Tuesday, September 6, 2011

How chopping off the tip of my finger got me cooking

It's been a hot summer in New York, which means it's been a slow one in my kitchen. We might as well have turned off the gas for all the love the stove has missed out on the last three months. But it can't be helped. R and I have already cordoned off the bathroom and kitchen with drapes that loosely seal in the coolish air that is pumped with all of its might out of our tiny and ancient air conditioner. Thus, the kitchen has become a summer war zone: We are in and out, collecting only the necessities. 

What is impressive -- or a lucky oddity -- about R and me is that we can survive on very little. For the past two months R and I have soldiered out our nightly meals surviving on one dish: The Greek salad. Those Greeks, they are incredibly resourceful -- packing a hefty amount of calories into a, basically, healthy yet hearty meal. This particular salad was introduced to me by my aunt who picked the ingredients fresh from her immaculate garden. Each vegetable - tomato, celery, cucumber, fennel - is cut the same size and mixed with a meager amount of lettuce (the least interesting part), olives, feta, and, when it's on sale, stuffed grape leaves. The whole thing is doused with some home made vinegarette and it's pretty tasty... the first time we ate it. Actually, it was still tasty when we ate it the rest of the week and the week after that. But when we started to get into the double digits of summer weeks, the epic Greek salad began to lose its flavor.

Don't get me wrong, we peppered in some other meals -- we took a vacation (grilled), spent a few weekends at my parents house (grilled), had a few wedding to attend (poached salmon), and ate out (thai, sushi). But during the week days it's been the same old salad.

That was, until, I chopped the top of my finger off. Chopped isn't the write word, since the weapon was a vegetable peeler, heartily skinned is more like it.

Ew, I know. I apologize.

It was a Tuesday night. R was out of town and I was diligently returning from a drink with a friend to make dinner at home. I had left some ingredients for The Salad at work so I was scrapping together an even sadder salad plate of greens. Without any feta or olives, I was desperate to add something, anything, extra when I eyed a nub of a parmasean rind in the back of the fridge. I managed to peel off a few hearty ribbons of rind into the bowl, but got a little greedy and tried for more when the position of my hand, the cheese-less-ness of the rind, and my overall destracted, hungry state mixed oh so badly. 

I felt it and looked down to find my finger covered in blood. But I had knicked myself on a veg peeler before and, besides, I had just received 7 stiches in my thumb six months before with a huge knife -- I was convinced this was just a nic this couldn't be that bad. R happened to call and I told him I had cut myself and I managed to open the paper towel to examine how bad it was while I was on the phone with him. I scanned the bloody digit and noticed half of my pretty purple mani was missing and started to panic, quietly.

"I'll call you back," I said to R quickly.

I tried to look a little closer but it was hard to discern through the blood. I started to pace, which was when I noticed the other half of my pretty purple mani... lying on our stove top.

I called R back: "Part of my finger's missing."


"I'll call you a cab."

So off I was returning to my neighborhood ER from whence I came not six months ago with another bloody digit.

Against my wishes my lovely friend and her husband kept me company through the wait and the grueling stitch-up. There wasn't actually anything to stitch and, not that I could bare to watch, but it involved a few needles, not enough numbness, and a giant match. I buried my head in friend's arm and distracted myself with quiet screaming.

The brisk ER guy handed over a few pieces of guaze and some yellow wrapping that "wouldn't stick to the wound," and we were sent on our way - not before, of course, friend unzipped my business-casual dress so I could get out of the thing before crawling into bed for a restless, painful night sleep.

Weeks: The  vague time frame I was given for healing, first by brisk ER guy and then by brisk, Russian clinic doctor. By the clinic check up I had unwrapped and wrapped the finger up twice trying to quickly cover the black wound with some children's 'no tears' Neosporin spray-foam, but it was hard to not examine it along with my Russian. 

It was also hard to keep the vomit down. And I suspect the same was true for Russian. He pushed it out of his eyesight when it was finally naked and quickly worked at covering it back up first with the used yellow, bloodied bandage I had on there to begin with and then enough gauze to fix an NBA star's knee injury. 

I took my manhandled injury and a general sense of defeat home, and decided it was time to cook. 

Back on the horse and all that.

I couldn't return to the salad. Maybe it was because a salad is what started all of this, but, more likely, it was that I had eaten upwards of 100 salads that summer and that was 90 to many.

