Musing on food and cooking ...

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Weird Foods of Wisconsin Christmas

Sorry all for not posting for a while, but I have been terribly sick - fever, cough, head filled with cement. In fact, I have been sleeping until at least 10 every day for almost a week, which all of you know is unheard of. So, yup I am sick!

Well, I am feeling a little better today so I thought I would talk about the weird foods one finds at Christmas gatherings in many parts of Wisconsin... some of which are tasty and others which should be banished from the face of the earth.

Wolf Bait - this one is actually not bad even with the strange name. It is basically cream cheese, chopped up onion, and chopped up dried chipped beef or ham. Mix it all together and serve with buttery crackers. Yum yum! But it will make you need some mouthwash.

Cannibal Sandwiches - Good ground beef, chopped green peppers, chopped onions - mixed together with salt and pepper. Serve raw with rye bread. Yup, no cooking. I don't see this as often now as there have been so many e coli scares, but it used to be quite common. I always found it hilarious, considering how many cannibal grave robbing serial killers Wisconsin has produced over the years.

Lutefisk - This is a Scandihoovian tradition. It is basically cod fish that has been preserved in lye. Yes, lye. The same stuff mobsters use to dissolve bodies in remote burial sites. Basically, the pye-preserved cod gets rinsed and rinsed and rinsed again. Then it is boiled until it looks like a giant glob of snot. It is served with lefse (potato flatbread) and butter and sometimes sliced onion. Gack.

All in all, Christmas was ok. Visiting the stepfather's family was a bit like being in a casino - so many lights and noise and yelling and smoking. No jackpots though! And a definite lack of vegetables. I am not used to living n a situation where the meat is central and the veggie is the condiment. It is good to be home...

Monday, December 18, 2006

You Win Some, You Lose Some

So, I have been doing a bit more cooking lately. Likely because it is winter, and I get the urge to cook (and eat!) more during winter. Sadly, most of my recipes have been meat or seafood-based, just because the veggies are not as nice in the winter herein the Great White North.

Here is a round-up of recent winners!

Tex-Mex Shrimp Saute

8 oz shrimp
3 medium, ripe tomatoes
1 medium onion
1 cup corn (I prefer Trader Joe's Fire-Roasted Corn)
1 T cumin
2 t Southwest Seasoning (Penzey's)

Chop the tomatoes (keep the seeds and skin based on your taste and patience level) and onion. Saute onion in some garlic olive oil. Throw in cumin and Southwest Seasoning (use chilli powder if you don't have the Southwest Seasoning and then go and get some, because it rocks the house). Throw in shrimp and corn. Just before the shrimp get all pink frmo their internal thermometers, throw in the tomatoes. Cook until heated throw and full of bubbly goodness. Serve over pasta or rice.

Fig-Stuffed Chicken Breasts

1 breast per person (make sure they are the plump and meaty breasts, not the skinny individually packed frozen breasts)
Your favorite stuffing mix
1 medium red onion
5 dried figs per person
.25 cup of pecans

Mix up the stuffing according to the directions on the package. Chop the figs and the onion and throw them into the stuffing (add less onion if you only have a couple of people eating). Mix in the pecans. Then, butterfly each breast and stuff with the stuffing mixture. Put into a high-sided baking pan and put in the oven at 350 for about 45 minutes. Towards the end of cooking, slice some Fontina cheese and put on top. If you can melt the Fontina under the broiler so it gets a pretty brown crust. Just be careful not to burn the cheese under the broiler, which is easy to do.

Crock-Pot Venison for a Party Crowd

1.5 pounds of venison stew meat
1 handful of dried mushrooms (I use wild ones handpicked by mia madre but feel free to use whatever ones strike your fancy at the store - even try some morels! Yum!)
2 T dried toasted onion flakes
2 T garlic powder
1 T powdered ancho chillis (or chilli powder)
salt and pepper
even broth to cover the venison.

Throw everything in the Crock-Pot by 7:30 am. Turn on high. Come back at 4:45 pm. Turn off Crock-Pot. Using potholders, transport to car. Go to Party. Serve at holiday buffet. Take home an empty Crock-Pot.

And one loser -

Shrimp and Mushrooms in Chilli Garlic Sauce

Theoretically, this should have been yummy. I just used shrimp and mushrooms and a Cook-Do sauce. I love Cook-Do. For someone looking to have a lazy Asian supper, Cook-Do is the way to go. And I normally love the Chilli Garlic Cook-Do sauce. I don't know if the mushrooms were sliced to thinly or what the deal was, but this dish just did not speak to me. Actually, the only part I liked was the sauce, which I spooned over brown rice. The rest of it I chucked.

Which you should never be afraid to do. Ever. Just chuck it!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

I had to be discounted

Well, the auction is over. And when it came time to put the money on the bidding sheet, my pre-auction interestees were not interested in paying for my cooking adventures. In fact, my starting bid was discounted by 50% just to get people interested. The romantic dinner for two and the vegeterian family style meal each went for $10 and the garden party - valued at $200 - went for $20.

The winners are cool folks with whom I will enjoy cooking! I will let you know what we end up making...

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

I am going to be the hit of the auction!

So, this week is the week of getting nothing done, of basically going from party to party and pressing the flesh. Which is really hard for me because I am a bit shy at parties and really only go to see if someone will drink too much and dance on a table, especially someone who is terribly shy and awkward in real life.

It could happen.

Nevertheless, I have - at all the staff and faculty parties I have been going to - been talking up my donations to the upcoming silent auction. And really, I think these certificates are going to bring in some cashola. There was a minor almost-loud-voice shoving match between two people last night who each want a particular certificate, and one person has already asked if he can get lessons without having to bid on an adventure.

There is something here. This could really end up being a new career path if I decide to make a radical change. Maybe I should start writing a business plan.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Totally off topic political post

I know. I know. This blog is supposed to be about food and cooking and the occassional insanity of my cats. But really, we all know blogs are about whatever happens to spew out of your brain at any given moment. Most of mine just happen to be about food, cooking, grocery shopping, or something related to eating. However, even my brain thinks about other things once in a while.

And I gotta say. I am actually feeling a bit sorry for Bush I. Yes, the father of Dubya and Jeb. Apparently, he was giving some sort of speech somewhere and was talking about when Jeb was defeated in his bid to be Gov'nah of Florida in 1994. And he kinda broke down. Started crying at the part where he was talking about Jeb being gracious in defeat.

You have to wonder if he was really crying about Jeb at that point.

It has to be hard to be the father of Dubya. I imagine that it must be kind of like being the parent of a mass murderer. As a parent, you want to be proud of your children and support them no matter what. As a human being, you must be horrified that one of your own could do such awful things.

Now, Bush I wasn't a bad president. He wasn't a particularly good president, either. But right now, I wish he would be a good parent and send little Georgie to the corner for a time out.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Silent Auction

Well, I finally decided what to donate for the silent auction at my College's staff holiday party - three gifts certificates for Gourmet Goddess Adventures! I even made up little certificates and everything. They are totally cute and professional.

The first is helping to plan, shop for, and prepare a romantic dinner for two. The second is helping to plan, shop for, and prepare a family style vegetarian meal. The third is helping to plan, shop for, and prepare a summer garden party. I hope the three will bring in at least $200!

The auction is the middle of December. I will report back with results!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Day of Turkey Destruction

Thanksgiving is a great day but really only because it is all about food. At least for me. And even when I am by myself, I go all out and make a whole turkey.

This year, I actually had two Thanksgivings. I went to the early seating at the school's catered Thanksgiving for everyone stuck on campus. It was bad, but it was mostly cafeteria food. The stuffing was ok, the green beans were in a really soupy casserole sauce, and everything with yams and 'taters and squash was just too damn sweet for me. But they had fabulous whipped cream for the pumpking pie and a great food salad.

Luckily, I can really only eat a little bit at a time and so I went home and I made a second Turkey Day dinner to eat after 6 pm. I made a broth with giblets, onions, and celery and then made stuffing (the old family favorite - with a can of mushroom soup added as well as giblets from the broth). Then I stuffed that in my turkey and shoved it in an oven bag and roasted for about 3 hours. For the last 30 mins, I opened up the bag so the turkey could get golden. I also made homemade gravy and cranberry sauce and a salad, and really that's all I need.

For the turkey though I do try to get a small one, which casues the meat department guy a lot of amusement. There's me, half in the freezer with my legs flapping in the breeze. It worked, though. I managed to find a 9 pounder.

And don't tell me to just get a breast. yuckola... I am a wing and thigh woman all the way.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Happy Travels!

The article excerpt below remainds of the many times I have travelled by plane with food items in my carry-on. I have not generally had too many problems, although I have gotten weird looks about bags of bloody looking, obviously home-packaged, meat. I had one problem right after 9-11 when they thought my granola bar might be an explosive and another problem bringing some soup bones back from my mom's house, as the screeners thought they might be human leg bones. They weren't but he was right to be suspicious. I am from Wisconsin, land of Ed Gein and various other serial killers and corpse mutilators, after all.

