Category Archives: Crazy stories

Speaking of cheese…

Good news, peoples!  Back by popular demand, the dynamic duo of Suarez & Peck (of Beer Experiment fame) are giving us another opportunity to food fight for glory: The Brooklyn Cheese Experiment.  And whoa – that segue was so opportune that you KNOW I didn’t plan it.  I am just not that slick.

Mark your calendars and buy your tickets now for September 13th at the Bell House in Brooklyn.  I can’t say it enough times: BUY YOUR TICKETS NOW!  At the Beer Experiment, I literally had to count how many people were in line with tickets and without and then had to advise those without to maybe stroll around the block a few times until a portion of the 300 ticket holders tired out and left, thereby making room.  Of course, waiting for people to tire out in the middle of a lazy Sunday afternoon when there’s mass quantities of food and homebrew to be sampled is like waiting for Godot.  So one more time: BUY YOUR TICKETS NOW! Oh, and while you’re buying your tickets, definitely include the after party in your purchase!  That’s usually where all the really good debauchery takes place.  Not that I’ll be involved (insert wide-eyed Asian girl ‘blink blink’ here) – I’m usually just an amused spectator.

I’m sure your next thought is whether or not I’ll be competing.  The answer is hells no.  If I wanted to be openly and vocally judged on how well I cook, I would either: 1) show up for work or 2) cook for my parents.  Neither of those things sound fun on a Sunday afternoon.  Besides, somebody has to roll plastic utensils in paper napkins and I already have the napkin rolling calluses needed for the job after my last production assistant gig at the Beer Experiment.  Those napkins don’t roll themselves, people!  You’re welcome!

For those of you brave cheese addicts who want to seize the chance to strut your culinary stuff, why not enter and compete???  Please let me know if you do so I can stop by, sample, and photo-blitz the hell out of your entry!  The cheese gauntlet has been thrown!  Which of you is woman/man enough to accept the challenge?!  (Er, like I said, not me, but best of luck to all of you!)  So go ahead, click on the link, enter your idea, and cue “Eye of the Tiger” and start cheese recipe creating!

Oh, quick disclaimer for those of you think that I have some sort of stake in this.  Let me assure you that like everything else in my cooking career thus far, I will be working at this event for free.  I wouldn’t want to tarnish my reputation as cheap labor!  Nope, I’m in it for the free admission and love of the game.  If you weren’t lucky enough to be at The Beer Experiment, let me just assure you that this event will INCREDIBLE.  It’s hard to get me out of my apartment on a Sunday short of leaving a cheeseburger trail out my front door.  So for me to eagerly hike it on down to Brooklyn from the boonies of the upper east side, you know this event must be special.

Ok, ok, enough with selling.  The Cheese Experiment.  September 13th.  Bell House, Brooklyn.  Be there.

BK_Cheese_Final_Lo_Res

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My hands smell like cave funk.

Bring on quasi-job/internship #24: Murray’s Cheese Cave Intern.  That’s right – yours truly has been spending her free time flipping cheese and patting down penicillium mold in Murray’s chilly subterranean caves.  If you don’t know Murray’s, then you don’t know cheese.  Murray’s is THE cheese dealer for cheese addicts everywhere.  Stepping into Murray’s is like visiting your cheese dealer’s cheese den, complete with other cheese addicts twitching in front of the counter asking for another cheese hit.

I am a cheese addict.  I enjoy cheese and I would eat it at every, single meal if I could.  Introducing me to the caves of Murray’s has now broadened my cheese-eating horizons, causing me to up my already perverse cheese intake and once again, sabotaging any hopes of a diet.  It doesn’t help that my fellow intern loves cheese AND food, so we’re either talking cheese while working or spending our break walking around the West Village searching for yummy ways to fuel our cheese-flipping tanks.  So far, Indian kati rolls and falafels have done the trick.  I suggested to him having a cheese lunch everyday where we just split a baguette and 1/2 lb of cheese, but even he thought that may be pushing the cheese limit.

So far, my favorite cave task is patting down the bloomy rind cheeses.  What does that mean?  Well all of those delicious white, tender rinds on the outside of your Constant Bliss or Brillat Savarin start off as this beautiful, cotton-candy tufted white mold called penicillium candidum.  That soft, white fuzz has to be gently patted down to form the supple rind.  Murray’s Affineur, Mike Anderson (who I like to call Mike-aroni & Cheese, although I don’t think he enjoys it as much as I do), told me that if the mold gets out of control, the rind becomes tough and rubbery.  I don’t know why, but there’s an amazingly rewarding feeling that comes with helping the rind develop… who knew that watching mold grow would actually be fun?

