Musing on food and cooking ...

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

My Harry Potter Prediction

It took a really long time before I bowed to the pressue to read the Harry Potter books. I didn't want to like them. I was worried they would be derivative off all other fantasy novels out there. And the first two movies, which I saw before reading any of the books, made me a little sick to my stomach. Nevertheless, I finally bowed to peer pressure, and started reading them, and have greatly enjoyed the books. I don't go out at midnight or wait in line or anything like that. With the last book that came out, I actually waited six months and then had my pick of copies from the Boston Public Library.

With the final book coming out in a few weeks, many a gathering I have attended has had long discussions about how the series will resolve itself. I felt the need to add my own predictions to the mix. I wonder if I, the non-fan, will get anything right.

1. Dumbledore is not truly dead, at least not like we normally think of dead. The #1 wizard never really dies in fantasy. They have a type of death and come back transformed.

2. While I don't think he is a "good" guy, I don't think Snape is on Voldemort's side, either. As someone said, Dumbledore trusted him completely and if Snape is bad, that casts doubt on Dumbledore's greatness. On the other hand, I wouldn't mind if Snape were bad and Dumbledore was therefore tarnished. It is a good lesson for kids to learn that adults sometimes royally fuck things up and make bad judgements about people.

3. Voldemort will be one of the two main characters killed and he will die in the traditional sense of the word - worm food, no resurrection possible, etc. I can't see Rowling ending the series any other way. Leaving Voldemort alive imbalances the world Rowling has created. And I don't foresee any possible way of redeeming Voldemort, ala Darth Vader. There is really no sacrifice Voldemort can or would make that would redeem his sins.

4. I don't know which other character will die, but I don't believe it will be Harry, unless we want to rethink the concept of death. In tarot, the death card is the card of transformation so great it is like being born again, entirely new. Voldemort and Harry are mirror-twins. When Voldemort dies, so must Harry, at least in some way. My prediction is that he will lose his wizard powers and become a muggle, perhaps with a long career ahead of him as some sort of liasion between the muggle world and the Ministry of Magic. And having Harry return to the muggle world is also good storytelling form. In the best of stories, the protagonist always ends up back at the place s/he started, but radically changed in some way. At the beginning of the series, Harry was just another muggle, an abused and neglected one at that. If he lost his wizard powers, he would become a muggle again, but a strong and capable young adult, ready to go out into the world.

5. Ron and Hermione don't get together. I have no ground on which to base this but I sincerely hope it is true. I don't want Hermione to begin her young adult life tied to a kind-hearted if mostly incompotent dork.

Anyway, those are my predictions. Let the games begin!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Caprese Pasta Salad

Last night, I joined a group of fine females (and one fine male) for a trip to see the Indigo Girls perform at the Ravinia Festival. Now the nice thing about Ravinia is that the lawn seats are cheap and it is a picnic haven. So, everything brought something - some cheese, some wine, a billion or so cookies, hummus, etc etc. My contribution was a delicious caprese pasta salad.

Now a basic caprese salad is fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil - arranged neatly and drizzled with good olive oil. I made my salad by cooking a pound of pasta (I used rotelle) and then cooling in the fridge and then adding 1 pint of grape tomatoes, 1 container of marinated mozzarella balls, some lemon juice (about 1 large lemon), and a bunch of chopped up basil and Italian parsley from my garden. I overcooked the pasta just a touch and I could have chopped the parsley and basil smaller, but I was making it at 11 at night, so sue me. The only thing I might do differently in the future is to chop the mozzarella balls into smaller bits. They were quite salty and, as I hadn't salted the rst of the salad, being smaller would have spread the salty goodness throughout. Still, a good invention and one that will be repeated.

Also, today, I learned a new term. Bed-oaf. I found it hilarious. I hope you do, too.

Monday, June 25, 2007

One Year Ago

It was about one year ago that I was sitting in my psychologist's office having a minor panic attack. A couple of weeks earlier, I had gone on a job interview at my alma mater and was waiting to hear back from them about whether or not the job was mine. They had promised to tell me by July 1 so that I could give a month's notice to my current employer before leaving. Now that the moment of notification was upon me, I was completely freaked out. If I got and took the job it meant leaving behind my life of the last seven years. Leaving behind most of my friends. Leaving behind Boston, a city I greatly enjoy. Leaving behind an inconstant lover. Leaving behind a job I hated and an employer that was doing everything it could to gut itself and chase away everyone doing good work. Leaving behind the safe and familiar, which is comfortable no matter how much of your soul it sucks.

