Thanks, Waste, and The Good Tupperware


I missed the memo about thanks, waste, and the good Tupperware.

It’s the Sunday after Thanksgiving and it’s been a lovely four-day weekend full of chopping, mixing, blending, and baking.  Due to my delicate condition, we begged off travel and other festivities and opted to stay home for a quiet holiday.  But I’m thankful that I’m still capable of cooking, so I spent a good portion of the weekend literally barefoot, pregnant,and in the kitchen.  We had a good meal with a lot of our traditional favorites.  Then yesterday, while still suffering from a bit of a tryptophan hangover, I happened to tune in to a Food Network special called “The Big Waste“.  It was a competition of sorts which pitted two teams of Food Network chefs against each other in a challenge to see who could create the tastiest dishes at a banquet for 100 people.  The catch was that all the ingredients they used had to be rescued from the refuse.  Yep, you got that right…everything they used for their recipes was stuff that was about to be thrown out.

So the chefs set out and explored farms, wholesalers, and restaurants and what they found was astounding.  Lots and lots of high-quality, perfectly edible food that was sometimes moments away from a garbage can or a compost heap.  And why?  Mostly because of cosmetic imperfections.  The American consumer has been so conditioned to expect pristine and pretty food that we turn our nose up at every tiny bruise and blemish, and actually pass over the ripe, flavorful specimens to get to the more perfect looking, but sometimes less tasty options.

I admit to being a food snob and a food safety nazi, so I have probably thrown away way more than my share of food in my lifetime.  And now I am taking stock of the fridge full of Thanksgiving leftovers and pondering their fate.  Using Alton Brown’s recipe, I’ve transformed a whole mess of turkey into some pretty tasty turkey salad.  Add an egg to the mashed potatoes and they’ll fry up as passable potato pancakes, I suppose.  But after seeing the extraordinary amount of food that goes to waste in our country, I feel challenged not to squander the remnants of this feast that we were so lucky to have.

While the specter of so much waste also has me contemplating how I can plan meals and shop more efficiently, the most pressing issue is what the hell happened to all my good Tupperware?  (Aaaaaand there we go…I have  officially become my mother.)

So how do you creatively repurpose your leftovers on Thanksgiving and other times of the year?  And more importantly, how do you keep all those lids from going rogue?

Still digesting and memo received.

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Trust


I missed the memo about trust.

 

My good friend Stacey introduced me to the movie “Trust” back when we were in college.  It’s a dark, quirky indie comedy that you should add to your Netflix queue right now.  Go on, I’ll wait…

“Trust” tells the story of Matthew, an unemployable genius who habitually carries around a hand grenade, and Maria, an adorable, pregnant high school drop out.  They’re an unlikely pair who find some kind of connection amidst the angst and banality of their suburban lives.  That probably seems like a perfectly ordinary plot, but trust me about “Trust”…the characters are sad and smart and weird, and they say things that you’ll be thinking about for decades.  Here, contemplate this exchange…

Maria: Did you mean it? Would you marry me?
Matthew: Yes.
Maria: Why?
Matthew: Because I want to.
Maria: Not because you love me or anything like that, huh?
Matthew: I respect and admire you.
Maria: Isn’t that love?
Matthew: No, that’s respect and admiration. I think that’s better than love.
Maria: How?
Matthew: When people are in love they do all sorts of crazy things. They get jealous, they lie, they cheat. They kill themselves. They kill each other.
Maria: It doesn’t have to be that way.
Matthew: Maybe.
Maria: You’d be the father of a child you know isn’t yours.
Matthew: Kids are kids, what does it matter?
Maria: Do you trust me?
Matthew: Do you trust me first?
Maria: I trust you.
Matthew: You sure?
Maria: Yes.
Matthew: Then marry me.
Maria: I’ll marry you if you admit that respect, admiration, and trust equals love.
Matthew: OK. They equal love.

Are respect and admiration really better than love?  Does respect, admiration, and trust equal love?  I first heard this dialog about twenty years ago and I still haven’t quite figured it out.

I’m guessing “Trust” swam up to the surface of my brain because life recently handed me a memo about trust and what trust means for me in my personal relationships.  I’m wrestling with what it takes for me to trust other people and what it means when trust breaks down.  Specifically, does trust mean never asking for proof?  And not to get all Ali McGraw on you guys, but does trust mean never having to say you’re sorry?

I would like to think I am generally a trusting and forgiving person, but I think years of lawyering have also left me with a suspicious mind and an utter inability to suppress the urge to ask questions about just about everything.  This perhaps makes people feel that I don’t trust them, but I guess I’ve become a bit of an empiricist, even when it comes to matters of the heart.  I hope it doesn’t make me a terrible cynic, but I don’t think evidence is anathema to trust.  Evidence is like a little cushion, just in case trust gets yanked out from under you.

And I think trust means having to say you’re sorry a lot.  Trust is something that can get chipped away and eroded by both tiny slights and big lapses in judgment.  But apologies are the polish that can buff away those dings in our hearts.

So go watch “Trust” (and mourn the loss of Adrienne Shelly, who was so very awesome and just beginning to enjoy a wonderful career renaissance when she was senselessly murdered in 2006).  Then maybe take stock of what trust means to you, and whether respect, admiration, and trust really do equal love.  Memo received.

Brining, Basting & Spatchcocking


I missed the memo about brining, basting, and spatchcocking.

