Tag Archives: Lifestyle

Upheaval

The blog has been quiet, but real life has been non-stop.

Back in…June? Early July? I was offered a job back in New York City. Since then, every day (aside from a few spent with extended family) has been a frenetic mix of packing, phone calls, errands, more packing, paperwork, finding basic necessities (a new apartment, for a start), working out transportation options, resisting the temptation to buy (pretty well) and eat (slightly less well) all the things, and problem-solving. So much problem-solving.

Oh – and starting aforementioned new job. Given that common knowledge rates marriage, moving, and starting a new job as the three most stressful events in a person’s life (I’m not sure why “having a kid” isn’t in there, but who knows), I seem to have the “do two of those three things at once” down pat.

With that initial mad rush of activity safely past, and the transition into my shiny new real life moving into the “time to decorate the apartment and get back to doing things like writing once in a while” phase, I wanted to stop and take a minute to say thank you to everybody who helped me make this huge change in my life. From the friend who tipped me off about a job opening to the friends who let me crash in their guest rooms and on their sofas, to the friend who dropped everything to come help me unload things, to the one who killed the first cockroach spotted in the new place (you know you’ve missed city life when your response is, “It’s not New York till you’ve got a cockroach in the apartment” instead of screaming and running into the next room…or in addition to screaming and running into the next room…), I cannot even begin to count the ways in which I feel lucky to have people in my life who support and help me when I need it. Being on your own can be overwhelming at times, and from small actions that alleviate minor stresses to feats of friendship that kept me from falling apart in the most stressful moments, my friends really stepped up and helped make this transition as easy as they could have been.

One of my resolutions when I moved back to NYC was that this time, I was going to be more deliberate about how I live here. I was careful not to jump on the first apartment I saw, I’ve deliberately picked different lunch places every day, and I’m not hesitating to suggest exploring places I’ve heard about. I’m trying to say “yes” when people invite me to do things I might not normally take part in (though I’m also balancing this with a significant commute, which can make things tricky). I’m hoping to find outlets in both politics and theater (you’ll note my most recent review), and really looking forward to when the weather cools off later this fall.

Mostly, I’m glad to feel, two and a half years after everything went sideways, that life is getting back on track.

Leftovers

wpid-1127150939-1.jpgIt’s the day after Thanksgiving, the turkey has been devoured, and everyone is wandering around my aunt and uncle’s house (well, everyone who’s up so far) in a post-turkey coma, tottering towards the coffee and slowly organizing their things.

I love Thanksgiving leftovers. Mushing a giant bowl of turkey, stuffing and potato together and then drowning it all in thick, delicious gravy. Nom. Followed up in a few hours with some apple pie and maybe some whipped cream and maybe even some cake?

Of course, the other thing one has to do on Thanksgiving morning is look ahead to the next few weeks of Utter Holiday Insanity. There are gifts to be bought and mailed, cards to write, parties to go to and people to catch up with. Technically, getting through New Years Eve marks the finish line…but then (at least where I am) we’ll be deep into the snowy season.

Last year, overwhelmed with all the things one needs to take care of when one has just moved, I neglected to hire a snow plow and just watched the snow pile up day after day. This year – two days ago, in fact – I called a plow company for an estimate.

Last year around this time, I started working on a sitcom pilot. I’m now steeling myself for rewriting both the pilot and the second episodes, thanks to some great feedback and some new ideas.

Last year, I was excited about moving to a little town in the country and taking on new challenges at work. This year, the challenges promise to continue being…challenging…but I’ve come to the knowledge that despite trying, I was not built for the country lifestyle. Something on that front may need to change in the coming months. We’ll see how it goes.

That’s pretty much how I feel about everything at the moment. I’ll see how it goes. What do you want out of life? I’ll see how it goes. Where do you want to move to? I’ll see how it goes. What do you want for dinner? I’ll see how it goes.

Actually, the answer to that last question is probably “leftovers.” At least for a few more days.

Butchery, Part III: Makin’ the Bacon

Photo Mar 29, 9 58 12 PMWelcome to the third and final part of my Butchery adventure. Check out parts one and two to get caught up. This blog was written in the immediate aftermath of the butchery lesson, but it’s taken me a while to up and post here.

