Friday, September 19, 2008

Banana Bread!

So Anannya and I got to work on banana bread last Saturday. Why did it take me a week to write about it? Because I've barely finished collecting my mind, which it's deliciousness totally blew.

Let's be clear here: in the following story, although I'm its narrator, I am the principal antagonist. If it were up to me, there wouldn't be any bread and the world would be a little darker for it.

A few days before the Day of Banana Bread, I had gone to the supermarket and come back with some bananas, which Nick (my roommate) had also done. With the surplus of bananas, he immediately suggested I make banana bread, thinking it would be easy. Being a contrarian bastard, I told him I wasn't sure whether or not it would be easy, and even went so far as to suggest he had no clue, either. How wrong I was...

Anannya and I opened up my tome of cooking (How to Cook Everything, by Mark Bittman) and brought up the recipe for banana bread. Flour, check. Sugar, check. Bananas, double check. Coconut? Finding a half cup of grated coconut would prove difficult, but I thought I could surmount this challange actual coconut!

I took it upon myself to prepare the secret ingredient, the coconut. Anannya got to work mixing the flour and sugar and baking powder, while I went outside with knife and hammer to break open the shell of my most worthy opponent. This took me 30 minutes before I got a few pieces of coconut to send through my food processor for mincing.

What happened in those 30 minutes, where I cursed and nearly gave up on the whole endeavor? Anannya finished the bread, mostly. She had the flour and sugar mixed. She had the egg and banana done. She had mixed it all together, and it waited for one thing and one thing only: coconut. And in the end I did offer my small offering to the piece of art that was that bread.

It baked, less than an hour, and then came the moment of truth. We tasted it, and it was wonderul. I shed a tear and, I daresay, felt blessed. Things will never be the same, my friends. Things will never be the same.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

And now my good friend James, who may be a regular contributor to this blog:

So, my friend Daniel says to me "James, I'm thinking of doing a blog, and if you want to write something, send it on over." Ok, I'm lying; I can't really remember how the conversation actually went, but the moment comes (and for me It has me, I don't have It) and in order for me to get to what I want to write about, the writer in me demands an introduction, no matter how poorly done. "Who is this random guy, isn't this Daniel's blog? Bad form, I say." The point is, according to my narrative, he asked me, and with my tongue happily extended in none-too-subtle mockery I will segue into... blogging.

Why blog is an excellent question, but even before that I like to ask what blogging is. I don't have an answer, and this is all rhetorical, so I also would not like definitions of blogging sent mysteriously to me by way of poor friend Daniel. I have things to write about, like all of us have things to write about, think about, dream about. Want is what I'm talking about here. For the person who blogs to voice his or her gripes, either because their expectations are disappointed or because they wish to arouse the suspicions of an invisible readership that there are, in fact, things out there in the world to be upset about, it remains about want, Want and it's ability to make us speak, as eloquently or discouragingly in such a way that we would be emotional enough to share it with the entire world.

Want. I'm 26, which, according to my immense library of experience means to me that I'm standing at the crossroads where I understand now that my decisions, habits, and behavior will determine greatly (like each minute tick of the second hand added together) how close I get to what I want for myself, because it's still under scrutinizing argument whether or not actually getting what one wants is a good or bad thing. So, I'm trying to be careful, and I was born neurotic, so that means I'm going crazy paying attention to every little thing (like each minute tick of the second hand) and even more so remembering every little thing. And right about here is where I put in a D&D reference in my first draft (I'm lying, there aren't drafts, but the lie served itself); it related to digressing in 5 foot step increments until falling to my demise. That is to say, I want a lot, and I have to be honest and realize that each of them isn't vital, or overly important, somewhere on the list of things I want, I'll admit, is one of those nifty cell phones with the touch screens and the keyboard and the minutes that start at 7pm and I really don't need one of those. My thumbs are much too big and my mind much too prioritizing to read any sort of instruction manual that doesn't have pictures and is less than 20 pages. I wish someone smart at one part had said something about "through imagining comes the understanding one can use not only to define but divine a phenomenon" but there wasn't; I made that up just now.

That is to say, I think I figured out what blogging is, and I think I figured out why a person should blog.

But, sifting around in my thoughts and desires, and this stuff on my desk, I found a photograph of three young children, each with timid, confused eyes and unsure bottom lips, looking into the lense a little curious and a little brave. I know them, of them. And they know me; sometimes they come over and ask me questions and borrow my things, break them and give them back. I'm their cousin, Big James, and they don't have a father. I want them to be as great as they can't imagine; I understand this process is long, complex, and what they see me do and say comprises one set of bricks to cobble the way that will surmise the stairways of their lives, but I Want to own that, almost, I think, more than anything. I Want to be responsible for that which they seem me go, to be successful so that they will know that it is possible for them to follow, and to surpass, what I have done, and to convey that they are the reasons why.

And right up until then I was having a pretty bad day.

Monday, September 8, 2008

It beats going to Applebee's

"Does this look appetizing?"
"It looks like a human liver."
"I'll take that as a 'no.'"
"I really don't think you can photograph food to make it look appetizing."
"That's still a 'no', though."
"Oh, I wasn't disagreeing with you."
-James and I

Last Friday I decided to make my girlfriend dinner. Being a special night, I thought I'd try and go for something fancier than usual, and decided to prepare lamb with a fancy schmancy cucumber salad. This is a picture of the result. I don't think I'll be getting any points for presentation, but I certainly think it tasted great. So what is it, exactly?

Well, the lamb chop is seasoned with a mixture of parsley, olive oil and anchovie. We spread half of the mix on the chops before cooking, letting it marinade in the fridge for an hour or so, then spread the other half on them while they were broiling. They came out wonderful.

The salad is just cucumbers, salted, and then coated with a dressing made of cream, vinegar, oil and mint. I was happy with the dish, but it was a little unusual. Cucumbers and mint yielded a crisp texture and cool taste, but the cream and dressing made it creamy in a way I associate with potato salad. Despite a few mishaps during preparation --the cucumbers fell on my filthy kitchen floor and needed a fair amount of washing --the overall effect was satisfying but not what I expected.

Dessert was had as well. I don't know why, but any time I see "poached pears" on a restaurant menu, I'm convinced the place is fairly upscale (it's a hope of mine to find a hole in the wall that has them). Since I was aiming for a nice evening, I decided to try and prepare some myself. Most recipes call for the poaching liquid to be made from sugar and water. I was gonna go with variation that uses wine and honey, but...

Cooking wine is not like regular wine. It has salt and other preservatives. I knew this because I tried drinking it. I'm sure many readers would wonder what would compel me to drink cooking wine, but I was curious. I'm glad I did, as using something that salty in making sugary poaching liquid would have been a disaster. Anyway, some water and honey later, the above dessert was made.

Why bother cooking at all? Well, I've eaten these things at restaurants, and I can honestly say that they're rarely worth the money spent. If I'm going to go out, I want to get something I couldn't do better myself. Eventually, I hope to make it such that any meal that tops mine is either so expensive that I can't actually afford it (which makes my own food my favorite) or that I find a place that's sufficiently tasty and affordable that it's worth visiting for the food itself. Anything else, and I'm just paying to be served on.