As you have probably surmised from my previous dispatches on culinary subjects, I am not a particularly serious cook. But as Thanksgiving approaches, I feel a little extra motivation to make a little more of an effort. Mercifully, my beloved Alton Brown recently delivered some memos in which he extolled the virtues of his finely-honed turkey preparation techniques. Because Alton Brown is not only a great cook, but also a food science nerd, his techniques are well-grounded in chemistry and physics, and if we look closely, there might be a bit of metaphysics thrown in for good measure. Join me as I contemplate the nature of the following…

First there’s brining…brining is a basically a technique whereby you cover the bird in a bit of salt or plunge it into some salt water and then just bide your time. Depending on which particular  method you employ, there are various stages of covering and uncovering the bird to allow for drying of the skin, etc. What’s fascinating about the science brining is there is something weirdly counter-intuitive about how it works in that the longer you leave the bird in the brine, the less likely it is that the turkey will taste salty. Savor that for a second. There’s something about giving the sodium molecules enough time to break down the muscle fibers or some such geekery, but if you short-change the brining process, you get a weirdly salty bird, but if you if give the process adequate time, the result is a turkey that is moist, tender and just the right amount of salty. Trippy, huh?

Then there’s basting.  Conventional wisdom tells us that we’re supposed to be baste the bird at regular intervals throughout the cooking process.  I always thought that basting helped to ensure that the turkey stayed moist and that the skin got all brown and crispy.  Well, in the world according to Alton, basting doesn’t give you much bang for your buck.  He cautions us to think of a turkey’s skin much like our own skin, it’s a barrier that keeps stuff out and doesn’t really allow much to soak in, so basting the outside of the turkey does nothing to flavor or moisturize the meat within.  And while dousing the bird in butter every half an hour may result in some decadent turkey skin, the unfortunate trade off is that opening the oven door so frequently lets a lot of heat out, and when the heat goes out, the cooking time goes up.  And when the cooking time goes up, so do your chances of having a turkey that turns out something like this…

And last but not least, there’s spatchcocking.  Say it with with me…spatch-cocking.  Wasn’t that fun?  In addition to being a wonderfully ridiculous word, it’s also a great shortcut for impatient cooks like me.  It’s a another term for butterflying, which involves taking out the bird’s backbone so it will lay flat in the pan.  By coaxing the bird into this position, you increase the surface area, and increased surface area means decreased cooking time.  And as noted above, you want your turkey’s time in the oven to be hot and short, kinda like a good trip to Vegas.

So what have we learned?  Good turkey takes a little forethought…if you’re going to brine a bird, you have to start the process a few days out, so there’s nothing last minute about it.  And basting might be a bit like tanning…it may achieve a cosmetically desirable result, but it might do some damage deeper down.  And by spatchcocking the bird (and please, let someone come up with a really awesome and disgusting alternative meaning of “spatchcocking” and put it on urbandictionary.com, like now), you can save hours in the kitchen just by honoring the physics of form following function.

So there you go.  All I needed to know about life I learned from Alton Brown’s turkey techniques.  Happy Thanksgiving and memo received.

Carry Over Cooking


I missed the memo about carry over cooking.

Ya’ll might recall that I once had an epiphany about meatloaf while watching Good Eats. My ardor for Alton Brown deepened when he delivered a memo about carry over cooking.  You see, I thought I knew how to make scrambled eggs, but my beloved AB taught me something that I have been meditating on for years since: If the eggs are done in the pan, then they’re overdone on the plate.

Alton Brown, the Zen master of breakfast.
Let that sink in for a second.  I had never really grasped the concept of carry over cooking before, but Alton’s gorgeous egg illustration really sunk in.  For the uninitiated, here’s a simple definition:   Carry over cooking refers to the phenomenon that food retains heat and continues to cook even after being removed from the source of heat.
 
To develop any finesse in the kitchen, you have to account for carry over cooking.  It might seem counter-intuitive, but you remove the food from the fire when it is just a little undercooked.  It’s like driving downhill and killing the engine, knowing that you’ll have just enough momentum to coast into your driveway.  Once you figure it out, you have the faith in the in the physics of the situation.  The other thing about carry over cooking is that you have to have the restraint not to dive in and eat straight out of the pan.  You have to step back and leave everything alone.  Maybe, throw a piece of aluminum foil over everything, and then just walk away.
 
Because it allows me to indulge my very wholesome thoughts about Alton Brown, I think about carry over cooking just about every time I scramble up some eggs.  And recently, I got to thinking about how the principles behind carry over cooking might apply more universally.  I’ve talked before about my issues with control, and carry over cooking is a beautiful illustration of how a little surrender and a little patience are richly rewarded.  I can’t totally control the molecular changes in eggs that transform them from slimy soup to fluffy goodness…I have to back off and trust that if I gently guide the process most of the way, I can then step back and the rest will take care of itself.
 
On this Election Day eve, I’m wishing that our candidates had gotten the memo about carry over cooking.  I’m no campaign strategist, but I wonder if the frenzied push to the very bitter end makes any real difference in the ultimate outcome.  I get that the candidates don’t want their messages to seem half-baked, but the overkill with the advertising and all the rest of it just leaves the electorate burnt out.  I’d like to a see a candidate come out with an ad that said something like this:
 
“Hi, I’m Candidate X running for Office Y…for the past couple of months, I’ve been flooding the airwaves and filling up your mailbox with stuff that I hope has gotten your attention.  Now I’m going to give you a minute to actually digest all that crap.  So from this point forward, no more ads, no more rallies.  I’m just going to go away for a few days and leave you to think about  how you want to vote.”
 
I’d vote for that guy.   Turning off the heat and memo received.