Saturday, December 29, 2007

More than a sandwich

Who would have thought that I would close out 2007 saying this: The best thing I made in my kitchen was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?

I certainly wouldn’t have thought so a few days ago. Before I returned from Christmas in Tyler, I probably would have considered either a particularly uniform and golden batch of waffles or perhaps one of my soupy concoctions the highlight of my culinary pursuits. All of these great meals, sides and dishes went out the window when Isaac came to my door Thursday evening.

I was in my kitchen, just doing the dishes and listening to the UT/Arizona State game on the radio, when I heard a faint knock at my back door. It was barely audible, competing with the clatter of dishes beneath a running faucet and the play-by-play announcer on the radio. Still, I heard it and without hesitation I unlocked and opened the door. Isaac, mid-20s and mid-200s, was on the other side. His exhausted face and prematurely gray sideburns spoke for his hard life. His prison tattoos did, too. He asked if I was Jared or if I knew Jared, someone he met at Church Under the Bridge who told him he lived at Terrace Gardens. I told him I didn’t know Jared. That could have been it. I could have closed the door. I could have gone back to my dishes and the game. I didn’t.

After walking outside with him and talking a bit, trying to think where Jared might live, he asked if I could get him something to eat. Hesitant for a second, I said no problem. I scratched my head for awhile. I didn’t have much that could be made quickly. Oddly enough (for me), I did have bread on hand. We returned to my kitchen and I made him a humble PB&J sandwich. Honestly, I initially planned to make it to-go — bread, then peanut butter, then jelly, then a Ziploc bag and then good night . Instead, I pulled out a plate, Isaac pulled out a chair and we talked.

We talked for probably 10 minutes. We talked about God, religion and Waco. We discussed Church Under the Bridge, Mission Waco and my appetite for World Cup Cafe. As Isaac ate and drank water — rehydrating and refueling for his trek to 18th Street — I told him about my struggles with addictions and depression, my connecting with God in the past two years and trying to find meaning and purpose. He returned in kind with tales of being homeless or living paycheck-to-paycheck and barely eating. He told me he hasn’t lost hope or his dignity. He works. Hard. Every day. He waits outside of labor ready every day, hoping that someone will drive up with a job for him to do, a job that will pay just enough to take care of his estranged children, to pay for his half of an apartment or maybe enough left over to save for a car one of these days.

I told him it’s good to hear he’s a Christian who keeps faith in the Lord and reads his Bible regularly. I’m not gonna lie. That’s more than I can claim . And I’m the one who’s blessed. I’m the one with a comfortable, affordable home, stocked pantry and fridge, decent career, car and a room filled with bikes and basses. What’s my excuse?

Thirty minutes and a 10-cent sandwich later, Isaac pushed his chair back and thanked me. I felt bad because I could have done more. I debated driving him to his destination. I wondered why I didn’t make him a bigger meal. I felt guilty. So I gave him my usual handout — a $5 gift card to McDonald’s. It was my last one. I used to keep a few on me and in my car and would give them out regularly in Rockford. I thought it was enough then. But talking with Isaac reminded me that a conversation, interacting with another person — however random, just a complete stranger — trumps a gift card or a sandwich. He smiled, thanked me again and told me that some day we’ll have lunch at World Cup Cafe. His treat. I told him I’d like that. Thank you, Isaac.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

WTB: One WABAC machine

Oh brother, what I wouldn't do for a time machine (cloaked in a Delorean, helmed by Mr. Peabody and Sherman or otherwise) to transport me to the precise moment on Dec. 6 when a simmering pot o' gold was ready for consumption. Santa? Doc? Lassie? Gunga Din? Anyone?

Oh well. I'll just have to pine for this warm, filling Corn Chowder (say it with me: chowww-dah). Sure, I could go the easy route and just make it again, except I'm not feelin' quite right for kitchen work. The truth is I'm a bit on the mend from a really quick sick that I initially blamed on lechuga, but now I'm screamin' it was some sickly, sorry-ass air I inhaled. If only I had a time machine. Quiet you ...

Monday, December 24, 2007

Cookie cutters that don't cut it

I've got a friend and a sis who may know some Swiss, but I'm fluent in easy-to-make Swiss cookies.

This batch of Mailaenderli (my-lend'rrlee) was well received at the office. I'm guessing it's the buttery-eggy goodness. There's not much to the recipe (simpler is better). What follows is my adapted recipe. For real, these are too easy to not make them. ... Be careful on your choice of cutters though. Don't even eff with anything resembling a candy cane unless you like headaches.