Excerpt from Patrick Smith's Ask the Pilot column. Read the whole thing at

New carry-on rules mean those security lines are going to be abominable this week, perhaps making for juicier than normal footage. I'll be watching from a safe distance, snickering at the television: "Really, how can a nation that doesn't allow cranberry sauce on a plane not be the safest nation on earth?"

There's a certain weirdness to the idea of food being a potential terrorist weapon, but since the TSA has insisted on bringing this absurdity to bear, here's a brainteaser: mashed potatoes. A few years ago we learned that holiday fruitcakes are prone to set off airport explosives detectors, but in light of the new liquids and gels prohibitions, what about mashed potatoes? Mashed potatoes are a hybrid threat: not quite solid, not quite liquid, and only semi-gel-like (unless they're overcooked). Am I allowed to bring a Tupperware container full of mashed onto my flight?

You think this is silly, and it is, but a week ago my mother caused a small commotion at a checkpoint at Boston-Logan after screeners discovered a large container of homemade tomato sauce in her bag. What with the preponderance of spaghetti grenades and lasagna bombs, we can all be proud of their vigilance. And, as a liquid, tomato sauce is in clear violation of the Transportation Security Administration's carry-on statutes. But this time, there was a wrinkle:

The sauce was frozen.

No longer in its liquid state, the sauce had the guards in a scramble. According to my mother's account, a supervisor was called over to help assess the situation. He spent several moments stroking his chin. "He struck me as the type of person who spent most of his life traveling with the circus," says Mom, who never pulls a punch, "and was only vaguely familiar with the concept of refrigeration." Nonetheless, drawing from his experiences in grade-school chemistry and at the TSA academy, he sized things up. "It's not a liquid right now," he observantly noted. "But it will be soon."

"I wonder if this isn't a test," murmured another guard. The dreaded, mind-bending, what-if-it's-frozen test.

"Please," urged my mother. "Please don't take away my dinner."

Lo and behold, they did not. Whether out of confusion, sympathy or embarrassment, she was allowed to pass with her murderous marinara.
Kim Chee

I went to a Korean grocery market recommended by my A Cook's Guide to Chicago the other day. This market - Chicago Food Corp - is easy to drive to but parking is almost impossible. I spent close to 30 minutes waiting to get in the parking lot and it took another 10-15 to wend my way into a spot. For as popular as this place is, they really need a lot as big as WalMart's but instead have one the size of a Hummer.

Chicago Food Corp is actually a combo lunch counter, supermarket with a killer fish and meat section, drugstore, and Ace Hardware. From what I could smell, the lunch counter must be fabulous, but I had no time for a snack as I was shopping for Kim Chee.

Most Westerners describe kim chee as a spicy Korean sauerkraut, and there is some truth to that. it is fermented and made out of a type of cabbage and it is spicy, but that is just the basic kim chee. You can have all sorts of greens kim cheed. One of the spiciest is green garlic stem, which I find to be so hot it blisters my tongue. I have also had a sweet dried squid kim chee and white kim chee, which is just fermented nappa, carrots, and other veggies but without any red pepper.

At Chicago Food Corp, the hav a kim chee bar where you can pick up small dishes of a wide variety of kim chee and pickles as well as a kim chee refrigerator, which has its own staff person. I went over there to pick up a large bottle of white kim chee and a large bottle of medium spicy kim chee. The poor staff woman was a bit flumoxed. Maybe white people in Chicago don't like kim chee. Or maybe she was just so excited that I wanted multiple types of kim chee, I don't know. But she was so excited that I was there, we ended up having a 15 minute discussion on the types of kim chee in the frig and she helped me avoid the ones that I would find too spicy.

Sadly, I don't like the medium spiced kim chee I got here as well as the stuff I got at the Japanese supermarket in Arlington Heights. I tend to like my kim chee medium spicy and very pickled, while this stuff was more spicy and less pickled. It is not bad by any means. It is just not my favorite. I won't tend to eat it for breakfast with my brown rice, which is something I actually like doing.

Still it makes an excellent kim chee tofu stew.

Take 8 oz of tofu and cut into cubes. Throw is in a non-oxidizing pan (not cast iron here - enamel or clay works best). Add in about a cup of spicy kim chee and juice (you might have to cut it up if it comes in huge chunks rather than bite-size pieces). Cook until hot. This makes 1-2 servings, depending on how hungry you are. Serve with plenty of brown rice. it's even better the second day.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Silent Auction

So, I didn't get as many suggestions for cooking lessons I could donate to the silent auction as I had hoped, but here they are:

From Donna - I like them both – and since you do so well with seafood, how about something along those lines? Seafood is tricky to cook – who couldn’t use some tips? That rabbit dish you made was soooooooo good. Do you have to buy the food? What about some of the great stuff you made for Thanksgiving? Not everyone wants to eat a big greasy thanksgiving or Christmas meal, and you have some really yummy healthy dishes. Do a special healthy Christmas dinner for 2 maybe? I want to win that.

Yeah, the three other friends who replied liked the original suggestions, except that everyone did suggest offering lessons on healthy cooking. I wonder if this is a major need and a trend I will see more often. A coworker and her husband with whom I shared my pumpkin curry has suggested that if I decide I want to make a major career shift and become a personal chef for time-starved Lake Forest families, I could probably make a killing. Thinking about going for that degree in holistic nutrition is looking more and more viable.

Monday, November 13, 2006


My workplace is having a silent auction as part of its faculty-staff holiday lunch. All the money raised through the auction goes to the Northern Illinois Food Bank (way cool!). Employees can donate items and services, and several of my coworkers are suggesting that I donate either cooking or cooking lessons. If you have any suggestions on theme cooking lessons I could offer, let me know asap!

I am thinking of donating lessons along the line of "Romantic Vegetarian Dinner" or "Having your cake and eating it too." Send suggestions my way!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Offal Cooking

My friend Jenn is going to hate this post, but it is my homage to thriftiness.

See, I am a big fan of most forms of offal.... gizzards, liver, heart, tails... all those parts that no one except the very poor used to use. I love them because they are a challenge. They are hard to cook and make them tender and tasty. I am particularly fond of ox tails, which are actually quite hard to find nowadays and, even at the ethnic market, are often more than $3 a pound. But, if you work with them right, they are incredible!

This is what I do:

Get about 1.5 pounds of ox tails. If you can, get the ones that are larger. They get more tender and have more meat and less bone. Sprinkle about 1 Tablespoon of shallot salt (go Penzeys!) over the tails and then brown in a Dutch oven. Add in 2 teaspoons dried Rosemary, 1 Tablespoon of fresh thyme, pepper, and 2 Bay leaves. Stir. Then add 2 cups of crushed tomatoes, 1/2 cup dried chopped leeks, and 1 quart of beef stock. Put in a 325 degree oven and cook until the meat is soft and tender (braising!). I find that 3 hours is usually just fine. I serve my ox tails with baked potatoes and green beans. They are messy to eat, but yummy!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Big Shit Pie, aka Election Day

So Election Day is here again. And I cannot tell you how glad I am that it is almost over. The ads this year have been particularly bad - on both sides. And, frankly, most of the ads are full of shit, which means the only food related item I can do today is a Big Shit Pie. Which I won't do, because it is nasty.

The only good thing about is that shit makes things grow, so if we all vote and vote intelligently, we can help our country grow for the better.

One thing I am concerned about - in addition to all the voting machine issues - is that polling places tend to be in churches now. Whatever happened to the separation of church and state? Someone said they have polling there because they have big meeting spaces. Um, isn't that why we have town halls? And senior centers and whatnot? I don't know....

Anyway, it is almost over... thank goodness. Only two more years until Bush is dethroned, providing he doesn't pull a Hitler on us, declare a state or martial law, and really enthrone himself as dictator for life.....

Monday, November 06, 2006

Thai Me Down!

Thanks to a date, I have found an excellent Thai restaurant.

Finding good ethnic restaurants in the 'burbs has been difficult. I have found decent Indian food and excellent sushi but nothing else. The Thai I have tried has not been actually Thai. The one Thai place that had decent food was not all that Thai either and the service was awful.

I knew I would have to go into the city to get good ethnic food, and I was right.

So Sunday I had a date, and after a truffle tasting at a fancy chocolatier, we went to a Thai restaurant called P.S. Bangkok. I had the Rama Chicken curry, which is chicken and spinach in a peanut and tamarind sauce. My date had the mussle pancake. Both were delicious. I wish I could have brought the remains of my dish home, but we were going to a small theater afterward, and the smell of curry would have been rude.

My date says that the Nigerian restaurant across the street is also good. I've never had Nigerian, but the man seems to know food, so maybe I will give it a shot!

Now, for poor Jenn trapped in China, a sandwich recipe -

Take a nice piece of crusty baguette, slice, spread with a thin layer of mayonaisse. Add some slices of red ripe tomato, a bit of crisp butter lettuce, and a thin layer of your favorite deli meat (I like ham) and a slice of muenster cheese. Squish it all together and enjoy!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


So I haven't posted in a while, but that's because I have been food busy!

First off, I found yogurt! It's this little store brand. I have to drive to Wilmette (about 20 minutes awawy) to get it, but it only has 15 grams of sugar per container so that is do-able. Plain yogurt has about 10 grams. So far, it has been pretty tasty. The blueberry is my favorite.