Written: 3/29/13

A few years ago, a friend challenged me to do one new thing a month for the entire year. I think today would have impressed him, because today I helped butcher a pig.

If you’ve read parts one and two of my porcine journey, you’ll know I had serious misgivings about how I might make it through once the pig parts started to fly.

My friend and I made our way to the restaurant; we arrived a little after ten. After introducing us around, they asked what kind of experience, if any, my friend and I had in butchery. I haven’t had any; my friend had taken part in something similar with a lamb and had been studying pig butchery for weeks.

IMAG1143We were given chef’s jackets and aprons before being shown the pig we were about to butcher.

I’ve never been confronted with a pig’s head before. They’re not animals I’ve spent a lot of time with, and the pork shoulder that started this journey was, I now realize, probably not as high in quality as the one we were about to artfully dismember.

Photo Mar 29, 9 58 19 PMBefore we started, the Chef was gave us some background on American and European butchery – for example, did you know that in Europe they cut pig according to its muscle structure, rather than trying to eek out every bit of a so-called choice cut? – and told us a little bit about his own journey to his present position.

Then we learned a little about the pig we were going to work on. It had been raised well and not filled with hormones or antibiotics, and just a few days earlier had been alive and in the fields. In other words, it didn’t get any fresher than this.

IMAG1137I could give a play-by-play of how the Chef walked us through each of the portions of the dissection, but I don’t think I could do justice to just how good of a teacher he was. Both my friend and I had questions, and the three of us chatted as the Chef explained how we were going to take the pig apart so as not to waste any of it. We felt organs and spinal fluid, removed strips of fat (set aside to be rendered), helped saw off limbs, trussed the pork loin, seasoned Bacon for curing and even got to sample a small piece of pork fresh-cooked with olive oil, salt, garlic and thyme.

Photo Mar 29, 9 58 26 PMA lot of anatomy was discussed. My mom used to teach at the University at Buffalo Medical School (as did my grandfather) and as a child I was once treated to a visit to the gross anatomy lab in the middle of a class while my mom spoke with a colleague. I remember things like the spinal columns in a jar on her desk, and while I was never a crack student in biology, the physiology of a human and a pig are similar enough that it made sense to hear how pigs used certain muscles more regularly than others, and how, for example, a muscle a pig wouldn’t use at all would be much more developed in a human because of how we move and bend.

Giving an example of how little pig was wasted in the dissection, the Chef at first threw a few small pieces of “silverskin” – inedible tendon tissue – into the garbage, then changed his mind and retrieved a dish that might have held a cup in volume (though I’d be surprised). When we were finished, he assured us, the cup wouldn’t be full. That’s how much of the pig gets used. It was impressive.

Photo Mar 29, 9 58 20 PMI also saw some first-rate knives in action, which (if you know me) I found pretty damn cool. Watching the Chef easily slide the blade under layers of fat and clean off the pork, I started trying to calculate how many years it will be before I could afford my own set. Way too many.

Once we finished the first half of the pig, which had weighed about 250 pounds when it was alive, we took a break.

Photo Mar 29, 9 58 33 PMBoth me and my friend had glasses of water, and the chef cooked up a “snack” – which he paired with a glass of beaujolais when I took him up on the offer of a glass of wine. (What, did anyone think I’d turn down free wine with a gourmet, freshly-butchered snack?)

When it came to the second half of the pig, the Chef worked quickly. My friend and I helped saw off the legs – the ham, or what would become it (and please note that all errors in naming parts of the animal are the fault of my memory and not poor delivery!) and trussed pork loin to make densely-rolled cuts that would cook evenly.

When both sides of the pig had been butchered into parts, we took a few minutes to prepare ourselves – washing up (though the entire process was far cleaner, and far less bloody, than what I had anticipated), getting our coats back, and stashing the aprons we’d worn – authentic chef souvenirs! – into bags the Chef provided.

Then,the question restaurant- and food-lovers love to hear:

Photo Mar 29, 9 59 01 PM (1)Did we want lunch?

Neither of us was about to say no. We took seats at the bar and agreed: everything on the menu looked amazing, and both of us were happy to eat whatever the Chef wanted to share with us.

