Friday, January 29, 2010

OL wins another one

So OL proved herself...unreliable...with her gas stove several months ago. Basically, when I went home for Thanksgiving, she sort of forgot to switch a burner off. Eventually her neighbor smelled gas in the hallway, and after a certain amount of frantic door-bell ringing, broke into her apartment convinced he was going to find her dead. Turned out she was just napping and couldn't understand what all the fuss was about.

In fact, she steadfastly refused to admit any gas-related negligence, and accused the neighbors of telling tall tales. For their part, her neighbors were, quite understandably, concerned that one day soon she would blow them all to kingdom come. Relations had reached an unpleasant impasse, when OL's doctor (who also has an office in the building) came up with an elaborate plot.

She visited OL one afternoon, and told her (completely untruthfully) that she smelled a little gas. Since all the burners were turned off, the doctor suggested that the stove itself might have a leak. Consequently, OL became convinced that a gas leak actually existed, and that her allergies, previously attributed to the carpet, might in fact be due to a decade's worth of leaking gas. Building maintenance was summoned, and, fully involved in the plot, said they were turning off her gas until the 'leak' could be fixed.

It's been a little over a month, and somehow, they just can't seem to find the right part. OLgrumbles about their slowness, but is actually only marginally inconvenienced by her lack of stove. See, she's never really cooked, and previously used her stove for exactly two things: boiling water for tea, and frying eggs.

Boiling water is easy enough with other kitchen appliances, but the eggs, well, the eggs have been a problem. Her son recently bought this plastic gizmo for poaching eggs in the microwave. OL took one look at the thing, pronounced it "a piece of junk," and refused any further attempts to involve her in egg making. Giving up on his own efforts, her son then sent me an email, requesting that I do my best to get her to use the device.

Thus, on Monday I opened up the packaging and read the instructions. Let's all bear in mind that I don't actually eat eggs, and consequently have no idea what a well cooked egg should look like. However, after a certain amount of trial and error, I got an egg out of the microwave that looked exactly like the egg on the packaging. OL had distanced herself from the proceedings and sat on the couch looking sour.

I brought the perfectly poached egg over for her to admire. "Looks undercooked" she muttered. Back into the microwave it went. I carried the results back to the couch. "The middle's not done." By this point, the perfectly poached egg looked a bit...scrambled, and was putting out a characteristic eggy smell that has always made me rather nauseous. Nevertheless, I bravely stirred it with a fork and stuck it back in the microwave for further cooking. I heard OL muttering from the couch, something about contraptions, idiot sons, and stubborn girls.

The microwave beeped, and this time, I was sure we had a winner. I triumphantly took the egg, still in it's plastic container, over to OL. She begrudgingly admitted that the egg looked about right. We both stared down at the eggy mass, and I was about to suggest that perhaps OL give it a taste. At that exact moment, the two halves of the egg-cooker came apart, and the whole thing dropped straight into OL's lap.

The look OL gave me at that moment probably had to be seen to be believed, but it contained about equal parts surprise, disgust, and delight at being proved so very right. I slunk back to the kitchen to get a towel, and have not brought up the whole egg thing all week. OL, on the other hand, has mentioned the incident repeatedly, with quite an emphasis on the words 'right' and 'junk.' I'll have to email the son tonight, and tell him that this week, well...this week I guess the egg is on my face. *

* Man, I've been waiting the whole blog post to pull that one out.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Chicken & Rice Pilaf

So I'm sick. Yes, again. Yes, that does make three times in as many months. Sigh. Clearly my bragging about not getting sick all of last year has caught up to me. Anyway, being sick means chicken soup, and chicken soup means left-over boiled chicken (I'm picky, so I only ever eat the broth and the noodles). I've already blogged about one use for left-over chicken in the Russian kitchen, and now I'd like to present a second.

