On big, life-changing events, and finding things to make them easier to swallow.

When we last left our heroine, she was bound for a trip to Indianapolis.

Nothing like a little over-dramatization on a Tuesday. And just so you know, I do realize that I am the heroine of none other than my own very normal life; but it’s fun to sometimes entertain the notion that my imagined superpowers transpose the Carter-world boundaries.

But it is also true that our lives are a bit less-than-normal right now. The reason we ventured to the Great State of Indiana was so I could lay eyes on a city to which I’ve not been in 18 years, before deciding to move there. Tim has been offered a job in that locale, and we are in the process of working through that decision. To say it was a whirlwind trip is putting it a bit mildly. We (meaning Tim) drove many miles after dark, dropped off 2 kids with family in Kentucky, drove some more, bombarded a generous family (friends of friends) whom we’d never met, had meetings, soirees, and the like. Saw the city. Looked at rental properties. Tried to picture it (mostly, me envisioning trips to various grocery stores with 3 kids in-tow). Then more driving, picking up tired children from exhausted relatives, bombarding yet another family in Tennessee for late-night beds, wine, and breakfast banana muffins (shout-out to Emily!), only to wake up this morning facing a big conference week at work for Tim, a trip to the pediatrician for the inevitable double-ear infection in the 3-year old, and detox from the thrills of “cousin time” for the 5-year old. I need to make bread, I have no groceries, all of my warm-weather clothes are still in the attic, and we need to get our unfinished house ready to put on the market in about 2 weeks.

So, of course, I’m sitting at a computer typing a blog post that 8 people read.

Which is a symptom of denial. And I’m pretty good at it when I need to be. Usually when it’s involving change. Any change, really, but when it’s a big one, I can quite easily and simply shut down. Tim is pretty good at handling things when it happens, but it undoubtedly leaves him in a bad place when, as we drive around a town looking at rental properties, he can’t get me to help him out.

“Here’s one — what do you think?”

“Sure. Whatever.”

“Do you like this one better than the one with the creepy attic bedroom?”

“Yeah, I mean, I guess so. Whichever. Sure.”

(All this as I stare, eyes glazed over, looking at nothing in particular.)

I just can’t process things very quickly — not when it’s a decision that will effect, at the minimum, a year of our life, quite possibly more. How can you spend 10 minutes making a decision that effects a year of life? That’s what I can’t figure out.

But amidst rental properties with dank basements, confusing school decisions, discussions about weather, meeting nice people, and dealing with an incompetent sandwich-maker at The Fresh Market, there was a place that made an imminent move seem appealing: The Goose.

Goose The Market is at the very least a place for those who love meat. They love meat, love it well, and want to share their passion with others who love meat. But it seems this obsession is also a springboard for taking license to share other seasonal, local food items that can be hard to come by in a regular grocery store: local cheeses, produce, baked goods, and the like. Plus a cellar with their selection of “meaty” wines and choice brews. We walked into the store, and I almost instantly felt grounded — this was a place I could call home. Not that I’m gonna stow away in their walk-in and start living there (though that thought did occur to me), but it’s good to know that, if we take this plunge, I can find comfort in the Indiana Bacon of the Month Club.

We went for the purpose of procurring dinner: sandwiches. Scrawled on a chalkboard, their daily selection seems to change often. I can’t remember the specifics of any of them — but I do remember looking on the board and not believing the options. We had three, and shared them all — I think the favorite was one with house-cured bacon and a blueberry compote. Oh, MAN! It was good.

I could have spent a lot of money there. Seems like it’d be easy to do — these items aren’t cheap. But hey — we’re gonna need something to replace our monthly Five & Ten budget, right? (Picture a single tear falling down one cheek.)

The midwest. Who knew? How will our eating change in Indiana? Stay tuned, if you can — and bear with me as I complain for the next four months, about everything from boxing up half my kitchen (for “staging” purposes) to the fact that our rental won’t have a dishwasher.

Avocado Licuado con Leche

This was the result of a perfect storm of happenings/realizations:

  1. Avocados are in season. Which means that, when faced with a huge bin of organic avocados at Earth Fare selling for $1 each, I am forced to buy at least four. Maybe a half-dozen.
  2. My children don’t eat avocados. Leaving me and Tim to consume 6 ripe avocados. That’s a lot of guac.
  3. It’s warming up. Time to dust off the ice cream maker, and bring out David Lebowitz’s book again.
  4. After watching an episode of last season’s Top Chef, and hearing all the judges bark horrified, eye-rolling comments about a certain contestant’s avocado sorbet, saying it tasted like “cold guacamole,” I couldn’t help but wonder if they were right.