Then, I put to good use this book I just got. It's called A Cook's Guide to Chicago. I will have tons of little places to go to all over Chicago that sell everything from imported cheese to pierogies to ethnic foods of all types. My big trip was to Mitsuwa Marketplace. It's a mostly Japanese and a few other Asian ingredient supermarket and food court locted in Arlington Heights, which is southwest of Lake Forest. It's definitely a field trip but I was able to purchase pickled daikon, kim chee, Pocky, Japanese produce, and a bunch of other stuff, including a huge bag of brown sticky rice for $13. I was also able to have a nice lunch and I took home some dim sum for breakfast the next day, including a decent if not spectacular sticky rice in lotus leaf.

Over the weekend, I also went to the Mars Cheese Castle in Kenosha, WI, and got some string cheese and some cheddar with blueberry and some landjagger smoked sausage. Yum yum!

After the cheese castle, I hooked up with my aunt and uncle in Brookfield and we went to Penzey's Spice (Go everyone, or order from them online!) and afterwards, we went to the Olive Garden, where I tried the new Chicken Roma, which had good flavor but was a little heavy with the oil on the noodles.

I haven't been cooking much, however, because I made a huge soup pot of Heather's Magic Chicken Noodle Soup of Get Wellness. Here's how to make it:

Take one whole chicken and make sure it is clean. Put it in a large stock pack; I use a 7 quart one. Cover chicken with water. Throw in one bay leaf and about 2 tablespoons of coarse salt. Chop up two large onions, two carrots, and two stalks of celery and chuck it in the pot. Turn on the stove and boil it. Once it really gets going, throw on the lid and turn it down to a roiling simmer. Cook until the chicken is falling off the bones and the broth is tasty tasty. Put the whole pot in the frig over night. The next day, take out the pot and skim off most of the fat. Then take the meat off the bones. Discard bones and throw what meat you want in the soup back in the pot (freeze the rest of the met for some other use in the future). Turn the stove on and heat it until it is boiling. Throw in 3/4 of a package of country blend frozen veggies (mix of carrots, green beans, and corn) and about 8 oz of egg noodles (use more or less depending on how noodle you like it). Cook until noodles are done and then enjoy! It's good for what ails you!

I ate this soup for about a week, until I was tired of looking at it and my sniffles went away. I stuck about two large bowls worth in the freezer for future sniffle countering.

The next big cooking project (and this week's vegeterian recipe) is pumpkin curry. Take 5 small onions and slice so the onion slices look like little half moons. Saute in some oil in a large pot and then throw in 1 tablespoon ground cumin, 1 tablespoon ground coriander, 1 tablespoon garam masala, and 2 tablespoon of a sweet but not spicy curry (I like Penzey's Maharajah Curry. Can you tell I love me some Penzey's?). Cook until the spices are fragrant. Then throw in three cans of pure pumpkin (don't get the pie mix, that's just nasty!). Start cooking. If it looks like it is thicky and pasty, add in some broth to thin it out. This makes a hearty stew that I throw over brown rice. To add protein if I am being entirely vegeterian, I might throw in some seitan into the stew.

Also, remember, feel free to adjust the spices to your desired level. I like a little heat, so sometimes I throw in some red pepper. It's all about what makes you happiest!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Back to the Pot Roast

I was talking with mia madre the other day, trying to convince her to come and see my new digs without all the packed boxes. And she says to me, "About that pot roast..."

Yes, mia madre reads the blog! And she, being a northern Wisconsin native, is a mistress of meat and potatoes. She could make the perfect pot roast in her sleep.

After we had talked through what I had done with the pot roast, she concluded that I had probably had the heat too high, especially with using my cast iron dutch oven (or my oven heats higher than the knob says, which is entirely possible). here is her method for cooking the perfect pot roast.

Start by browing the pot roast in the dutch oven on top of the stove. Once it is carmelized, add about .5 cup water and cover. Then stick it in the oven at a very low heat. This is the key. A very low heat - like 275. Add water as needed but cook low and slow until it it is juicy and moist and falling apart.

Which is braising really. Which I had forgotten about because I was sad.

Her other option? Dump the dutch oven all together and use the crock pot. She's right there. The crock pot is a gift from the goddess.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Pea Pod Delight!

Today, I am posting about a little snack I hope to steal and make my own.

Each month, on a Wednesday, there is a meeting at the College of the professional staff (I am part of the professional staff - isn't that frightening?). It's really a little snack fest, but usually someone comes and gives a little speech and everyone drinks and noshes. The nosh is quite excellent.

My personal favorite are these little pea pod delights. I could eat the whole tray. Screw the bruschetta and the little chicken roll-ups. The pea pod is da bomb.

They are so simple. Basically, you take cream cheese, add some onions, add some herbs, mix, and pipe inside of a snow pea pod. It is creamy and crispy and oh so wonderful.

Now, I want to take this basic recipe and run with it. How about pea pod wonton style with crab? Or pea pod with curry cream cheese? Hopefully, I will be able to find some fresh pea pods around so I can give it a try!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Back in the Mood

Well, I have started cooking again. Not every day. For example, tonight was a popcorn night again. But after my recent post about how I am a meat idiot, I remembered something.

It's called braising.

Getting towards the end of my sad, dry, greasy roast, I decided I had to use it up somehow. So I chunked it up and then threw in some prik king sauce, which is a spicy Thai condiment. I use the version that comes in the bag of prik king green beans (frozen food aisle at Trader Joe's). I let the meat and the sauce simmer together - which is braising - the meat cooks slowly in a sauce that allows it to become tender and the flavor of the sauce to penetrate. I then threw in the green beans, and served the whole mess over brown rice.

My god, it was delicious. The meat tasted good and was moist and tender.

I can't believe I forgot about braising. I must be a bit down. I mean, duh, it is a bassic of poor person's cooking. You get the cheapest cut of meat you can find and you work with it until it is not only edible but delicious.

Anyway, the braising got my juices going again and since then I have been cooking up a storm. I currently have a whole chicken in a pot with celery, onion, carrot, salt and a bay leaf (Greek, from Greece, sent to the state by my friend Ruth's mom who is very cool and I want to go visit her. In Greece) making a rich stock that I will use tomorrow to make Heather's extra magical chicken noodle soup of get wellness (I have the sniffles. I keep saying it is allergies but a soup remedy is never a bad thing).

A couple of days ago, I made the following recipe, which I have been eating for a couple of days - spinach in tomato sauce with mozarella.

Take a 1 pound bag of frozen spinach. Throw it in a sauce pan with about .25 cup of water and start cooking. Then throw in about .5 cup of green onions and 2 cups of tomato sauce. Cook until bubbly delicious. Then turn off the heat and throw in about .5 cup of mozarella cheese. I had some mozarella pearls, but if you just have a block, go ahead and chop it into pieces about the size of the tip of your pinkie. Serve with a nice crusty whole wheat bread to soak up the juice.

Anyway, a side note. Some folks, noting that only one of the original seven wonders of the world still exist, have decided to have a contest to pick a new seven wonders of the world. Sadly, all of the candiates are human-made, but still if you get a chance to go to the website and vote, please do. Here is the website and the list of candidates. it is going to be hard for me to choose. I personally think it would be cool if they would include natural wonders and then we could pick one from each continent. My current choices? Angkor Wat temple, Easter Island statues, the Great Wall, Petra, the Great Pyramids, Stonehenge, and one that isn't listed Serpent Mound in Ohio.

Votes can be made online, at

The 21 finalists for the New Seven Wonders of the World, alphabetically:
1 Acropolis, Athens, Greece
2 Alhambra, Granada, Spain
3 Angkor Wat temple, Cambodia
4 Chichen Itza Aztec site, Yucatan, Mexico
5 Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
6 Colosseum, Rome
7 Easter Island Statues, Chile
8 Eiffel Tower, Paris
9 Great Wall, China
10 Hagia Sophia church, Istanbul, Turkey
11 Kyomizu Temple, Kyoto, Japan
12 Kremlin/St.Basil's, Moscow
13 Machu Picchu, Peru
14 Neuschwanstein Castle, Fussen, Germany
15 Petra ancient city, Jordan
16 Pyramids of Giza, Egypt
17 Statue of Liberty, New York
18 Stonehenge, Amesbury, United Kingdom
19 Sydney Opera House, Australia
20 Taj Mahal, Agra, India
21 Timbuktu city, Mali

Monday, October 16, 2006

Moving Frustration

As my many dear readers (all two of you) know, I recently moved from Foxboro, MA, to Lake Forest, IL. This has involved oh so many changes and adjustments - including getting used to living in upperclass-obtuse-topia, getting rid of a lover (be nice), selling the rollerskate, and other very stressful things. But of all the things I knew I would have to get used to, all of the changes, I never expected that I would have so much difficulty with grocery shopping.