This is a recipe for my grandma Regina's very delicious Chicken and Rice Pilaf...or as the Russians like to say, Plov. My grandma calls this a 'southern' recipe, by which she means it comes from someplace in the Caucuses, or maybe from one of the many Stans of Central Asia. All I know is that wherever it's from, they sure know how to cook rice. You would think that with 3 cups of rice, this recipe would make about 6 servings, but you would be wrong. In fact, with everyone taking seconds, I've barely had leftovers when feeding 4 people.

So then, here's what you'll need for 4 large servings:
  • 2-3 cups white or brown basmati rice (uncooked)
  • 1-2 cups boiled chicken (about 1 lb raw chicken), shredded
  • 1 large carrot, grated
  • 1 medium sweet onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1/4 - 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon whole peppercorns
  • 1-2 teaspoons Vegeta seasoning mix
  • salt and pepper

1) Cook rice according to package directions in lightly salted water.

2) While the rice is cooking, shred the chicken, grate the carrot, dice the onion, and slice the garlic.

3) Liberally drizzle olive oil into a large skillet on medium high heat. Add the onion and saute for about 2 minutes. Add the carrots and saute for another minute. Add the chicken, mix well, and saute for 2 more minutes.

4) Lower the heat to medium, and add the rice, garlic, bay leaf, and peppercorns. Drizzle more olive oil, then mix everything together. Add salt and pepper to taste.

5) Allow to fry for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding olive oil as necessary. The pilaf should become crispy and light brown. Mix in the Vegeta seasoning. *

6) Continue to fry for another 10 minutes or so, again adding olive oil as necessary, until dark brown crispy bits are distributed throughout the pilaf. Mmm, dark brown crispy bits. Taste before serving, the pilaf will probably need a little more salt and pepper.

* Vegeta is a very common seasoning blend found in Eastern European cooking. A little goes a long way, I've had that big can for several years now, and it's only about half empty. I know that you can get it on Amazon if you can't find it in your local Russian or European food mart. I highly recommend it for soups and rice dishes, however, if you don't have any on hand, the above pilaf still tastes good without it...not the same, but good.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Conversation With OL

The scene: OL and I, sitting down at a crowded little restaurant with a marginally overpriced menu. The waiter is hovering to get our drink orders.

OL: "I vant a hamburger. How much is the hamburger."
I consult the menu, and unwisely blurt out the real price. "Nine dollars."
The waiter snorts softly.
I glance at the waiter apologetically, and then hiss at OL: "We are at a restaurant, that is what a hamburger costs at a restaurant."
OL, completely unmollified: "NINE DOLLAS???"
I look at the waiter again. He's trying really hard not to laugh. "We'll have some water."
"No problem! I'll just give you a minute to...err...go over the menu."

The waiter taken care of, I return my attention to OL. She's still both indignant and disbelieving. "I betchya it isn't nine dollas. That crazy for a hamburger!"
I pretend to study the menu again. "Oh, you know what, you're right, I made a mistake, it's cheaper than nine dollars." At this point, I glance at her for some sort of guidance to a proper hamburger price.
OL, gleeful to be proved right, obliges me right away. "I bet it's five dollas" she says.
"Wow, you've guessed exactly right! It's five dollars."

At this point, OL senses that things are a little too good to be true. She tries to trap me. "How did you make a mistake like that?? Saying it was nine dollas instead of five!" But I am too canny to be tricked by such an easy ploy, and use her own prejudices against her.
"Oh, I was looking at the cheeseburger price."
OL makes a disgusted face, and then nods sagely, ready to believe anything terrible about the abomination that is a cheeseburger.* Lunch proceeds more or less smoothly.

* Although she doesn't keep kosher, OL hates mixing meat and diary products. I've never been able to make her coherently explain why.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Trivia Update

I stopped mentioning trivia here several months ago, as the constant updates made pub quizzing seem like our only social outlet. This is categorically untrue…we also play long and complicated board games with The Pit’s friends, as witnessed by my sister, who whimpered through one bout of Shadow of the Emperor while visiting here last week. But we’ll get back to Dina in a bit. For now, let’s focus on trivia.