Mailaenderli or Christmas Butter Cookies

1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup sugar
juice of one small lemon
2 eggs plus 1 egg yolk, beaten
2 1/2 to 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (I used about 3 or so cups)

Cream the butter. Gradually beat in the sugar, beating well after each addition. Beat in the lemon juice and the 2 whole eggs. Blend thoroughly. Stir in the flour, beginning with 2 1/2 cups. Knead the dough with the hands until it is smooth and clears the fingers. If it is too sticky, add more flour (and you will need more). Wrap the dough in waxed paper and chill for 4 hours or overnight. Roll out the dough on waxed paper to the thickness of 1/4 inch. Cut the dough with small fancy cookie cutters in shapes such as stars, hearts and crescents. Place them on a buttered and floured cookie sheet 1 inch apart. Brush with the beaten egg yolk. Bake in a preheated moderate oven (350 degrees) for about 15 minutes or until golden.

Friday, December 21, 2007

A minitour of megashopping madness in North Texas

Inspired by a comment from a former coworker and mega-knowledgable musichead Collin Quick, here’s a rundown of three places where you can max the hell out of yer credit cards in Dallas County. I say Dallas County because, quite frankly, eff all that shite in Collin County. You’re a cool guy Collin, but Collin County (Plano, Allen, McKinney, Murphy, etc.) is bullshit you can miss.

TOWN EAST: If you like tall aqua-netted hair that's perched atop pretentious heads, or if ya got a teenage hooligan cousin, Town East in Mesquite can't be beat. Technically not in the mall but it’s smack dab outside, getyer boots and hats at Sheplers. Then you can hop on LBJ (IH 635), drive to the Resistol Arena for the Mesquite Championship Rodeo (shoot the shit with Don Gay, chew some chaw and kick some shit with yer fancy boots) and then stop a spell at Trail Dust Steakhouse to get yer grub on (wear a bolo tie to eff with the staff).

THE GALLERIA: I can't even sniff the air of this royal retail palace 'cause my nostrils are of a far too low caste. However, if I managed to get a job in the building, I'd probably be a skating instructor. My goal wouldn’ be helping young sparkies land skating tricks. Oh, no, no, no, no. I’d be far too busy trying to land an SUV-steerin, Dolce-wearing sugar momma. Just my type. Right.

NORTHPARK: It’s huge but wears it well. It’s not like the Mall of America in Minnesoter. No, sir. Texas is about being big, but the well-to-do set doesn’t like to brag about such things. Still, this spot is intimidating in other ways, namely the SMU co-eds, generally successful people and their University Parks offspring are smart, in shape, attractive, rich and are good, reasonable people. But I digress. The food options here are amazing. Even the standard food court is about as classy as those places can be. The mall’s color and shape coding is so smart, but most first-timers still get lost.

Tones of home

I spent half a day in Dallas on Thursday. It was a cool, ghosts of Christmas past tour. I didn't make it out to G-Town, cruise Centerville, Saturn, Broadway or Northwest Highway for covert places to smoke cigarettes (2008 will be year six as a non-smoker) or pick up all the lovely ladies at Town East Mall. No, I passed on all that fun but managed to hit up some old stomping grounds in Dallas (Greenville Ave., mostly) and saw some old college friends from the Timado days.

Flat People's eponymous CD — available for purchase at CD World and Good Records — was the soundtrack of the day. The band's show at Granada was great, and it was good seeing old Timado friends Graham, Warren and Bobby G. doing their thing on stage. I was very impressed with the venue and the group's cohesive sound live and onstage — which wasn't surprising at all. They're all ridiculously talented and are just great guys. Even Ryan Hardy (also Timado — Laser Eye) made it to the gig. It was good chatting with him and the rest of the guys after the show and catching up since the last time we were all together about three years ago.

A quick trip yesterday, and now some quick cooking today. I'm making Swiss Butter Cookies, Mailaenderli (my-lend'rrlee). I'll post the results later after I awake from a Swiss Butter Cookie/DFW Tex-Mex/Gatesville Grub coma.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Baked, waaaaay baked, not fried

There's no good damn reason why more restaurants don't serve sweet potato fries. It's surprising, but after one try I think I prefer them.

Apparently the stars, planets, wheels and text were aligned for making these and coming to this fry revelation. I saw a recipe in the Statesman, on PPK, and The Maui Grille in Surprise, Ariz., serves some that apparently all should try (I can only vouch for the onion rings and spinach salad— very nice).

Give these fries a shot. But, please refrain from dipping 'em in mayo, ranch dressing or a Wendy's Frosty — y'all are a bunch of Southern sick-os!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Jethro Lull

I’m back! Did ya miss me? Don’t answer that.

OK, so Arizona was great. Good weather, food and family. It was a quick trip, but good none-the-less.

As for culinary delights, I really haven’t made much recently. But I did stockpile some schtuff I made awhile back — perfect for this dip in kitchen creativity.

My friend Wendy had some folks over to christen her new place,. And since she’s a ginger freak (sidenote: I finally saw "This Is England" — awesome, but a crap ending), I cranked out the ginger cookies. Not bad.

