Saturday, April 30, 2005


Is there anything more exhausting and mind numbing than a week long sales meeting? Ok, maybe climbing a 14,000 ft+ mountain or running the Boston Marathon is more exhausting physically but at least there is that mental exhilaration that goes with those types of feats. After a week of sitting in a semi-comfortable chair in a dim, stuffy conference room watching one PowerPoint presentation after another by our field based sales organization; each one extolling the efforts of the "team", I am completely, totally, unequivocally wasted. Add after-meeting smoozing and boozing, unlimited access to a smorgasbord of unbelievable food/desserts (seriously, the best conference food I have ever had) to the eight hour days of team building love-fest activities and I am one hurting unit. Even spending time with my good friends that I worked with when I was "field based" grew tiring by Thursday. Yesterday, after morning break-out planning sessions for the upcoming fiscal year, everyone departed and I scurried home; happy that I could put the week behind me and even happier that I could take a much needed nap.

Poor MBH, left to his own devices (and cooking) is in serious need of some TLC and frankly, I can barely keep my eyes open this morning at Dammits let alone participate in the pithy conversation he craves. Thank God for the new Mac operating system release, Tiger OS10.4. He was the first kid on the block to get his disks and has been blissfully upgrading his Mac and taking it for a test-drive as only he can; complete with typical MBH upgrade snafus that included discovering the Debian upgrade he performed earlier yesterday repointed all his partitions, including the one on which he had his Mac backup stored. I felt so guilty about the past week, especially Wednesday when I left before he was awake and got home after he had gone to bed, that last night I decided he deserved a very special treat and stopped by the library to procure three classic Sherlock Holmes DVDs starring Jeremy Brett. Then I took him to Staples and treated him to a spindle of DVD+Rs he needed to back up not only his MacG4 but his beloved Debian OS on yet another machine, took him to the local "Packie" (that is a liquor store for you non-Boston natives) to pick up his weekend supply of beer, and then treated him to the delivery of his favourite pizza with which to enjoy with aforementioned libations and entertainment. Once home, we clambered into bed with pizza box and beer, tempted the cat with a piece of pepperoni and settled in to enjoy our evening. Fifteen minutes into the "Hounds of Baskerville", I zoned out which caused MBH to ask me repeatedly if I was paying any attention to the movie. How do I tell him that my brain can't even concentrate on not dropping large amounts of sausage and pepperoni on my nightshirt and the sheets let alone keep pace with Watson as he relays pertinent information to Holmes? I did what any self-respecting significant other would do and lied, "Yes honey. I love this one and am just engrossed". Thankfully I had enough presence of mind to be able to read a bit of Peter Mayle's excellent "A Year in Provence" out loud to him before passing out. Now how do I tell him that I have to leave on Wednesday for a business trip to California? I wonder if lobster will placate him?

Banana's Foster (ala Forefront Conference Center)
Serves 2

2 large ripe but firm bananas, chopped into chunks
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 cup Parrot's Bay coconut rum (or dark rum)
1/8 cup banana liqueur
2 scoops vanilla ice cream

Place one scoop of vanilla ice cream in a sorbet glass and put in the freezer until needed. In a flambé pan (you can use a paella pan or really large skillet for this too), place butter, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg and heat over low heat, stirring until the butter and sugar are melted. Add the banana liqueur and then place the bananas in the pan. When the bananas begin to brown and get slightly soft, add the rum carefully paying attention not to spill on the burner (if you cook with gas). When the rum sauce is hot, turn off the stove and use a long match to ignite (or one of those great camp stove/grill igniters) the rum sauce. When the flame subsides, spoon half the bananas and rum sauce over one scoop of ice cream. Enjoy

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Surrounded by Happy Shiny People