It may have been the best meal of my life. We started with a charcuterie board, which featured different cured meats, head cheese, some kind of bacon-wrapped thing, porchetta (please God let me be getting this right) and more. And amazing bread.

Speaking of bread, a couple of guys were kneading gorgeous trays of focaccia beside us, under what looked like extendable heat lamps that hung from the ceilings. Before our eyes, they transformed a giant tray of kneaded dough into a salted and seasoned tray off carby-delicious-goodness.

The next dish – the Chef asked if we wanted to keep going, and neither me nor my friend was about to turn him down – was a gorgonzola, Apple, radicchio and bacon salad.

Photo Mar 29, 11 31 28 AMNow, maybe you like bacon. But when you’ve just spent a week freaking out about whether you’ve got what it takes to butcher an animal, in the way of “not running screaming from the carcass” kind of way – and then found out that indeed, you may indeed have what it takes – the bacon tastes WAY FREAKING BETTER. Or maybe that was because it was freshly cured by a very talented chef.

It was probably the chef. 😉

The next course was spaghetti bolognese, which was the best pasta bolognese I have ever had in my life. Bar none. As my friend said, “that pasta was like a warm hug.”

Finally, the main course. Oh em jee. Butternut squash, kale and chanterelle Mushrooms, and a taste of a few different types of pork: tenderloin, pork belly and a little pork-sausage-type thing that I want to call a croquette, but I know that isn’t the name for it.

Did I mention the chef prepared each course himself?

Best meal of my life. Hands down.

Afterwards, we said our good-byes and expressed our appreciation. I think we left the restaurant a little before two. It was probably one of the most interesting experiences I’ve had in quite some time, and one I’ll treasure for a very, very long time.

Not only did I gain a new appreciation for where my food comes from, but now I know I’ll have the butchery skills I’ll need to survive a zombie apocalypse – and that if it comes down to me or a zombie, I don’t have to worry that I might be too squeamish to, as my butchery t-shirt said, “sever the head.”

IMAG1118

Although I might get the hand saw caught on a bone.

 

Letting the Cables Sleep

2013-04-25 22.32.00For years, I’ve had the habit of keeping the old cables from my past. Wires and wires, quarter-inch jacks and mini-jacks and parallel cables and VGA connectors. Later, HDMI and wifi connections replaced those early, fussily-pinned male-and-female connections with something more universal.

I’m cleaning the apartment, which seems less daunting when you hear that the space involved is probably under 300 square feet than it is when you’re trying to clean it out. The lights in here aren’t great. Most of them come from dim bulbs in age-yellowed fixtures. I’ve lived here four years and am just beginning to feel enough ownership over my abode to start putting pieces of myself into the place.

In trying to use a cheap piece of Plasticine (Copyright? Registration? TradeMark?)/leather furniture-slash-storage to its most efficient “use” I uncover a pile of old cables. It’s when I see the one from an old video capture card that I realize: how absurd, the idea these physical connectors would make their way into use in the future. Exactly once, I found myself in need of a cable I didn’t already own (and never had), and wound up paying an extortionate price for the replacement.

Earlier this year, I took a perfectly functional CD player to Goodwill because I had no practical use for a CD player. My computer houses a DVD-R drive; I strip everything I listen to to MP3 if I buy it in physical form at all, which I haven’t since I trudged the streets of Camden in search of the last British wave of music I bought into on CD.

2013-04-25 22.28.01Letting go of these cables seems impossible. But I weigh their usefulness against the space they take up and think of my roommate coming home earlier, as I was in the grip of a cleaning frenzy, asking her if I could use her hair dryer on the regular so I could throw out mine. “I’m so proud of you,” she said, because we encourage one another to be our best selves and she knows I hold on to things for way too long sometimes.

Can I let go of these old, physical connections to a past that involves a 486 on Windows 3.5; WP5.1 run in DOS, floppy disks and videotape-to-digital conversions? I used to joke that a BA in Media Studies (Video Concentration) meant I was qualified to hook up connections from one piece of equipment to another, but this physical education was quickly outpaced by the progress of ensuing years, and only part of the theory held true.

