Mostly Burritos

Because they have so many possibilities.

Baked Pasta and Cheese

certain roommate of mine has been going around trumpeting the fact that “he doesn’t like mac and cheese because it’s bland” or some other sob story.

Au contraire roommate!  Mac and cheese from a box is, in fact, bland and terrible, but if you mix actual cheese and pretty much any pasta you can make a good dish.  Bake that dish with some bread crumbs on top and you have my lunches for this week.  I kept the title of this post simple because while I used penne pasta and a mixture of sharp cheddar and parmesan cheeses, you don’t have to.  This dish was proving a point.  The veggies are also flexible, and I think that you know what vegetables you like and you can probably sub those in however you prefer.  I also used whole wheat pasta because I’m a hippie like that, but you can obviously change that too.

Baked Penne with Cheddar and Parmesan

(makes about 6 servings)

1 lb. dry whole wheat penne

2 cups cheddar, shredded

1 1/2 cups parmesan, shredded

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup half and half

4 cups broccoli florets, cut into bite size pieces

2 cups onions, diced

2 cups mushrooms, diced

3 cups kale, chopped

1 tablespoon paprika (preferably smoked and sweet, like this stuff)

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 1/2 cups panko bread crumbs (homemade crumbs are best)

salt and pepper, to taste

olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400.  Boil the pasta in salted water, and cook until very al dente (not quite cooked - you’re going to bake it).  Put the pasta in a large mixing bowl.  Save the pasta cooking water if possible.

If you can save the pasta water, bring it back to a boil and blanche the kale for about 3 minutes in the water.  It’s ok if it’s new water, just salt it a bit.  Add the cooked kale the mixing bowl with the pasta.

Start cooking the broccoli with half the garlic in a large saucepan with a lid over medium heat with enough olive oil so that it doesn’t get dry.  Add a couple tablespoons (pasta) water to get steam, then cover.  After about 2 minutes of solid sizzling, add mushrooms and onions along with some salt and pepper.  Cook for about three minutes covered, and another one or two uncovered.  Add the veggies to the mixing bowl with the pasta and kale.

To make the sauce, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-low heat and add the remaining garlic.  After about 1 minute, start adding the cheeses and half-and-half in small proportions and stirring until they are all incorporated.  Keep the heat low enough so the mixture does not get above a light simmer.  Add olive oil as needed to thin the sauce until you have incorporated all the cheese and half-and-half and you have a thick sauce slightly lighter than the nacho cheese sauce you get at the movies (yes I really said that on a food blog).

Add the paprika and cayenne to sauce along with salt and pepper to taste, then add the sauce to the mixing bowl with everything else.  Stir it real nice, then put it in a baking device that will hold it all, and top with a little more cheese and the bread crumbs.  Drizzle olive oil over the top of the crumbs and put it in the oven.

Bake for ~30 minutes and you’re done.  This really looks more difficult typed out than it really is.

Why do we have to enter gender at all?

Apparently some people are celebrating Google’s inclusion of “other” as a gender option when joining Google+.  I had the opposite reaction (outrage) when I joined not because of the choices that they offered, but because they made me choose one to join.  For some reason your name and gender, even if you’re “other”, are the only two things that are required when joining Google+.  I don’t know why Google decided that a gender was so important to joining their social network.  I was actually a big fan of the fact that Facebook just lets you leave it blank so it doesn’t appear on your profile.  More power to the kids for embracing the term “other” I suppose.

Also, why does the NYT insist on continually including transgender issues in the Fashion and Style section?

French Horn Garden Hoses

Michael Chabon’s language is amazing. I first started to truly appreciate it when he used “french horn garden hoses” to describe the garden hoses in a fancy neighborhood in Mysteries of Pittsburgh. It just worked on so many levels it was like a comedian telling the perfect joke.

While Mysteries would have been an eerily appropriate first book to read upon graduating from college, my first book was Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.

The length of the book is an epic 639 pages, and Chabon covers most of the first 35 years of two men’s lives. In the beginning, Sam Clay is an undersized Jewish boy in New York with a love for comic books when his (also Jewish) dashing cousin Joe Kavalier, who happens to be an amazing artist, arrives as a solitary refugee from Nazi occupied Prague. The two get into the comic book business together and create hugely successful titles that shape the comic book genre for years to come.

Chabon quickly draws the contrast between fictional heroism and our own futility. Joe left his entire family in Prague and only intends to use the money from his comic books to help his family escape the Nazis in Prague. He projects his vengeance into the comic books, nearly all of which are based on a clear good and evil battle with pseudonymous Nazis, but he eventually becomes frustrated because money alone does not seem to be enough to bring his family to United States.

