Sunday, April 27, 2008

Stop the Insanity!

Dear Boo,

Please stop me from eating these chili-lemon pistachios from Trader Joe's. I have not the strength to do it myself, and I fear I am growing a shell. We'll be here, waiting for you to wrest the bag out of my hand.

The Mouse

Friday, April 25, 2008

Zen and the Art of Guacamole Madness

Dear Boo,

The one thing the Boyfriend asked that I do for my birthday party was to whip up a small vat of my ever-popular guacamole. I was enjoying myself in the kitchen, doing the little fancy-chef trick i can execute about 1 out of 4 times to remove the pits with the blade of your knife, and sliding the buttery green meat out of the skin with my fingers. There is nothing I love more than the calming, repetetive, utterly satisfying activity of chopping vegetables.

I once read a book about Zen Buddhism where a Zen Master assigns a newcomer to the temple the job of slicing carrots. The young monk in training is frustrated because he's there to seek enlightenment, but after a week he has barely seen the inside of the temple. After slicing his way through cases of carrots, the orange beginning to blur across his field of vision, the knife moving involuntarily in his hand, he pauses, hand in midair and realizes he is practicing Zen. I am this monk. Or at least this is how I feel in the midst of chopping the red onions for my birthday guacamole.

You can imagine then, how my Zen glow quickly began to fade as I noticed the tingling, nay, the BURNING in the fingertips of my left hand which had been holding the jalapeno I chopped. I ran my hand under cold water which alleviated the burning temporarily, but once dry, the pain had gotten worse and was spreading rapidly.

I stuff some ice into a dishcloth and wrap it around my hand. It feels a little better but under the numbing cold i can still feel the chile flames lapping underneath. This is where things get stupid. I pull a stick of butter out of the fridge thinking--maybe a base will neutralize the acid of the chile. Please note--I know NOTHING about chemistry and should never be trusted to make such judgements. It seems like wherever I spread the butter, the burning jumps to the next bit of skin until I am chasing it with the greasy wrapper, frantically hoping to douse the flames. At this point, the Boyfriend comes home to find me near tears from the unbelievable pain and frustrated beyond belief that the mildest of the pepper family could get the better of me. ME!

In the next hour, I go through the following attempts at treating my increasingly painful condition:
1) Dunking my hand in a glass of cold milk--sticking with the "base" idea (idiot), it feels like a relief while it's in the liquid but thats probably more about the cold than the chemistry. As soon as I remove it, my hand is worse than ever.
2) Boyfriend looks up solutions online and finds rubbing alcohol. We have none. We have hydrogen peroxide. I try this. Not the same thing. duh.
3) Nailpolish remover. That's kind of like rubbing alcohol, right? And it cuts through all kinds of stuff! Doesn't work.
4) Orange juice--more research online reveals that acids are the way to go. see "milk" for the effects.
5) Vinegar--ditto
6) Baking soda--One person online suggests caking it on the affected area like paper mache and sleeping this way. My birthday party starts in an hour.
7) OJ/vinegar--I am told the liquid will "draw out" the oils which i can then wipe off. The wiping serves to irritate my skin further.
8) Advil--good for cramps, not so much for flaming fingers.
9) VODKA--why didn't I think of this earlier?! Alternate one part down the hatch, two parts for hand-dunking. FINALLY the pain starts to subside. Fingers are red and swollen but no longer tear-inducing.

Perhaps the actual blood, sweat and tears that went into making the guacamole of death was the secret ingredient. Verdict from partygoers: best guac yet. Verdict from me: never again without my Hazmat Suit.

The Mouse

Hungry for More?

Natalie Goldberg, who wrote the book Long Quiet Highway, also wrote a book called Writing Down the Bones which is about the practice of writing, but is also a good non self-help, Zen-infused guide for life in general or any creative pursuit. Pick it up and be inspired, comforted, and enlightened.