Grocery shopping here is excruciating and involves multiple trips to supermarkets that are very far away. Yes, I know that there is a Jewel Supermarket and Don's Finest Foods (little boutique market) here in Lake Forest, but neither can really met any of my food needs. I am fussy about my produce and neither local option is acceptable to me (yes, I am a fruit snob). So, I end up heading south to Sunset Foods, which is ok, but fairly limited, west to Dominick's which is cheaper but the fruit and produce doesn't last very long, or even further west to Cub Foods, which has a good ethnic selection but is otherwise a crapshoot and about to besold to Garden Fresh locally (maybe I will get lucky there). I can also go even further south to Whole Paycheck and I even found a Trader Joe's, so at least I can get good frozen stuff. I certainly miss Russo's in Watertown. I regularly cry because I can't go to Russo's on a regular basis.

All in all, though, as much as I whine, I can get by, even if my diet is heavy on apples, which I don't much like. But what has really been bothering me is that I can't find yogurt here.

See, I have to really watch my sugar intake and most yogurts have too much sugar. In Boston, I used to get the Columbo Light, which was decent and low-sugar. Here, there is no Columbo. There is Dannon (full sugar and fat), Yoplait (ditto), and Stonyfield (ditto but with the added evil of inulin, which I am allergic to). Even going to Whole Paycheck is not a treat. Compared to the 100s of varieties at Whole Paycheck in Boston, there are only about dozen choices, many of which are soy or goat milk - almost everything has full sugar, full fat, and/or inulin.

I may have to breakdown and start making my own again.

Yes, yours truly makes yogurt. This causes a lot of surprise. For example, a lover was once visiting me at my place in Foxboro. While sitting at my kitchen table reading the newspaper, he looks up and goes, "What's that?" Well, that was my yogurt maker.

"You make your own yogurt?" This was said in a tone filled with both respect and surprise. But the look on his face was saying something different. That look said "What is this? Little House on the Praire? Has she fed me any of that stuff?"

But, I may just have to suck it up. Plain yogurt is no fun for plain eating; I generally use it only for cooking. But dammit, I need my yogurt fix!
One of these days, if I get a camcorder, I will win America's Funniest Home Videos

So, in my townhouse, I have this great patio door that opens out into the huge backyard. It's a great window, and I have a ton of wildlife - birds galore, squirrels, even a deer or two that visit once in a while. There is also a family of busybody chipmunks who have claimed my little back cement slab as their home.

They are quite bold and brazen and provide many hours of enjoyment, I must say.

Anyway, this weekend was one of those glorious fall weekends. It is sunny and the sky is sapphire blue. It is warm but there's just enough of a breeze so you aren't hot. The leaves are at their peak colors and, really, everything is right wth the world. I opened the glass door on the patio, so the breeze could come in the house while I read on the couch. All of a sudden, Leo goes streaking through the living room toward the screen door and I think "Oh great, here we go again."

Now, I love Leo dearly, but he is most definitely a special needs child. Not much brain to speak of. He has been known - on more than one occassion - to get too excited by a squirrel or a humingbird and brain himself on a window going after it. Well, in this case, he was heading toward the screen as he had seen the sassy chipmunks out there doing their little chipmunk taunting dance of the fall nuts. No danger of injury to poor kitty brain but it was going to be a mess.

Well, one of the chipmunks heard his little bell coming, turned toward the door, puffed up, and emited the most evil hissing growl I have ever heard, and started hopping toward the screen door. Leo put on the breaks, skidded, did a somersault, and reversed his trajectory so fast, I think he broke the time-space barrier. He went screaming - and I mean literally screaming and howling and yowling up the stairs and hid under the bed, where he refused to come out for about an hour.

The little chipmunk just did a little shake of his fur and went back to eating as if nothing had happened.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

When it comes to meat, I'm an idiot

You might think from the few actual food related items I have posted on my blog that I am a vegetarian. I actually am not. But after this weekend's disastrous pot roast attempt – and long reflection on other disastrous attempts at meat cooking – I realized that I just am not that good at cooking meat.

What!?!?! I can see my friends now – what do you mean? What about that roast chicken? What about that time you grilled? Why the hell did I have you come to my friend's house and cook the Thanksgiving turkey if you aren't any good at it? Huh? Huh?

Maybe I should qualify. Yes, I do make an excellent roast chicken, and my turkey is never over or undercooked and it's really very easy to get good flavor with the addition of a few simple herbs. But that's because I cheat. If the cooking of meat or fowl involves a Crock-Pot or an oven roasting bag, I am magic.

And I am a Grill Mistress. Maybe that's because I am in touch with my masculine side (the grill being a traditionally male form of cooking – how silly is that?) or maybe it's because as long as you are patient and have cool friends to spend time with whilst grilling, grilling is easy. Stick the meat in a marinade, light the charcoal, wait until the coals are the right temperature, slapped the meat on, wait, and you are good to go. Grilling is really a no-brainer.

In my attempt to make a pot roast this weekend, I thought it would be simple – some salt and onions and a bit of broth in the cast iron Dutch oven and voila! So not voila. It was just bad. Dry and greasy (at the same time – incredible). I think I cooked it for too long or maybe my oven just heats too high. It tasted so salty although I did not use that much salt on it. I can hardly stand it for cold sandwiches, but I'll be damned if I will throw it out – it's $7 of good beef, and I hate to waste it. Maybe I will throw it in the freezer and use it for soup or something – just to see if I can salvage it.

I think part of the problem is that I cooked it for myself. I hate cooking for myself. I admit it. In the summer, if it's just me, I will live on corn on the cob, tomatoes, microwaved "baked" potatoes, and a little steak cooked in the toaster oven. In the winter, I will make a big pot of soup on a Sunday and eat it all week. Otherwise, I find myself eyeing the Sapporo ramen and thinking, "well, I will just cook that and nuke some veggies and maybe a frozen chicken thigh and eat that." Or I will eat cheese. Just cheese, which isn't bad per say but is very calorie dense and you need to eat a lot of it to fill you up. When it's just for me, my cooking is so boring. Which probably explains why I have gained some weight in the last year. When I cook for just me, I cook boring and boring food – I have often found – tends to be the least healthy unless you are a strict vegetarian who eats no dairy, nuts, or oil.

Sadly, I don't think I am going to get another chance to cook for anyone other than myself any time soon. My coworkers are all married or in relationships and tend to go home and spend time with their families. I try to tell myself that if I cook something cool, I can write it up on the blog and share it with all my friends around the world, but it's just not the same – and involves way too many dishes to wash afterwards, especially when I don't know if anyone even enjoys anything I am posting.

So what is a girl to do? Go raw?

Monday, October 09, 2006

Another Certain Sign of the Impending Apocalypse

Forget the moon turning to blood and the dead rising from their graves. The last true sign of the apocalypse

Eeeeekkkkkkk! Excuse me. I was just attacked by a ladybug. Earlier today, I was attacked by a male member of the European Earwig species, which the Internet informs me, are not poisonous and are actually helpful insects in spite of their terrifying appearance and their tendency to reside in every possible room of my townhouse.

Anyway, the last true sign of the apocalypse is not so much that I have learned to sew (kinda), but rather what I am about to attempt to sew and then wear in public.

See, I started trying to sew this last spring. I've been buying fabric forever, because a former roomie was going to help me sew some things, but we know how things always seem to go with former roomies. So I figured I better do something with all that material rather than just chuck it.

I started out by buying some interesting patterns and then getting them home and realizing I had no damn clue how to read them. Or if they would ever really fit. Throwing caution to the wind, I decided to do some freestyle stuff and started with the basic potato sack skirt. Which I can sew. Kinda. Well, at least it doesn't fall apart, even if it is way shapeless and hands on my as if I am a skeleton (which I am not, those of you who know me can attest).

Buoyed by my somewhat success in the potato sack skirt arena, I went this weekend to the huge Jo-Ann Fabrics near Lake Forest (man, does it put the ones on the East Coast to shame! It's huge! As big as the Super 88 Market in Allston) and purchased a pattern that claims to be very easy. And it is not just a pattern. It is The Pattern. The Pattern of the Apocalypse.

For with The Pattern of the Apocalypse, yours truly shalt maketh The Dress to End All Dresses.

See, a while ago, I hit this huge sale. I mean huge. I got like 6 yards of fake black snake skin material for about a $1 a yard. And, I tell you, I am making me a tight leather dress! That emphasizes the boobs. And I am going to wear that sucker, preferably on a date.

And I will certainly be wearing my new black leather boots, which make me feel tres sexy.

Poor date won't know what hit him……..

Anyway, what does this have to do with the coming Apocalypse, you might ask? Um, let's see – Heather, a pair of sexy black boots, a bosom-enhancing fake black snakeskin dress, and a possible date? Come on people! It very well might be the end of civilization as we know it! And won't it be fun!?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Chipotle Potato and Lentil Ragu

This week's vegetarian recipe is still a work in progress. So if you try it, please let me know if you like it.

For my aunt and uncle, I decided to try this slightly spicy casserole. Their daughter is a vegetarian, and I thought it would be a good dish that she could eat that they would also enjoy.

I used 5 medium red-skinned potatoes, chopped fairly small. Remember, the smaller you chop them, the faster they cook. I then boiled the potatoes until fork tender in salted water. I drained the potatoes and set them aside. I then cooked 8 oz of crimson or red lentils according to the package directions (this mostly involves simmering in water and then draining). I then diced one medium onion finely, 1 spear celery, and one carrot and sauted them in about 2 teaspoons of olive oil. I then added 2 teaspoons of granulated garlic, 2 teaspoons ground cumin, and 1/2 teaspoon of ground chipotle powder. Cook until the spices bloom, then mix in about 2 cups of crushed tomatoes. I then mixed the tomato mixture, the potatoes, and the lentils together. I added a few green peas for color. As always, salt and pepper to taste.

