31 July 2010

the heat! the heat! and breakfast burritos....

I had the good fortune to be chosen to perform at the National Flute Association Convention in 2007. I had the bad fortune for that convention to be held in Albuquerque. It's nice there, but it's really hot in August.

When I finally reached Albuquerque, I saw... dirt. No grass, no trees, just dirt. Don't get me wrong, the people of Albuquerque seem quite nice. Even the meth addict stumbling around my motel parking lot in the wee hours of the morning was easy going. And the food--well, that is absolutely amazing. The red chili, the green chili, the breakfast burritos (see below) at the place the cops tried to shut down but the people rebelled--get it all! I was in heaven whenever I ate there. But the heat that lasted literally from sun up until sun down, the dirt, the slow moving vehicles in traffic jams all over the city at every hour of the day and night--here was the proof that hell exists and the dead are walking the earth. They're nice dead people and they have good taste in food, but they are living in hell, nonetheless. And now I would be staying in hell, too, for the next four days.

I drove through what seemed to be a business-oriented shopping district, naturally, and made my way to the original downtown area. I had discovered this inexpensive little motel while looking for ways to stay near Old Town, famed for its great food and lively nightlife situated around an ancient town square that felt like you were a million miles away from America (I stand by this description). Of course, I expected it to be a bit rough around the edges, but this was beyond rough. This was the kind of neighborhood that they visit again and again on the television show Cops. Suddenly windows were broken or covered with boards, dirty children with no shirts or shoes played with fistfuls of dust--even if the motel was within walking distance of Old Town (which it barely was), you'd have to be suicidal to do it.

I awoke the next morning to a man bellowing in Spanish underneath my balcony. Apparently my neighbor was an acquaintance of his, and she was none too quick to help him. The sun was already blazing through the blinds, and when I stood near the window it felt a good twenty degrees warmer. I looked outside and saw various people wearing as little clothing as legally possible. I stepped out onto the balcony and instantly felt surrounded by warmth. I could sense sweat coming. I rushed back into my cool(er) room and I looked at the clock; it was 6:18am. Ugh.

I don't know how people do it. But for the breakfast burritos at Frontier Restaurant, I might return in February.

New Mexico breakfast burritos

(The mass quantities are for freezing, and then you've got instant gratification when you're too tired and impatient to cook later.)

1 tablespoon olive oil + half onion, chopped + spinach
6 eggs + 1/3 cup milk + salt and pepper to taste + 8oz. jar salsa or green chili
10 flour tortillas, extra large
10 strips of Morning Star breakfast strips (or bacon)
2 boiled russet potatoes, thinly sliced
cup crumbled queso fresco or feta cheese

Cook bacon or fake-on as directed. Set aside.

Heat oil over medium heat in a skillet and sautee onion until transluscent. Add spinach and just wilt.

Meanwhile, beat eggs, milk, salt, and pepper together in bowl and pour into skillet with spinach and onion. Cook eggs into a soft scramble, then add salsa and finish cooking.

Heat the tortillas so that they are soft and pliable. Fill each tortilla with one piece bacon/ fake-on, three or four slices potato, egg mixture, and crumbled cheese. Be sure to distribute evenly amongst all 10 tortillas! Wrap each tortilla, set on cookie sheet, and freeze 1-2 hours. Wrap individually in foil, and place in freezer-weight bag. Will keep several months this way.

24 July 2010

Mojitos, with and without coconut

I have a glut of mint in my garden at this point, and I have been chopping it into green salads, tabouleh, and making tea from it. But, do you know why I really planted it in the beginning? It was for the mojtos. Think what you want, but I like my drinks to taste good before I cannot remember what day it is, and those mojito mixes at the grocery store taste like toothpaste. Gross. The good news is, mint is very hearty; it overwinters and requires no maintenance whatsoever in my northern Colorado garden. If you live in a harsher climate than mine (Wyoming and Montana friends), it is also happy to live in a pot on the windowsill.

Traditional mojito (measurements are for one drink)

1 generous handful of mint, including stems
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 shots rum

Toss mint and sugar into a shaker and pound vigorously with a wooden spoon. Beat that mint like you’re trying to murder it—and don’t be impatient. Then, add the rest of the ingredients plus a few cubes of ice and shake. You can garnish your drink with a sprig of mint of a lime slice if you want to take the time for that sort of thing …

Island mojito

This is a bastardization, but it’s delicious. Take the above recipe, cut the sugar to 2 teaspoons, and add in 1 generous shot of coconut cream, found in the “mixers” aisle in your grocery store. The resulting drink will be foamy and creamy and will have a nice hint of coconut to it.

