Wednesday, April 24, 2013

MfCP: The Mountain Goats - Dilaudid

I always knew that I should like these guys, it just took me a while to get around to it. So glad that I finally got with it - so little music is like poetry anymore. And that's a damn shame. Since I am new to this scene, and to John Darnielle's verse, this particular song struck me hardest on my first listening. That's not to say that it is the album's most visceral overall - I now have several favorites that cut deep in varied ways and acting under much subtler witchcraft. But, this song is special because it gives you no choices. You will be struck by it. It is the swinging, bloodied fist of the album. Intense, ugly. Swift and beautiful. Well crafted - a beauty in spite of her anger.

The rest of this album is awesome, too. A real standout.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Recipes: Best Turkey Meatloaf Ever

Yes, an epic name for an epic meatloaf. This recipe is adapted from one created by the grand mistress, herself: Ina Garten. I have changed a couple of things here:

1. We have... sensitivities to onions in our house. So, I have reduced the amount here by quite a bit. Feel free to boost it if you are an onion lover...or a glutton for punishment. It's your meatloaf, man.

2. I added carrots, because every meatloaf is an opportunity to hide healthy stuff that your kids/you might not normally eat. So, do that - seriously, with whatever you want. I'm sure there are plenty of other veggies that you could add (grated zucchini, and peas both sound good off the top of my head). Just make sure that your veg (onion + whatever) doesn't exceed 2 cups - we want our moisture balance to remain as it is in the recipe, and extra veg = extra moisture.


3. Ina's recipe calls for 5 pounds of ground turkey (WTF, that's insane!), so I have halved that amount. If you happen to be feeding an actual army, double this bitch and add a half hour to the cooktime - they will salute your awesomeness because this meatloaf is amazing.


A fangirl shout-out, just quickly, to Ina - I have mostly taught myself to cook, but if there was a second place for most concepts taught, it would go to her. She is a wonderful cook (albeit a bit too salty (literally) for my taste)), and watching her show, Barefoot Contessa, was basically a cheap substitute for taking cooking lessons. Plus, you get to learn all about how everyone in the Hamptons goes to a different specialty shop to buy each ingredient in their dinner recipe and then prepares said recipe for a casual-chic dinner party at which the guests are both impeccably groomed and 95% likely to be gay. She speaks logically about food and explains the science of each process you employ. She really helped open my eyes to the art of cooking, and how to learn its ways. Thanks, Ina.

Best Turkey Meatloaf Ever
adapted from Ina Garten's Turkey Meatloaf


3/4 cup onions, chopped
1 cup carrots, peeled and grated
1 TB olive oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp ground thyme (or 1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves)
4 TB Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 tsp tomato paste
2 1/2 lb ground turkey
1 cup bread crumbs
2 eggs
6 TB ketchup

 1. Heat a skillet over medium-low heat. Add 1 TB olive oil and bring to heat. Saute onion, carrot, salt, pepper, and thyme until onions are translucent and all veg is softened, about 10 minutes. Add chicken broth, Worcestershire sauce, and tomato paste - stir until well combined and remove from heat. Allow to cool to room temperature.

Looks disgusting. Will be delicious.

2. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Combine ground turkey, eggs, bread crumbs, and onion mixture together in a bowl. You can use a spoon, but as Ina always says: Clean hands are a cook's best tool. Shape the mixture into a rectangular loaf on an ungreased sheet pan and spread ketchup over the top. Bake for 60-75 minutes in preheated oven, or until it registers an internal temperature of 160 degrees.
Will not win beauty prizes. Will win your heart anyway.

Haters will hate, but this turkey meatloaf is the most delicious meatloaf of any sort that I've ever tasted. Ditch the ground beef - it's full of fat. This recipe proves that flavor can be developed in a great number of ways, no extra cholesterol necessary.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Nothing to Fear

My life can sometimes resemble a patchwork quilt of various colorful phobias. Odd little fears that reign strong in my peripheral thoughts - popping up time and again to shock me with an icy finger of terror in response to the unlikeliest of things. I admit freely that my long list of idiosyncrasies includes a great many of these triggers. Some truly irrational (like my consistent fear of the entire airplane just disappearing out from under us at 10,000 feet) and others, like the one I discovered recently, that border much closer to circumstances that might occur, albeit rarely and in most cases only in moments of blind stupidity.

I was cleaning up the kitchen countertops. Mopping crumbs towards the sink and flinging them headlong into the oblivion also known as the garbage disposal. I finished my quick sweep and snapped a final towelful of odds and ends into the stainless sink, rinsing it down the drain to join the other hapless dross that now faced the sharp edges below. I switched the water to flow down the drain, and reached for the switch that would throw the blades into ravenous life.