The taste was pretty good, but I didn't like the texture or the color. The crimson lentils too easily go to mush. I think if I made this again, I would dice the potatoes very small, use green French lentils, and add some additional veggies and tomatoes to make it more of a chunky vegetable stew.

Options - if you don't like heat, feel free to use some smoked paprika instead of the chipotles. You will still get a good smoky flavor.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Hello. I am the Popcorn Bandit.

So I know it's dangerous to blog about work and all, but it is food related, and frankly, I just can't resist.

Part of starting any new job is adjusting to the new work culture. Never, ever, though, did I think that my late afternoon snack of choice could set up such a ferment of unhappiness.

I love popcorn. Truly, I do. Some nights, that's all I will eat for dinner. Popcorn. It's good for you. It's full of fiber. It fills you up without a huge amount of calories (well, as long as you aren't eating that movie theater crap or loading it with butter). It's a fond reminder of my Native American heritage. It seems to regulate my blood sugars. Everywhere I have ever worked, a late afternoon popcorn snack was almost expected. It was an excuse to share both snack and conversation with co-workers. It held you over in that long long 6-8 hour stretch between lunch and homecoming.

At my new workplace, however, popcorn is forbidden fruit.

The first time I made popcorn at my new job, I made it in the second floor office, which is my official home base although my office is currently on the 4 th Floor and the *** office is on the second floor. Since we have no kitchen facilities on the 4th Floor, making it in my home office seemed to make sense. And no one said I couldn't. And no one complained.

The next time I made popcorn on the 3rd Floor because I was too lazy to walk to the 2nd Floor. And no one said I couldn't and no one complained. So I made some again, and that's when I became the Popcorn Bandit.
"You know. You gotta be careful with that. The 1st Floor can't make popcorn. The !!! complained about the smell. So no popcorn in the building."
Really? Is this a joke?
"Well, just be careful. Especially none on the 1st or 2nd floors"
Well, ok then. So I made my fourth batch, again on the 3rd Floor. No problem. So then I made my fifth bag today, again on the 3rd floor. And all hell exploded.
I was careful. I popped in under 3 minutes, kept everything all wrapped up, and ran to my office and shut my door. I couldn't smell anything, but apparently someone from the 1st floor did – or they came up to the 3rd floor and smelled the after-scent of delicious popping and threw a fit. There was a call to the 3rd floor from the 1st floor in something of a panic, ramblings about the loss of microwaves, etc ad naseum. All of which resulted in a call to me.

"You can't do that. No more popcorn. We're going to lose all the microwaves."
"Well, if it's an issue, just have them blame me as the stupid newbie."
"It won't work. Just don't do it."
um, well, ok? Not really. I find this all very silly. I believe that I have – at one point early in my banditry – walked past the !!! with a bag of popcorn and was not called on it. There are no signs anywhere that popcorn is forbidden. I didn't get anything in my employee handbook. None of the office workers on the 2nd Floor , where the !!! is, seems to know anything about a popcorn embargo. And of all the possibly offensive smelling things in the universe, I find it very odd that only popcorn is banned. What about pizza? What about fish? What about curry? What about perfume and aftershave? What about all the paint and new carpet adhesive smells? I am certain that there are people out there who find those smells disgusting. Or maybe there are some deeper reasons why a popcorn embargo would be started. Maybe an early childhood popcorn assault?
And I don't even know if there really is a popcorn embargo, or if someone has just made it up.
Either way, I guess my days of banditry are over. I would feel terrible if everyone lost the microwaves because I needed an afternoon snack.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Orange-Saffron Tofu with Cilantro Pesto

Now that I am done with recounting the Alaskan trip, it's time to get back to what this blog is supposed to be about - food and cooking! Per request of one of my DC readers, Wednesday is going to be Vegetarian Day at GourmetGoddess. Here is the recipe for a simple vegetarian dish that was the highlight of my "Sold!" party in August of 2004.

Orange-Saffron Tofu
One container of extra firm tofu
Juice and zest from one orange
3 cups of flavorful liquid of your choice - either veggie or onion broth or white wine or a mixture
a good solid pinch of saffron
a pinch of salt

Drain tofu. Then slice in 1-inch thick slices (when sliced it should look like a deck of cards). Mix the rest of the ingredients together to form a marinade. Put the tofu in a flat pan and pour the marinade over it, making sure the tofu is covered. Marinate for at least 2 hours. Drain the tofu and pat dry with a paper towel. Spray a non-stick pan or coat it with a little oil on a paper towel (you just want a light coating to help with sticking). On medium high heat, saute the tofu until it has a crispy golden brown outside and is warm on the inside.

Cilantro Pesto
1 bunch cilantro
olive oil
pine nuts
5 large cloves of garlic

This one is a little more trial and error to make. Start with one bunch of cilantro. Wash it well. Then, get a blender ready. Using a knife, rough chop about half the cilantro and place in the blender. Add in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and start blending. You may also need to add a bit of water now and then. Then add a couple of hand-fulls pf pine nuts and a couple of cloves of garlic. Keep adding ingredients until you have as much pesto as you need and the texture is thick but not a paste. I like mine very garlicky so I add in a lot of garlic, but use your judgement. I like to add a pinch of salt and pepper at the end, to taste.

Spoon pesto over the sauted tofu. Serve with brown rice and vegetable of your choice.

Next week - chipotle lentil and potato ragu...

Monday, September 25, 2006

Back to Canada. Canada?

Hahahaha, you thought this was only about Alaska. Yes, dear readers, the last stop on our cruise was in Canada. Victoria to be exact. Our time in Victoria was again pretty short, just half a day, so up early we went and out onto the doc. We had a tour lined up through Grey Line tours for later in the morning, and so we thought we would take the shuttle bus into town and just hang out, dudes. On our way to the suttle bus, we were waylaid by a PediCab tour guide.

And, boy, were we ever glad to be waylaid. Our peddler, Ian- he of the handsome red-hair, he of the Lance Armstrong build, he who I wouldn't mind dating if he lived less than half a continent away - customized a tour for us and drove us through the Victorian sections of town, the downtown area, and into the secret alleys of Chinatown. In the space on 90 minutes, we learned more about Victoria than we had in just about any other place we visited.

After we had put poor Ian through a workout, we got back to the doc in time for a potty break and a little gift shopping. Then we ran to our double-decker tour. Which was terrible. It was nothing more than an info-mercial. See here the million dollar condos? They too can be yours!

We were so bored. We would rather have had our money back so we could spend another hour with Ian the Yummy. So, when our tour was done, we went back to our rooms an waited to cast off for San Francisco.

Soon, we were back in the City by the Bay. We were able to check into our hotel early and then we headed off to the Asian Art Museum, which was just down the street. Past all the homeless sleeping in the park. San Fran has a serious homeless problem. It was very sad.

We enjoyed the Museum greatly, until we got to the gift shop, where our helper was terribly rude, then made an error with our Traveler's Check and then damaged something Mom had purchased, although we didn't know it at the time. Then we went back to the hotel and napped for a bit and prepared for our evening dinner at the Fog City Diner.

My god. What food! Mom had a calamari appetizer and cioppino - a kinda Italian seafood stew. I had a beet, heirloom tomato, and nectarine salad with a sweet lime vinagrette and an appetizer size order gouda mac and cheese with black forest ham and peas. I cannot describe how good this was, and I normally hate mac n cheese. I can still feel it in my mouth. In the words of Homer Simpson, *drool*

The next morning we got up and went to the post office where we waited for 30 minutes for it to open. We had to mail back a bunch of our crap so we didn't have to pay the over-weight luggage fee of $50. We then went and had breakfast across the street from the hotel at Steve's Cafe. Again, excellent food. But we were running a little late. We took the trolley to Fisherman's Wharf and it took forever. As a result, we missed out very expensive tour.

Luckily, we got a nice ticket agent who transferred us to the afternoon tour. Saved, but our whole day was rearranged. As a result, we spent the day at Pier 39, which is very touristy. We did enjoy the sea lions, for all that they smell pretty bad and are very noisy. Still, they were the closest we got to wildlife. We then headed back to where we had to grab the tour bus and got on one bus, that took us to another place, where we got on another bus.

As dear readers know my mother is partially disabled. She has rheumatoid arthritis. She does use a cane once in a while. But she doesn't like to make a big deal about it and 9 times out of 10 doesn't need any special treatment. Well, the tour guide made a huge deal out of it. He had promised the handicapped seats to two skinny little blondies and spent most of the tour apologizing to them that he had to kick them out of those seats 'cause he didn;t know a special needs person was getting on. Get over it. Jerk.

Either way, the tour was about 4 hours long and we did get to see highlights of the entire city - Golden Gate bridge, Height-Ashbury, Chinatown - a little bit of everything. I wish we could have spent a lot of time exploring the city, but hey! We did what we could with the time we had.