Jumping on the end of season bandwagon, I first dove into a corn taco dish. While my local grocery store's fresh corn selection pales in comparison with my hometown's it was still worth a try. The recipe called for a mix of raw (to be sauted) and open-flame roasted. Yup. I had my skeps but the blogger had done it in her tiny NY apartment, so why couldn't I.

With the cucumber-sized gauze wrapping around my injured finger dangling dangerously close to the open flame on my old stove, I dutifully rotated and held, rotated and held, one ear of corn and then another. My hands got toasty as did the metal forks I was using to rotate the thing, but my finger wrap never caught on fire (success!).

The raw corn sauteed along with olive oil, butter, and onion for a good 30 minutes and it was rich and creamy. That mixture combined with the hand-roasted corn and was all topped off with a simple cabbage slaw to make an incredibly satisfying, homemade, vegetarian meal. It. Was. Bliss.

And it didn't stop there. While the corn meal spread itself out one more dinner for two and two lunches, I hurried back to the kitch on Wednesday to drum up some gazpacho. By the weekend it was chicken sauteed with lemons and olives -- simple and delicious.


Since then I have whipped up a veggie-laden mac & cheese casserole for the hurricane that hardly came, a leftovers scramble, and chicken curry (cooking away in the croc pot.

While the salads were easy and took the guess work out of preparing dinner for the week, getting back into cooking has invigorated me a bit - gimpy finger and all. It's incredible the sense of accomplishment that comes with working from a new recipe and presenting a home made meal that is actually yummy. Now if i could just cook said meals without endangering any more fingers, it might be a true accomplishment. But I'll take what I can get.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Finishing a project

It started with a bag I bought in London. A Cat Kitson bag purchased on Portobello Road.

Actually, that's not right. It really started with this chair. This squat, wooden, paint-chipped, sad-looking thing that came whether-we-liked-it-or-not with a craigslist desk purchase.

This sad little chair sat where a sad chair sits: In the shadows. But I saw its potential. Or at least in the haze of my early retirement/summer-time unemployment I saw a project.

Inspired by the loud print on my London bag, I was going to transform the chair with a similar, painted design. Sure. Why not? Once in my life I used to do creative things and isn't that what unemployment is about? A good old fashioned project? Or, is that retirement.

Well, off to Home Debot I went. Things to sand with, a range of paint brushes and teeny tiny colored paints were purchased. The paints were genius. Paint people have finally realized that we -- the people who think we can do projects on our own and so come to Home Depot with such anticipatory dreams or artistic mastery -- are idiots. We buy things, in this instance house paint, because they have yummy-sounding names ("Tangerine is exactly the color I should paint my living room") not because they are a practical design solution to a boring living room ("Yes. No, I thought it'd be more cheerful than electric-black-lit."). So now paint people make tester sizes so you don't waste your time and money on an electric-non-cheerful room because it sounded nice.

Supplies and inspiration in hand I set to work.

The bitch of it all was getting that damn chair down to a functional working point.

Oh the chair wasn't red. Nor, after a few hours stripping away the red with a few sheets of sand paper in the hot summer sun, was it yellow. Unfathomably, beneath the yellow were chunks of blue that finally gave way to some wood.

And so I painted. Two coats of a white base+primer. But that was nothing. After a solid day of sanding and painting in the front yard of our Cambridge apartment I brought the chair inside to get to the detail.

And this is where time passes. First I drew the design and then I painted. It worked well at first. I would spend weekend days or an afternoon here and there drawing and painting these little splotches of flowers. But then it would get a little old and the chair would be shadowed again.

And then summer ended, as did my unemployment and we moved. The chair came with, of course, as did my make-shift box tool kit of supplies. The chair was newly situated in our brighter apartment, already out of the shadows, and placed prominently in our bedroom. And oh did it's unfinished nature glare in that brightness. It stared me down when I was in the kitchen. It mocked me as I sat on the couch. It taunted me after I came home from work.

And then on Saturday in the middle of winter, I attacked that thing. With the same gusto that found me sweating and laboring through three layers of ancient paint that warm summer day months before, I finished that damn chair.

And now it looks so cute in our room:

I was proud of my incredibly delayed accomplishment and actually giddy that I had finished a project I started seasons ago.

