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Monthly Archives: March 2013

High and Low Food, or Sometimes, a Man Just Wants Some Ramen

They say that to enjoy a thousand-dollar meal, you need a thousand-dollar palate.

A few years back, I remember my sister coming home from a vacation, and telling me she’d had occasion to try some incredibly expensive wine while there. Half-jokingly, she’d commented about obviously having an innate lack of class, since she hadn’t been able to tell the difference between said costly wine, and cheaper vintages, and coming from an Italian family, we’ve probably sampled more vintages than the layman. More recently, as a retirement gift for my father, some colleagues of his gave him a subscription to a monthly wine and cheese service, so I’ve managed to sample even more of these strange brews, and I have to say, I sort of feel the same way as my sister.
Being at least partially Italian, I like my wine. I’m also fond if different varieties of cheeses. But I tend to find little distinction between $20 dollar LCBO bottles and grocery store block cheeses, and the premium stuff we’re getting in the mail. I mean, they taste different, sometimes better, sometimes not, but not always objectively better.
Some years ago, friends and I attended a wine and cheese show, and, when I think back on it, had largely the same experience. But, interestingly enough, we didn’t seem to think that at the time.
Looking back, maybe it was never about the food and drink. Maybe it was about appearances and aesthetics, about being there, about seeming fancy and refined. I mean, the phrase “wine and cheese show” on its own already sounds classy, and certainly, when we went, we put more effort into dressing and appearing sophisticated than we usually do when we attend a convention. I even sampled Kobe Beef while I was there, and while it was certainly a cut above regular beef, wasn’t anywhere near hundreds of dollars in value. As an aside, there’s other reasons why that may have been the case (scroll to #2).
Were we deluding ourselves? Certainly, I feel like I was. If you’re paying to sample fancy food and drink, and you’re dressing nicely to even go there, then surely the things you sample must be superior to average fare.
Do you ever wonder if the entire wine-tasting foodie community thinks like that, and that it’s really one grand delusion? In my mind, I imagine a scenario where you have this entire network of people, of critics, of fine diners, of sommeliers, of the wealthy, where each member of that circle is thinking “according to everyone else, I should be tasting something here. I’ll just go along with it. A thousand other people can’t be wrong.” But in reality, each of those other thousand people are thinking the same thing, and all it’ll take is one person to unravel it all. Sometimes I wonder. Certainly, there’s been studies that suggest, if not outright prove, that wine tasting is at least partially subjective, if not outright B.S. Maybe we’re all lying, and no one wants to admit it.
There’s an upshot here, too. If it is a delusion, then what about “low food?” It’d be okay to sing the praises of that stuff you’re supposed to thumb your nose at. As Cracked put it once, “Sometimes you want the shit you used to get at the Quik-Stop and eat in your car on the way to Steve’s house.” I certainly feel that. I know that sometimes, I just want some of that cheap dried ramen in a pot to eat, and I never even really went through the whole “poor college student” phase. While I wouldn’t eat it all the time due to the desert-esque levels of salt in it, that stuff’s good, and it comforts me. There has to be a reason thing like that and mac and cheese still survive, aside from costing basically nothing. Forget thousand-dollar palate, what about the one-dollar palate? What if your palate was trained by that stuff instead of the finest foods? What if you have an appreciation for that? Certainly, I do.
I think, really, what we need is a re-evaluation of what we eat. I wouldn’t advocate a complete leveling of our standards (home cooked Italian will always knock Delicio out of the park), but rather turn the incline into a gentle slope, and accept that there’s equal appeal to be found in Peking Duck, and those Shanghai noodles I used to get from the Chinese place at UTSC, which were the bomb, by the way.

A Recipe for Delicious Comfort Food

Been a long time writing this one, but I wanted to make sure I had photos for it.

You know, why was it that in the 90’s, when I was growing up, the stereotype was supposed to be that kids hated broccoli? Why do I have vivid memories of the Beetleborgs running from a broccoli monster that manifested itself as the Worst Thing In The World?

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Even as a kid, I loved broccoli. The worst I can say is that there was a time when I didn’t like the stems, only the head. Even then, I’m not sure if that was me, or my sister.

Now, I don’t cook a thousand different things, but I know enough to scrape by on my own if need be. Some people talk about Kraft Dinner, or chicken soup, but this here, this is my comfort food, and here’s how to make it. I probably generally cook with two much olive oil, but in my defense, I’m Italian. Olive oil is life.