Knotted up in lengths of cables and noting the absurdity of this specialized cable [PIC], I think, this is ridiculous. This is a moment of clarity, a lesson in scaling back. Stop holding on to those things which no longer serve you.

IMAG1253

Pare down. Don’t tuck them in a bag, zipped up, smothered under fabric. Put them away, let them go.

Let the cables sleep.

music: bush – letting the cables sleep [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RPelsDKEtLQ]

 

Butchery, Part I: I’ve Got A Bad Feeling About This…

2012-01-03 19.11.59

A few weeks ago, I went to Boston and had a lesson in how to butcher a pig. Not exactly what you’d expect from this city girl, right?

But we’ll begin at the beginning, and it started because of pernil.

A friend shared some of her mother-in-law’s with me the week after a major holiday, several years ago. It was melt-in-your-mouth awesome. A while after that, I ran into a recipe on reddit, and a few months after that I made my own low-sodium version with pork shoulder from that great foodie mecca of Western New York, Wegman’s.

Flash forward to mid-January, 2013. Walking through a nearby grocery store, I spotted pork shoulder for the first time in a Manhattan supermarket. (Trader Joe’s doesn’t seem to carry this particular cut of meat.) Unlike the pork shoulder at Wegman’s, though, this was the real deal: bone in, skin on – the shoulder of a pig. Six pounds of pig shoulder.

2013-01-13 16.32.25Thinking back to the pernil, I got excited, and paid eight bucks for a lump of meat the size of my head. Headed home, tried to fit the thing in the crock pot – ready to try making BBQ’d pulled pork, this time…and it wouldn’t fit.

I had to cut it in half, first.

I’ve never cut through pig skin before, and it says something about me that this may have been the first time I’ve ever had such a, erm, close relationship with a piece of meat that wasn’t poultry. By the time I got half the pork shoulder severed and the other half back in the fridge, I was starting to wonder whether I’d ever be able to eat bacon again.

But I kept going. The pork stewed in the crock pot for a couple hours. I took occasional pictures. My roommate and I made uneasy jokes about pig skin, humans, eating meat, and the zombie apocalypse.

When the cooking was over, the trouble started.

If you’ve ever cooked extremely fatty meat in a crock pot, you’ll understand when I say I probably shouldn’t have added the BBQ sauce to the mix before cooking the meat. Because I didn’t, the result was a watery mixture of sauce, meat and fatty oils – from both components. That was okay. I got out a couple of forks and started shredding the meat. (Also a bad idea; in retrospect, I should have drained the sauce off first.)

2013-01-13 17.01.53Things were basically cool, up until the moment the fork dragged up a piece of half-melted pig skin, strung together with a couple inches of meat. And maybe a tendon. Or something.

My stomach rolled.

But I kept thinking about the original reddit pernil recipe, specifically the part where he talks about honoring the animal that gave its life so you could eat, and I kept going. Picking out chunks of half-liquified pig skin, trying to scrape the shredded pork off the skin and back into the sauce. I tasted some.

I had not picked a good BBQ sauce. Also, there was still WAY too much fat in the sauce.

2013-01-18 00.32.48I managed to eat a spoonful before I realized this – unlike my famous steak tartar incident by the seine (remind me to blog about that, some time) – was not a culinary battle I could win.

With three pounds of frozen pork shoulder in the freezer, this was going to be a problem.

Luckily, a work friend was talking about making pork tacos the next day, and happy to take the rest of the pork shoulder off my hands. Guilt somewhat alleviated.

But now I had an ethical quandry on my hands, of the low-grade variety prone to plaguing the dietarily privileged: how could I justify eating a meat I couldn’t even prepare myself? It sounds nuts, I know. But it tickled at the back of my head for days following the pork shoulder incident. I’d spent time, recently, talking to hunters. My cousin and his wife (cousin-in-law) ran a free range organic farm back before they got married, and mine is the kind of family where, while we’re all omnivores, we have been known to trade emails asking “Is it ethical to eat meat?”

So when a friend posted on Twitter about a Boston restaurant and the pig-butchery-lesson they were giving away as a contest prize…I entered.

And won.

Which was when I realized: in March, I’d be butchering a pig.

