once in a while, you get some good ones:

1.  my coworker stilling my lunch — Not once, not twice, but five times over the course of two days.  Someone (and I’m guessing it’s the same someone each time, by the creative spelling of the word “stealing”) is awfully concerned about office breakroom thievery.  Either that, or he’s desperately seeking out ways to convince his coworker to help him create moonshine out of his bologna sandwich and potato chips.

2.  licorice / bacteriology — The jury is still out on this one.  While I can’t fathom a possible connection between licorice and the study of bacteria, perhaps some intrepid bacteriologist out there has figured out that licorice has certain anti-microbial qualities and will soon come out with a successful line of Anti-Bacterial Twizzlers.

3.  nutritional information waffle house grits — The only answer to this is: BAD.  If Waffle House served your grits along with a tiny card giving you the nutritional content of their grits, all it would say is: BAD.  SERIOUSLY, THESE THINGS ARE REALLY BAD FOR YOU.  WE PROBABLY USE PURE BACON GREASE AND TWENTY POUNDS OF BUTTER PER BATCH.  ENJOY.

4.  bart inside clam — I still fail to see how this search term led anyone to my page, much less two separate visitors.  I’m fairly sure they didn’t find what they were looking for.  And now that I’ve actually included the entire phrase in a blog post, I’m sure to confuse even more future visitors to this blog.  In an effort to appease these visitors, I have posted a picture of what is — to me — the most unappealing and disgusting food item I’ve ever personally encountered, the geoduck clam:

geoduck.jpg

5.  bacon licorice — Chalk another one up for licorice, my least favorite candy ever.  Someone out there must like it, though.  And they like it enough to attempt to pair it with bacon, in an effort to produce some unholy licorice-bacon hybrid creature.  When that day comes, I quit.

6.  unhealthy food in houston — All around you, baby.  This shouldn’t be that hard.

7.  cartography of love — You want a map of my heart?  That’s sweet.  Seriously, though?  You’re in the wrong place.

8.  paint for white electric stove — I’m imagining the end result of this quest is going to be a fireball and a giant crater where someone’s mobile home used to be.  Yes, let’s paint a stove!  Let’s get that highly flammable paint up close and cozy with a mechanism purely designed for producing extremely high and prolonged temperatures!  The Darwin Awards are calling…

And my personal favorite:

9.  can you eat every part of a pig? — Yes.  Yes, you can, as this diagram helpfully illustrates:

pigbutcheringguide.jpg

I eagerly await next week’s batch of search terms.

On Plating

I like to think that one of the most important culinary achievements of our time (our time being, oh, the 1980s forward) is the ability of chefs to present dishes in a manner that elevates food from mere sustenance to an art form.  Granted, some people can take this a bit too far into that grievous “food porn” territory (I’M LOOKING AT YOU, NIGELLA LAWSON), but on the whole I’m quite happy to think that I’ll never be presented with this:

kling.jpg

Or this:

spewpuke.jpg

Both monstrous dishes are courtesy of the reliably hilarious Gallery of Regrettable Food (the website, that is).  If you’ve never been there before, go posthaste.  Among my personal favorite galleries are The Unbearable Sadness of Vegetables and the bilious 10pm Cookery.

The point of all this is that there’s a new book out called Gastroanomalies, which is in the same vein as the Gallery of Regrettable Food (and by the same author, James Lileks) and which I will most definitely be giving out to friends and family this Christmas.  NPR recently did a great story on the book and Mr. Lilek’s fascination with frightening food.  You can listen to it here.

I Don’t Care If They Have To Roll Me Out of Chili’s…

…by God, I will have my Paradise Pie.

9: Worst dessert
Chili’s Chocolate Chip Paradise Pie with Vanilla Ice Cream

  • 1,600 calories
  • 78 g fat
  • 215 g carbs
    Would you eat a Big Mac for dessert? How about three? That’s the calorie equivalent of this decadent dish. Clearly, Chili’s customers get their money’s worth.
  • Maybe I would eat a Big Mac for dessert. Maybe I’d eat three. Okay, probably not. But the point here is that when I go to Chili’s, it’s because I’ve had a really rough day and have pretty much given up, and therefore I want some decidedly unhealthy food and probably a chocolate shake as my main beverage to go along with my despair.  And no health nuts at MSNBC are going to deny me the artery-clogging goodness that is a Paradise Pie, I don’t care how many calories it has. Because you know what? I’m going back to my regular routine of fresh fruits and veggies tomorrow.

    It’s called moderation. Now stop hatin’ on my pie, yo.

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    Mmm…pie.

    You Are What You Eat

    I’m going to go off on a rant for a second here.

     

    Store’s effort to sell fresh chicken raises concerns

     

    The story above interests me for several reasons.  The people concerned about the possible slaughter of poultry in their neighborhood grocery store don’t identify themselves as vegetarians, animal lovers, or even crazy PETA activists.  They aren’t concerned that the method of killing the chickens is cruel (which it isn’t).  They simply seem to have a problem knowing where their poultry comes from.  I’ve run up against this dilemma quite a lot lately.

     

    People want to eat, but they also want to know as little as possible about the food they’re consuming.  We have become so far removed from our food sources that it’s worrying to me in a large-scale Malthusian way.  If we were to lose all means of current food production tomorrow, how many of us would be able to sustain ourselves?  How many of us know which wild berries or mushrooms are edible?  Or how to grow a vegetable garden?  Or how to clean a fish?  Or how to slaughter a lamb for meat?  Or milk a cow?  Or simply even COOK?

     

    I was reading a book by Anthony Bourdain a few weeks ago, called A Cooks Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines.  In one of the chapters, Bourdain recounts visiting a friend’s family farm in Portugal and participating in the slaughter of a pig for a big feast later that week. Continue reading You Are What You Eat

    On Grits

    One of the things that I get asked fairly often is, “How can you eat grits?”  More often than not, it’s Richard, asking after I’ve snuggled into the couch with a bowl of cheese grits on a weekday night when I’ve had an intense craving for comfort food.  Other times, though, it’s people that are actually from Texas — people that I expect not only to enjoy but to celebrate grits — but who are either repulsed by grits or simply unfamiliar with them.  These people confuse me.

    Grits were an integral part of my childhood and they remain a huge part of my cultural identity.  My mother would make grits for me on cold mornings before I headed off to the bus stop for school.  They will stick with a child’s stomach all day, making lunchtime a mere social gathering as food isn’t yet a necessity.  I remember her serving them to me on our old, wooden breakfast table with a huge pat of butter and some cream poured on top.  I would slowly swirl the grits until all of the ingredients were emulsified into the warm, creamy breakfast cereal and then gulp it down with relish.

    Every church potluck included at least three different types of grits dishes:  regular grits, grits with sausage, grits with shrimp, grits with cheese, runny grits, thick grits, etc.  In fact, it’s a running joke that you can’t have a Church of Christ potluck without grits.

    When we did a holiday buffet in middle school, I insisted on bringing cheese grits, much to the chagrin of my mostly foreign schoolmates.  No one except my English teacher, a down-home Southern belle, touched them.  But she and I ate nearly the entire dish.

    And as an adult, when it’s my turn to bring breakfast for our breakfast club at The Day Job, I always bring grits.  I consider it my mission in life to turn as many people onto grits as possible.  I’m pleased to report that I’m doing much better these days than my failed attempt in middle school.

    Why grits?  Why eat something that has the visual consistency of wallpaper glue (as Richard so lovingly puts it)?  Why do I have such strong feelings for what is, essentially, corn porridge? Continue reading On Grits