I think it's a new side effect of my profession, but I have gotten into the habit of taking on projects and not following through. They can even get incredibly close, and yet they remain unfinished black holes.

Part of it is work. Getting home late and feeling burnt out -- my creativity and motivation abandon my head and heart and run to the safe confines of the pads of my pointer and thumb fingers that allow me to muster the energy to turn on the TV.

R and I have even instituted rules and obstacles that can force us into productivity.

1) We don't have cable (a financial decision, initially that we thought would inspire motivation)
2) Our couch isn't one that invites lounging.
3) As part of a New Year's resolution I (we) decided to dedicate two week day evenings to projects. We first called them workdays, but gave the whole concept a negative spin. So they were just loosely called no TV days.

And it worked, at first. Like all resolutions, this one's expiration date was bumped up a few months when laziness and winter doldrums kicked in.

During the actual workday I would get inspired by something I saw or thought of and want to blog about it or look into a story idea. Then the day would progress, finally end, venture the subway home, and I would walk up those four flights of stairs famished and tired and not want to do anything but nothing.

So, how does one finish projects? How do you stay inspired? As I fight my way through this competitive field I recognize that I need to step up my game, finish the projects i start and try to avoid the couch-suck. But, oh, it's hard.

Which is why the chair gives me hope. It inspired me to write a blog post, at any rate (which, let's be honest, has become a few-and-far-between kind of a thing).

I started it. I finished it. And I'm proud of it. Sure it took the better part of a year, but who's counting.


Sunday, February 13, 2011

A chance read; a clear, life-changing event

It started with a conversation.

We were discussing books, which we tended to do (media, after all, for journalists, is an opinionated safe house). It was January and someone was reading Freedom, the latest Jonathan Franzen tomb that topped most of the years best books list. To be honest, if you were going to read Freedom, it was already getting too late in the year to do so.

I wasn't going to read Freedom. I was feeling pretty good about this decision. It was counter. I'm not usually a counter kind of a person. I didn't enjoy The Corrections. It was too awkward for me. In fact I had to stop half way through. And I never stop reading books (three-quarters of a way through Anna Karenina my free time was spent "hate reading").

A friend mentioned Franzen's book of essay called How To Be Alone.

"I like Freedom," she said. "But I loved How to Be Alone."

Less awkward, more thought provoking, was the idea.

I had it on my list of books I wanted to read. It was a growing list. Also, by now, it was a month after this Franzen conversation and my memory of it already fading. It's Saturday and we walk past the book-crowded corner on which The Strand stands and I say lets go in.

What are you after, asks R.

This book a friend recommended, How to Be Alone... by David Foster Wallace.

It had been a while and many media-related conversations. So, yes, I had an authorial morph and assumed another, unread, high profile writer.

We pass on The Strand. It's crowded and sweat-inducing and there are street cupcakes to be had.

It's Sunday and R and I are out and about in Brooklyn. We hit up a flea market and were feeling less inspired and more dirty by its collection of other peoples junk, but a week-end malaise takes us to their second floor.

A pile of books welcomes us to the stairwell and I happens to look through it. And what do I find? How To Be Alone. By none other than Jonathan Franzen (a fact quickly remembered).

It was mine for $2.18.

Had I followed The Strand/David Foster Wallace path How To Be Alone may not have been mine. But it is. And somehow this feels important. And... not to put a lot into it, but, this collection of essays is likely to change my life.

It's only right.

The first essay sets Franzen in his apartment on Valentines Day (Valentines Day is tomorrow, ah hem).

He's talking about memory, specifically his father's Alzheimer's, but also how memories tend to be a collection, not just one specific event. For example, he writes

I retain general, largely categorical memories of the past (a year spent in Spain; various visits to Indian restaurants on East Sixth Street)...

True, I have no year in Spain, but I DO have (countless) visits to Indian restaurants on East Sixth Street as my own memories.

See? This book, Mr. Franzen, me: It's destiny. Yes, BYOB Indian restaurants proves that. And just to solidify the bond, I pause, think about one of those restaurant memories, and further ingrain it in my memory.

Monday, January 24, 2011

And then this happened




Hello, you.

You see... I was fittin' to post about all the cultural activities R & I got up to over the MLK weekend (some music, a bit of art, a view,a jaunt through a museum), which was all very fun and interesting. And then a week passed and it became Sunday. And I decided to make a roasted pear upside down cake.

Bold move.