Sam’s own interest in comic books is placed into a very personal context as well. His father was a well known strongman on the vaudeville circuit, but he was never around to raise Sam and eventually abandoned his wife and son completely. Chabon carries through Sam’s (somewhat subconscious) emulation of his father to an incredible extent. He enters a homosexual relationship with an actor who is very physically similar to his father, and when the culmination of Sam’s repression arrives it is revealed in dramatically public fashion that perhaps his homosexuality and psychological issues with his father have made their way into nearly every comic book character that he created.

But Chabon may just be proposing a more realistic version of heroism for our world. Both Sam and Joe abandon their fleetingly glamorous life in New York out a sense of obligation to their family and friends. Joe’s endless attempts to save his family and his eventual return to a normal life show the futility of attempting to be superhero, and perhaps the cathartic value of fiction as escapism. Sam’s own interest in comic books is heavily dependent on escapism, and he is forced to eventually confront that fact.

The plot also touches on the desolation of suburbia, a topic that is particularly near and dear to my heart after reading Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. However, the book does not feel like many of the “literary” Nobel or Pulitzer winning books (which this was) because of Chabon’s ability with language. He describes an encounter in which Joe and Sam try to sweet talk a crotchety old landlord into letting them into the building as follows:

“The landlady, a Mrs. Waczukowski, was the widow of a gagman for the Hearst syndicate who had signed his strips “Wacky” and on his death had left her only the building, an unconcealed disdain for all cartoonists veteran or new, and her considerable share of their mutual drinking problem…Sammy winked, and the two young men smiled at her with as many of their teeth as they could possibly expose until finally she turned, consigning them all to hell with the eloquent back of her hand, and retreated down the stairs”

I’m not sure if those quotes really convey Chabon’s wording, but that’s why you should read the book. Every scene is infused with a playfulness of language that has made Chabon my favorite writer of the moment by far. After I finish my current project of reading all the books on my bookshelf that I haven’t read, Wonder Boys may be next up.

Everyday Salsa

 

So since I acquired a tiny little food processor/chopper around Christmas, I have realized that there is no longer any need to buy salsa. Ever. I haven’t experimented with trying different kinds of salsas yet because I mostly just love really spicy, tomato-y, cilantro-y salsa, so I’m still working on getting tired of putting that on everything (like my breakfast of potatoes and eggs this morning).

So, for anyone who has even a tiny food processor at their disposal, there is no longer any need to consume that substance known as Pace Picante, which seems to have a half life of about 10,000 years. It only takes about 10 minutes to make your own salsa, and you can make it spicy as hell. You can probably make this with fresh tomatoes as well, but you should squeeze a lot of the juice out first because in my experience blended fresh tomatoes = very watery salsa.

Everyday Tomato Salsa

1 can diced tomatoes

1 cup chopped cilantro

1 jalapeno, chopped with seeds removed

¼ of a red onion

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 clove garlic

1 teaspoon hot sauce (Louisiana, Cholula, etc.)

Juice of ¼ of a lime

1. Put all the ingredients in your food processor/chopper

2. Process/chop it up real nice

3. Eat it on any one of the five million things that salsa is good on. Preferably a burrito, though. 


Mediterranean Orzo Salad and Zucchini Latkes

I think I’m going through a Greek phase. Or maybe it’s not just a phase; maybe I have always liked Greek/Mediterranean food and I’m just finally learning how to make my favorite things. Anyway, I ate falafel every day for at least two weeks recently, and I ate basic Greek salads even longer. Now I’ve been making this orzo salad for several days, and I just bought more sundried tomatoes so I could keep eating it. It might be good with olives if you’re one of those people that, you know, like olives. I’m not one of those people.

The latkes aren’t Greek, but they’re just something I’ve wanted to make for a while. They are really good with a little bit of sour cream. The first time I made them, I didn’t
 think the mixture was eggy enough and decided to add another one. Don’t do that. They turned out more like overcooked eggs with some potato and zucchini mixed in.

I got the salad recipe from my mother, who saw it in a Costco magazine. The recipe is one of those that tell me which brand of spinach to buy. That makes me laugh. The zucchini latkes are from the best food blogger on all of the internets.

Mediterranean Spinach and Orzo Salad

1 cup orzo pasta

½ cup sundried tomatoes

½ diced cucumber

Salt and freshly ground pepper

3 oz feta cheese

Red Wine Vinaigrette

1 clove of a shallot or 1 clove garlic, chopped

½ teaspoon dried oregano

½ teaspoon dried thyme

¼ cup rw vinegar

3/4 cup olive oil

½ teaspoon Dijon mustard if you want it to be a little creamier

Fresh oregano or thyme if you have it

For the vinaigrette, mix it all up in a bowl and leave it to sit while you make the salad. Boil the orzo to the liking of its manufacturer, and then let it cool before adding it to the salad. Mother says it’s good to let the orzo soak in a little bit of dressing beforehand but I’m not so sure. That sounds like a recipe for soggy orzo to me. Anyway, you know how to assemble a salad. Do it with the ingredients mentioned above.