And so, the visit to Dr. Sid. Who I adore and whose advice I do miss. And after pouring out my heart, my fears, my what ifs to him for an hour, he had one simple question for me. Would you be disappointed if you didn't get the job? And the answer was yes.

So, on that Friday a year ago, they called me and offered me the job at a decent if not spectacular salary with assurances of moving help and housing for at least the first year. And I jumped. And i didn't give a month's notice, either. In fact, I gave less than two weeks and they should have been happy I gave that instead of walking out, entirely. By the first week of August, I was here, north of Chicago, working at my new digs.

It has not been easy. I did leave behind my friends. Most have since left for other parts of the world themselves. The few who remain do keep in touch, and those who don't? Well, I guess I can't expect anything else. It did hurt to leave behind the inconstant lover. Even though I knew he had to go eventually. Even if I pretended to myself that he didn't. Leaving him behind has been made even more difficult because I am finding nothing, just nothing, here in Chicago. Not even a friend with benefits. I seem to be attracting only liars, closeted homosexuals, fat chick baiters, etc etc etc. Not-So-Dear-John may have been a liar and a slut, but at least he was never deliberately cruel and we always had a good time....

Still, even as difficult as it has been, life is much better for me now. I am paying off my bills slowly but surely. I enjoy my job most days. I wish I could accomplish more than I have been, but it has been a good experience for me to learn that I am only one person and only a human, at that. I have my own home, something I never good have had in Massachusetts by myself. And, yes, I am fatter than before. But, nearly every day, I wake up wondering excitedly what will happen. Unlike in Massachusetts, where I woke up and asked myself how soon everything was going to implode.

Friday, June 22, 2007

The Season for All Growing Things

Today, please enjoy these beautiful pictures:

First, the faun that was outside the front door of my office.

Secondly, my herb garden. It's a start!

Third, my beautiful roses.

And finally, Pele not giving a shit. Again.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Just So You Know

What's My Blog Rated? From Mingle2 - Free Online Dating

That's because I used the word "cock" twice.

Oh My, Get Your Mind Out of the Gutter, People!

I visited yet another new store this weekend. For the life of me, I can't remember its name, except that it is something like Super Fresh, and is near the Aldis on Lewis Street, going north. Similar to the Lewis Fresh market but a bit bigger and with nastier produce but a better selection on meats. They also have a large section of international foods, including some Afro-Carribbean in addition to all the Latino, Indian, and Eastern European stuff you find everywhere else.

They even had a soup flavoring packet I am certain my gay friends will find amusing and enjoyable: Cock Flavored Soup. Yes, that's right Cock Flavored.

I mean, I know they mean chicken, but still........

Friday, June 15, 2007

Kitten Free

So last night, I attempted to make friend with my new kitten family, and gave them food and sat very quiet and got them used to me. Momma was having none of it. As long as I didn't move or come within two feet, she was fine. Otherwise, she hissed like a cobra. The kittens were interested but a bit skittsih. I watched and watched, and then went inside to watch. Momma finally decided that it was safe enough to go hunt, and I decided it was time to make a move and catch the babies.

I put on my trusty gloves and took a cat carrier out with me. I even managed to pet the heads of two of the kittens. But the instant I grabbed one, it was like holding a live firecracker. Never heard such spitting and yowling in my life! Not even when I had to give Leo a bath.

Well, momma was not as far away as I had thought and she came at me like a lightning bolt! I screamed and ran like a little girl, leaving the cat carrier behind. This morning, I looked and I don't see them anywhere. Maybe momma decided that my house actually wasn't the kind of neighborhood she wanted to be in and moved them elsewhere. And I hope that a skunk hasn't taken up housekeeping in my abandoned cat carrier. I certainly don't want to capture one of those.

Below is Pele not giving a shit:

And here's Leo suggesting that those things are fine to look at from afar but how dare you actually get close to one!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

I Have Kittens!

Last night, as I was sitting and reading, I heard a cat cry outside. I figured it was just one of the neighborhood cats walking by, saying "hi" to Leo, who has been stationed in the front window for several days. Enjoying the sun, I thought. Leokin loves him some sun.

This morning, I headed out a bit later than normal. I had been waiting for AT&T to actually come and hook up the phone, which they were supposed to do on Tuesday but apparently gaked it up. Anyway, I headed out the door and looked over the railing and the evil evergreen bushes in front of my house, wondering when the damn tree guy would call me back so we could get something scheduled for the removal of the ugly shrubs. Sunddenly, I saw movement. And more movement. And even more movement!

