Friday, November 23, 2007

Thanksgiving Feast

They say that you should buy 1-1.5 pounds of turkey for each person you plan to serve. This year, we were serving three people: the two of us, and my brother Donald. Add that up, with a bit of a fudge factor, and you can easily explain why we made a 19 lb turkey.

When we went to buy the turkey Tuesday night, there wasn't much of a selection. It was either a 12 pounder or a couple that were 19 lbs or larger. However, we had a coupon for $6 off a turkey between 14 and 24 pounds, so we didn't really have much choice: use the coupon.

A few years ago, I joined the brining movement. Even my 12 quart stock pot wasn't tall enough for the turkey to be completely submerged, but this turkey may be my best effort yet (if I do say so myself).

When you make 19 pounds of bird, you have no choice but to make plenty of side dishes. Roasted brussel sprouts (this year with carrots and Tripp Country Bacon) and sausage-sage stuffing have become classics in our household:

We also made a second stuffing with cornbread, more Tripp Country bacon, and smoked oysters. And the sweet potatoes had a ginger-lime glaze (very good).

Of course, we also had cranberry sauce, gravy, and mashed potatoes. Michelle made a lime-ginger sorbet, pumpkin cheesecake tartlets, and pecan butter tart bars (definitely ask her for this recipe).

And the best part about having a large turkey? More bones for making soup.

Tripp Country Bacon (November 2007)

Our November Bacon came just in time for Thanksgiving. As you can see, the packaging was rather unassuming, but the Grateful Palate described it as having "a spicy sweetness that makes it unique among the country-style bacons [they] carry".

As with our October bacon, we cooked it on the cast iron grill pan, and made some BLTs. It's not obvious from the picture, but this particular bacon was extremely fatty. The first time, I tried to render as much fat as possible, but after a few minutes resting on paper towels, the bacon became crispier than I'd like:

A night later, we took it off the grill a little earlier, so the texture was much better.

The BLTs were good (how could they not?), but overall, the Tripp Country Bacon did not particularly stand out (especially relative to the previous offering). Unfortunately, I probably could not distinguish it from Oscar Meyer or Farmer John's.

Bacon ranking:
1. North Country Cob Smoked Bacon (Oct 2007)
2. Tripp Country Bacon (November 2007)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

OFT No. 8 - Happy 11.5 Years!

This week was another multiple-OFT sort of one. It started off with going to the opera with Donald. No, Brian didn't go. No, we didn't even ask him if he wanted to. Yes, he's ok with that.

The opera was Handel's Julius Caesar at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. When Donald mentioned that there countertenors involved, I knew we were in for an interesting ride. (Countertenors are often men who sing in the soprano range, modern day castrati essentially.) It was a strange night. It was 4 hours, 48 minutes of very facetious staging. Caesar was written in 1707, and let me just say, I'm not sure how Handel would feel about the inclusion of warships, blimps, the Charleston, and a Cleopatra costume worthy of a Vegas showgirl. Anyway, interesting evening, nonetheless. Every review I've read of it has been positive, so... I guess I'm the weakest link.

Anyway, the real OFT of the weekend was Saturday, which was our 11 and a half-year anniversary! To celebrate, we got tickets to see The Crucible at the Steppenwolf, Chicago's famous ensemble theater. Gary Sinise is a co-founder, and a lot of well-known actors have been a part of it (my personal favorite: John Mahoney, aka Frasier's dad, Martin Crane). The play is a powerful commentary on persecution, innocence, and mob mentality, and this version was pretty well done. Yeah, I'll admit it, I cried a couple of times (but really, that doesn't say much now does it?) A few of the main actors were away, which was most noticeable in the performance of the understudy for Mr. Parris. Eeek. Overall though, it was nicely staged and emotional. Hard to go wrong with such a great text!

After the play we had dinner - thanks to our dear, sweet friends Mike and Misha. As a graduation/housewarming gift, they had sent us a gift certificate to an Italian restaurant that was quite close to the Steppenwolf, so we headed over and had a nice dinner of crab-stuffed shrimp with sauteed spinach, and Vitello di Franco. Everything was tasty, and the restaurant seems to be pretty popular, as it was packed the whole time we were there. Thanks Cohens!!!

So that's the OFT report. Sunday was spent working wedding stuff. I got to break out my ol' Gocco machine, which is a screenprinting press from Japan that is really neat. Hopefully I'll have some more free time to do other things with it, since it is really fun and you can get pretty creative with it.