Trivia…well, let’s just say there have been some ups and downs since I last reported to you in early November. We had one glorious week of winning with our usual team of three after I drove away various annoying hangers on, and then The Pit had to go on a series of business trips. Left to our own devices, A and I placed 3rd one week, giving us completely unwarranted confidence in our Pit-less trivia abilities…a confidence that was promptly shattered the following week, when we plummeted all the way to 6th place. It goes without saying that we were less than pleased at having to pay in full for dinner:

When The Pit returned, he lectured us about doing so poorly without him, but apparently the fates don’t like his tsk-tsking any more than I do, as that week we got 4th place. Witness a very grainy version of The Pit’s agony:

The following week we were joined by my friend Eric, in DC visiting family for the holidays. Eric helped us recover a little momentum, and we placed second. The joy, it is self-evident:

Unfortunately, this momentum was apparently lost somewhere in Switzerland, because last week, with my lovely sister in attendance, we once again placed fourth. Sadface:

Fortunately, the evening was redeemed by a long, politically incorrect, and decidedly adult story describing A’s escapades on New Year’s Eve. I won’t go into the details here, but let’s just say he finally made his bachelorhood pay off.

This week…well, this week things have returned to normal. Dina flew back to California, A is once again being ignored by various eligible young ladies, and The Furious Sporks have regained our spot at the top of McGinty’s pub quiz hierarchy. It came down to a tie-breaking question, but I’m pleased to report that we claimed first place last night.*

The only pictures taken were of A's triumphant face, so I cannot post them here, but trust me, the thrill of victory was well represented.

* That makes ten 1st place, two 2nd place, two 3rd place, two 4th place, and one sad 6th place finish in seventeen weeks of playing.

Saturday, January 9, 2010


So, a great big hello to the four of you diligently checking every day I was gone on vacation. The clicks, they make me feel loved. Anyway, as the rest of you may or may not know, first I was back home in California for a few days around Christmas, and then I was in Frankfurt for two days to celebrate New Year's Eve, and then I was in a cabin in the Swiss Alps, along with Dina, The Pit, two of my favorite OC residents, my German friend Raphael, and a whole mass of other Germans I'd never previously met. The Swiss Alps! Like someone rich and famous!*

The vacation, it was awesome. Highlights:
  • Knowing I was home for sure, when my first morning back in Fremont, Dina came out of her room stark naked, hair tousled, and very excited, yelling "I downloaded a metal detector to my phone!"
  • Seeing my family and both sides of The Pit's family in several whirlwind days, and feeling so warm and loved wherever we happened to be.
  • German New Year's Eve food, consisting of little plate things you fill with meats and veggies, then cover with cheese, then grill at the table. Genius!
  • Standing on the roof of an apartment building in Frankfurt, watching the official firework displays around the city, and then seeing thousands of unofficial fireworks go up at the stroke of midnight. Being amazed as the unofficial fireworks continued for the next hour, with rockets illegal in all but the most redneck parts of the United States. Those Germans, they take fireworks seriously.
  • In the backseat with Dina and Cat, laughing hysterically every time we passed an Ausfahrt sign. Dina constantly yelling the...impolite...German name for Austrians, which happened to be the very first German word Raphael and company taught us upon entering the country.
  • Giant German schnitzel, to all appearances made out of half a pig. Watching each of the boys eat said schnitzel and actually finish. Meat: another thing the Germans take very seriously.
  • The magical view when we finally got to our cabin in the Alps.
  • More views from the slopes, each better than the last. Hoping that the rest of the group really enjoyed the views as they waited for me to shuffle step down the expert slope I was dragged to.
  • Documenting my friends, to all appearances a little insane from too much skiing and too little sleep, running back and forth from the sauna to the snow, howling the entire way.
  • The cutest picture of them all.
  • Fondue for The Pit's birthday, and never ending arguments about the foulness vs. goodness of mushrooms.
  • Our tour through Geneva, complete with yet more magical views, delicious crepes, roasted chestnuts, snowball fights, giant chess, and a lady walking a cat.
* Although someone rich and famous would probably be a much better skier. It's a good thing Cat was skiing on a recently broken ankle, or I would have been left to fend for myself on the slopes.