Then we went back to Fisherman's Wharf and waited for our evening tour to Alcatraz. We were starving, so Mom got a hot dog at a nearby stand. That's when her nemesis struck - an evil seagull bomber from hell! It dived her, knocked the hot dog from her hand, and gulped it whole. The entire dock was in shock! Insanity.

Onto the boat and off to Alcatraz. Scary place. Very oppressive. And filled with great sadness. We wanted to get off asap, but there were no ferries until 8:30.

We finally escaped the Rock, and after an aborted attempt to take public transportation back to the hotel, we caught a taxi and had dinner at the hotel's restaurant. Not bad at all.

In the morning, we got up early and headed to the airport. And that was the end of our Alaskan adventure! Where we will go next? Stay tuned!!!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Back to Alaska, Part 5!

God, will I be glad when this is over! I certainly enjoy sharing all this with you but it is taking almost as long to talk about the trip as it did to go on the trip!

Anyway, I am happy to talk about our favirote place. Ketchikan. It it wasn't our favorite place just because it was sunny and in the low 70s, either. The poor Ketchikans were terribly stressed because it was so hot. Frankly, I was as content as a cat on a hot rock.
Anyway, Ketchikan was totally cool! Totem Bright State Park was amazing and our trip to the Saxman Native Village (really, an actually Tlingit village) was mondo fun!

Again, we got up early in the morning to get out the door. But since so many people had early morning tours, we didn;t avoid the rush. Instead, we waited and waited in line. It didn;t help matters that we were almost an hour late docking. Many folks didn't make their morning tours. I hope they got reimbursed.

We made our tour. Onto a nice tour bus we went and off for a short tour around the town. The highlights? A little park that was really beautiful and the redlight district, which I wish we could have walked through. Lots of cute little painted houses.

Once the house tour was done, we headed out of town to Totem Bright State Park. Along the way, we saw some interesting "boat" houses. To avoid paying property taxes, many of the loggers used to build shacks on floating rafts that rose and fell with the tide. Because they were never really on solid ground, they didn;t have to pay taxes. Then we got to the park. I was disobedient and headed out into the woods along the path (it's a one-way path. What's the worst that could happen!? Well, bears I suppose but since it was me, I was never going to see one anyway, so whatever.) So I headed out and took some great tree and rock pictures (most of my pictures are of trees and rocks. I can't help it. It's genetic.) and then I hit the totem poles.

Like, wow! So beautiful! So impressive! So damn tall! Each pole tells the story of a particular event in the history of the tribe that cares it, traditionally. Nowadays, they sometimes aren't based on a historical happened but rather tell a different type of story. Each different symbol has a very complex meaning. It used to be that the women would chew salmon eggs, spit out the mess, and mix in different botanicals to make paint. Now they just get it at the Ace hardware. Totem poles also used to be erected and left to decay naturally. But so mnay were stolen or damaged by white men, that there is a lot of care taken to preserve them; some are even stored inside.

After spending a lot of time at the park and taking a million pictures, we got back on the bus and headed back to the pier, where we caught another bus for our next tour - to the Saxman Native Village. An actual functional Tlingit town, we got to learn more about Tlingit history and language. We watched a short film and then went to the ceremonial lodge to view a traditional dance troop. Yours truly got to put on full regalia and dance! It was so exciting. Women's dancing among the Tlingit is even less physically active than women's dancing among the Ojibwe (if you are a regular woman and not a fancy dancer), but it was way fun! It reminded me of when I was a little girl and we would go to the pow-wows in Wisconsin. I would dance so much, I would wear holes in my mocs. Once, I got pulled off the floor, because - at 8 or 9 - I was a little too young to be dancing in the eligible young women's dance. I was mad as hell and threw a hissy fit! No need for a hissy fit among the Tlingit. They let me dance.

Our guide was actually a white woman. She reminded me a lot of my friend Timi from Kentucky...similar voices, similar mannerisms, similar body types. This guide had some sort of an interesting relationship to the Saxman villagers; I am not certain what it was but it felt like family.

We got to see a totem pole carver working and learned that he makes about $60K per average pole. Nice! And beautiful work. I was going to swipe another curl, but I found an interesting knothole from a piece of wood being readied for carving that I was able to take home with me.
I didn't get many pictures at Saxman because my camera battery died. But I did get a tasty reindeer jerky snack and a not so tasty salmon jerky snack. I just don't like salmon. I just don't! But I do like reindeer, which makes sense as I prefer eating venison whenever possible. In fact I got some cooking on the stove right now....

Well, we were pretty tired after Saxman, so we headed back to the ship. Mom went on board and I did a quite sprint through the town to see if there was anything I actually wanted to buy. I found a hidden Native artists cooperative and purchased the most beautiful scrimshaw bracelet made of fossilized mammoth ivory. It was so fabulous, I didn't even blink at the price. Which is rare for me.

We got back to the ship and it was italian night at dinner! I have to say, of all the food on the cruise, the italian was the best. Other than a few occassions when they added brown sugar to the sauce to stretch (nonononono!!, the Italian food was pretty decent. I had my favorite dish - amatriciana, which is paste in a tomato sauce with onions, garlic, and pancetta.

The next day was another at sea. Another boring day. A day of total hell for me.

Nothing went right. I can't even remember everything that just didn't go well. Everything tasted funny. I didn't feel 100% and I was bored and crabby. I decided to go sit in the hot tub. That always cheers me up. Well, not here. The hot tubs were filled with nasty little 10-year-old girls. Unsupervised. One of them informed me that fat people shouldn't be allowed to wear swimsuits. So I sat next to her to make her uncomfortable. Then I went back to the room and tried to read. After dinner, I wanted to go see The Matador, a film I had been wanting to see for a while. It was great! Until about half way through when it died. And couldn't be fixed. So I went back to the room, where Mom was resting and we decided we wanted a snack. Maybe pizza. There was a pizza place on board so i decided to go up and get one for us. I get there, and am informed that pizza cannot be ordered take out. Well, shit. So then I decide on peanuts. And they have no peanuts in the store. Only a $4.50 container of Pringles. Pringles it was. I took them back to the room and shared them with Mom and went to bed. Tomorrow, at Victoria, it must be a better day.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Back to Alaska, Part 4 ....

Ah, Juneau. That's where we headed after Sitka. And it was the port at which we would spend the longest on shore. so, we kept ourselves rather busy. Well, I did. I am not certain about Mom. I think she probably spent a lot of time waiting for me to get back from my galivanting....

According to the Pitter Patter, which we awaited breathlessly each evening around 10, Juneau's primary reason for being in the white man's world was the presence of large amounts of silly gold. Really, I have never much understood the attraction. It's soft and heavy and fairly useless on a day to day basis. Nevertheless, it drives people mad.

Anyway, we were up bright and early, hoping to avoid the mad rush of bling crazy shoppers about to flood the shops nearest to our dock. And we succeeded. First we went to this place called Caribou Crossing, which is sort of an Alaskan artists' cooperative, where I ordered a fabulous mythological painting by a local artist. Then we got the ever-present t-shirts and picked up some bottled water. Than we took the tram up Mt. Roberts. 1800 feet almost straight up. Totally cool! In the fog... very spooky.

At the top, at a Tlingit-run visitor center, we watched a movie about the history of the local tribes and their interactions with the Russians and the Americans. Then we visited the gift shop and heard our loud friend Lorraine, she of the booming voice. We then escaped outside into the rainforest, where we freaked out about how high we were and commented on the extreme amount of moisture and moss/lichen hanging everywhere and then I went hiking further up the mountain.

I did about 2.5 miles up into Mt. Roberts, into bear country, although all the animals were wisely in the warm, dry dens, and I saw no bears, no squirrels even. I was scolded by a hoary marmot, which is like a giant praire dog with a pissy attitude. I did see some beautiful views, even if it did rain every damn time I got out my camera and I returned to the visitor center completely drenched. Mom and I ate lunch there and I had an excellent Dungeness crab with some sort of interest butter/bear fat mixture for seasoning.

We then made our way down the mountainside via tram to head off for our next major adventure - a trip to a salmon hatchery, then a visit to Mendenhall Glacier, and finally a salmon bake.

The hatchery was interesting... it had a fish ladder and we learned about the types of salmon, but how long can you stand around watching fish flop around in a breeding frenzy and then croak? About 30 minutes. Then we headed off to the glacier, where again, we had hoped to see a bear but didn't.

I don't know why we were so frantic to see a bear. Wisconsin has tons of bears. I have even been bear hunting. Maybe we thought that Alaskan bears would be somewhat special. Huge giant bears!

Anyway, no bears, but we did see our first wild mammal - a sassy red squirrel in the parking lot.

The glacier and its lake more than made up for the lack of large, fanged and potentially woman-eating bears. With a huge waterfall and completely cold waters (I know. I went wading in it to pick up a rock), we were fascinated and took tons of pictures. Then - of course - it started to pour again and we all got herded onto the boss to head off to the salmon bake.