The only downside to patting down and flipping an entire cave of soft-ripened, bloomy rind cheeses is that after you’ve zoned out and taken care of the entire cave, you can no longer feel your fingers or toes.  Not only that, but for some reason, the digits on my left hand just stop functioning and I basically have to use it as a board to place the cheese on while my right hand continues to work.  After I leave the cave and walk out into the warm sunlight to defrost, my entire body immediately starts to ache and itch as the blood starts pumping again and the numbness starts to tingle away.

Oh, there is one last little side-effect that *might* be considered negative.  My hands haven’t stopped smelling like mushrooms for a week.  I wash and wash my hands and have even rubbed lemon on them to no avail.  Mushroom central.  The other day, post-lemoning, I was chopping onions and garlic and started smelling the delicious aroma of sauteed mushrooms!  I couldn’t understand where it was coming from until I smelled my hands and realized that I had perfectly seasoned my mushroom fingers.

On the bright side, I get to shove my fingers into my friends’ faces and say, “My fingers smell like mushrooms and cheese” about 30 times a day.  What’s even better is that not one of my food-loving friends has jerked away and yelled, “that’s gross!”  Instead, they usually take a meaningful sniff, contemplate the aroma, and say, “Yup. So they do.”  Awesome.

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Coffee Mug, I think I missed you most of all

Well, here I am, back in my apartment, 12 stories off the ground and happy.  I still consider that land-loving.  I’m still coming off vacation mode, but I promise to be back in the full blog of things shortly.

Today’s post is a quick one on a VERY important subject: my favorite coffee mug.  I almost wrote: “everyone should have a favorite mug,” but realized that I’m better off never telling anyone what they should or should not do!  I need to figure out what I should do before ever even attempting to dictate your actions.  I will say this, however – after a long, magical week away, I think I missed you, Coffee Mug, most of all.

Mugs are like an acceptable security blanket for adults.  I first found that I “needed” my mug while still working in finance.  Back then, I had both a home mug and an office mug.  My office mug was one of those blue ceramic versions of the Greek-inspired paper cups that detectives are always drinking on Law & Order from some food truck early in the morning.  In reality, I haven’t seen one of those paper cups since I was a kid, but I like the nostalgia of them nonetheless.  While plugging away at my computer (and usually channeling 85% of my brain activity into trying to figure out what to order for lunch), I would reach for my mug of Flavia-expunged coffee with a shot of Flavia espresso and take a millisecond sip/vacation away from my world.

Work mug

Work mug

My home mug is pure comfort.  It has that old, classic diner/stoneware shape that’s reminiscent of a New England country kitchen… which is actually pretty foreign to this little Vietnamese girl, but it reminds me of old Maxwell House commercials that I used to watch on TV as a child.  You know the commercials – where some guy in a chunky-knit turtleneck travels home all the way from across the state in the snow to spend Christmas day with his family, and they welcome him home with the cheapest, weakest-tasting coffee that they can brew for him.  Whatever, it was beautiful.  On top of that, my mug is a Car Talk mug.  If you’ve never listened to Car Talk on NPR, then you’re missing out on something corny and beautiful.  It’s two, increasingly aging, brilliant, and hilarious brothers who spend an hour helping you understand why your busted car is making that terrible noise, while making jokes about how all blonds behind the wheels of white BMWs are named “Donna.”

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And if you’ve never heard my dad laugh his ridiculous, high-pitched, hyena-on-crack laugh while listening to them instead of paying attention to the road… well, I can only pray that you get to enjoy that harrowing experience at some point in your life.  It’s a combination of laughing so hard that you can’t speak while trying to gasp out the words, “Look out for the mail truck!”  Whenever I look at my coffee mug filled with fresh-ground, fresh-brewed, cheap-but-delicious coffee, and stare at the Car Talk motto on my mug, “Unencumbered by the thought process,” I feel like I’m home.

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The journey from Stamford,CT to… Stamford, CT

Yup, that’s right.  We never made it to Guilford last night.  We were well on our way, almost halfway there (about 20 miles / 4 hours along) when all of a sudden, our engine died.  Wait, Mindy, I thought you said you were SAILING there. Yeah, well, when trying to plan a sailing trip, don’t forget to factor in an absence of wind.