21 July 2010

Special edition: I don't like to travel near kids

Quiz: does this picture make you want to a) comfort and snuggle or b) run screaming?
This is where I prove undeniably what a horrible person I am. Besides the bad service and hectic seating, I have another pet peeve on airplanes: small children.

I have already named names in this blog (and some of you were pretty pissed about it), so I’ll just start out by saying that, on my recent flight cross-country, I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of my trip with Frontier Airlines.

But when it comes to your seating arrangements, all you can do is roll the dice and hope you get someone good as your seatmate. I prefer the elderly, sullen twentysomethings with iPods, and middle-aged women. I do not prefer small children. I know, their eyes and ears are too big for their heads (cute), their snarled hair permanently, adorably, looks post-nap, and they say the darndest things, but I do not want to sit next to them. And until society gets honest about the necessity of boarding kennels for all children under the age of 12 (am I really the only one who’s thought of this?), you’re always going to run that risk. I had not had the pleasure of a seat kicker, arm pincher, or screamer in my personal space for a very long time, so of course it I had to pay my dues.

I do not know this child’s name because I kept mp3 player turned way up for the entire flight; I will call her Sparkle Toes. I will call her that because she had pink rhinestone-encrusted shoes which felt very bad when pressed into my thigh. Sparkle Toes was seated next to me, and on the other side was her clearly inconvenienced, bleach-haired surfer-wannabe dad. His lack of attention got worse as the flight continued and Sparkle Toes got more and more wiggly, as if he had been forced at knife point to donate sperm and then was gallingly asked to look after said creation. Well I don’t know, maybe he was. Who am I to say?

The first thing I learned about children from Sparkle Toes is that they have a decided lack of a sense of personal space. As an adult, I always make an effort not to rub body parts with strangers because, as much as I would love this (not really), I understand that it might make others a bit uncomfortable. Now, I know that level of awareness might be too much to ask from a 3 or 4 year old—I imagine that’s where the parent comes in. In my utopia, accompanying sperm donor stays awake, watches said wondrous creation, and says things like, “Sparkle Toes, precious child, please stop moving that strange lady’s arm rest while she is resting her arm on it and trying to write.” Or, if you prefer, “Sparkle Toes, magical fruit of my loins, please do not stand on your seat and play with that lady’s dangly earrings. I know that they are very shiny and inviting, but they are attached to a stranger’s earlobe, and you must first ask consent to behave like this.” Finally, how about “Sparkle Toes, dearest darling light of my life, please remove your bare feet from that woman’s tray while she is trying to eat her Combos.”

Rather, when these things happened (and they did), Sperm Donor sighed, placed his early mid-life crisis head on his hand, and turned toward the little t.v. screen in front of him.

Now as a childless asshole, I don’t want to fall into the trap of assuming I know how to parent. I have been told that it’s annoying to actual parents. But this is my theory: toddler monkeys must be taught how to act by adult monkeys, and constant monitoring is necessary in this project. It’s a continuation of my theory on my neighbors’ pit bulls: if they run around and try to kill you every chance they get, it’s not necessarily the poor dog’s fault, but the owner who has not kept up with his responsibilities in training his dog accordingly.

I think it all just sounds exhausting, so I have chickens instead.

17 July 2010

Chorizo tacos for vegetarians

I live in a heavily Hispanic neighborhood in my Colorado town, which means I always have access to delicious food. Of course, there are some cutesy Tex-Mex places with decent food and margaritas that go down like Kool-Aid, and those places are not bad when your parents are visiting. But I prefer the brightly colored, glorified chicken coops where the menus are in Spanish (can’t understand a word), the hot sauces are homemade, and not one single menu item reminds me of growing up in the Midwest (Chi-Chi’s, you should be outlawed).

At these places, which I would like to believe are authentic, you can get the best tacos (pictured above). They are so simple—two small heated corn tortillas stacked on top of one another with a little pile of super-hot chorizo garnished with chopped red onion and cilantro, lime slice on the side. It’s perfection. My favorite taco place is inside Jerry’s, the small grocery store up the street from my house. I get them with a glass of mel√≥n, sweetened cantaloupe-flavored water.