Now, I am not a huge fan of salmon under any circumstances. Honestly, I would have sooner eaten the squirrel from the parking lot - as small a mouthful as he would have been. But when in Alaska, do as the Alaskans do, so I eat salmon. Well, I tried to. We got off the bus to be greeted by the foul stench of rotting salmon from the nearby stream and a man-made duck pond that obviously had not been cleaned for years. And the food was, well, let's just say that - yet again - it was aimed at people who were going to be gulping and shoveling rather than savoring and enjoying. That being said, they had good cornbread. And I don't even like cornbread. Once we were done eating, I went hiking again up the stream where all the salmon were dying and saw the waterfall they just couldn't get up... beautiful but deadly!

Our driver on the way back to the ship was a local Tlingit who was funnier than anyone who currently has a network show. Truly, he was in the wrong line of work!

That night, we basically dried off and got warm. Man, we were so tired of the rain! Luckily, the rain broke when we hit Glacier Bay National Park the next day.

Glacier Bay is basically a boat tour you take of a bay field with tons of glaciers. You don't get off. You just look and go oh! ah! look at that! At the main glacier, we did some recording with the video camera. The first time a chunk of iceberg "calved" off, we were like someone just fired a cannon! It was that loud. Again, we saw now wildlife except birds although we think we saw an orca fin. Somebody claimed to have seen a bear on the shoreline but they must have Superman eyes. We couldn't see anything even with the binocs! Anyway, the bay was beautiful and a sight everyone should see, because who know how long the glaciers have until they melt entirely. Tomorrow, Ketchikan!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Back to Alaska, Part 3!

Alrighty, I'm back...I've been gone. I've been lazy. I've been having, well, issues.

Nevertheless, when we last connected, your plucky adventurers - Mom and Me - were just about to hit Sitka, Alaska. According to the Pitter Patter...

Wait. I haven't told you about the Pitter Patter.

Each night, the cruise line put out a newsletter about what was coming forth on the coming day. Mostly, it was filed with advertising ("Now's a great time to get aromatherapy for $299!"), but it also listed what movies were to be played, what bad pseudo-musicals were happening, where you could go to play Trivia. It's formal name was the Princess Patter, but we quickly renamed it to the ...

Pitter Patter. Anyway, according to the Pitter Patter, Sitka was a Tlingit (pronouced kling git) indian village until the Russians arrived in 1799, when general unpleasantness between the two groups ensued, what with the Russian claim that the land (i.e., the fur-bearing animals) were theirs and their access to warships and firearms. Because we only had about 7 hours to spend there, Mom and I signed up for a Russian-American history tour that included a jaunt to the totem pole park. So, we get with our group to be ferried to shore and wait. Our tour group was somewhat interesting as it included the loudest woman in the world, Lorraine. She sort of hooked up with the Jones-Brown chicks, probably because we were closest to her age, everyone else on our tour being about 103. We get on the boats (tenders) that took us to shore, got off the tenders and then boarded the nastiest, smelliest school buses anywhere, where our guide - a 20-something blonde surfer dude from California - proceeded to drive us about three blocks to the Russian Orthodox Church in the center of town. We were given 20 minutes to look around, which turned out to be plenty - especially as we weren't allowed to touch or photograph anything in the church. So we went in, spent five minutes looking, and then went outside and got ourselves a reindeer dog.

The dog was quite excellent. A bit drier than a regular hotdog, it had a somewhat spicy finish. It cost $4.50, so mom and I shared one as we didn't have enough cash and the stand-worker was freaked out by our Traveller's Check.

Anyway, we got back on the bus and were driven three more blocks back to the harbor to view the Russian-American dancers - all of whom were women and none of whom were Russian. They were just interested in Russian folk dancing and decided to start a troop. Fun. We got to spend 30 minutes there.

Then we got on the bus and drove about half a mile to the totem pole park, which was described as just a taste of what we would find in Ketchikan. So I hiked around and basically played out on the shore - the tide was out and I was amused at some teenage boys who were teasing crabs, only to get their comeuppance through a quick crab-pinch. I also enjoyed the gift shop, which had a solid block of tea for sale. Damn, it was so fragrant. I almost bought it, but it was $20, and really, it was just tea. I did gather up a curl of cedar from a totem pole being carved on sight and a bunch of rocks. Fabulous gifts, I must say.

Well, we got 45 minutes there and back into town. We had some time, and so we decided to explore, finding an excellent soap and jam shop and then of course looking for t-shirts. And that is where I fell foul of the un-Savvy Traveller.

What's that, you say? I've heard about that before. Yes, dear readers, you have. One night on the ship, when I was going to make some changes to a tour we were going to take, I ran across Evil Erika, cruise line shopping expert (yes, they employ a shopping expert). She accosted me. Was I going to be shopping on shore? Well, yes, I actually was. I was afeard that the jacket I brought wasn't going to be warm enough for Glacier Bay so I decided to buy a nicer jacket. Well, Erika could help me! Here, get this coupon book for $20. It has tons of coupons for free stuff, including a 15% discount at Brennen's, the best place to get a jacket in Sitka. Well, ok.. free stuff and a coupon. Sign me up! So, I haul this book with me into Sitka and head to Brennen's.

What crap. I have never payed $300+ for a coat in my life, let alone a thin, useless coat. So, I didn't use my coupon. And actually, I never used a single coupon from the un-Savvy Traveller, as it was really only useful for people who want to spend big bucks on bling. Which I don't. Live and learn.....

Anyway, I eventually got a very nice knit sweater at a shop not associated with the un-Savvy Traveller, and Mom and I had a little dim sum dumpling snack at a local hole in the wall, decided we were tired of the rain, and headed bacck for the ship, preparing to head for Juneau!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Back to Alaska, Part 2!

When we last left our plucky adventurers, they had just boarded the Regal Princess, preparing to set sail for northern waters on their 10-day Alaskan cruise. Little did they know .....

They had entered the Floating Home Shopping Network!!!!! *ominous music here*

Yes, dear friends, a cruise ship is one big and easy way to spend cashola. It's constantly pushed at you - Buy this gaudy jewelry! But expensive fine art! Buy a fur! Buy drinks! Buy a future cruise!

And there was almost nothing else to do until we got to Sitka. On Thursday. And we started sailing on Monday. And it rained nearly the entire way.

Oh my god!

To be honest, I really don't remember what we did on Monday evening. Oh! I made an appointment for a manicure, which ended up costing $44 (piracy indeed). And we had our first dinner, which wasn't bad. Our table companions were are very nice people, including one fabulous 11-year-old named Rachel. Wonderful young woman. Sadly, I remember very little about what we ate. Honestly, I was not impressed with the food on the ship. It was ok, but not anything nearly as good as I have had elsewhere. I remember only a few dishes over the course of the cruise. The escargot, which was great (how can anything in garlic butter be bad?). An Alaskan Rock Fish, mild and tender. Poached peaches with an almond souffle - damn good! And I tried and enjoy Morbier and dulce leche cheese. But other than that, it was, well, mostly plain. No seasoning. I mean, I understand they are cooking for an older crowd, but no seasoning at all. I had one curry dish that had no flavor, although it was bright yellow. The pasta was decent but not spectacular. My primary goal the entire trip was to have a piece of toast that was warm enough to melt butter. It never happened.

And that was eating in the dining room, where the food was ten times better than the buffet. I was in shock listening to people rave about the buffet. Truly, too many people eat so quickly they don't taste what they are eating. It is quantity versus quality.

Well, between the time we got on board and the time we got to Sitka on Thursday morning, Mom and I did pretty much nothing, as there was nothing much to do. Other than to buy things, attend boring art auctions (listening to the auctioneer was like watching paint dry - painfully boring and slow), paint your own ceramics, and Pictionary in the bar. We did see one high school musical style review of the history of early rock n' roll. I purchased an infamous un-Savvy Traveler (more about that later) Boring boring!

We had our first formal dinner, and I must say that Mom and I were totally cute.

Needless to say, however, we were terribly excited for land ho! on Tursday morning. That morning, I had gotten up early to go and get some coffee upstairs in the buffet. I was so excited to see land that I needed to sit down. One older woman sitting alone at a table that could hold ten seemed like a nice place to start. And when I asked her if I could sit across from her, she screamed, "No! Get away!" So I did. Land ho! Sitka on the horizon...

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Back to Alaska, Part 1!

Yes, yes, I know, I know. Alaska was a couple of weeks ago. Too bad! It took me a while to get everything organized.

Over the next few days, I will be posting a little bit each day about my fabulous trip. Enjoy! All 500+ photos will eventually be posted at Gourmet Goddess's Flickr account

Anyway, back to Part 1. I prepared to fly to San Francisco on August 13, leaving my house around 3:30 am on a Sunday for a 6:50 am flight. Who could possibly be flying at Sunday morning at 4 am? Apparently, everyone in Chicago, Indiana, and Ohio. The line was out the damn door, a situation not helped by the fact that only one of the security checkpoints were open at that time of the morning.

Oh, and I have mentioned the terrorist monkey wrench? The one where you couldn;t bring anything liquid or gel-like on the plane (as if a TSA agent would know the difference between a gel and a liquid and a colloid). As I sent to friends in an e-mail before I left, I was afeard the situation would end like this:

TSA Security: It rubs the lotion on its skin. It does this whenever it is told.