Who wouldn’t want to try avocado ice cream? Ok — well, you really should try it. It is surprising and subtle — not at all like cold guacamole. It’s admittedly an odd thing, sweet avocado. But while the avocado flavor doesn’t disappear completely, it primarily lends a freshness to the ice cream, and an incomparable texture.

As a bonus, it’s an absolute breeze to make: avocados, sour cream, heavy cream, sugar, lime juice. Whirl it all in a blender or food processor, and put it right away in your ice cream maker. It took less than 10 minutes of prep, and 20 minutes in the maker.

The above-pictured variation was suggested in the ice cream book: basically, an avocado milkshake, a common south-of-the-border treat. A couple scoops of the ice cream, with milk, a little extra sugar, a little extra lime juice, and ice. The optional addition is a shot of espresso (which I forewent, being without an espresso maker). It was a true afternoon pick-me-up, in a serving small enough so that I didn’t feel sick the rest of the day.

We’re off to another American city tomorrow: this time, Indianapolis. Not sure how much time we’ll have for adventure in restaurant-hopping, but we’ll try our darnedest, and have a full report next week.

It was as expected

The ski resort food, that is. Here is a brief synopsis of our food experiences, listed best to worst:

  1. Homemade granola
    This was the best thing we ate. It was an option on the a la carte menu at the “casual” resort restaurant, and surprisingly only cost us only $3.50 a bowl (that’s just a buck more than purchasing your very own tiny box of Kellogg’s cereal with milk). I tried it the first morning I was there, and couldn’t believe how good it was (especially considering the company it kept on the breakfast bar). I asked for the recipe, and the guy behind the counter seemed like he was willing to go find it for me, but then got distracted by a cute blonde snowboarder next in line, and alas, I come home recipe-less (imagine the recipes I could garner if I invested in a bottle of bleach, some “gear,” and maybe a botox treatment. Killer.).
  2. Sushi, at Takashi
    We had to get take-out, because the Wee One was on the fussy side (her tiny little body clock never really adjusted to Mountain time). Which is a shame, because the restaurant has a lovely atmosphere, in that uber-cool sushi-sort-of-way. The prices were decent (not the priciest, but not the cheapest sushi I’ve had), and we shared a bowl of well-prepared edamame and a bottle of plum-wine sake while we waited. It was inventive, without being over-the-top or showy-weird. It was fresh and as well-presented as it could be — even after a half-hour ride in a styrofoam to-go box, and even though we ate it from the box while sitting on the rug of the hotel common area with chopsticks, it still wowed us.
  3. Thai, from Chanon
    You might detect a theme here, but: we ate this, too, from a styrofoam to-go box, at the common room of another hotel. The only difference was that the food took a shorter ride: only 10 minutes or so. We did research before choosing our restaurants, and found a good list of local faves online at the SLC alternative paper: the City Weekly. This restaurant was touted as the locals’ favorite place for authentic Thai. The only criticism was that the food is spicy: meaning, if you ask for “mild” spice, you’ll end up with something akin to what’s “medium-hot” at other Thai restaurants. Tim and I are both pretty much spice pansies (it’s the blue eyes, I tell ya!), so we definitely requested mild dishes. We also struck up a conversation with a local who was leaving the restaurant, and she gave us her list of favorites. This was really good Thai. We have a tradition of ordering Tom Kha (coconut soup simmered with lime leaves — usually with chicken and mushrooms) at every new Thai restaurant we try — we view it as a measure, of sorts, as to how good the place is. Interestingly enough, the Tom Kha was our least favorite dish — it was a bit sweet for our taste. But our entrées were fantastic — and indeed, very spicy. We had a coconut red curry with tofu, peppers, green beans, and zucchini, and then a cashew stir fry with chicken, pineapple, zucchini, etc. The cashew chicken was the spiciest, and not even the sweet pineapples could balance the heat. But we ate as much as our bodies would consume — and still ended up with leftovers. If you head to Salt Lake, this is a deal: a ton of really good Thai food for not a ton of cash.
  4. Mexican, from The Red Iguana
    This is where everyone told Tim to go. So he went, and picked up (ahem) take-out, on his way to get me from the airport late Monday. And — to be fair — this meal suffered the most from its take-out status. I was arriving from an exhausting day (preparing for incoming in-laws, saying goodbye to children, driving myself and infant to Atlanta, weaving through throngs of people at overcrowded airport (with infant attached), waiting for a flight that was 1 1/2 hours delayed, four hour flight with an infant who DIDN’T SLEEP A WINK, eastern-to-mountain time change, etc.). So Tim picks me up, with food in-hand, and then I try to eat it from the box, in the backseat of a rental car, while trying to calm a screaming baby, as Tim ascends 5,000 or so feet up a curvy mountain road. Needless to say, the turkey molé and fish tacos didn’t stand a fighting chance. Which really is sad — because even through all of the madness, I knew it was good food. I just couldn’t really eat it. (The only item I would have challenged in eastern-time, normal-altitude, daylight hours was the side of sweet plantains, which they topped with whipped cream and a cherry. Look, I can support having a signature dish, but even though sweet plantains are, well, sweet, they don’t need to be treated like an ice cream sundae.)
  5. The Aerie
    Last, and definitely least. And of course, by far, the most expensive meal we ate. The Aerie was the “fancy restaurant” at the top of our resort. Stunning views, from the wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling windows. An eastern-inspired atmosphere. Suited, quiet-speaking servers. The only reason I’m writing about it is because it’s an opportunity for a soapbox moment.Why is it so easy to charge a fortune for bad food?We knew what we were going to get. But we hired a sitter for one night, and that meant just one night where we could eat in peace sitting at a table. Since there happened to be a winter storm hovering over our mountains for the whole visit, we didn’t want to risk going down into the city for a real restaurant when we were leaving Wee One with a stranger (yes, she was employed by the resort, and yes, she was a lovely person who did a wonderful job with our baby — but still. It would have been hard to go down that mountain.) And really — we were hopeful. That our prejudices would be challenged.