I now know where the happiest people in the world are and it isn't Disney. I have just returned from Salt Lake City, having spent the better part of last week there on a business trip, and my face hurts. I have not had to paste a smile on my face for that long since I was meeting a long since dismissed beau's family at his parent's 35th anniversary. Now, maybe it my Northeastern attitudes and agnostic leanings but, there is no way without the benefit of large quantities of alcohol or some other mind altering substance that you can be that happy. And talk about polite! (not that there is anything wrong with that...) I haven't been Ma'med like that since I was last below the Mason Dixon line. By the time I got on my airplane yesterday morning, I was actually looking forward to the surly attitude of the Northworst Airlines flight attendants. But, all sarcasm aside, Salt Lake City is a city of dichotomies. Seriously. For example, did you know that Salt Lake City has the 2nd largest copper mine in the world that has created the 3rd most polluted body of water in the US and a slag heap from its strip mining of the area mountains that is visible from space? I didn't. All I remember from previous trips to Salt Lake City was the green space downtown and the mountains. Salt Lake has a fairly large population of working homeless too. I found this out talking to my maid at the hotel. She was telling me about how she and her sister had spent three months living in the back of a broken down van while they saved enough money to have first/last/security for a one bedroom apartment. I thought to how I have never seen panhandlers in Salt Lake like I see in Boston, New York or other major cities. Later that afternoon, on the way to an appointment, I drove through an area of the city where it was obvious most the people either were living in their cars or one step from living on the street. There are several rusting hulks of steel mills, mining operations, and chemical plants scattered around the valleys. The more time I spent driving around the environs of Salt Lake City, the more it began to look like the Pittsburg or Cleveland of the early 80's. And the sprawl... One last little surprising tidbit, Salt Lake City is where the chain restaurants go to test market new concepts. Apparently, it is the Peoria of American taste-buds. Everywhere you turn there is a Chilis, Applebees, Rumbis, Parrot Pete’s, Eat-at-Joes and hundreds of knock-off whannabees. I asked one of my clients where I could go for a good meal that wasn't a chain. He told me he and his wife really enjoy a place called the Mayan as they served authentic South American/Latin American food. Excited to have Peixe Ensopado (Brazilian Fish Stew) and wash it down with the spicy ginger beer of the region, I drove to the restaurant for an early dinner. What greeted me was a big fake Mayan temple complete with large neon Toucan on the side of the building. As soon as I walked into the door, I knew that any hopes of authentic or even close to authentic South American food were dashed. I was seated and promptly served a platter full of tortilla chips and fried plantains and sauces ala every Tex-Mex joint in this land. Basically I had stumbled into a Rainforest Cafe meets Chi-Chi's and the menu reflected that concept. I left $7.00 on the table for the ginger beer I had ordered as well as the trouble to clear the table and left. On my drive back to my hotel, I spotted a Wild Oats grocery store. I stopped to pick up a meal from their salad bar and went back to my plastic hotel in a plastic suburb in a plastic town with plastic people to numb my mind with the plastic version of Sex in the City showing on TBS and all the while, REM's "Happy Shiny People" played in my head...

Peixe Ensopado: Coconut Fish Stew

This is a recipe that a friend from Brazil gave me. She typically made it with badejo, a fish native to Brazil and like sea bass. I found a good substitute is haddock or a thick cut of hake or cod.

Juice of one lime
1/2 teaspoon salt
Black pepper to taste
4 fish steaks 1/2" thick
1 large onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
8 green olives, sliced
3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 malagueta pepper, chopped (optional but tasty)
1/2 cup coconut milk (see recipe below. You can substitute canned but it will be much sweeter tasting)

Make a marinade of the lime juice, salt and pepper and marinate the fish for 1 to 3 hours. Sauté the onion, olives and garlic in oil until onion is limp. Mix in cilantro and cook for 1 minute. Add fish and marinade. Simmer 10 to 15 minutes, or until fish is done. Mix in tomato paste, malagueta pepper and coconut milk. Simmer for another 5 minutes. Serve with rice.

