Tuesday, May 26, 2009


This is the story of my mom and the LIVE CRABS.

Well, the story as I know it, from what she tells me. I don't remember being in the car when this happened, but apparently I was an ignorant accomplice. One night, many years ago, my mother was driving her mom van in Minneapolis and we were going somewhere. Where we were going is not important. I have no idea where we were going, anyway. So don't ask.

So as we were going somewhere, we were held up by a stop light, and a small white car roared up beside our van. Bette glanced down and noticed that in the back seat of this small white car was a box clearly labeled LIVE CRABS. "I wonder where those crabs are going," Bette mused. The light turned green, and the white car accelerated. Bette reacted. There was only one way to find out. She hit the gas and followed the white car, diverting from her intended course of action. She simply had to know.

She followed the car left at 5th, right on 2nd, left again on 7th, down to Hennepin, left on 4th, around the block and into an alley. When the crabs reached their final destination at the Pickled Parrot in downtown Minneapolis, Bette was a little embarrassed to realize that the driver of the small white car had noticed her following him. He gave her a confused look. Probably wondered what she was doing. Who is this mom in a mini van and what does she want from me?

Me, circa 20 years later: "What were you doing, mom?"

Bette: "I don't know, sweetie. But I just had to find out where those crabs were going."

I can relate to that.

. . .

This is the story of me and the live crabs... and the battle for my soul.

Yesterday I had three live crabs in my sink and was pondering the extent of my ability to emotionally detach and throw them into a pot of boiling water as they struggle and thrash.

I was desperately fighting the urge to give them little nicknames. That wouldn't help my cause one bit. The water was taking an exceptionally long time to boil, given the off-balance size ratio of pot-to-gas burner. I even had two burners going. I gave myself a pep talk. I am excited to eat. Focus on that. Don't focus on the fact that they are kind of cute and one seems to keep winking at me. You're not heartless. Just hungry. Hungry for these crabs. Bath time, guys!

I had been psyching myself up for this for several days. I'd told my husband Nathan that all I wanted to do on Memorial Day was have a crab dinner. I wanted to sit outside. I wanted butter to drip down my arms and chin while I sucked the meat out of a large crustacean's leg that I'd crushed with my teeth. To me, that sounded like the ideal way to spend a day off.

My friend Genny and I spent that morning browsing Chinatown for fresh fruit for sangria, and live crabs for the feast. Genny knew what she was doing, and I needed serious help. I had never done this before. You can't exactly get large, fresh, live Dungeness crab in Midwest supermarkets. For $10 a pound, no less. And since lobsters were $7 a pound, we got a few of those, too. What the heck.

Once we had everything we needed and then some, we caught the subway headed back uptown to my place. It's a good thing boarding the 2/3 express train isn't like trying to get through customs. I would be hard-pressed to muster the chutzpah needed to explain to someone in uniform why we were transporting 3 live crabs, 3 live lobsters, a 30 quart stock pot containing bottles of brandy and triple sec, two small dogs (contraband from Genny's apartment), fruit, corn, and Scatergories.

It was one of those perfect days. Bright and warm, but not too hot. Sunlight danced on the floor of our brick patio each time a gentle breeze passed through the tree branches that canopied overhead. The doggies played. Genny showed me how to make sangria the Spanish way she was taught, and we sipped and relaxed and read books all afternoon. I didn't write down quantities of anything, but we sliced bananas, strawberries, oranges and apples, muddled them with a little sugar, lemon juice, triple sec and brandy, and covered that with white wine and 7-Up. And lots of ice. Best dang sangria I ever had.

Our stomachs told us it was time to start boiling the water around 4:30. We filled the big pot, added lots of salt and bay leaves, and turned on the flames. We had been checking on the crabs and lobsters periodically in their temporary plastic bag homes in my fridge, but decided around this time that they'd be more comfortable in the sink. Also, that way we could keep a close eye on them in case anyone was about to croak, because they'd have to get cooked pretty quick before their flesh turned into inedible mush. Fascinating creatures, I tell you.

Nathan: "Are they alive?"

Genny: "Yep - they're moving."

Me (a little too excited): "You should have seen these guys when they first came out of the big tank! Flopping and thrashing around everywhere!"

Nathan (looking at me sideways, like I'm nothing short of twisted): "Probably because they were thinking, I don't feel like getting killed today."

When the water finally reached a rolling boil, I found that I had worked myself up into a genuinely gitty frenzy about this whole experience. I felt a little bad. I certainly didn't want them to suffer, so that made me feel a bit less like a monster. But, in the end, I threw them in with sick, secret excitement, plopped the lid on top, and set my ladybug timer for 15 minutes before casually returning to my glass of sangria.

Am I heartless?