And I had no idea if I was ready for it.

To Be Continued…

Feminism on Valentine’s Day

2013-02-14 14.20.25A year or six ago, when I was studying in London, another single friend and I decided we’d take Valentine’s Day off and travel to Bath. We visited the Roman Spas and the Jane Austen museum – but that’s a blog for another day.

This year, I went to the One Billion Rising demonstration in Washington Square Park.

What’s One Billion Rising, you ask? Here’s a link to their site: http://onebillionrising.org/ – but in short, they’re an offshoot of playwright Eve Ensler’s V-Day Foundation, and work as an organization to demand an end to violence against women around the world. For the last year, they’ve been working to get out the word around the world and stage a women’s strike on February 14, 2014. ‘

More recently, they organized a way for women around the world to express themselves in solidarity with one another against violence: a worldwide dance.

And I do mean worldwide. Check out the organization’s website and the twitter tags #1billionrising and #reasontorise/#reasonstorise to see what’s being said about the action.

Here’s a video of today’s demo in Washington Square Park, NYC.

Burnz Night

A glass of 10 year old Laphroig Scotch whisky

What Would Ron Swanson Do? (On Burns Night)

I have no right to feel this awesome this morning. (Yes, I’m posting this at 1:38pm+, but I started it at ten minutes to noon.)

Back to how awesome I feel this morning.

Seriously.

I woke up, looked at my makeup-smeared face in the mirror, and thought, “Why the $*!^ don’t I feel like pukking my guts out right now?”

Last night was Burns Night. If you’re not familiar, it’s the celebration of the birthday of Scotland’s favorite (favourite?) poetic son, Robert “Rabbie” Burns. Traditional celebrations include a haggis, recitation of poetry, imbibing of Scotch (known as “whisky,” and yes, that distinction has fucked up my ability to read “whiskey” menus in America without disappointment) and general merriment.

We don’t do it quite like that in Manhattan. I mean, the general merriment, yes, and the strong drinks, of course, but as all celebrants of festivals far from their land of origin must, we had to make certain accommodations.

For starters, getting a haggis would involve either cooking one from scratch or having a Scottish friend mail one over, and for enders, the FemiNest (as @EmmyNash has christened our rather humble abode) will fit about four people comfortably, six in a pinch. Not the place for entertaining, nor for cooking complicated dishes.

Hello, Mustachioed Truck

Hello, Mustachioed Truck

Instead, our Manhattan Burnz Night involved incredible chocolates from Burdick’s

Did you know Robert Burns worked in Jamacia? So Red Stripe? Totally appropriate. Also: CHOCOLATE. REALLY FANCY WHISKY CHOCOLATE. It's in the box under the book of poetry. Which didn't include "Ode to a Haggis." WTF? Thankful for google and data plans.

Did you know Robert Burns worked in Jamacia? So Red Stripe? Totally appropriate. Also: CHOCOLATE. REALLY FANCY WHISKY CHOCOLATE. It’s in the box under the book of poetry. Which didn’t include “Ode to a Haggis.” WTF? Thankful for google and data plans.

(more on that when I get around to blogging my trip to Boston, though most of that will be about ROBOTS), Walker’s Scottish Shortbread, Red Stripe beer (as I was reliably informed by Ms. Nash that Mr. Burns worked on a plantation in Jamacia, I’ve decided both Red Stripe and Rum can be added to the list of Approved Burnz Night Beverages)…and then a train ride, through snow, to The Whiskey Brooklyn.

The place is basically magic. I won’t get into specifics, as that could be a blog unto itself, but the staff was friendly and understanding, our waitress took awesome care of us as our party grew and changed over the evening, and the food was exactly what was needed, for exactly the right price.

2013-01-25 17.53.00The company was great. A few friends I hadn’t seen in a while, some of @EmmyNash’s pals, and friends-of-friends mixed together to create the perfect party atmosphere, and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.

The evening ended at a late-but-reasonable hour, my cab got me home safely and quickly, and I woke up this morning feeling far awesomer than I had any right to (as noted above).

 

Definitely making this into a yearly tradition.

 

 

YUM. GREEN JUICE.

YUM. GREEN JUICE.