Yes, dear reader, yours truly, had kittens. They look to be about 6-8 weeks old. Their eyes are open and they scoot around like crazy. Apparently, Leo has not been enjoying the sun so much as he has been enjoying the theater taking place in my ugly shrubs. Which is funny, 'cause Leo is not so fond of other animals, except his sister and, of course, fish, birds and squirrels. And sometimes bugs, if I have them.

So, I called mia madre to see if she had any hints for what to do, my first instinct being to feed them, which of course would mean that I would officially become their human feeder #1 and they would never go away. She suggested live trapping and a thick pair of leather gloves.

Anyway, I decided to take some food and water out to them because it has been hot and all my birds have disappeared. I took the dishes around the side of the house only to discover that momma kitty is actually around. She looks a little worse for wear. She is definitely pissed off and might be feral. It's hard to tell when they are being all fierce about their offspring. It looks like there are 4-5 kittens. It can be hard to tell when they get in the thick branches. They are all various shades and degrees of grey and white, and there looks to be one that is a long-haired dilute tortie and is just gorgeous. One appears to have a leg injury of some type, perhaps broken. I will spend the next few days attempting to befriend them, so hopefully I can capture at least the kittens and take them to the no kill shelter. If they are healthy and FIV-negative, I might even agree to foster them until they can find homes. I don't think I will be able to capture the momma without a full suit of body armor, though.

Sadly, I find myself tempted to keep one, maybe even the tortie. I guess I am an old softy. Leo, however, gets a little worked up when new animals come into the home and it sets off his IBD. Then again, he has been watching them. Maybe he would think it was an old friend. Pele would just love to have a kitten in the house. Hell, I had to grab her by the scruff of the neck this morning as she attempted to scape through the front door and go mothering.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Roasted Corn, Mexican Style

I went to a new grocery store near my house on Monday night. It was a little mini version of Garden Fresh market, leaning strongly to the Latino. It has a decent if not huge variety. It's prices were a bit higher than I would have liked, but it had a lack of frozen, convenience food, which, in my book, is a good thing. Outside, they had a person selling roasted. God, did it smell good! There is nothing quite like the smell of roasted corn. I decided to get one. The clerk asked if I wanted it traditional Mexican style.

Well, I am always up for something new, so I said why not? She began by spritzing it with spray butter and then coating it with what I assumed was near melted butter, then coasted in Mexican dry cheese and sprinkled it with chilli powder. I took it home and took a bite.

Um, that old adage about assuming? Too true.

What I thought was butter was actually mayonnaise. On roasted corn. Didn't like it. Tasted funny. Weird texture. And I should have known it was mayonnaise. When I worked at the Latino agency, we went through mayo like nobody's business. A favorite treat of some of my co-workers? Mayo put on bread and then chucked in the toaster oven. Not nearly as bad as it sounds to Norte Americano ears.

I took my roasted cord to the sink and washed it off. Frankly, it was much better plain. I guess next time I will know to just ask for butter, salt, and chilli. Live and learn! How much sadder would it have been to not have tasted it at all?

Monday, June 11, 2007

Why Do You Need to Know? Or: Heather Continues Her Crusade Against Idiocy in Retail

So, Friday night, I had to return a couple of items of clothing I purchased that I had decided I didn't like. All of them were brand new and still had tags attached. I still had the receipt. They had been purchased less than seven days before. Should be no problem, right.


My first transaction went well. I needed to return a pair of women's Dockers to Marshalls, as they had been marked incorrectly on the size. I went to the line, waited not three minutes, and the very helpful sales clerk offered me cash, although I had paid with my debit card. Afterwards, I tooteled around the store, picked up a hunting-cabin-warming gift for mia madre and a bottle of snooty BBQ sauce that looked interesting, and went off to my next return.

I drove down the street to the Avenue, where the woman at the counter said to me, in a snotty voice, "You have a return?" Yes, please. I was still in a good mood from my Marshall's visit. In fact, I was feeling disgustingly cooperative. She yells loudly to another clerk, "I got a return!" Ok. The other young clerk comes over to take care of my transaction. Her first words? "I need your phone number." Um, why? "The computer says I need your phone number in case corporate needs to call you to see if this is really a return." Um, the product is right here. I am returning it. Ergo, is it not a real return? "I have to have your phone number." Well, I don't want to give you my phone number. I don't want to be put on some telemarketer's list. The clerk calls the manager. "This lady won't give her phone number." I explain to the manager that too many times companies like the Avenue have said they needed my phone number only to sell it to telemarketers and that I chose not to provide my phone number to anyone except close friends and family and my employer and my doctor. "Well, we need something so that if corporate has any questions about our performance they can contact you." Now I feel this is a line of bullshit, but I give them my work number because otherwise, we are just not moving forward toward getting me back my $30. Then:

"Ma'am, I need your home address."