I’m not a professional chef, so what I’m doing is probably rather bastardized. My apologies if anyone that knows more than me is reading this and wincing at the obvious mistakes.

So, before we start, wear an apron, or a shirt you’re not too attached to. Olive oil will ruin clothing. Of course, if you do everything right, you shouldn’t get any on you, but pobody’s nerfect.

Anyway, take a head of broccoli, wash it, and cut it up. Most of the ones I buy come in one giant head, but for this photo set, I used one that consisted of a bunch of smaller heads. Adding to my love of the stems, I tend to take the thick “trunk” of the thing, and slice it into round chunks, and include it.

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While you’re there, take a single clove of garlic, rip the skin off, and then slice it into really skinny “chips.” This is important. I usually hate garlic with a passion, but there’s a trick here that makes it palatable, and the first step is to slice it nice and thin.

Anyway, put a big pot with some water on the boil, wait for it to boil over, and once it’s bubbling, throw the broccoli in. I don’t really keep track of how long I leave it to boil. You basically have to estimate it by pulling chunks out and eating them. If you overcook it, it’ll turn to mush at the end when you mix it all up. Now, said mush still tastes good, it’s just unappealing to look at. What you want to do is cook it until it’s just a bit undercooked, because when you take it out of the pot, it’s hot enough that it’ll continue cooking by itself. Make sure you have a wooden spoon to stir it frequently, too.

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When it’s done, pour it carefully into a strainer over the sink, and then put it into a big serving bowl, with a lid over it to keep it warm.

When you’re near the end of the boiling, get the olive oil. Or, come to think of it, just wait until the broccoli’s done, because this part doesn’t take too long. Take a medium sized frying pan, and set the heat to about medium, and wait a few minutes for the oil to heat up. You have no real way of telling this, so time is all you can give it. After those few minutes, throw the garlic chips on, and stir them around. If you heated the oil too much, you may get some splash-back, like I mentioned at the beginning, hence the apron.

Awwwww yeeeeeahhh.....

Awwwww yeeeeeahhh…..

Now, here’s another thing. Some people hate browned, slightly burnt garlic. As for myself, this is the only way I like it, when it’s got a bit of a crunch to it. Otherwise, I pick it out and set it aside when the dish is done. Maybe I just have odd tastes. So, wait until it’s browned. This is important, because if it’s black, you waited too long. Full disclosure: I overdid them here for the sake of snapping this picture. The things we do for art.

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When it’s browned, you pour the olive oil and garlic over the broccoli in the bowl, and stir it up. If you overcooked the broccoli, this is the part where it may break into mushy chunks.

Now for the special part. Technically, you’re supposed to put salt and pepper in it. However, I have this special spice called Old Bay. According to the container, it’s meant for seafood. But honestly, I love this stuff. I put it on everything. It has such an unusual taste to it. So instead, I sprinkle a goodly portion of that all over it, stir it up, and enjoy.

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Size-wise, a full head of broccoli prepared this way is a bit too much for me to finish on my own without a stomach ache, but it keeps for awhile as good leftovers. If you have the variety that’s a bunch of small heads, you can portion-manage a bit better. If you’re serving it as a side dish with some meat and grains, it can do 4 or 5 people, easy. It’s also good over white rice, mixed together with it.

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And there you have it. A simple, easy comfort dish that I like to make sometimes.

The Cold War of the Couples, Part 3 (of 3)

“See, that’s the other thing,” Martin said, idly nudging coins over the surface of his bill, figuring out a tip. “I really felt like I was being herded. Like if I happened to do anything even remotely impolite, they were going to tackle me and kick me to the curb.”

Caroline chuckled at this. “Yeah, I got the impression on my end they were bending over backwards to make us feel safe.”

“Hm.” Finishing up his mental calculations, Martin stuffed his wallet back into his pocket. “The worst part is I can’t say I disagree with it. If I was in the shoes of the people organizing the thing, I’d have put extra care into making sure the women felt secure, too. Just because I resented it doesn’t mean it’s not a necessary evil, or something.”

Caroline propped her chin up with her hand, regarding him very seriously. “I’m not sure,” she said, sternly, “but I think you didn’t enjoy yourself.”

Martin chuckled. “Whatever gave you that idea?”

“Call it a hunch.”