I need to get back to the stove for more soup. Something with potatoes and black beans is calling me right about now. We shall see. We shall see.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Pedaling a slower gear

I'm on the roads and trails less these days (read: not at all). I have no interest in wind slapping my cheeks red, donning full-length tights, stocking up on ChapStick and staring at gray skies. No, I don't have fond memories of seasonal affective disorder.

My bikes hang idle, one with a flat, another needing a chain adjustment and the third just wants some TLC. All are minor repairs and basic bike maintenance, but I'm on a lazy streak right now. Even commuting is too much effort. Thank God I'm still hauling it to the gym a few days a week and runnin' around the river on off days. Anything to keep me off the bike trainer.

It truly is a month of fits and spurts. I have to take advantage of momentum. More often nowadays, I'm content with coasting. Winter is like that for most folks, right??? The other day I went great guns baking and cooking, making three consecutive things (a Manic Monday on a Tuesday) — two of which you'll get right now.

'Ere's another stab at the Blueberry Blondies. I made these for a coworker in exchange for the best homemade salsa I've had in awhile. I definitely came out the winner. The crusty covering is still not quite right, but I know what I now know the remedy.

Also straight from the oven a week ago, something I ended up calling Pumpkin Chocolate Cakies. The problem with subbing flax seed for egg is the texture. A lot of cookies don't have a cookie chew. This is the case with these cookies, but I think they're none-the-less delicious. Recipe requests aplenty, and it really does make about 4 dozen, so have a army at your disposal (a hungry one at that, possibly fragile).

So, yeah, it's a slower gear for the rest of the year. I apologize for what will no doubt be fewer posts until January.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Long December

December is always a little chaotic. Every year is different for everyone, but this year is entirely different for me. It always depends on where I am living, what I’m doing and the same applies for everyone who matters in my world. A lot has happened, and we’re all going to make the best of it.

This year my holiday season started with Thanksgiving in Tyler. Then it’s a quick trip to Phoenix next week, a spin up to Dallas the following week and then back out to Tyler. I wish I could fit Austin, San Angelo and Rockford into the mix, but that’s pushing it. Besides, I have no interest in shoveling snow (sorry, y’all).

Still, I am committed to visiting everyone I haven’t seen this year in 2008. I guess it’s a little early to make a resolution — something I rarely do anyway, and only if there’s something I’m quitting.

Next year will also include another intercontinental tour with my sister. We’re going to spend the better part of two weeks in the UK to see places our 92-year-old Grandmother has only dreamed about seeing. We’ll return with memories, words and pictures for her — the next best thing to her actually going.

What else? I dunno. It’s kind of exciting. I’d like to think love and a home aren’t too far in my future. We shall see. I will keep on moving forward and see where I land.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

My casserole's way more punk than yours

Buying a cook book is a struggle for me. Much like music and pornography, the Internet is filthy with free recipes. Also like porn and music, some recipes are tasteful and others will leave you with visible sores and lesions. You just have to learn which Web sites and cooks you can trust and love unconditionally (warts and all).

Still, it’s nice having a colorful book on my table instead of a sterile print out. Normally I just borrow books from the library. Now would be a good time to apologize to any Wacoans who have wanted to borrow “Vegan with a Vengeance” for the past month. I'm almost done using it. I promise.

Anyway, I picked up a couple of new cook books last week. They were hanging out in the store’s so-cheap-you-can’t-refuse aisle. I quickly picked 'em up, pored over 'em and got to cookin’.

First up: bean and pasta casserole. The name certainly doesn’t inspire. But anytime I see the word casserole I can't help but think of a Guttermouth's song "Casserole of Life" from "Teri Yakimoto." Sample lyric of ingredients: "Hot tubs, cross bows, setting forest fires Styrofoam, TV, Slashing all your tires ...". Classic.

Also, the total cooking and prep time (3 hours!) doesn’t scream “make me now.” Fortunately, I’m a fan of bland and watching paint dry. This entree did take a long time to cook, and it could have benefited from additional spices. At the very least, I will increase the oregano for this dish next time. And I'll probably listen to "Teri Yakimoto" eight times through to pass the time.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Gourd Damn! It was 80 degrees!

The temperature yesterday hung around the high 70s and creeped up to 80. Folks had to crank up the AC. That's effed up, winter is effed up, but winter vegetables like squash are fabulous.

I pureed the hell out of this Butternut Squash Soup. This burnt-orangish bowl filler is a sweet-tasting and toasty tribute to another UT loss to A&M and subsequent underwhelming invite to the Holiday Bowl.

What really makes this soup awesome is adding a nice tart, green apple. It works so well with the sweet winter squash.

What doesn’t work in this recipe is onion. I am banishing this bastard veggie from my kitchen this month. Fewer tears. Better breath. Works for me.