Coconut Milk

1 coconut (see below)
1/2 cup warm water (for a thick milk)
2 to 3 cups warm water (for a thin milk)

Heat the coconut in a preheated 350 degree F oven for 10 minutes. This will crack the coconut. Using potholders, remove the coconut from the oven and place it in a large metal bowl on the floor. Cover the bowl with a towel and with a hammer, hit the coconut to break it open (note: good to take frustrations out as it will take several good hits to break it open). Take out large pieces of broken coconut and strain the coconut water through a coffee filter to take out all the little shell fragments and set aside. Separate the coconut meat from the shell. Use a big solid serving fork or dull knife. DO NOT USE A SHARP KNIFE!! (trust me on this...I have the scar to prove this is a bad idea). You can use a vegetable peeler to get the brown skin away from the ends of the meat. Grate the meat in a food processor or through a food mill.

To make the thick milk: Put the gratings into cheesecloth or a clean white dish towel and tie the ends together. Soak the wrapped gratings in 1/2 cup warm water in a small bowl for a few minutes. Firmly squeeze the gratings over the bowl. This should make about 3/4 cup of thick milk. Add to reserved coconut water.

To make the thin milk: Follow the same soaking process above but use 2 to 3 cups of warm water and repeating the squeezing procedure several time. Use the reserved coconut water and bring the volume to 2 to 3 cups with warm water is needed.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Serve with ice cold milk

I don't know what possessed me to to do this. Maybe it was because I was thinking about baking MBH a batch of his favourite cookies (ehrm..biscuits). Maybe it was because I just always wonder about things like this. But more likely it was because I just couldn't bring myself to finish the project I've been working on for what feels like weeks and dreading the paperwork involved with wrapping up a project was procrastinating. I went to Dogpile and googled chocolate chip cookie recipe. About 30 seconds later I had over 100,000 different recipes for the classic cookies. Whoa!! Too many recipes to sort through, especially as I only had about 30 more minutes before I could call it a day and leave the prison yard, oh, I mean work. So I narrowed my search to original Toll House chocolate chip cookie recipe. Ah, much more manageable at 50,500. As I decided to see what made each of these recipes different from the recipe I keep in my head, I was amazed at how many recipes claim to be the recipe Ruth Wakefield invented outside of Boston in the early 1930s. There were some recipes with 2 1/4 cups of flour and 1 3/4 teaspoon of baking soda. There were others with 1 1/2 cups of flour and 2 eggs. Some called for walnuts while some called for pecans. As I clicked the next link in my search, I got to thinking about how each of these recipes somehow ended up on the internet and how neat it was that all I or anyone else looking for a recipe for the most famous cookie in the world had to do was type "Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie" into a search engine, hit print, and in 30 minutes or so could be sitting down to a batch of warm, gooey, chocolate love. I kept plowing through the recipes and each variation of the recipe with it's 1 stick of butter here and 6 oz of vegatable oil there began to remind me of people. Some had just the right mix of ingredients to make them bake up sweet and chewy. Some had too much liquid and would bake up flat and crispy. Some had too much sugar and would cook too fast, leaving a burnt outside and raw inside and some had too much baking soda and would taste funny. But, somewhere in this electronic medium we have begun to rely so much on, someone thought the recipe was just right and decided to share it with the world.

I've been reflecting a lot lately on people/relationships. How like a really good recipe they work together and how sometimes, even if you have all the right ingredients, if you don't have the right amounts then they just won't work. Kind of like the recipe I looked at right before I turned my computer off to go home. It called for 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt. It had all the right ingredients: butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, 2 eggs, vanilla, baking soda, semi-sweet chocolate chips, flour and salt but it called for 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt. The cookie would look right and even bake right. From the outside the cookie would be perfect but one bite would tell you it was too salty. I'm not sure what all this deep introspection into recipes means. Maybe it doesn't mean anything. Or maybe it was just an excuse to go home, kick my shoes off, open the window in the kitchen to let the late afternoon spring breeze into the house and bake a batch of cookies for MBH.