Martin sighed. “I guess I just don’t like the process, you know? You sell yourself, and if they buy it, you go through this… chain of rituals, trying desperately to make sure your true nature doesn’t stick out too much, and hope in a few months or a year or whatever, you’re close enough to the other person that they won’t jump ship when you run out of comic books and movies to talk about, and you have to drop the act.”

She raised an eyebrow. “We talking about the speed dating, or all relationships?”

He looked down. “Honestly, I don’t even know anymore.”

***

“So, how’d you do?” Martin said, leaning on the wall outside the hall’s doors.

“Ok, I think,” Caroline replied, clutching her sheet. It contained a lengthy list of names and numbers. “We’ll see how many of these people I actually have time to contact.”

Martin carefully unfolded his sheet of three names, not saying anything.

“Good,” Caroline said, not skipping a beat. “You have time to talk to them all.”

***

“If you didn’t enjoy the whole speed dating thing,” Caroline said, “and, if I catch your drift, you’re not too enamored with regular dating either, then why did you even come?”

She rested her elbow on the window of his car, idly watching the streets fly by as he drove them uptown. “And don’t say I needed someone to come with me, either. You know that’s not true.”

He stared out at the highway, checking the exit sign. Still a ways to go.

“Honestly, I’m not sure.”

There was silence between them for awhile. After a moment, he offered.

“I guess I felt like I kind of needed to.”

“Hm?”

“I mean….” He considered for a moment. “One of the reasons I came with you was because I wasn’t doing anything today. I mean, I don’t work till Tuesday and everything.”

She didn’t follow him. “And?”

“Well, I mean, what are our friends doing today? Where’s Travis and Sylvia? Or Sasha? Or Franklyn and…whatshername…”

“Julia”

“Right. My point is. When was the last time we saw any of them?”

She looked out of the window. “Awhile, really. They’re all so busy lately.”

“Yeah,” he nodded. “One’s getting married, the other’s moving out….The third one just spends all her time with her new guy.”

She looked at him, and a silent worry seemed to float out. He met her eyes before returning to the road.
“I know I wouldn’t vanish,” Martin said, answering it. “And I know you wouldn’t. But that’s the problem. I don’t think any of them wanted to vanish. It’s just something that happens. I mean, my parents hang around people they know from work. Nobody they went to school with or anything. It’s like, you find your companion, and you start a new circle of friends with them. Your life revolves around them now, one way or another.”

“Is that why you came?” She said. “You wanted to find that person?”

He paused again. “Even worse. It’s like a nuclear deterrent. I need my backup.”

“What? Please. The metaphors. They hurt,” she said, dryly.

“Sooner or later everyone we know is going to couple up,” he said, trying to keep the ice out of his voice. “And when they do, one way or another, they’re going to drift away into their own circles. So it’s like a race to find yours before everyone else does, or else you’ll be the last one. It’s like a cold war. Everyone needs to get theirs before the others do.”

“That’s not a good reason to be doing this,” she said, quietly. “I mean, that’s not why I was.”

“No,” he said. “It isn’t. And yet there I am.”

They drove in silence for some time.

“You know,” she said. “I don’t think you really wanted to.”

“What makes you say that?”

“You seemed determined from the get-go to sabotage yourself. You walked in in a bad mood, I could tell you were in a bad mood during the thing, and you left in a bad mood.”

Silence.

“It’s like you didn’t want anyone to follow up.”

More silence.

“You okay?”

“Yeah,” he finally replied. “Yeah, I’m fine. Can I ask why you went?”

She shrugged. “I’m not seeing anyone right now. Seemed like the natural thing to do.”

“Really?”

“Yes, really. Nothing complicated.”

***

They’d pulled up to her driveway. No sooner had he put his car in park, she spoke again.

“Really. You ok?” She said, quietly.

He sighed, leaning back in his seat. “Yeah, no. I’ll be fine. Just….Let’s not do this again. It’s supposed to be fun, but it just leaves me in a bad mood.”

She smiled lightly. “Sounds like a good plan.”

“Did we learn anything from this?” he muttered, faintly.

She raised an eyebrow. “Learn anything? Whatcha mean?”

He shrugged. “You know. Pick up a moral.”

She chuckled, undid her seat belt, and threw the door open.

“Why does there have to be a moral? Maybe it’s just a bunch of stuff that happened.”