"Recipe" for Near-Death Guacamole: (one bite and at least you'll die happy)

1) Cut three avocados in half. Remove pits and save one for later. With a spoon or your fingers, scoop each half out of its skin. Better not to cut up but remove entire half. (this is a good way to tell if it's ripe and also makes for better texture later.)
2) Finely chop one small red onion. add to avocados.
3) Mince up one or two cloves of garlic if you feel like it, but it's not necessary as far as i'm concerned.
4) Finely chop half a jalapeno, discarding the seeds and spines. of course, this is really up to you depending on how hot you want it. Throw the whole thing in. Or 4, for all I care. Just, for the love of all things holy, WEAR GLOVES.
5) Using the back of a fork, mash up the avocados with the onion, etc. i like mine a little rustic--aka, kind of lumpy.
6) Squeeze in juice of a lime, or more to taste, add in kosher salt and black pepper also to taste.
7) Chop up a tomato if you like, and throw that in. I like the looks of it myself.
8) Chop up a load of cilantro and mix that in too.
9) If at this point you need a little more flavor (and you will), the answer is usually more lime juice and salt. And maybe a PINCH of sugar. (If you need a little somethin else, a little je ne sais quoi, a little sumpin-sumpin, green tabasco sauce is the way to go. It's heavenly. Try a couple of drops on a plain tortilla chip. poor man's salsa. delicious.)
10) Plop pit in center to keep guac green. Serve with chips. Or just a spoon. :)

Some of My Best Friends Are Juice

Dear Mouse,

Remember back in 2006 when I made my record with Crazy Producer Guy? Remember how I decided he was crazy as soon as I met him, because within five seconds of knowing me he was telling me all about how he healed a devastating back/neck injury through juicing? He'd had two unsuccessful operations and was suffering pain and immobility,and was going to go in for a third when a friend/naturopath/groupie/I forget what suggested he go on a juice fast. He bought a juicer,assembled a bunch of recipes, and within a few months his pain haddisappeared.

So had most of his body weight, apparently, and ability to control his rage, but I digress.

(whatever,the man doesn't eat,he'll never read this.)

No way, I thought,as I searched in my bag for mace. Juice is full of sugar, right? The South Beach diet disapproves. And let's not even get into how I feel about fasting. He's nuts.

Or was he? For one thing,my album ROCKS. For another,I, my friends,now LOVE juice and recommend it highly.

No dramatic healing to relate. I'm just doing a play that demands a lot of energy and I'm trying to cut back on caffeine. I also had these five or so pounds I wanted gone, and am not happy with my skin,ever. En route to rehearsal I discovered a couple of fresh juice places and started having one before commencing work, or with lunch,before eating food.

* I have lost probably 4-5 pounds(this is also due to walking to theatre daily)
* gives more energy than a cup of coffee
* NO sugar crash or bloatiness. Fresh juice really is different than the rows of supposedly "fresh" bottles in the store. Or (yech) Jamba Juice,which is basically an ice cream parlor.

NOTE FROM THE MOUSE: Case in point--as found online: Jamba Juice Chocolate Moo'd Power Smoothie (30 fl oz) = 900 calories, 10 g fat, 183 g carbs (166 g sugar)
"Seventy-five percent of this chain's "power smoothies" contain in excess of 100 grams of sugar."

* causes me to eat less and feel nourished
* skin looking great as of this writing
* mm, mm, tasty.
* NO weight gained. LOST.

Here are a few recommendations - JUICE IT UP!