MBH's Favourite Chocolate Chunk Cookies:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees


2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chunks

Cream butter and both sugars together in bowl until smooth and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla and combine until smooth. Add flour, salt, and baking soda. Mix until creamy. Add chocolate chips and chunks. Stir until all the chips and chunks are incorporated. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and place in fridge for 20 minutes. Using a really big spoon, take a large portion (4 Tablespoons or so) of the dough and roll into a ball. Break the ball in half, leaving a hinge and place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 12 - 15 minutes or until golden brown on outside and pale in the middle. Let cool on cookie sheet for minute or so and place on cooling rack.

This recipe will result in 16 really big chewy cookies.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

"He's the One"

"He's the one! I know it this time! I'm letting someone into my life for the first time ever!" I'd been trying to ignore the two perky and loud Harvard co-eds sitting at the table next to me at Dammits for as long as I could. I had promised myself that this morning I would not only finish this week's Sunday NY Times but the last three weeks of Friday and Sunday NY Times as well. Then, one of the girls announced this little gem with enough gusto that everyone stopped what they were doing and looked at her. I just couldn't concentrate on the NY Times Magazine any longer. Feigning to be reading, I listened as she gushed as only a young twenty-something who has fallen in love for the first time this week can gush. She went on to tell her companion how he had nickname for her already. How he actually told her about his oldest high school friends and she was even invited to meet them. How she actually felt finally here was someone she could let into her life because, as she told her friend, "You know how I am. I just can't, like, jump into a relationship like E. I have to get to like really, really get to know someone first and I think I really know him. I mean, like, when he first, like, saw me at the boathouse two weeks ago, I just KNEW". I wasn't sure whether to politely correct her "like" use of the word "like" or to stand up and declare as adamantly as she, " You don't know! You can't know!! You WON'T know!!! Not for many more years. Not until you have lived a bit more, loved a bit more, and most importantly, lost a bit more. Then you will know." But I didn't. I couldn't. There was something in the urgency of her voice, the way her eyes lit up as she declared to the entire coffee shop as well as her friend that she had found the elusive One. It all reminded me that part of being a young twenty-something is the surety of finding the One. The giddiness to the point of not being able to breathe when you meet someone new and the assuredness that he/she is the One.

I thought back to all my "Ones" and how I couldn't wait to share my happiness with my best friend, K. How I would call her up at work or home as soon as I was sure and declare that I had something very important to tell her. She knew me well enough to know exactly what that statement meant; I had found "him" again. She would agree to meet me at one of our haunts where she would endure my every dissection of how I just KNEW this was the One. She would ask all the right questions. Questions like "Does he call you a lot?" and "When are you going to see him again?" She would let me ramble ad nauseum about the smallest little features about the One. Then K would do exactly what I needed her to do. She would make me temper my excitement by pointing out that even though all signs looked good, perhaps in a few weeks or days or even hours, I would find he was not the One but just another almost.

As I listened to the girl's friend ask the same questions and offer the same advice/encouragement K had offered me so long ago, I thought about my One and looked over to the chair next to me where MBH was staring intently at the screen of his Mac. We have become that old staid pair the past year or two. Complete with the idiosyncrasies possessed by two people who are past the bloom of early infatuation. We pick at each other over things only people who have lived together for a long time pick at each other over. We grumble under our breath when the we think the other isn't listening or when we hope the other is listening but don't have the courage to say what is on our mind too loud. He berates me for being just like his father and walking out of rooms while still trying to have a conversation. I secretly seethe that despite having seen every episode of Seinfeld at least seven times, when it is on TV that is the only thing on his mind. He still uses his pet names for me and I still get a thrill to hear them. I still look at him in the morning when he is half asleep/half awake cuddled up against me and know there is no place in the world I would rather be. When I am having the worst week of my life at work, I know he will surprise me with a packet of my favourite tea biscuits from Cardullos or find an e-card with a drawing of a frazzled woman who somehow looks just like me to send and brighten my day. He knows that when his world is about to come apart, he can always turn to me to be there to encourage him, to stroke his ego, to support him, to unconditionally love him. Because, as I wanted to tell the two girls as they picked up their stuff to leave, it isn't the giddiness that tells you that you have found the One. Rather it is finding the grittiness and knowing you want to stay. Then, and only then, will you really know he's the One.