Thursday, May 28, 2009

When you feel cruddy....

Recently I sent a message out to my friends on Facebook asking what they like to eat when they're not feeling well. The way I see it, there are three kinds of not feeling well. Headaches (I get the migraine kind), colds/sinus infections, and stomach issues are another. I guess just being down in the dumps or having the blues, as I often refer to it, is a fourth kind. So I'm adjusting my previous statement - there are four kinds of not feeling well.

When I have a headache, I'm often not hungry. The headache can lead into nausea, so situations one and three can morph from time to time. But typically in those cases, I end up just picking at food, not really eating anything of worth (and probably not anything that's actually too good for me). When it comes to stomach issues, Campbell's Chicken and Noodle (or Rice) Soup is a winner. Actually, Campbell's Alphabet Soup (I'm not sure what the official title is) with a splash of milk and some crushed up saltines wins in any situation, regardless of the ailment.

When feeling blue, the only solution is plain old comfort food. Down here in Austin, a great and cheap option is the "veggie" plate at Luby's. If you've ever seen King of the Hill when they go to a big cafeteria style restaurant with a bunch of blue-haired bitties...that's Luby's. It's extremely busy in the late dinner time for the walker set. Their veggie plate includes three "vegetables" (which basically just means "non-meat"). I usually will choose two helpings of mac and cheese and one of fried okra (now you see why I put the word vegetables in quotes).

A small digression, I remember the first time I saw mac and cheese listed as a "vegetable" on a menu. There was this small Southern restaurant around the corner from my house in Park Slope, Brooklyn. This restaurant was as authentic as it could be in NYC, where the female chef walked around in her boots, played Lucinda Williams on the music system, and cooked some mean Southern comfort food. Delish. I believe it was there that I was first amused by a restaurant listing mac and cheese as a "vegetable." Sadly, that restaurant (as many in the high turnover neighborhood of Park Slope) didn't last, and I believe it has since been a wide variety of institutions including a sushi place, some sort of fusion restaurant, and a coffee bar.

But back to the "not feeling so hot" food parade. When I asked my friends what they recommend, there was an interesting array of responses. One friend suggested that hot Dr. Pepper with lemon is a great sore throat cure. (I can't believe I didn't try it a couple weeks ago when I had the worst sore throat. I'm sure there will be another opportunity.) There were the obligatory "chicken soup" responses, which, let's face it, is a good answer to just about any titles notwithstanding.

Now I've been sick for close to three weeks, so my culinary muscles are not so much looking for ways to flex. I have been leaning on cold fast food treats (frosties, ice cream sundae-type things, and so on). But tonight, I actually opened up a can or three. Back to my low-energy, no frills, feel better meal - a can of black beans, a can of corn niblets, and a can of a little House dressing (Good Seasons Italian Dressing) okay, a lot. Some Diet Coke and grapes, and a meal is made.

Wow...I sure am a gourmande.

It's a small plate after all....

What are the odds? A few weeks ago on Facebook I mentioned in my status that I'd spend the evening blogging. And lo and behold, a friend of mine said that she, too, is a food blogger. Honestly...what ARE the odds? Maybe it's some sort of generational return to domestic life, but in a modern way with a splash of technology? I should probably thank an ex-boyfriend for getting me into food, but since I had a cookbook at an early age when my sister and I were tasked with cooking one night a week, I don't think he gets full credit.

It seems that at least four of us from our college class have food blogs, with at least three of us hoping to get books out of it. I'm going to guess that there are others in our class with similar interests and aspirations. Crazy.

So, on that note, here are the three Eph-oodie-blogs from my fellow classmates. They're always available in the blogroll on the right side of the page, but I just thought the coincidence deserved an editorial mention.

Dena's Recipe Exchange. Dena describes her blog as "an exchange of ideas for what to cook when you're feeling stuck. Or when you simply want to expand your repertoire. This blog is designed for anyone who's been in a food rut, afraid to try new things, or overwhelmed by a 500-page cookbook."

Ambrosia and Nectar. Annemarie describes her site as "Foodie things that make you feel divine." She always has the most amazing photos of her creations, but the best picture thus far is from her latest post (date 5/21) - showing her son covered in pureed beetroot. Hilarious. (For those not baby-oriented, don't worry, this blog is a food blog, not a mommy blog. This was a brief diversion.)

Revel and Feast. Janee has a broad range of tastes that she covers in her blog. To me the most amazing thing is that her kids are eager to sample her sophisticated fare such as Pollo al Pimentos and Pork Chops with Artichokes and Capers (I likely would not have been as open until lately). She provides tested recipes and mouth-watering pictures for each of her entries. The latest one (5/23) is Strawberry Basil Lemonade...sounds delicious and something I very much plan on trying.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Guten Apetit

A couple weekends ago, my parents visited from Brooklyn. My father grew up for much of his childhood in Texas and even went to college here in Austin. But amazingly, he had never been out to Fredericksburg (A German town out in the hill country). Since I had never been either, he was eager to check it out. My mother, being pretty easy going most times, was along for the ride happily.

On our way out to Fredericksburg, we drove to the Pedernales (oddly pronounced, "perdinales") Falls State Park. My dad said that while he was at UT, his frat brothers went out there all the time, but he was never along for the ride. As we entered, there were many signs warning of the possible fast rising flood waters. While the signs were attempting to be serious, their language was pretty hilarious for those of us who have a dry/sarcastic sense of humor (I am my parents' child...what can I say). The signs gave orders of what to do if you saw flood waters coming your way, which essentially consisted of drop your belongings, turn away, and run as far and as fast as you can. But the last "order" given on the sign could have either been the result of if those previous steps were successfully taken or it was the oddest order I've ever been given, "LIVE." Oh good. I'm glad they told me to live because otherwise I might not have chosen that option after dutifully dropping my belongings, turning around, and running as fast and as far as I could. ...Ok...maybe you had to be there. But we got a chuckle out of it.