I was snooping around on Food Gawker (hours wasted), my sweet/hangover tooth aching for something. There were the classic chocolate goodies (my go-to) but somehow this completely out of the blue pear cake just spoke to me.

I might have helped that we had three more-than-ripe pears begging to be consumed. R kindly jumped out into the cold (nothing can motivate a Sunday person like a home baked dessert) to get the provisions (who has corn meal on hand, anyhow?). And off I went.

There was one misfire when I found I needed baking soda AND powder (damn you two leavening agents!) but it turns out if you use three times the amount of powder for the amount required of soda, you're good to go.

Honestly, it may look impressive (you're not allowed to say otherwise) but this was one of the easiest desserts I have ever made.

AND. It. Was. Delicious. It had that salty-sweet thing going for it and the cornmeal gave it a fantastic grainy texture. It was light but moist and the bottom layer adds the kick of sweetness (a layer of sugar butter. That's right. Sugar. Butter.). The pears roast down to a delectable softness that melts in your mouth and then the rosemary offers this hint of savory flavor. Awesome.

And THEN just to top it off. I made this genius asparagus, goat cheese and lemon pasta from Smitten Kitchen.

I swapped regular pasta for the curly cute kind (because it's all that I had) and I swapped rosemary for tarragon for the same reason. The rosemary worked out fine, though I'm sure tarragon would have been EVEn better. It was creamy with that goat cheese bite. We wolfed it down. And it really only took 20 minutes. Amaze, amaze.

So, there it is. Back on the cooking wagon (not that I really strayed).

Next time, the cultural adventures... I swear.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A day that will live in Bellamy

While snooping around yesterday for interesting stories I noticed a curious, shall we say, epidemic, possibly global, infecting men by the name of



When was the last time you heard that name? I think I know of a comic by that name, so it rings light-hearted and happy to me. But it turns out, Bellamys have a dark side.

Particularly on 1.12.11

Here's the latest on this late-breaking conspiracy:

The brothers Bellamy.

Who, might you ask, are the Bellamy brothers and, what, pray tell, do they have to do with Britney Spears? In no other world, besides, possibly porn, would two aging mustachioed country-pop kin and one struggling pop princess be connected. And yet here we are.

Ms. Spears debuted her new pop dance floor single, "Hold it against me," on Monday, after years of meltdowns and scandal. Surprisingly, despite her helium-soaked vocals, the tune was mildly heralded and quickly became the no. 1 download on iTunes.

The pop princess returns!

Nay! Say the Brothers Bellamy. In honor of the 35th anniversary of their "massive debut pop hit" "Let Your Love Flow," the Bellamy Brothers are reentering society in scandalous form. "Hold it against me" is OURS, the brothers proclaim. Those four seemingly innocuous words are country pop gold when strung together and preceded by the pick-up line, "If I said you had a beautiful body..."

Did Britney rip off the country crooners? Or do the two pop groups just have the same taste in common lyrics? The debate continues.

Baby Bellamy.

Who the hell is Matt Bellamy?

He might be in a band, but more importantly he is giving Kate Hudson's baby Ryder a sibling!

The couple have been reportedly dating for nine months and word on the street is that said baby Bellamy was not planned but the couple is "embracing it."

Cue exclamation points!!!

Don't famous people have birth control? I mean, I know my monthly BC takes a hit out of my already empty wallet, but somehow I don't see Kate suffering from the same affliction.

Well to each his own.

And now we can all thank our lucky stars that Matt Bellamy has entered our world. We definitely needed another pasty emo rocker with sculpted hair. Yipee Skip.

Manchester Bellamy.

And in the third, and what could make this a global, Bellamy phenomenon I bring you Craig Bellamy.

Again, who?

He is a soccer player with a bit of a temper, it would seem. Not that that is a surprise. But the reason he appeared in my news feed at all, it seems, is that he's, like, Beckham famous, so...

Here's the breakdown: former Wales captain Craig Bellamy got into a brawl with two other men (man babies - merely 20 and 26 years of age) and some peeps may have walked away with bloody faces.

The clincher is that the fight came HOURS after Bellamy's team and another team tied 1-1 in the FA Cup third round.


And that's all the energy I can muster to care about that.

BUT I think we can all admit that the coincidence is a weird one. Just be thankful your last name isn't Bellamy. And if it is, well, stay out of trouble.