No worries, we thought we could motor-sail on up the coast, covering about 5 nautical miles an hour, and have no troubles.  Our engine, 20+ years old, had different plans. Right around 1:30PM, when the wind picked up slightly and we were doing 7 nmph, thinking the world was grand and I started heading into the cabin to make sandwiches, the engine hiccuped.  It was just a brief little “sput sput” and then it kept motoring.  Yet I knew.  When you’re as prone to disaster as I am, you learn to hear and understand these tiny little changes in “the norm” and know that it’s an omen for disaster.  I was frozen, waiting to hear it again.  It didn’t come.  As soon as I relaxed, all sound stopped.  Silence.  The engine had stopped.

Luckily, disasters always come prepared.  I made Chris buy a little jumper robot to bring on the boat should JUST such an event occur.  Instead of using it right away, we turned around and headed back to Stamford.  Chris thought that it was a combo of the engine overheating and our batteries dying that killed our little sailing adventure, so he wanted to plain sail as long as possible and just use the engine for when we needed to dock.

FYI – there’s this charming little lighthouse in Darien, CT on a stone breakwall that looks absolutely lovely.  I know this because we sat on the boat and stared at it for an hour after the wind died, 5 nautical miles from home.  Stupid lighthouse.  Chris said, no, we are actually moving.  Which we were – I did time a lobster buoey take a full minute to float past our boat.  At this point, Chris shrugged his shoulders and decided it was time.  Our little, yellow, jumper robot came out of his box like a ray of sunshine and we crossed our fingers and held our breath.  Please jump the battery.  Please jump the battery.  Please jump the battery.  When we hit the ignition and starter button after 5 minutes, the engine coughed and sputtered to life like an emphazemic old man, and our little Wall-E of a jumper robot beamed with pride.

But wait!  There’s more!  Per my principle that disasters don’t travel well, here’s a list of if it could go wrong, it did go wrong:

-My blackberry died on the way to the boat, so I charged it, just so it could die again on the boat.  FYI – my phone now only works when it is plugged into an outlet (very useful…) and I can’t get a new one until August 29th.  Please don’t expect any responsiveness on my part until then.

-I placed my phone next to my husband’s, and now his cell phone will occasionally stop working and say: “SIM card error.”  Disasters are contagious

-Even though we bought a fancy GPS thingy, my husband didn’t turn it on while leaving Stamford and asked me to take the tiller as he went to boot it up.  BAM!  Apparently we sailed right over some wreckage that made a great scraping sound as we grazed it with the keel.  After my husband turned on the GPS, which I’m surprised he could manage while laughing hysterically at my shock and rage, he choked out through his laughter: “Look! I can show you what you hit on the GPS!”  Very funny.

-Tried to buy vodka at 8:30AM in Connecticut.  Apparently you can’t do that.  In NYC, we honor our alcoholics and sell them alcohol at anytime!

-Need to remember to dock down the carpet in the cabin so that when the boat is heeling at an angle and you step on the rug, you don’t slide on it and land on your butt the way that I ALWAYS do.

-Figured out how to flush the boat toilet… that doesn’t sound like a disaster, but it’s not fun, people.

-Basically bruised most of my body by whacking into blocks, winches, etc. on the boat

Good news is that Bisou Basil made the trip, survived the trip, and somehow grew to twice his size from thriving on ocean air.  I plan to prune him a little tonight for a nice buffalo caprese salad.

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    A Three Hour Tour…

    I am writing this the night before setting out on a great “adventure,” as my husband calls it.  This post will go live tomorrow at noon, which means that as you are reading this, I will be sailing up the coast of Connecticut to a town called Guilford, where we will dock and spend the night before heading on to Fishers Island.  What do I know about sailing?  Nothing.  What does my husband know about sailing?  Less than I thought he did when he convinced me to spend our one week of vacation a year on this little sailing trek.

    What’s funny about this is that when my husband first purchased this boat with his dad earlier in the year on the cheap, we had one little agreement: this was his thing, not mine, and while I would definitely share this hobby with him to some extent, this was NOT to become a major part of my life.  Yet somehow, we have spent almost every free weekend of the summer out on our little red boat, cruising around the sound.  Oh, and when you buy a boat on the cheap, be prepared for little “quirks.”  Engine trouble makes it sound like an occasional occurrence…  It’s more like sometimes we luck out and have Engine Startage.  “Oh yeah, had a great day on the boat although we did have a little Engine Startage.”

    And in case you missed it, I hate commuting by any means.  So when you turn my vacation into ALL commute, well…  let’s just say that I love my husband and this seems to be the only way to repay him for dealing with the joy that is me, a gift that never stops giving.  When he first proposed the trip, my husband said it would be an 8-hour sail.  When I seemed at peace with that, the time went up to 12.  Then to 15.  Now 20.  Each way.  Do the math, that’s 40 hours worth of sailing.