In any event, while in the Hill Country (a name that those from more mountainous environs might think was actually tongue-in-cheek), we passed a number of vineyards and farms. Sadly, it was a little early in the season for the farm stands by the side of the road to really be in full bloom, but mark my words, I'm going out there at some point with the express purpose of hitting up every single farm stand. I'm a sucker for food that is lovingly cared for by human hands, where you put a fiver in a tin can as part of the honor system when the owner isn't right there looking over your shoulder. Reminds me of buying corn up in the Berkshires. Yum.

Once we got out to Fredericksburg, we were pretty ravenous (I think it was something like 2pm at this point). Things were getting a little testy, but we all kept our cool. My father had been given the recommendation to find "the best German place" on the far end of town, so we drove through town (blink: there it goes) and found nothing. As we were aiming for the "far side," though, we did notice a place called Der Lindenbaum. It was featured in a book that I had gotten for my father to keep at my house so he could pick restaurants/farms/sites out of it to see when he visits so I'm not saddled with the whole cruise director task.

If I'm going to be totally honest, I wasn't keen on eating German food. I didn't say this to my parents, but frankly, I just couldn't think of what was German aside from beer (which I'm just fine with, of course) and bratwurst. Not that I have a problem with cased meats, just it didn't sound that great. But the Hill Country was settled by vast numbers of German, Czech, Polish, etc. back in the day and some of those cultures live on quite strongly. So we decided Der Lindenbaum must have been what my dad's friends were talking about, and I might say, it changed my life.

First of all, we had the most amazing waitress. Clearly a bit overstretched in terms of the number of tables she had to cover, but she was perfectly attentive and had a great "straight talking" kind of attitude. You want to know what the best thing is on the menu - boom: Jagerschnitzle. You want a hefeweizen (that was just me) - boom: you want the Erdinger not the one listed on this menu. You want a dry reisling - boom: here you go. You want to know which dessert to get - boom: she says, "avoid this, avoid that." No punches pulled. And she didn't pull that same old song and dance you get at so many restaurants when the waitress is asked, "what's the best thing on the menu." "'s all good." Great. Nice to know you have a discerning palette. But this lady did. She got high marks for taking control, but for also listening to what we wanted.

Being suddenly struck with a tad bit of culinary trepidation, I decided just to go with the plain ol' weinerschnitzle. Pounded out pork, pan fried, with a lemon to squeeze over it. It was divine. As per her suggestion, my mother got the Jagerschnitzle. This is the same thing I got but with a mushroom "sauce." While the mushrooms were remarkably tasty, they were still very firm and meaty and pretty big to begin with, so we felt it was really more like a side dish instead of a sauce. Super tasty all the same. My dad got the gulash. He says he's had better, but that it was still pretty good.

The star of the show, however, was something that I had seen Tony Bourdain sample in East Berlin with a former spy. The TV show "No Reservations" rarely has items that I think I'll really have an opportunity to properly sample. But amazingly, they had it on the menu at Der Lindenbaum - currywurst. My dad and I wanted to get a side dish of it after I told him about it. My mom also sampled it an enjoyed. Basically, it's some sort of wurst (I don't know my different wursts, so forgive me) in this amazingly succulent curry sauce. I kid you not, had I not been with my parents (and maybe not in public), I would have picked this plate of sauce up and licked it clean. The wurst drowned in the sauce was exquisite. The weinerschnitzle drizzled with the curry sauce was even better. I now know that if I ever make it back to Der Lindenbaum (which seems like an inevitability), I will not even open the menu and will order the currywurst platter. (And another Erdinger Hefeweizen Light or two.)


Der Lindenbaum
312 East Main Street
Fredericksburg, TX 78624

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Feliz Cinco de Mayo!

On May 5th, the IT department (and a few select guests, such as myself) had their 3rd annual Cinco de Mayo Salsa Competition. Apparently last year they had some chutneys from some of our co-workers originally from the Indian subcontinent, but this year, most items were traditionally salsa or queso.

My addition to this mix wasn't quite as stellar as I had hoped for, so I plan on revising the recipe and then posting it here at a later date. But the basics are back to my beloved corn niblets (canned, baby) and black beans (also canned). I suppose you might get a better bean flavor if you started with the soaking of the beans and so on, but this was something I had to put together very quickly, so that was not an option. I intended to put red onion in there but when I cut into my huge red onion (that felt firm to the light squeeze), it essentially exploded. The middle was rotten. Grody. Bummer. So I moved on to the huge shallot I had sitting with my garlic and put in a big shallot (finely minced) and a medium-sized clove of garlic (also finely minced). Truth be told, I attempted to grate the garlic through my microplane at first to turn it more into a mush that would work itself through the dish completely, but the ROI was lacking - not a lot of garlic mush for all the effort I was putting in. Dicing won out.

Then came the seasonings. I knew I wanted to put in cumin. It is one of my all time favorite spices. The smokey mild heat just can't be beat. (I'm a poet and I didn't even know it.) And it goes with so many other things. So I added a liberal amount of cumin, some cayenne, salt, and pepper. It still didn't have enough zing. So I added a bunch more cumin. Better, but still lacking. I opened up my pantry and searched for something that would work. Aha! Taco seasoning! So I sprinkled in probably 1/3 of the packet on this mixture (which was two cans of each corn and beans). It livened it up and got it to pretty decent, but like I said, it's going to need some refining. Oh, and measuring. That's the thing I find so hard about writing down my cooking exploits....I don't really measure. I guess I need to get better at that. Experiment while I'm in the mood, but just take note of what I'm doing.