Best Value: Juicy Lucy, 85 Avenue A

(between 5th St & 6th St). $2.95 for a small!! For fresh juice!! Try the carrot/apple/parsley "Energy Boost", or the Pineapple/Lemon "Hangover Helper".And they have a ton of supplements you can add for $.50 I think
Good VAlue w/better Choices: That Health Place on 3rd Av & 16th Street
Also good prices, slightly more$than Lucy but bigger portions and more interesting flavor/nutrient combos. Try the "Grandma's Veggie Something", a surprisingly sweet blend of carrot, beet,kale,apple and ginger. just do it.
Best Take-Home Option: Liquiteria, 170 2nd Ave at 14th St
ok this one is expensive - a juice here will run you like $6 or $7 but it is the real real thing and is delicious. A friend turned me on to this: Buy one or two of the pre-bottled juice blends in the fridge. Try one bottle of green juice (serious spinach/kale/parsley/chlorophyll concoction) and one "Killer" (lemon, ginger, serious cayenne)and mix at home.It'll be like $14 but it'll last you through three or four glasses. And trust me, you dont want the greens straight.They don't dress it up with anything.
Rolls Royce Juice: Pure Juice & Takeaway
OK I resisted this for a long time because itis astronomically expensive and the staff seems like they are on ecstasy. And once they tried to sell me a SINGLE piece of raw lasagna for $18!!! BUT once in a while I get a juice and I swear I can taste the difference. Instant energy charge and blissful nutrient rush. It's really fresh and they have really interesting recipes.I liked "Green Spice" which was tart and bold and involved serious greens cut with ginger and lime. Not sweet. fabulous. AND was FILLING. AND THEIR DISPOSABLE CUPS ARE 100% COMPOSTED CORN.

IMPORTANT: We are talking FRESH JUICE. The more fresh and raw and good the ingredients, the more FILLING and SATISFYING the juice will be. There is a world of difference between a Pure Juice and a Jamba Juice (or Odwalla. Yeah I said it.)

Happy Juicing!

The Boo

P.S. Important Caveat. If,like me, you have decided your life needs daily juice, you will want to get a juicer and make the stuff at home, because this WILL get hard on your wallet. I'll keep you posted on my search for the right appliance.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Happy and Holy Birthday to me!

Dear Boo,

Despite my youthful demeanor, it is sad but true that i have recently turned the ripe old age of 21. So maybe its not the first time I've celebrated the ol Two-One, what of it? what's important is that as you know, we partied it out like it was Spring Break 1999. The boyfriend in a major brownie-point move, threw a party for me to celebrate with some of my closest friends, and a plastic tub full of champagne. Suffice it to say it was a good time. so good that I woke up looking sort of like Charlize Theron in Monster. But that's besides the point. The point was, it was a great party. One of the highlights was the fantastically gorgeously sugarbomb of a cake made by my lovely sister. I had been eagerly anticipating tasting this creation ever since this conversation with said sister:

Boo: I'm going to make a cake for your birthday. Any requests? You made me the Coconut Rum Cake i asked for for my birthday, so what do you want?

Mouse: No requests, just something yummy. Maybe with frosting.

(time passes)

Boo: I came up with the best cake idea for your birthday! Want me to tell you what it is?

Mouse: Well--

Boo: Or should I keep it a surprise? I'll keep it a surprise.

Mouse: Okay--

Boo: Okay, it's a magnolia cupcake cake!!!!!!

Despite the lack of suspense, the cake did not disappoint. Look at how dreamy and pink it is...

Now I lurrrve me some Magnolia cupcakes and this was like one large cupcake. Which i guess is what a cake is. since a cupcake is just a small version of a cake. Well I think we all learned something today.

NOTE from the Boo: You too can have Magnolia cupcakes without the agony of waiting in a line around the block in the West Village! The recipe is published online HERE

Incidentally, (because I can't seem to write an entry without some religious connotation) Pope Benedict XVI celebrated HIS 21st birthday (plus 60 years) just two days after mine! HE, sadly, did not get a pink magnolia cupcake cake to wish on. Instead, George W. presented him with this:

Not bad, I'd say. A little bland-- I mean, the white is kind of an obvious choice for his Holiness, and it looks to me like it's covered in fondant which as far as I'm concerned, is appropriate only for wedding cakes and only if you're not able to score a cupcake cake for the occasion. That said, what do you get the Pope for his birthday?? And what is he wishing for in this photo? A new toy from Brookstone? Talk about the guy who has everything. Including a direct line to the Lord--which I'd think would trump the ol birthday candle method. I imagine W standing behind him for the photo-op yelling, "what're you waitin for?! Blow em out, Benny! Blow em out and make a wish!!" just before launching into a rousing chorus of "How Old Are you Now"...