Zucchini Latkes

Recipe here. I used flour instead of matzo meal because I have never purchased matzo meal and had never really considered it before. If you have matzo meal, maybe you should consider using that, but flour was just fine.

Better Than Your Grandma’s Chicken Salad

Oh, so your Grandma had the most delicious chicken salad EVAR, did she? You used to look forward to eating every time you went to her house, eh? And even though she shared the recipe, it seemed like no one could replicate Grandma’s delicious chicken salad, huh?

Well my Grandma had a chicken salad like that, too. However, there was one thing that was neglected in her chicken salad, and hence in the chicken salad of my mother and all of my other family members’ as well. Specifically, the salad was neglected.

Grandma’s chicken salad was a tasty combination of mayonnaise, chicken, and celery with some tarragon.  It was tasty, but chicken, celery, and mayonnaise does not a salad make. So I have my own version incorporating su
ch salad-like elements as bell pepper, onion, tomato, grapes, and fresh herbs on top of the old staples. It’s delicious, and this is certainly something that you can wrap up in a tortilla with some lettuce make an awesome BURRITO.


Better Than Your Grandma’s Chicken Salad

½ a large hothouse tomato

½ a red onion

½ each of a red and yellow bell pepper

2 celery stalks

1 cup chopped fresh parsley

1 cup mayonnaise

3 whole chicken breasts

2 cups chopped green grapes

1 Tablespoon of Dijon mustard

2 Tablespoons tarragon

2 Tablespoons paprika

Fresh thyme, oregano, rosemary (optional)

Salt and peppa and a little garlic powder

1. Boil the chicken in a pot of salted water for about 12-15 minutes.

2. Chop all them delicious vegetables, herbs, and spices and put them in a big mixing bowl

3. Take the chicken out of the pot, let it cool, then tear with your fingers or a fork and put it in the big mixing bowl.

4. Mix in the mayo and mustard and stir it all up

5. Put it all on some toasted bread (maybe with a little sweet relish?) and a plate with some regular Lay’s potato chips

6. Try not to scream as you have a foodgasm

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

I think it’s inevitable to compare this book to The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. They are the two most widely known books (as far as I can tell) about the subject of our food systems and the ethics of eating animals, and both writers seem to have received a lot of media attention for their work.

Foer’s book is a much quicker and more engaging read. I think a lot of this comes from the fact that Foer’s view on the subject of meat is very black and white. He makes this clear several times when he describes humanities’ current situation as a “choice between cruelty and ecological destruction, and ceasing to eat animals” (p. 229). Foer’s language is much more opinionated, and he is not afraid to call something cruel when he sees it. I think his condemnation is more powerful than Pollan’s, and Foer even mentions that many people he knows who have read Pollan continue to eat factory farmed meat, although they often make attempts to eat “moral” meat. This stuck with me because that is pretty much the category that I would put myself under since reading Pollan’s book. I still eat meat that involves cruelty, but I eat much, much less of it, and I make attempts to buy non-factory meat. Foer’s book is likely to have just as much, if not more, of an impact on how I eat because it serves as a particularly effective call to action. On page 173 he says if this book means something to you, “then perhaps the drama of the growth of the factory farm in that Iowa kitchen will help produce the resistance that will end it”.

And I think he’s right. For people who consider themselves principled, there really is no way to excuse eating factory farmed meat. It is bad in every way, and Foer’s book is much more focused on enumerating the specific cruelty and destruction that factory farms cause than is Pollan’s. Pollan certainly did not offer such a broad condemnation of eating meat, and he offered an eloquent defense of meat eating at the end of his book that left the door open for people to continue eating meat.

However, I do think that some of Foer’s criticisms of Pollan fall a bit short. When he is discussing the “myth of animal consent”, Foer quotes a long passage from The Omnivore’s Dilemma in which Pollan describes how it has been evolutionarily beneficial for domesticated species to become reliant on humans because their species have become more widespread. But Foer uses this as a modern example of the various myths throughout history that have described animals as wishing to be slaughtered by humans in some sort of supernatural balancing of scales, and that is not what Pollan is saying. Foer leads off his next section with the sentence “But species don’t make choices, individuals do”. He’s exactly right, but individuals do not make the choices of evolution. In fact, it’s the individuals that are being selected by evolution, not the other way around.Whether something is detrimental to the individual or not, natural selection will choose the traits and individuals most likely to survive and propagate, and those happened to be domestic animals once human agriculture came along.