    I will be basically useless on the boat as well.  I don’t sail and I certainly don’t navigate.  I can barely make it around the city without having to pull up Google maps on my blackberry.  When we first moved to the city, my friend, Eunice, basically had to give me step-by-step subway and turn-by-turn walking directions before every night out on the town (of course I was always late, underestimating the time it would take to both get ready and arrive at the location).

    Why will I be on this boat?  Well, I’m going to keep my husband company and if the seas get rough, you can bank on the fact that my sarcasm will get rougher.  Luckily, my angelic husband seems to find my sarcasm amusing and charming, which is why I married him, since most everyone else usually finds it annoying and distasteful.  Basically, I’m comic relief and entertainment for our more than 20 hour trek.  And with my recent poundage, I’m starting to become the Skipper to my husband’s Gilligan.

    I’m also in charge of boating snacks:)  Now we’re talking!  Although I’m trying to keep it as non-potentially-stomach-irritating as possible since we try to keep the boat’s head (aka potty) to emergency use only.  Translation: I’m going easy on the cheese this time around and only packing something mild… like a nice Comté or Emmental.  Actually, chèvre usually agrees with me as well…  Ok, so 3 cheeses!  And some cured meats, maybe… some briney olives would be nice… can’t have saucisson sec without cornichons, either.  And vodka – which can be used as a disinfectant!  Or a sedative/anti-anxiety beverage should I forget how much I love my husband along the sail…

    I will also be bringing with me my basil plant, à la Waterworld.  It will be nice to have a little land with me since I am definitely a land-lover, but more importantly, Bisou Basil (named after my now favorite macarons from Bisousciao) is the first plant that I haven’t killed.  In fact, my little Bisou Basil is THRIVING!  Of course, now that I’ve gone and put my foot in my mouth…

    So when we were about to leave the apartment (which is already occupied as we usually have boarders even when we’re there), I quickly ran back for my little BB.  Yes, I could leave him to be cared for by others, but it’s hard for me to ask people to sing to him (yup, it’s a him) everyday for fear that they’ll think I’m a lunatic… ok, even MORE of a lunatic.  And if I asked them to sing his favorite song, “You are my basil plant” (to the tune of “You Are My Sunshine”)…  Well, it was just less taxing to strap a floatie on him and take him along.  I should invent a little basil backpack carrier thing like they do for babies.

    So if I don’t tweet or post something tomorrow night letting you know that we made it to Guilford safely, please alert the Coast Guard.  A three hour tour…

     

    Bisou Basil

    Bisou Basil

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    To be young again…

    Well, I survived.  Two 16 year-olds, 3.5 days, and I lived to blog about it.  Right up until my cousin and her friend’s plane landed, I thought I was ready for parenthood.  One of my best friends is pregnant with a little bundle of adorableness and I couldn’t be anymore excited!  I thought that maybe I wouldn’t be too far behind her.  The past week has definitely opened my eyes.  Granted, when you do give birth, you usually start with a tiny bundle of softness that while physically demanding, doesn’t challenge you the way that oh… let’s say giving birth to two, fully formed 15/16 year-olds does.

    As far as teens go, mine were pretty good actually.  They could have been much worse – they could have been me.  Besides calling me old and seeming pretty blasé about everything that I find downright awesome (namely food), they never sleep.  Never.  Except in the morning when you’re trying to wake them up.  And they have their own ideas and wants, and you basically just want to cater to them and make them happy.  Yup, that’s the one thing that very few people tell you.  Kids, babies, teens, whatever – they have some sort of magical ability to make you want to make them happy.  Normal adults?  Who the hell cares!  I very rarely care about making most people happy, especially since most people (outside of my awesome friends) piss me off on a daily basis (I’m talking about you Miss Rude Subway-rider).  My cousin was actually pretty easy-going, but every once-in-a-while, her friend would pop off some comment that was so rude and smart-ass-like that I didn’t know whether to laugh at her gall or throw a soup dumpling at her (which, FYI, she didn’t find very impressive).  Yet, she was still so adorable that I found myself trying to figure out what else to show her that she might enjoy a little more.  In case you’re wondering, I don’t think I found anything.