I legitimately mulled that notion over for several sleepless hours. While I am many things, I believe that I am not in fact heartless. I tried to make my future meal as comfortable as possible in the remaining hours of their lives. I warned them when they were about to go in the pot. When I ate them, I thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated what they were providing. It was an incredible and unforgettable meal. And I'd do it all over again.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Places You're Likely to Find Me

It seems wrong of me to have gone all this time without officially introducing you to the object of my affection.

Zabar's, meet my peeps. Peeps, meet Zabars.

I don't consider myself to have an addictive personality, but some forces of nature just cannot be denied. The Zabar's smoked salmon sandwich, with cream cheese on pumpernickel, is one such force. Generally speaking, I am rendered powerless against the following dynamic duos: chocolate + peanut butter, wine + stinky cheese, margaritas + more margaritas, and smoked salmon + cream cheese. I have been trying to repress these urges as of late, but, as I mentioned, some forces simply will not be denied. Not by me. I don't mess with nature.

To make your very own version, simply stack plain cream cheese and high-quality smoked salmon on a piece of pumpernickel bread. And top it off with another piece of pumpernickel. And say pumpernickle five times fast.

(You may have noticed that my nails look quite nice in the photo above. That is, in fact, my hand, and not a stunt hand. After the incident two Tuesdays ago, I decided I must paint my nails ketchup red just in case any more photographers from Saveur decide to interrupt my lunch. Just. In. Case.)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Shameless Attempt to Get Your Vote

So, I'm pretty proud of myself, I guess. Despite my lack of knowledge about raising kids in general, I do have a pretty sturdy knowledge base of some things, including kitchen basics, and I managed to get another article up on http://www.tweenparent.com/!

If you feel inclined to read it, please vote for it, too. Ego stroking is welcomed.

I even kid-friendlied up two recipes for the occasion: Mini Meatloaf Sliders, a topic I touched on in one of my very early blog posts, and for Cheesy Texas Potatoes, a recipe that I adapted from a recipe generously divulged to me by the Hickman Family (props).

Recipe for Cheesy Texas Potatoes:

  • 1 two-pound bag of frozen hash brown (or "Southern Style") potatoes
  • 1/2 cup diced yellow onion
  • 1 and ¼ cup of sour cream
  • 1 can of cream of chicken soup
  • 1 cup (or 8 oz) of shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 1 stick of unsalted butter
  • 1 cup of crushed Corn Flakes

You will also need:

  • A big bowl to mix everything together
  • A 9" x 12" baking pan (or 9 x 13 works too)
  • Measuring cups
  • A heat-safe dish to melt the butter
  • A plastic Ziplock bag to crush the corn flakes
  • A cutting board and knife to chop the onion
  • Oven mitts

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Pull the potatoes out of the freezer and let them sit out on the countertop for several minutes to thaw a little. They should not be clumpy. Cut the stick of butter in half, and melt one of the halves of the butter in the microwave or the oven. In a large bowl, mix together the hash browns, onions, sour cream, the cream of chicken soup, salt, the ½ stick of melted butter, and ½ of the cheese. Stir to combine, and spread the mixture out evenly in your 9" x 12" baking pan.

Melt the remaining ½ stick of butter. Meanwhile, using your hands, crush enough Corn Flakes in a plastic Ziplock bag, so that you end up with 1 cup of crushed Corn Flakes. Pour the melted butter into the bag of Corn Flakes, and squish the bag so the corn flakes get covered in the butter. Spread the remaining ½ cup of cheese out evenly over the top of the potatoes, and then spread the crushed Corn Flakes out over the cheese. Bake 1 hour in the 350 degree oven. Serve with Mini Meatloaf Sliders and a pickle.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Girl Scouts vs. Brazil

Last week I was so stoked about my Brazilian cooking class. The food was fabulous. But I was suddenly yanked from cloud 9 later that evening when I returned home mere minutes before my husband; he sighed a wonderfully satisfied sigh and showed me his dinner menu. Before I could even gloat, I had been outdone by the Girl Scout Council of Greater New York and their 34th Annual Tribute Dinner. Slighted again by yet another corporate function. Is the grass really greener? Which menu would you pick?

Girl Scouts

Asparagus Veloute
Grilled Ramps and Morel Mushrooms
Hogue Fume Blanc

Maple Braised Short Ribs
Vegetable Bundle of Baby Carrots and Haricots Verts
and Parsnip Puree
Lindemans Cabernet Sauvignon

Thin Mint Chocolate Molten Cake
Homemade Thin Mint Ice Cream and Raspberry Coulis

Freshly Brewed Coffee
Selection of Harney and Sons Fine Imported Teas
Served with Chef's Selection of Petits Fours
Homemade Cookies and Macaroons


Cheese Rolls
Pao de Queijo

Cod with Fingerling Potatoes and Onions
Bacalhau Assado com Batatas e Cebola

Fish in Spiced Honey
Filet de Peixe ao Mel Picante

Grilled Minas Cheese with a Brazilian Pesto Sauce
Minas grelhado com Pesto Brasileiro

Avocado Creme Brulee
Creme Brulee de Abacate

Perhaps those sneaky Girl Scouts are out to spite me for posting this headline last year?