The chorizo is really so special, I think, because it’s so spicy and bright in flavor. It is also greasy and made from who knows what reconstituted bits of animal no one else would eat. So, I have figured out a ridiculously simple way to make a meatless version of these beautiful, beautiful tacos at home.

Meatless Ode to Jerry’s Chorizo Tacos

1 package Morningstar Farms Recipe Starters Grillers Recipe Crumbles (fake ground beef)
2 teaspoons cumin powder
2 tablespoons Sriracha hot sauce, or to taste (this stuff’s hot, friends!)
Salt to taste
Corn tortillas
Finely diced red onion
Chopped fresh cilantro
Lime wedges

Heat a tablespoon of canola oil over medium-high heat in a frying pan. When oil is shimmering, add the soy crumbles (no need to defrost first) and stir constantly until “meat” is thawed and moistened with oil. Add cumin and stir well to coat. Then add the Sriracha, a bit at a time, stirring and tasting often to make sure the heat level is edible for you. Add salt to taste.

To assemble tacos, lay down two warmed corn tortillas per taco (if they get cold they become brittle and break wide open). Pile “meat” mixture in the middle and garnish with chopped onion and cilantro. Squeeze lime over taco just before eating.

10 July 2010

Fresh Veggie Hash for Two

So simple and delicious. Thanks to our backyard chickens, I have all the ingredients on hand whenever I want this, but you can get everything any time of year at your grocery store or Farmer’s Market.

4 large russet potatoes (or red, or sweet…)
Olive oil
1 pound dark, leafy greens (spinach, dandelion greens, swiss chard, chicory…whatever you like, in any combination), washed and roughly chopped
1 yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
2 eggs
Salt and pepper to taste

Clean and chop potatoes into bite-size pieces. Toss with olive oil and salt and roast in oven (see full directions for roasting here).

In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Sautee onion until fragrant and soft, about 5 minutes. Add greens and salt (about 1 teaspoon to start, then taste and adjust from there) and stir into onions. Cover and lower to medium-low heat; allow greens to wilt, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, stir occasionally, and cook for another 2 minutes.

At this point you can either remove the greens mixture to a plate and keep covered, or just shove the whole mess to one side of the pan (that’s what I do). Fry eggs however you like them. This step happens quickly, so be sure your potatoes are crisp and ready to eat before you start.

To assemble, cover two plates with a layer of the roasted potatoes, then layer on greens and finally, one fried egg for each plate. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

02 July 2010

S'more-ish cookies

I returned recently from a family reunion in the Black Hills of South Dakota. It was tough. I mean, the place is beautiful: Mt. Rushmore is breath-taking even if you don’t think you’re patriotic, Custer State Park is huge and buffalo are really, really huge, and everyone is so nice. Going out to eat is definitely a meat- and fried food-lover’s paradise, but there’s always at least some Fat Tire on tap.

But here’s where it gets sticky: there were eight adults and three young children in a cabin with two bathrooms, we were staying at least an hour drive away from anything to see, and it rained all day the last three days we were there. Don’t get me wrong, I love ‘em like they’re family, but everybody gets tired of doing the “I-have-to-poop” dance in the hallway.

Perhaps it was everyone’s desire for comfort, but we made s’mores over the gas grill EVERY night. I didn’t even want them at first, but there they were, sitting on the plate and seeming to placate everyone else. And you know what? They were delicious. Now I’m back and I still crave them, but I’m too lazy to drag out the charcoal camping grill over and over again to get the proper effect. So, I took my favorite flourless chocolate cookie recipe and did some adjusting…

S’more-ish Cookies

1 ¾ cups powdered sugar

½ cup dark cocoa powder (Hershey’s Dark is nice)

2 teaspoons cornstarch

¼ teaspoon salt

1 large egg

¼ cup mini marshmallows

¼ cup roughly broken graham cracker pieces

Preheat oven to 300˚F. In a large bowl, mix together sugar, cocoa, cornstarch, and salt. Make a well in the center and add the egg, then mix all ingredients thoroughly. If the batter is too thick to work with, add some water a teaspoon at a time (it should be pretty fudgy). Add marshmallows and graham cracker pieces and mix well.

Drop dough by spoonfuls onto parchment-lined baking sheets and bake 18-20 minutes. Cookies should be puffy and crackly on top; they may still seem a bit moist in the center. Cool thoroughly before eating.

Yield: about 15 cookies
Friendly burros in Custer State Park also want s'more-ish cookies!