    But they weren’t. And it was still somehow disappointing (why am I disappointed even when not surprised?). I had “cream of asparagus soup” that lacked a certain requisite flavor… that being asparagus. For all I know, I ate a bowl of salted whipping cream with yellow food coloring. I didn’t even experience that certain dead-giveaway that would convince me that we actually ate asparagus. We were served a decent demi-loaf of bread with butter that tasted freezer-burned. And when I asked for a plate of olive oil to replace it, we were brought a jar of oil that tasted so strongly of citrus, it might as well have been called “orange-flavored olive oil.” We asked the server about the decidedly orang-ey notes of the oil, but she assured us that it was just plain olive oil. Which was fine — just odd. Our entrées were beef short ribs (the special) and grilled scallops. And they, too, were fine. But so one-dimensional and overly-rich — just strikingly not worth what we paid for it. After inquiring and being told that there was a pastry chef on staff who created all the desserts, we decided to try the créme brulée. It was served in a widely-circumferenced, shallow dish. And was overly decorated with under-ripe berries and a strange cookie sculpture. It was like a clown, sitting there on the dish.

    And really, the dinner is worth not another word.

    But this is a soapbox, right?:

    It was like Disney food. Too big, too rich, too shallow, too much. For more money than one couple should spend on an average dinner. They have you trapped up there, on that snowy mountain. And if you’re hungry, you’re gonna have to pay.

    That’s really it. I mean it. Not. Another. Thought.

It’s good to be home. I just drank a Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron, to celebrate (and bring on the sleep that might be slow-coming tonight… I was getting used to Mountain time, after all).

If you live in Athens

Pick up the phone, and make a reservation at The National.

No, wait. Call first, and see if they will have pork shoulder on the menu for the night you can go.

Get a sitter, if need be.

And GO. Go ye, and eat ye the shoulder of pork. And shout to the world how you love to be alive.

Our friend Greg was in town this weekend, and generously offered to take us to dinner. We picked The National, since Greg moved away from Athens before he had a chance to eat there. Since the last time Tim and I ate there we were wowed by our appetizers but a bit disappointed with our entrées, we opted to get four items from the starter menu, and one entrée. They had a pork shoulder listed on the seconds menu — and while it seemed a little different from the pork shoulder we had a few months ago, it still had the word “crispy” in the description, and that word paired with the word “pork” is hard for me to resist.

So, get the pork. And when you’re done, get the chocolate tart sprinkled with sea salt and drizzled with olive oil. What you do after this makes no difference, because it won’t compare to your dinner.

Parting words, those are. I’m going to Utah tomorrow, to join Tim at a conference which happens to be at a ski resort. From what we’ve read online, the food at this particular ski resort is particularly bad. Not sure why — maybe ski food is much the same as beach food? Anyway — I doubt I’ll update you on all the bad food we might eat, so it could be a few days before I post. We’re supposed to hit a recommended sushi place in Salt Lake before we head home, and I’ve not pondered sushi in this forum before, so here’s hoping it’s worth a post.