And there it was, that sickly green silverfish of a feeling - the cringing flutter of fear's black wings. Bleak and bottomless. Contracting tissues - causing everything to be clutched and bittersick.

I could feel the clenching of my chest, the protective screeching of my nerve endings: "Please don't chop off your fingers today!" they seemed to be screaming. I could see it happening - almost feel it. I shuddered, and forced myself to look at my hands, safely tucked in each others' grasp. More than sheltered from the fury below. Nowhere near harm. But I held them tighter together still, needing more of a reminder.

The wave broke, and I pushed out a heavy sigh, flicking the switch to kill the beast. The motor flew in one last violent push and died. The ruckus lost its legs, became only the white noise of rushing water - and with a single motion, I killed that, too. Color crept back to my heart, squeezing out the sharp black and white contrasts of fear.

It was but a moment. Like 10 seconds, tops. But the feeling crept onward, intentional. And relief was sweet when its honey-slow path finally slipped out of my system and back into the ether. Seeking new purchase somewhere else, however ridiculously earned.

And all because I turned on the garbage disposal.

This phenomenon intrigues me. That I could feel such intense, real emotion that had no claims to a grasp on reality fed the logical conclusion that we cannot (in spite of what you may have been told) always trust our guts. Sometimes they're damn liars. I had no hand in harm's way, but I felt it cut to bits regardless.

Maybe somewhere in the Multiverse another version of me got caught there, attempting to free up a rattling annoyance - no idea that the machine was set to malfunction any second. A power surge. A moment of intense and regrettable idiocy. Maybe I felt her pain for a moment. Maybe we shared a wavelength - a thought. Nirvana. A hand chopped to pieces.

Or I could just be a bit nutty. Much more likely, all things considered.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Bon Voyage, Mr. Vonnegut

The first book I read by my hero, Kurt Vonnegut, was God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. To tell the truth, I hardly remember reading it. I do remember thinking it was bizarre, and wishing fervently that we could read something awesome, like Stephen King, instead. Ah, the ignorance of youth.

I have to laugh at that, because on occasion I was shockingly closed-minded in my early years for no good reason whatsoever. This is an example that gives me a special kind of grief these days because I became such an ardent admirer of his - and to admit that I didn't connect with him straight away somehow cheapens our relationship (as one-sided as it may be).

Fast forward to my early twenties - Bored out of my skull in a job that could have been performed by a monkey, I was tearing through books at a pace my wallet couldn't handle. I had just finished yet another snore-fest of girly fiction about someone who stole someone's boyfriend or some similar ilk, and I was in need of a book for the work day. So, on my way out the door I dropped to my knees in front of the bookshelf I shared with my roommates and began to quickly scan the available titles.

There are few moments in life that I would ever describe as being close to true kismet (seeing as I think that the idea of fate is ridiculous) but at that exact second, just as my eyes and brain focused enough to read the first book's title, Cat's Cradle basically hopped into my hands. I would say I was drawn to it for aesthetic reasons, but the spine is pink and pink is the color I dislike most, so that's not a likely answer. I got lucky though, whatever it was that caught my eye was the catalyst for a great explosion of joy in my life. I read Cat's Cradle in less than two days and fell hard for one Mr. Kurt Vonnegut.

"No wonder kids grow up crazy. A cat's cradle is nothing but a bunch of X's between somebody's hands, and little kids look and look and look at all those X's..."

"No damn cat, and no damn cradle."

Something burst inside me. It was like he understood me - like we spoke the same language. Different from most people. Beyond that, I had entered into a time in my life where I felt like I'd been rushed out of the main current of progress. Some eddy had interrupted my path and now I was stuck like debris along the side of the river, watching the way the system worked instead of being a part of it. And you know what? I found out that the system sucks. And he already knew that - he agreed with me.

It's difficult to feel lost, but certainly not rare - and I had spent a lot of time wallowing in the uncomfortable truth that I didn't know what I was doing in life. It didn't help matters that I felt like a bit of a traitor to my upbringing. Not everything fit me the way that I had been told it would. The potential of my youth gave way to the cold hard facts of my burgeoning adulthood - I saw the world for what it was, and because of it I started formulating my own ideas about what it all meant and where I fit. It was a strange time, and although my friends are basically the greatest a person could ask for, they were also very young - not ideal mentors for the lost. I was looking and looking for a place to land, and my spirit was tired from vacillating between ledges.