Yours Truly: Mister... my family will pay cash. Whatever ransom you're askin' for, they pay it.

TSA Security: It rubs the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again. [to his dog, Precious] Yes, it will, Precious, won't it? Itwill get the hose!

Your Truly: Okay... okay... okay. Mister, if you let me go, I won't -I won't press charges I promise. See, my mom is a real importantwoman... I guess you already know that.

TSA Security: Now it places the lotion in the basket.

Yours Truly: Please! Please I wanna go home! I wanna go home please!

TSA Security: It places the lotion in the basket.

Yours Truly: I wanna see my mommy! Please I wanna see my...

TSA Security: Put the fucking lotion in the basket!

Sorry, Hollywood, but I couldn't resist.

Anyhoo, I finally made it through security and to my gate only to discover they have oversold my flight by about a billion people. Since United is offering a free round-trip voucher plus a First Class Upgrade on the next flight to San Fran, I volunteer to give up my seat. It was working for me. The catch - they might not actually need my seat. So I wait and wait and make a fabulous new friend while waiting only to be called to the counter 5 minutes before the flight, handed a new boarding pass, and told to get on the plane. Kid you not. "Get on the plane." No thanks, no nothing, bastards. Not only that, but they took my old seat away and stuck me right next to the bathroom.

Needless to say, I got no sleep. Some people were up to the bathroom five times during our 4.5 hour trip. Five times. I counted. They must have peanut bladders,

I finally get to San Fran, collect my luggage, and begin to make my way over to the terminal where Northwest flies in to meet up with Mom. Her flight is an hour late, but she arrives, and we collect her luggage and catch a shuttle. We get to the hotel - Hotel Miyako - in Japantown around 2 pm, where we get checked in and realize we are completely famished. We hit the little shopping center immediately next to the hotel and stop at a Korean restuarant for dinner.

I give it up for Mom. She will try everything joyfully! It's so refreshing. Anyway, we had a seafood pancake appetizer (a favorite of mine from when I lived with a South Korean woman at HDS). And then ordered the squid and bulgogi platter. It came with tons of little authentic side dishes like kimchee and various pickles in addition to soup, and rice. It was so good. So good!!!! We ate everything. Then we went out and explored the street fair.

Yes, friends, we hit a street fair. What an excellent intro to San Fran. We got to see some real folks, listen to some music, visit with artists, and watch local dancers. It was great. Then we realized we were still hungry and went to a Japanese noodle shop, where I had my regular beef udon soup with a side seaweed salad and Mom tried the Nebeyaki Udon. She loved it and intends to learn how to make it at home.

Exhausted, we went back to the hotel and vegged, taking advantage of the Japanese style soaking tub, for a while and then went to sleep.

In the morning, we got up and checked out, hailing a cab to take us to Fisherman's Wharf. The cruise ship left from pier 35 and we figured it would be a short walk and a nice time for some sightseeing. We started walking and ended up having breakfast at the Eagle Cafe at Pier 39, described by my San Francisco for Dummies book as the only authentic restaurant at Pier 39. Again, very delicious. I had a California style omelet, that was stuffed with bacon, avocado, and sour cream, and served with fruit sourdough toast, and red-skinned home fries. Hot damn, people! I almost managed to eat the whole thing, which is saying a lot considering how small my stomach is now.

We then walked over to pier 35 and dropped our luggage with a porter and went and hung out on a bench adn watched the port, until noon, when we could get in line to board the ship.

When we got in line, we were handed a little form that described the noro-virus as a mild intestinal discomfort. Um, excuse me. I had noro-virus once and I honestly thought I was going to die. It was so bad I lived in the bathtub for 24 hours. Whatever. If you have had any symptoms of noro-virus within the last 24 hours, the cruise line denies you boarding. Doesn't matter if you have the illness or not. No cruise for you!

Well, neither of us had any vomiting, etc, and so we got on, got to our cabin, and then went to go see what everyone else was up to.

Word of advice. If the cruise employees try to sell you something within the first day, wait. Mom and I both jumped at the purchase of unlimited bar soda for $37.50. Which is really only good if you are going to drink a lot of soda, which neither of us did. Oh well. Live and learn.

What everyone was doing was eating at the buffet, which is apparently the primary activity of everyone on the cruise. I was not all that impressed. I honestly couldn't tell you what I ate, except for fruit salad, which was quite good.

After lunch, we participated in the life saving drill, which involves a lot of people standing around putting on their life jackets before they are given permission to do so. Frankly, if I fell in the water in Alaska, I was just going to die. I'll never let go, Jack! Yeah, right.

Then we left port!

Heading north, we went under the Golden Gate Bridge, and then Mom and I went below deck. Damn cold up there in the wind.... Little did we know that we were preparing ourselves for nearly three days of nothing but water, water, water, and so-so food, broken movies, bad Broadway reviews, and rude passengers!

Part 2 to come .......

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Renaissance Faire Redux
You Really Can't Go Back Again

I had the great pleasure of going to college not far from one of the better Renn Faires in the United States. Not having had the chance to embrace my inner D&D nerd in high school, it went into full-fleged craziness when I got to Bristol. I went at least once a summer for every summer, and even took my younger cousin there one summer, several years after graduation.

Well, the last time I went to Bristol was almost seven years again. I, luckily, happened onto a $10 coupon and went back again this last weekend for closing activities.

Sadly, it really is true - nothing ever stays the same and you really can't go back again. Now, don't get me wrong. The Bristol renaissance Faire is still one of the better one I have ever been to. The grounds are beautiful. It looks like they spend more on landscaping than some of the richie riches in Newton do. And it certainly has a tremendous amount of high-quality shows (Dirk and Guido being a particular favorite act) and tons of performance artists and fabulous musicians. And flush toilets. And excellent craft demonstration areas (I particularly enjoy the Celtic Croft area). Those are worth the admission price by themselves.

But things have change, oh my how they have changed.

First off, the size of the Faire has doubled. You might think this is a good thing right? Wrong! It's gotten bigger but added nothing new. The extra size is just "sister shops" for shops that were already there. Honestly, how many pottery shops selling crappy embossed mugs does one Faire really need?

And the knights. What happened to the knights? They are definitely not the same,

I used to be so proud to say to my friends, "The knights really joust!" Oh yes, I am sure a lot of it was staged, just like pro wrestling. But it looked real. Those horses thundered out of the barn and when the knights got knocked off the horses, they really got knocked off those horses. There were always four, but only two mattered - the dark curly haired guy who represented the honor of England and the tall cool icy blonde who was cast as the bad knight.

Frankly, he looked like a bad mother. He just oozed menace. He was one of those horribly gorgeous bad boys who - if you are of that orientation - makes you all shivery and sets you to wondering just how much fun it would be to play with fire. And then, after a brief moment of disorientation, you got smart and realized you would probably need a full body condom if you took him home, because god knows where he's been...


Anyway, the new knights are pansies. Sorry guys, but you are pansies. I am a short fat woman who hasn't ridden a horse in 16 years and I could get out there and give a great shout, prompting you to fall off your horse. Case in point, I ended up in the cheering section of the purple and gold knight. On his way to go pay homage to the Queen in the center of the ring, just walking the beastie, he fell off. Fell off. Dude.

And what's with the whole creeping Robin Hood disease that is striking Renn Faires every where. Hello, Robin Hood is a Crusader character, not a renaissance character. Stop it, just say no!

Anyway, Bristol still has some of the best food I've ever had at a Faire, and - all things considered - not too expensive. You can get the sasparilla (dudes, it's really just root beer, not even close to real sasparilla) for $1, the best beverage deal at the Faire. Vegetarians would survive well.... there is everything from the garlic mushrooms (best ever! I would pay to gete in just to eat those) you eat with a toothpick, to artichokes, pizza, tempura vegetables and various others. For carnivorous, there is every kind of meat on a stick and, of course, the huge-ass turkey drumsticks. And puffins! Can't forget the puffins - friend dough with powdered sugar and fruit preserves on top. I personally ate a big bowl of 'shrooms and drank the broth down. A small twist of cinnamon cashews. I shared a turkey leg with a complete stranger, because I sure as hell couldn't eat the whole thing. And for dessert, I had a "Dragon Tail," a delicious puff pastry twisted with cinnamon and sugar before being baked into crispy goodness. And tons of sasparilla....

I spent a good ten hours at the Faire, finally ending it by spending 30 minutes listening to Taiko drummers and then another 30 minutes listening to a flute quartet. I had my fortune told and was informed tha in the next year I am going to go to culinary school and that I should dump my dark-haired lover 'cause he's the big bad wolf. Of she never asked me what my favorite version of "Little Red Riding Hood" was, so bully to her!

Anyway, I will go again next year, because it is great fun and people watching is half of that fun. Plus the 'shrooms.


Heather's Approximation of Bristol Renn Faire Garlic 'Shrooms

Pound of 'shrooms - button or Portabellas, preferrably

One large onion, chunked.

One head garlic, diced


1-2 cupes of Broth, of choice

Throw it all in a pot. Cook until bubbly. Serve with a toothpick for easy eating. Best enjoyed while standing up while feasting with a beskirted and leathered barbarian named Thor.