Another bone that I would pick with Foer is his definition of cruelty. Nearly all of the practices he describes as cruel are unarguably so, but he includes two “humane” farmers under the term because one of them brands the animal and the other castrates them. First, castration is practiced on dogs and cats everyday. I actually don’t know if anesthetic is usually given, but if it’s done early in life, I think it can be seen as an acceptable practice.Controlling the domestic animal populations is a task that humans are going to have to face regardless of whether we eat meat or not. And second, while I think there are surely alternatives to branding, it just struck me as another example of Foer’s black and white view on the subject of cruelty. There is no wiggle room for performing procedures to modify animals into something they would not be in nature, even if something arguably as painful, circumcision, occurs to millions of humans at birth.


However, despite his own black and white viewpoint, a highlight of Foer’s book for me is other opinions that he includes. There are several essays from figures in the food industry such as a PETA activist, a factory farmer, and “humane” farmers. The diversity of strong opinions allows the book to be a self contained debate, and the debate participants are surprisingly good writers. The juxtaposition of the essays is also clever. I especially enjoyed the two accounts, one by Foer and one by unnamed animal rights activist, of an undercover mission to a factory chicken farm which were titled “I’m not the type of person who finds himself on a stranger’s farm in the middle of the night”, and “I am the type of person who….”. His discussion of shit at factory farms made me laugh out loud, partly because he is a funny, witty writer, and partly at the simple fact that he used shit so many times in three pages. Towards the end of the book, Foer even gets a little Marxist when he talks about the workers’ alienation from the product that they are producing. I think alienation describes a large part of why consumers and the factory farm workers aren’t bothered by the cruelty. The consumers never see it, and the workers are dull from seeing it too much. I also think the distance and alienation answers what I thought was a profound question posed by the activist mentioned above, which is “Why is taste excluded from the moral constrictions that we place on our other senses?”

The Ask by Sam Lipsyte

The Ask tells the story of Milo, a failed painter working in the fundraising office of a university in Manhattan (cleverly called “Mediocre University” throughout). He has a son that he has difficulty relating to, a wife who is not attracted to him anymore, and job that he doesn’t like and isn’t good at. A fellow blogger who is reading the book right now said she found it kind of depressing, which I hadn’t really thought about, but it’s true. Milo is not a winner in this book under almost any circumstances mentioned above. In fact, one could argue that his life doesn’t actually change all that much from the beginning of the book to the end. The Ask is like a more troubled version ofSeinfeld, although it’s just as funny.

And that’s what saved the book for me. I didn’t find it depressing because, despite all of his own screwups and bad circumstances, Milo maintains his sarcastic and selfish persona throughout. He’s not the only funny character, either. His big “ask” for Mediocre University is his rich friend from college, and he turns out to be just as manipulative and clever as Milo. The first few pages had me laughing so hard I had to share them with friends because I was impressed a book could make me laugh so quickly starting from scratch. The humor was also hyper-modern, like when Milo goes on a short tirade about people who use terms like “interwebs and googletubes”.

The hyper-modernity also shows itself in the plot. Milo and his wife struggle financially, Mediocre University is struggling financially, and the rich people who fund the University are struggling (relatively). I found this aspect of the plot brilliantly American and very close to reality. The disgruntled, over-educated creative stuck in one of a series of quotidian jobs with no opportunity for advancement. There is such authenticity in Milo’s inner feeling of superiority over the world he continually fails in that I was led to believe in him myself.

I suppose the plot then, is about this conflict. Milo’s (perhaps justified) inner feeling of being too clever for his job, his house, his neighborhood, and maybe even his wife, and his continual failure to even maintain what he has. But remember: it’s funny.

Assimilation

I’ve met women and even transgendered people who seem to buy into this notion as well.  The idea seems to be that transgendered people only want to “pass” as the other gender, and that’s a bad thing because passing means buying into stereotypes about what a person of a certain gender should be.

They’re really just telling other people how to live their lives, which is, you know, what homophobic people do too.

It’s All About Appearance

The problem with this sentiment is the continued focus on appearance.  It doesn’t even question the premise of how a woman dresses determining her level of promiscuity.  For the author, wearing high heels at 18 = future slut.

Maybe, as Mary Elizabeth Williams says, Moms should focus a little more on not letting their daughter’s appearance (clothes or otherwise) determine their self worth and future life trajectory.

Also, this same brand of crap has been written since the 1950s.  Time to get over it.