    I also realized that teenagers make you feel fat.  My cousin happens to be a rail and I kept wondering whether or not I had ever been that tiny.  I’m pretty sure not.  Her waist was smaller than anything on my body.  I could have used her stretchy belt as a headband.  And I also forgot how much you can eat when you have a teenager’s metabolism.  I eat a lot, but DAMN!  Sometimes, I almost forgot to feed them because I lost track of the time.  Oh, and that’s not the only reason I’m an unfit guardian – I cursed A LOT in front of them.  If they didn’t curse before, they’re certainly going to curse now.  In my desperate attempts to keep them happy and entertained (which I don’t think either of them were), I also fed them mass quantities of sugar.  I don’t think a single vegetable touched their lips in the 3.5 days they were with me.  Of course, they were far healthier than me, opting out of having cheeseburgers for every meal.

    And the shopping.  I ended up spending more and buying more than they did!  I try not to shop EVER because it’s tiring, time-consuming, and I just don’t have the money to burn.  Of course, when it’s your duty to take other people shopping as a good host…  Well… Do you know how much willpower it takes to NOT shop in those circumstances?  I certainly don’t because apparently, I don’t have it.  I think it’s a lot, though – much more than I can even fathom.

    So there it is: two 16 year olds, 3.5 days, an enormous credit card bill, and a weekend spent napping and sleeping like a log just trying to recover.  Maybe I should wait until my energy returns to start thinking about having my own children again.  After all, these two girls were ANGELS compared to the havoc that I wreaked upon my parents when I was their age.

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    Welcome to America! Now please start spending…

    Right now, I am on a bus headed to Woodbury Commons with my 16 year old cousin and her friend. When I picked them up from the airport yesterday, I asked them what they wanted to do while they were here – “we want to shop and we want go to Woodbury Commons!”. Screw our museums and melting pot culture, all they want is to spend our funny money.

    My cousin’s from London so Woodbury Commons is basically like shopping for free. And I guess when Europe is your playground, our “cultural” activities may seem less exciting. I’m reminded of Eddie Izzard: “I’m from Europe – you know, where all the history comes from?” She was getting organized this morning, trying to find her “American money,” and I told her she could just rip her pounds in half to use as dollars… Of course, 1 pound is a coin piece, not paper… But I have a pair of those Ginsu scissors somewhere so we should be fine.

    Her friend is from Canada and can’t wait to shop here either, which just bothers me. Am I the only one who longs for the days when the Canadian dollar was so weak that Canada was basically just one giant shopping outlet?

    I’m also missing my old Goldman paycheck right about now… Oh… the damage we could have done… Now, I’m probably going to walk out of Woodbury with a candy bar from a Kosher vending machine (my friend Angela just told me about them!) if I’m lucky… Or rather, if my husband’s lucky. I’ve actually never been before and just looked at the store list last night… Um, did you know that Williams Sonoma even HAD an outlet? Mama’s coming home with a deep fryer and an ice cream maker!!!

    FYI – the bus ticket here is $42!!! US $!!! That’s like £5. Not really, but that’s what it feels like even though the dollar is strengthening… slightly. So $42 just for the opportunity to spend even more… No roller coasters, either. Oh well, happy shopping!

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    Sweet Sixteen

    I’m probably going to have a lot of difficulty posting this week as my 16 year old cousin and her 16 year old friend are flying in from London to spend the rest of the week with me.  I haven’t been 16 in a LONG time, but from what I remember, I was a nightmare.  I just hope that the “awful teenager” gene doesn’t run in the family.  I haven’t seen my cousin in about 5 years, and I somehow doubt that she’s still the gangly 11 year old that I remember.  She may even be suffering from full onset teen angst-itis.  I’m bracing myself for either Paris Hilton or Gotherella to walk off that plane… hopefully I’m worrying for nothing and my cousin will turn out to be some perfect girl whose hobbies include listening to her elders and maybe washing & folding laundry.

    So, as I will have my hands full, I will keep the week to short posts (I can hear you all mumbling, “Finally!”) most likely based on me trying to entertain and wrangle 16 year olds.  I hope they’re not anorexic or anything so that I can at least bog them down with cupcakes and other sugary substances.  Cheeseburgers will definitely be on the menu, too.  Maybe take them shopping with their parents’ credit cards… The only thing I know for sure is that if I prevent them from doing anything that I did at 16, at least my uncle won’t kill me.