Mayonnaise made with a whisk, a.k.a. sauce aux carpal tunnel


I opened up Mastering the Art of French Cooking, to read about mayonnaise. And — to my surprise — Julia does actually give directions for using a food processor to make easier work of homemade mayonnaise. And I was sorely tempted, to skip the whisk. But then I read:

Mayonnaise done by hand or with an electric beater requires familiarity with egg yolks. And again, as with hollandaise, you should be able to make it by hand as part of your general mastery of the egg yolk.

I didn’t realize the egg yolk was something that needed to be mastered, but if so, then after reading that sentence, I was thereby bound to force the yolk to submit. Because I have a hard time refusing a food-related challenge.

Julia also gives a nice solution to the 3-arm question (one needed to hold the whisk, one to drizzle the oil drop by minuscule drop, and one to hold the bowl): set your bowl in a towel-lined pan to keep it steady. So I pre-measured everything, separated my eggs, warmed the yolks and the bowl over some boiling water (I was cooking asparagus), and got ready to commence with the whisking.

I never really know when Tim will return from a day’s work (within a half-hour or so window). But I couldn’t have timed my mayonnaise-making adventure in a more perfect way. For, just as my right (whisking) arm was very near the point of seizing into one twisted mass of spasm-ing muscles, my knight in shining armor walked through the door.

“What’cha doin’ there?”

(No response. I’m whisking, hoping that beads of sweat don’t start dropping with the oil into the emulsifying yolks.)

“You, uh, need help there?”

“Can’t. Stop. How to whisk you? Wait! Just one. More. Drop by drop. Two second. Whisk!”

“Yeah, you’re looking like you could use a break. Here…”

And he magically takes the whisk, without missing a literal beat. And then all I had to do was pour the oil. Drop by drop. And finally — it was such a beautiful thing: the egg yolks submitted to our torture, received the oil being given, and made an emulsion. After 1/2 cup of oil had been added, we were safely in the land of creaminess, and the whisking could pause, then resume after adding the rest of the oil in 2-Tbsp dollops.

Homemade mayonnaise is lovely. It’s yellower than storebought (that probably has something to do with the 1/2 portion of olive oil that I used — which I wouldn’t do again, since the olive oil is too strongly flavored), and not as gelatinous. It doesn’t last forever though (what thing of good quality, when exposed to oxygen, actually does?) — so we have a 1/2 cup or so left to get through within the next few days. That’s gonna be a tough one. Maybe chicken or tuna salad is in our weekend plan.

Oh, the purpose of the mayonnaise. It was for the salade a la d’argenson (potato and beet salad). And it was delicious. I added toasted walnuts, asparagus, and the mayonnaise to the marinated beets and potatoes I’d started the day before. And Tim really liked it (although he ate too much, which might have ruined the dish for him). But he assured me that this does not mean he likes beets. Which gets me off the hook for those 522 remaining recipes.

Piddling Around with The Art of French Cooking

About a year ago, for a birthday gift, Tim bought me a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child. I had come to think of it as a classic tome of cookery, one that no serious kitchen should be without. When I got the book, I flipped through it for the very first time. I read the Introduction to the 40th Anniversary Edition, which gave a nice synopsis of the book and authors’ histories. But then it went on the shelf. Not that I intended for it to be mere decoration in my “serious” kitchen, but the past year hasn’t felt like the time in my life when I should whole-heartedly pursue French cooking. I’ve used the book for a few preparations, including a nice way to boil asparagus, and some vinaigrettes. But that’s been about the extent of my relationship with the volume.

This month, my book club has made a successful leap from March’s Russian philosophical to April’s witty foodie: Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously. I had never heard of this book, much less the blog that started the whole thing back in 2002. The short of it is: a 29-year old woman attacks an early midlife crisis by deciding to cook every one of the 524 recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year. At first, giving oneself a year to get through a cookbook sounds easy. But then, you figure the math: that’s just shy of one and a half recipes a day. No days off, no weekends, no holidays. And not only that — but this is what I didn’t know about this cookbook, because I hadn’t yet taken the time to actually read it — French cooking is a b*tch.

Really, it just goes to show how little I know about food. But — to help me sleep at night — I remind myself that I’ve not known anyone, outside of Julie Powell in above-said book, who has cooked from Julia’s masterpiece. Well, I haven’t known anyone who’s told me about it. Maybe throngs of my friends are secretly slaving away at aspics for dinner each night, and just not inviting me over for a taste. After reading Powell’s account of her year, I now know that there are things in MtAoFC (as the author likes to acronym) that I will never attempt: meat-eater though I am, and even one willing to brashly display a cowhide rug from a Swedish Megastore in her living room, I will never cook brains (I know: never say never — but I really don’t think I will do it). And the whole aspic thing freaks me out a little, too, though I could see myself attempting one someday.