But Kurt Vonnegut understood. It was right there - in ink. He was looking and looking, too. Neither of us could see the point. It was ok that I felt like a black sheep. He was one, too. I felt the ground solidify under my feet, surprised that it had always been there.

What happened next is terribly predictable - I chewed my way through Slaughterhouse-Five and bawled my eyes out over that damn horse's hooves. I devoured Sirens of Titan, Slapstick, Deadeye Dick, Breakfast of Champions and so on.  Each completed novel fueled my own inspiration. I wanted so badly to write something Kurt Vonnegut would read. Because of him I tried to make art, no matter how piss poor. He was (and I daresay is) my muse - I have some of his words tattooed on my body. The rest are tattooed on my soul.

When I was planning my wedding in 2007, I decided that I would invite him. I knew he was not likely to show up, but when you get married you want the people who have impacted your life to be there. It was natural then that I should want him in attendance - but, I didn't get the chance to send an invitation because he died in April of that year.

I cried silently in the bathroom at work that day, April 11th, 2007. My hero had died. And I never got the chance to tell him that he changed my life, that he was the one to cast me a lifeline in the darkness of my self-doubt. I'm not sure the letter I planned to enclose with my invitation would have ever even been seen by him, but I regretted bitterly that I hadn't sent it sooner. So it goes...

I think of him when I am stuck creatively - try to channel him sitting at his typewriter, smoking Pall Malls and writing the Truth. Or drawing something deceptively simple that will still somehow break your heart. Sometimes it helps. Other times I just feel sad that he's gone.

Bon voyage, Mr. Vonnegut. Circle back here again and again - flip backwards in time for me.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Recipes: Slow-Cooker Apple Cinnamon Steel Cut Oats

If you want to feel good about what you're eating from the very beginning of your day, this recipe is one to memorize. It has all my favorite things: powerful nutrition, low fat/calorie counts, satisfying flavor and can be prepared ahead of time to provide quick meals throughout the week. I never would have called myself an oatmeal fan - and who can really blame me: all I had ever really had were microwave pouches of instant oats (which is one step away from eating paste with a sugar kicker, if you ask me) - but this recipe has made me a believer. 

So, if you eat the instant oats, give these a try - you'll find you stay fuller longer, and since you are consuming less sugar you will notice less energy dips throughout your morning - good fuel burns slowly. And this is good fuel for the body.

A side note: This recipe uses a slow-cooker. Mine is very large (6 quarts) and can make this entire recipe. If you have a smaller slow-cooker, you can easily half the recipe to fit. Also, my appliance happens to be the world's fastest and most aggressive crock pot ever! So, when it comes to cooking times, they will vary and the time it takes me will invariably be the shortest among the bunch. Because seriously, the darn thing works at hyper-speed.

Slow-Cooker Apple Cinnamon Steel Cut Oats

4-5 apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2 inch pieces (about 5-6 cups)
3 cups skim milk
3 cups water
2 cups steel cut oats
4 TB brown sugar
2 TB butter, cut into 8-10 small pieces
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 TB chia seeds (or ground flaxseed can be used)
1/4 tsp salt

1. Assemble your ingredients, and coat your crock pot with cooking spray (if you don't, you will be serving your oatmeal with a hammer and chisel, so try not to forget this part). Add all ingredients to slow-cooker and stir. Cover and cook on LOW setting for 6-8 hours (mine is always done in 6 hours flat). Try not to lift the lid during cooking, or you will need to factor in more time. It is done when the apples are beginning to brown, and you can see brown crunchy bits forming at the edges of the oatmeal.

2. Stir finished oatmeal, making sure to free up any crunchiness at the sides and incorporate well. Spoon oatmeal into bowls to serve immediately, or store in the fridge in individual serving containers to eat later. When re-heating the oatmeal in the microwave, add 1/2 cup milk and nuke for about 2 minutes, stirring half-way through. Top your oatmeal with walnuts, maple syrup, raisins, or eat it as is - all are delicious and only add to the yum factor.
 Oatmeal is not so photogenic, eh?

The first time you try this recipe will be a bit of an experiment. You need to figure out how long it will take your slow-cooker to complete the cooking process, so definitely try it during the day. If you are one of the lucky few whose crock pots take 8 hours to complete the recipe, you can try making this overnight while you are asleep. If you are halving the recipe to fit in a 3.5 quart cooker, your window of time for completion will be 5-7 hours. If you do not have steel cut oats - you'll need to go buy some for this recipe. Regular oats will not work. They will turn to glue, and your recipe will be a wasted effort.

All together, this yields about 8-10 servings. It is perfect for a couple to share throughout the week.

Happy breakfasting!