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    Trains, Planes, and Lobster

    This past weekend was Chris and my annual trip up to Maine to chill out with his family at a house they rent every summer.  We used to take the trip by car, but for the past two years, we’ve been taking the quick 40 minute-airplane ride to Portland, followed by the 1.5 hour drive to Pemaquid.  Yeahhhh, that’s all well and nice in theory…  Quick comparison: 6 hour car ride vs. leaving for the airport at 8:30PM for a 10:30PM flight, just to find out that we’ve been delayed an hour… then an hour+ security line that somehow still left me feeling less-than-secure and actually thankful for the delay since we never would have made our flight had it been on time… then surprised with yet another delay once we made it to the terminal, where we caught a few cocktails before finding out that we could tack on yet another hour to our wait.  Nice and tipsy, we finally boarded the plane, only to get delayed on the tarmac for another hour.  Luckily, I fell asleep a little after midnight and woke up to find us landing on what MUST have been the shortest landing strip in history judging by the lurching halt that shook me back into awareness around 2:30 AM in the morning.  Chris’s entire family had come to pick us up… but that was around 11:30 PM.  They were still pretty chipper by the time we arrived and 6 of us piled into their SUV (seats 5) for the 1.5 hour drive to Pemaquid… in a downpour… with everyone exhausted.  We probably all should have been frightened, but Chris and I were too tipsy and exhausted to care.  At 4AM, we were just happy that we had a nice, warm bed to sleep until noon in.  So let’s take the tally again: 6 hour car ride vs. 8 hour plane travel.

    By my first basket of fried clams accompanied by a cup of fresh, homemade clam chowder, I could care less how I got to Maine.  All I knew was that I was in Maine and I was going to take advantage of as many Maine-related calories as possible.  And I don’t want fried clams UNLESS I’m in New England (northern Connecticut counts – especially if we’re at Flanders Fish Market).  Even though it was monsooning outside, we all could care less, comforted by hot tea and mass quantities of carbs.  By nightfall, the rain stopped just long enough for some grilled lamb, marinated by me in a rosemary-dijon sauce, and grilled-to-medium-rare delight by father-in-law.  Of course, family-time always has complications and it’s always a little harder when you marry into family… think of experiencing all of your own family’s quirks for the first time and all at once as a fully formed, fully opinionated adult.

    Luckily, Chris’s immediate family and I have definitely come to feel like real family and our choice moments are more amusing to us now than tear-filled.  Unfortunately, I’m not quite there yet with Chris’s uncle, who was visiting from Paris.  He and I (fueled by 4 bottles of wine) got into a heated “discussion” about his feelings on Food Technology.  It went a little like this: he said, “I don’t think what YOU ‘do’ is actually cooking.”  If you use any form of technology in the kitchen, he doesn’t consider it cooking… oh, that’s unless he uses that technology (fyi – he told me later that he had a Nespresso machine).  He also thinks that if you are a chef (Michelin-starred or not) and use food technology or do any type of avant-garde cooking, that you can’t cook “simple” food.  In fact, he doesn’t think Ferran Adrià can roast a chicken…  Thank goodness for the wine and love of Chris’s family, because instead of going into a rage blackout, I tried to find humor in his antagonism (which for the record, was contradictory and hypocritical… but I’m over it, obviously).

    Chris’s sister, Sophie, jumped to my defense and the conversation detoured into how her uncle had criticized her ratatouille (which he did again when she brought it up) and how he had once also told her that he didn’t want her to play bocce ball on his team because he didn’t want to lose… she was 7 at the time and the match was against her other uncle and brother…  He didn’t remember the story, but clearly, she did.  Actually, so did Chris for that matter, and he remembers very little outside of sailing rules and our anniversary (the latter because it’s engraved in his wedding ring).  Luckily, that little gem of a story ceased our debating, had us laughing in no time, and we all had a final toast to family.  As you get older, you start to realize that family is family and it’s more fun to argue with them than anyone else.

    The next day was sunny and we filled it with activity to take advantage of the outdoors… and to maybe tire ourselves out enough so we didn’t have the energy for another debate later that night.  All those lost calories had to be replaced, though, and I helped myself to blueberry & strawberry waffles, sausage, a few blueberry-infused beers (actually really amazing) chocolate doughnuts, another cup of clam chowder, 3 Pemaquid oysters, clam steamers, a softshell lobster, a cone of homemade butter pecan (with plenty of sass from the most bitter teenager to wield an ice cream scoop that I have ever seen), and a slice of carrot cake.