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Work it. Own it. Eat it.

I have never really paid too much attention to my fingernails.

But yesterday, of all days, on an unsuspecting Tuesday no less, I suddenly wished I was somebody else entirely, all because of my fingernails.

I have never been a girlie-girl. I hardly wear pink. Shoe shopping makes me want to back away slowly. I believe that salad + Diet Coke is the most frightening comprehensible combination in human existence. Lipstick is for special occasions. And manicures - (shudder) - only when forced.

I keep my nails relatively neat, and polish-free. They are clean and short, but not pretty. Which, to me, has always seemed appropriate for someone who likes to work with food. Like I said, I never paid them too much attention. Yesterday, however, I found myself staring down at my nails with remorse and embarrassment. I have let them get a little too long, I thought. Maybe Photoshop... that could do wonders...

Yesterday, Genny - friend, boss, and food guru extraordinaire - and I went to lunch to celebrate her birthday. I tried to let her choose, being the birthday girl and all, but somehow I ended up steering us toward Shake Shack. Nothing is more soothing to my fear of salads than a hearty dose of beef, melted cheese, fries and chocolate shakes. As we were waiting, we were somewhat distracted by the photographer in the kitchen snapping shots of the food. Must be for their website or something, I mused to myself. We found a table in the very back and had a lovely lunch. Not more than 60 minutes earlier, Genny had painted her nails in preparation for her date later that night at Le Bernardin, and I was pressing her for all the details. "Which tasting menu are you choosing? What wine? What jewelry did you decide to wear with your new dress?" Genny doesn't really consider herself a girlie-girl either, but I knew she had picked out a great dress and cute shoes for her birthday date.

Somewhere between my interrogation and mouthfulls of fries, the aforementioned photographer and his team had made their way through the dining area and sidled up directly across from where we were seated, taking pictures of prop burgers in various poses. We tried to ignore his rear-end encroaching on our personal space as he worked, but it was just too hard not to shrink back a little and laugh. He turned around and introduced himself, and, eyeballing Genny in particular, said he 'noticed our nice fingernails, and smiles, and would we mind posing for a few pictures.' "Well, we like your fingernails," he said to Genny, nodding at her perfectly polished nails in a trendy deep blue shade. I made ashamed little fists under the table.

We were about to just say 'thanks but no thanks,' but curiosity got the better of me (as it often does. Dammit!) and I asked, "What are the pictures for?" The other man who was with the photographer (the Editor, as I later would learn) ever-so-coolly replied, "Saveur Magazine. We're doing a big feature on burgers for an upcoming issue." Before Genny could shake her head one way or the other, I blurted out, "We'll do it!" Genny shot me a look. "Yes. We're doing it. Saveur is one of my favorite magazines." I suddenly didn't care about my unpolished nails. Or rain-styled hairdo. Or lack of makeup. Or ketchup-stained sleeves. If my ugly mitt could be photographed shoving a double-cheeseburger into the lower-half of my lipstick-free face for Saveur Magazine, then count me in. No question.

Of course they shot Genny first, then me. They asked me to hold the burger with only one of my hands - less unpleasantness to potentially have to clean up with Photoshop, I supposed. All we needed to do was hold the massive burger near our smiling face, as if we were about to eat it, while looking up at our friend laughing at us. Which was exactly what was happening anyway.

When our little shoot was over, I was trying to nonchalantly probe the Editor. I confessed that 'Food Magazine Editor' was pretty much my dream job, and I was curious how he got involved in that field. He just shrugged and said he worked at restaurants for a really long time, then worked as a personal chef who wrote a lot of his own recipes. Huh, I thought. Hard work. Persistence. I could do that. For some reason, I thought he might say he was granted 3 wishes by a food-loving magic genie, and that was one of them. Suddenly, after spending the past week not blogging, or even cooking, my faith in myself was restored.

I wouldn't trade me for all the beautiful girlie-girl traits in the world. Besides, if I was going out to lunch for a salad and Diet Coke, I would never have ended up at Shake Shack, posing with a double cheesburger for Saveur Magazine. But I did trim my nails when I got home last night.

I'm not counting on it of course, but just in case, if I happen to see myself in Saveur around August/September getting ready to pound a burger the size of my head, I will certainly let you know.