Excuse fucking me? You do not need my home address for me to return an unworn garmet with receipt and original tags still attached.

"I am sorry. I do not wish to provide you with my home address. I don't want my home address sold to junk mail outlets and I especially do not want you to have my home address stored in your computers in conjunction with my credit card information. I was the victim of similar practices at TJX and DSW. Then they got hacked, and it cost me a lot of money and time to get my identity back and repair my credit."

"Well, ma'am, I am afraid that we will not refund your money unless you give us this information."

Now, nowhere in the store is this information posted. No where does it say that if you want to return an item, you must provide all sorts of personal information just to get your money back. No where. It doesn't say this on the receipt either.

So I was left with a choice. Give them my personal info to get my money back or walk away from the money and suck it up. Sadly, I needed the damn money.

I gave her an old address. I knew it was all a damn ploy to get my email so they could send me crap and sell my address, because I heard the manager say to the clerk, "Just keep hitting no. Make sure you hit no, or she will get mail." I informed the manager that I would never shop at Avenue again, and would inform everyone else.

Sadly, however, the Avenue is not the only retailer who is behaving in idiotic ways. I recently attempted to make a purchase at a TJ Maxx where the sales clerk refused to ring up my purchases unless I gave him my telephone number. I dropped over $100 worth of merchandise on his counter and walked out the door. The manager was about having a fit. The same thing when I went to the grocery store and was about to sign up for one of those grocery savings cards. Those dorks wanted to photocopy my driver's license. Photocopy my driver's license! So I could get 10 ears of corn for a dollar! Um, hell no!

So, retailers. Heads up. YOU DO NOT NEED THIS INFORMATION. You need my money, and if you continue to act like this, you aren't going to get it anymore.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Don't Laugh!

I often get a lot of guff because I walk with my head down scanning the ground, usually. Mostly I am looking for rocks, being a rapid rockhound. In fact, everytime I move, I literally move a box of rocks. Sadly, a lot of people just don't get this. They wonder why I do it. As a result I am seen as everything from weird to freaky to timid, etc.

Well, what I am really doing is trying to make a big gemstone score, peeps. And it can happen, as it did to this nice girl:

"Walking along a path taken by thousands of others at the Crater of Diamonds State Park, Nicole Ruhter noticed something everyone else had missed — a tea-colored, 2.93-carat diamond."

Take that, doodz!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Much Ado About Nothing

So I got all excited about these pork spines 'cause they're cheap, only to do some research and find out that they are simply neck bones. Kinda like Ox Tails in reverse. Apparently they are used to make soup, especially in Korea and Mexico. I found one Korean recipe but it involves a million ingredients that I don't have and that I will have to go into the city to get. And since the recipe says the aroma of a cooking pork spine is pretty intense and that all windows in your kitchen should be open during cooking, I am not so keen to make a special trip just to try.

Still, I am going to have to do something. The price of food is going up exponentially. In Chicago, the price of a dozen eggs has jumped 81% since last year, according to an article that is in today's Chicago Tribune. And meat is going higher and higher because the cost of corn feed has skyrocketed, as more and more corn is used for ethanol. For our gas guzzling vehicles. What's worse is that most major meat manufacturers (and yes, I call them this because they sure as hell aren't butchers or farmers anymore) are injecting meat with a brine. Nowadays, this means that between 7-15% of the meat you buy is nothing but artificially added salt water. But you are still paying for that weight as if it were actual meat. Meat manufacturers claim they do this because it helps the home cook keep their meat juicy and moist. I call bullshit. Anyone who wants to know how to keep their meat juicy and moist while cooking can just read a cookbook or look up an article on I, frankly, think it is disgusting and immoral. And bad for cooking. The other day, I decided to bake some chicken leg quarters. They threw off so much moisture from the artificially added brine that they steamed instead of roasted and were so salty, despite the fact that I add no salt whatsoever, that I could hardly eat them.

And going veggie is not always a good thing either. India is a major supplier of dulses or legumes to the world. In recent years, they have curtailed the amount of lentils or dals they have exported because they haven't had enough to supply their own population, effectively driving the price of lentils up mondo high. During a recent trip to the Indian market, I purchased 8 pounds of lentils at a price of $15, more than $2 a pound. Lentils shouldn't cost as much as subgrade chicken parts.

I am seriously thinking about ordering some grassraised organic meat this upcoming afll. Anyone want to go Dutch on a half of beef?

Monday, June 04, 2007


My local bodega has pork spine for 89 cents a pound. Anyone got any recipes? It's the cheapest animal protein I have found in my area.