    If you’ve never had softshell lobster (aka “shedder” or “peeler”) straight from a lobster coop before…  Ok, so I hate having butter with my lobster.  Lobster is so rich and decadent that the last thing it needs is to be coated in flavor-blocking butter.  I know, lots of people love it, but I prefer my lobster dipped in a traditional Vietnamese mixture of lemon juice (when lime is unavailable), salt & pepper.  These softshell lobsters, however, didn’t need a drop of ANYTHING.  I literally ate the tender lobster meat straight out of the shell without one blessed condiment.  It was so perfectly sweet and salty.  I tried not to let a drop of the flavorful lobster jus go to waste either as I carefully broke my lobster apart and held each separated piece with the break upright so no jus would spill out.  Then, I eagerly drank it like an athlete sucking down gatorade.  Picture this: me hold up a lobster claw to my mouth, head tilted back, drinking juice out of it like I’m sucking on a sports bottle.

    I can expertly take all the meat out of a lobster shell and leave it clean.  This knowledge comes from YEARS of eating lobster with my parents, who made it every summer for my brother and I growing up.  As far back as I can remember, my parents always steamed 2 lobster per person, even when we were just children.  Lobster was a treat and when you get a treat, you indulge like there’s no tomorrow, or rather, like cholesterol doesn’t exist.  And I love eating the lobster tomalley – the green stuff that’s caked in the body.  Some people hate it and it’s supposed to be bad for you, but all I know is that it tastes SO good.  It looks gross, but it has a great personality…

    While I was digging into my lobster, I must have zoned out.  I didn’t notice the MANY mosquitoes that were swarming around me (many of which got a nice taste of me seasoned with lobster jus), and I definitely didn’t realize that every time I cracked into my lobster, that it thanked me by spraying me with salty lobster liquid and white bits of albumen.  Sophie looked at me, covered in lobster debris, and took a paper towel and gently tried to blot the lobster flotsam and jetsam off of me, as if she were a nurse blotting the brow of this lobster surgeon.  I briefly looked up and realized what she was doing, but just shrugged and turned my attention back to my lobster before it got too cold.

    Our Maine adventure was over too quickly and as we prepared to drive back to Portland (again in a downpour) to catch our flight, we found out that it had been cancelled.  The last flight of the day…  No worries, Chris’s brother, Alex, was going to drive back to Connecticut anyway, so we hitched a ride and ended up in Connecticut 7 hours later around midnight.  Unfortunately, we missed the express train back to the city this morning, but waited on the platform, exhausted, for the next train to arrive.  I could have flown to a foreign country with the time spent just trying to travel up and down the east coast, but I doubt that I would have had as good lobster or as blood-pumping discussion anywhere else.  And throughout all the chaos, I didn’t rage blackout once… which must mean that my ongoing attempts to be a less-bad-person (vs. a fully good person – BOR-ing), are starting to work.  Lobster and less rage.  What more could you want from a long weekend?

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    Hot Dogs, Beer, & Glory

    This past Saturday, I had the opportunity to be Nick Suarez’s (Food Competition King) sous chef for the 4th Annual Great Hot Dog Cookoff in Brooklyn.  Nick’s been after me for months about competing in one of these cookoffs, but I’ve had to explain to him several times that it’s just not my thing.  Am I a competitive person?  Used to be.  Now, I’m kind of trying to pursue a more life-zen attitude about everything to prevent me from flying into a competitive rage blackout and waking up surrounded by bodies.  This seemed harmless, though – I wasn’t actually competing, I was just helping a friend to achieve their dream.  And what friend doesn’t want to do that?  Am I right?  I was still on the fence until Nick explained that the competition was being held inside Kelso brewery where beside the endless hot dogs, there would also be endless beer on tap…  How could anyone resist?  I suited up in my “What the heo?!” t-shirt (heo means pig in Vietnamese), which featured an angry pig cartoon (very fitting for me), and was ready to rumble.

    Me, Nick, & Taylor sharing the cotija & corn dog love

    Me, Nick, & Taylor sharing the cotija & corn dog love

    Chris and I showed up on Saturday morning and Nick had everything already organized and packed except for the corn salad, which he had left for me to season.  As usual, I dumped a heart-attack-sized portion of salt in (he actually had to refill his salt well after I depleted it) before heading straight for the lime.  A little sugar and cilantro later and all it was missing was fish sauce.  This wasn’t a Vietnamese hot dog, though, this was a latin-fusion dog inspired by Nick’s childhood of when his chef-mom would leave him and his 2 brothers at home with his food-loving, but non-chef dad.  Now, I’ve had Nick’s dad, Santi’s, cooking before and it’s pretty damn good.  But I guess when you’re used to your mom rolling out the culinary red carpet, you’re a little more discriminating when it’s dad’s turn to man the stove.