But Powell’s harrowing (at times) account is inspiring, and while her cooking usually seems a bit frantic and naive (welcome to the club), she exhibits an innate understanding of the wonders of Julia Child. When you cook from that book, you can’t help but learn something — many things, even — about food (French or not). It’s true that the cookbook dates itself simply by the list of ingredients required: I have no idea where I’d go in this town to procure beef kidneys or marrow bones; and even though butter is making a comeback in our culinary age, most people aren’t used to cooking with the relatively vast quantities Julia shamelessly utilizes. Not to mention the homemade mayonnaise — it’s used in so many of these dishes, but who makes their own mayonnaise with a whisk? (I’m biting the bullet and trying it myself tomorrow.)

The day after I flipped the last page of Julie & Julia, still thinking about and wondering over her year, I re-opened a book I bought a while back but never really started: In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan. You’ve heard me drone on and on (either here or awkwardly at a social gathering) about his earlier book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. The book I’m reading now is described as an “eater’s manifesto,” and he will attempt to strip away the past 50 years of what “nutritionism” and industrial food have done to our fat, unhealthy American selves (who are, ironically, obsessed with eating healthy). Eat food sounds like an easy command — but we no longer understand it. We don’t even know what food is anymore.

When I read Pollan, after reading about Julia Child, and then flip through the pages of a 40-plus-year old cookbook from a nation of people with whom we are fascinated because they can eat like that and look so good, it seems quite clear that, like Julie Powell picks up on in her novel, eating should be simplicity itself. That doesn’t mean that cooking is always easy — but if we break down the desired end result (i.e., a wonderful meal) into the simplest parts (i.e., what we have been given on this earth, as it is), it really is all that. And understanding our meal could very well inform our freedom to enjoy it as much as the flavors our senses mysteriously receive. It really is such a privilege, to be able to choose our food. Why do we ruin it?

Who knows — maybe, once I get into it, French cooking won’t be so bad after all. Maybe it’ll be like learning a dialect, where words will have new meaning, and I will learn to further question the reasons I do what I habitually do in my kitchen. Maybe it’ll get me one step closer to “nose-to-tail” cooking. I don’t really have a goal in mind, taking this cookbook of the shelf. Except further enjoyment of food and all that eating entails.

So with this in mind I’m going to periodically attack a recipe from MtAoFC. Starting last night: I boiled beets and potatoes, diced them, and tossed them with some shallots and a homemade vinaigrette. They will marinate until tomorrow morning, when I will attempt for the first time to make mayonnaise with a whisk, and stir that in along with some other fresh vegetables I have on hand. I plan to serve my salade a la d’argenson for supper alongside some sliced roasted chicken, and will watch to see if this is finally the meal that will win my husband over to the pleasure of beets (I am a realist, and don’t hold out much hope on this one — but it’s a pretty nice thing to at least be confident that he will always try).

Come to think of it: if Julia Child can make my husband like beets, maybe I will cook all 524 recipes.

Recession chocolate

Does anyone else get a mental visual of Robin Williams dressed in red polyester when viewing this empty wrapper? If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: those crazy Swedes, with their umlaut-ed vowels.

So I was back at Ikea this week. And while I didn’t get a chance to down a dozen meatballs, I did stop for a bottle of water at the cafeteria and was met with a display full of chocolate bars. Some milk, some dark. Being the person that I am, surprise, surprise: I picked up the dark (it was the perfect thing to pair with my water, and nourish me for the attack of a shopping list replete with lightbulbs, rug underlays, and kid-art frames).

And it was good. Especially considering the fact that it cost me one dollar. That’s twice as much as the hotdog that I ate a few hours later, on my way out of the Euro-Wonderland, but a third of the cost of most dark chocolate bars I purchase.

Several years ago, when my husband started his PhD, and we were “poor graduate students,” (even though I was finished with my studies and, in fact, somewhat gainfully employed), we used to buy a five-dollar double-bottle of wine from a warehouse club. And we thought, you know, this is pretty good. And so that’s the wine we drank, for almost a year. And then one day we happened to drink some decent wine — and realized almost instantly that what we had been drinking for a year was closer in relation to a beverage that came in a large box with a pour spout. Therefore, I’m the first to admit that, in times of economic desperation (or just pressure), I can put on my own pair of culinary rose-colored glasses. So, this chocolate. This bar of one-dollar dark chocolate. Maybe, somewhere down the line, after eating through a case of them (bearing in mind that I didn’t even buy a single extra bar to bring home with me), and then splurging on some organic, fair-trade, 70% dark something-or-other, I’ll realize how I’ve been fooled.

But, until then.

Anyone going to Ikea?