Anyway... it was happy birthday all around thanks in no small part to large quantities of butter and confectioner's sugar. Long live the frosting-topped muffin! Let it live in our hearts forever and ever Amen.

The Mouse

Sunday, April 20, 2008

If I had only eaten one serving of Brisket, it would have been enough. DAYENU!

Dear Boo,

We missed you at the Seder last night (though somehow it seems apropos that you were out upholding the other half of our blog identity as "performing artist")! Not that there was, or ever is much actual sedering going on. Of course there was the ubiquitous asking of the four questions by our 27 year old cousin since the youngest members of the family apparently haven't taken enough time off from shrieking wildly or standing on their heads long enough to learn to read. (At one point during the reading, I looked over to see one of the youngest of our group face down in the fire place. I sympathized.) But mostly there was eating. Though the general observation was that no one ate as much this year as we usually do. I noted that you were missing and let them draw the conclusions :)

To summarize, there was gefilte fish with the neon red horseradish, and chopped liver to start, matzoh ball soup which was fragrant and salty and studded with carrots and parsley, apple sauce and the ubiquitous orange jellomold, potato kugel, matzoh pudding, matzoh farfel (spell check is not recognizing this word which either confirms my suspicion that it's not an actual word, or my suspicion that spellcheck was developed by the Christian right), three-pea salad (sugar snap, sweet peas, and snowpeas in a light dressing), the amazing pickles (sour and half-sour) and pickled red peppers (heaven), moist and meaty capons with perfectly browned skin and rich gravy, and 2, count em TWO BRISKETS. The second was not even brought out for public consumption which of course made me think--score! Brisket sandwich in T minus 24 hours. Sadly, when the doggie-bags came around to me, everyone else had already cleaned it out. piggies. I had to be satisfied with a tupperware-full of capon and farfel which aside from being delicious is worth it just for the combo of words. capon. farfel. capon. farfel. Three times fast.

Dessert was an exercize in flourless wonder, making the chemistry of baking all the more apparent. There was an orange sponge cake made with matzoh flour, an apple cake made with sweet and sugary apples and cinnamon and who knows what holding it together, pears poached in wine (3 of which were eaten by our 4 year old cousin. Boy am I glad I wasn't in that car on the way home. Drunk people are such backseat drivers), and the two cookies assigned to yours truly. These were, the coconut macaroons, which came out beautifully thankyouverymuch, and the chocolate contribution to the meal in the form of flourless chocolate walnut cookies our aunt had found in last week's NY Magazine. The macaroons went off without a hitch, turning out golden brown fluffy little mounts that I dipped in melted chocolate. The chocolate cookies were another story. I went shopping for the ingredients with the boyfriend in tow who though, generally patient, was a little antsy when i started reading labels of cocoa powder searching for a sign that any were "dutch-processed". Despite my instinct that there is actually a crucial difference between dutch processed and regular unsweetened, in my concern for getting my poor lovie out of the supermarket before 11pm on a friday night I ignored that nagging feeling and bought the unsweetened. BIG mistake. Hear me now, bakers. If a recipe has only a few ingredients and is already playing with fire by eliminating the basics like flour, make sure you get what it calls for. Turns out, the big difference I had forgotten is that dutch-processed cocoa has some kind of alkaline added to it to help it rise--an important element if there's no baking soda and especially if there's no flour. Chemistry, shmemistry. My cookies turned out like chocolate pancakes with little walnut pimples under the surface. Dance=10, Looks=3.

As it turned out, our cousin unknowingly made the same recipe! Looking at the two of ours side by side you never would have guessed it as hers were deep chocolate fudgy mounds which made me consider giving this recipe another shot. It is super easy, after all. In the end I think we all left with some renewed faith in slow cooked meat and the conviction that flourless chocolate items are not just for passover. DAYENU!

The Mouse

Hungry For More?
I happened to catch this adorable documentary called The Gefilte Fish Chronicles on PBS last year and again this year. If you've ever had a jewish grandmother or known one or have any kind of bossy maternal figure in your family who loves to cook, I think you'll appreciate it. Watch a clip here.