    Nick’s dad would apparently cut up hot dogs and then mix them with canned corn that he had charred in a cast iron pan.  The roasted, caramelized flavor and crunch of the corn were perfect compliments to the meaty, savory, tender hot dog.  Nick decided to up his hot dog memory by adding elements of another favorite corn treat he’d had growing up, zocalo corn – it’s corn on the cob roasted over a fire and then smothered in mayo and sprinkled with cotija cheese.  Squeeze fresh lime juice on top, and the sweet crispy corn, creamy and tangy mayo, topped with savory, nutty cheese just pops with deliciousness.  Nick added the cotija cheese and mayo, plus crispy bacon lardons, fried onions (in bacon fat), grainy mustard, a little reduced balsamic and sherry vinegar syrup, then just a brush of Portuguese piri piri sauce for heat.  Oh, and Nick made a special trip to Sunrise Mart for Japanese Kewpie Mayo.  Why is Kewpie mayo so special and delicious?  Because it has the magic of MSG, and there’s nothing wrong with that!

    At first, everyone thought there were too many ingredients in Nick’s “Corniest Dog in Brooklyn,” but when you think about it, it’s basically like making a deconstructed corn salad, with the onion, bacon, mayo, mustard, and acidity laid out as separate components.  Chris, Nick’s brother’s girlfriend, Taylor, and I followed our fearless hot dog leader into battle, each of us carrying magical elements to what we knew would be a winning dog.  We had to wait for our shift at the grill, so we placed our bags in the shade, and headed to the beer tap…  again, and again.  In fact, we visited that bar so many times that my husband decided that he would help out and just walked behind the bar and started pouring.  The Kelso employee who was actually manning the bar just looked at him, saw that he was helping, and shrugged her shoulders and let him continue.  He basically remained behind that station for the rest of the day.

    Our shift at the grill

    Our shift at the grill

    Meanwhile, we grilled hot dogs and buns to perfection.  The buns were drizzled in mayo, lined with grainy mustard, and smeared with fried onions before laying the hot dogs down, which were then brushed with piri piri.  We brought all of our mise to our serving station and began placing the hot dogs, cut into thirds, into muffin liners before being topped with the corn salad and cotija cheese.  Each dog also got a triangle of lime to be fresh-squeezed on top.  We started joyfully handing out tastings to the crowd of people who had gathered around our table until we realized that we had miscalculated, been too efficient, and that we were not allowed to serve out our hot dog tastings yet.  No worries, we apologized and just kept on assembling, covering our table in little bites of latin-inspired corn & cotija hot dog goodness.

    Ready, set... EAT!

    Ready, set... EAT!

    I don’t know if someone said “Go!” or if a whistle blew, but all I know is that suddenly, we started handing out the dogs.  It probably took under 2 minutes for almost 200 tastings to just disappear from our table, leaving behind nothing more than cotija dust and crumpled muffin wrappers that blew across our piri piri-stained paper tablecloth like dust balls moving across the street in the old west after a gun fight.  We finally breathed out and were thankful that we had remembered to taste our hot dogs BEFORE passing them out as we had completely forgotten to save even one last bite for ourselves.  Then, we waited…  there was still one more round of tastings before one of the fine hot dog chefs in the room would be crowned champion.  Luckily, we were able to keep our cups full and our throats well-lubricated as Chris was still manning the tap and chatting up the crowd, answering questions about which beer to try as if he worked at Kelso and brewed the beer himself.

    Kelso Brewery Employee of the Month: Chris Lvoff

    Kelso Brewery Employee of the Month: Chris Lvoff

    Finally, they began calling out the winners for “Audience Choice” and several other categories…  We waited to hear “Brooklyn’s Corniest Dog,” but still, we never heard it.  It looked bleak and I’m not going to lie, I was starting to feel the rage blackout creep into the corners of my eyes.  But then, we (and the entire room) were saved.  The last category, the ultimate win, “Best in Show,” was about to be announced…  They teased us, saying they couldn’t quite read the name… and then we heard it: “Nick Suarez.”  Our fearless leader had led us into Hot Dog battle and we had emerged victorious.

    Wiener Champion: Nick Suarez & Brooklyn's Corniest Dog

    Wiener Champion: Nick Suarez & Brooklyn's Corniest Dog

    Did it feel good to win?  Sure… But it felt better to hang out with friends and all bust our butts together to help one of us achieve his dream: to win a Wiener Trophy.  I did have one regret though – I wish I had set aside a full cotija & corn dog for myself.  Just one bite of it wasn’t enough.

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    Filed under This never would have happened in Finance