Well, I hope everyone is having fun getting ready for the Thanksgiving holiday! We'll be cooking up our usual feast, and bjourning about it after the fact. Also, we just got the second Bacon-of-the-Month installment yesterday, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

OFT No. 7 - Dumpling Party!

That's right, this week we had a food-related OFT, as some of you have been clamoring for. I'm still sad that I didn't get to go to Hotlanta, but instead we got to make dumplings!

First off, you should know that I am a dumpling FIEND. I don't think I've ever met a dumpling I didn't like, and I'm always up for trying more, or eating the same ones over and over again! Favorites include: Din Tai Fung soup dumplings (xiao loong bao), pierogies (with grilled onions and a little bacon - which reminds me, Bacon-of-the-Month #2 should be on its way soon), gnocchi, and the super cheap ubiquitous pork and veggie dumplings we got in China (something like 20 for a dollar!)

Making dumplings is a fun activity for us, because it's easy and of course, at the end you get to eat superyummy pockets of goodness. You can really put whatever you want in them, but we like to follow a recipe we copied out of a Ming Tsai cookbook, Pork and Ginger Potstickers. We don't make the dumpling skins ourselves, because you can easily find wrappers at the market (certainly at Asian markets, and I think maybe even at big supermarkets). It's pretty easy to prepare everything, and then you can get down to the filling and wrapping.

Ok ok, on to the photographic evidence!

All prepped and ready to go. It kind of looks like bibimbap, doesn't it? Let the mixing begin!

Now it looks like a giant meatball. A very very cold, frostbite-inducing giant meatball:

The wrapping station. You want to have a floured surface for your finished dumplings so they don't stick, and eggwash to help seal them:

Pleats may be out when it comes to pants, but they are definitely the way to go for dumplings (I just think it looks nice and professional, but Brian says it helps with the seal). Brian is a master at this - look how beautiful that is! We couldn't find plain wrappers, so we tried these green 'vegetable' ones (I forgot to look at the ingredients, but there was no noticeable difference in taste).

Oh yeah, we also did spring rolls. I love Vietnamese imperial rolls, or cha gio, especially when made with rice wrappers, because they have this lovely crisp-chewiness that is so satisfying. You can see the set up in this picture - the wrappers come in dried sheets that you need to re-hydrate in hot water (the pasta bowl at the top). I didn't take a pic of the package, but these are the same ones I used, if you're interested. Then they're pliable and translucent (you can see one in mid-wrap on the cutting board), and ready to roll! These are the same wrappers that are used for Summer Rolls - if you use ingredients like beansprouts, vermicelli noodles and shrimp that are pre-cooked or don't need to be, you'd be done at this point. Ours, however, were destined for a trip into a shallow pan of hot oil...

My preciousssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss:

And the finished products!

Sooo good, and now we have plenty of dumplings in the freezer for lazy-dinner days. Or, erm, any day, really. YUM.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Coolest. Ads. Ever.

I know, I know (and Brian keeps reminding me), this definitely goes against my initial declaration that this bjourn would not be a product placement vehicle. I just had to post these though, because they are awesome!

They could be a little less war-related, but they are so creative and, in a weird way, elegant. They really capture the spirit of the toy, don't they? Especially the T-rex one. ROAR!

Friday, November 9, 2007

No Atlanta For Me

I have a ticket to fly to Atlanta this weekend, to attend a meeting at the CDC. This is the government agency that gave me a grant for my dissertation, part of which was supposed to go towards traveling to this meeting to present my work, and meet with the 3 other grantees and lots of important CDC people. My friend Robin works at the CDC, so I had arranged to stay with her (and she had gotten time off to attend my talk!)

So, in preparation, I practiced my talk for my lab today. It went well, they are super supportive. However, almost immediately after I finished, I received a call from the coordinator.
"Um, your security clearance has not come through yet. You'll have to cancel your plane ticket."


"Because you're not a citizen, it takes longer to get clearance. I'm sorry, but Monday is a holiday and they probably won't be looking at this over the weekend" (probably? This is a government agency. Definitely is more like it). "Well, you have a couple of options - you can come in another time, or present via speakerphone."
I considered it for a bit, but, much like how I try to make even the surliest tech support person laugh while they're troubleshooting my laptop's Blue Screens of Death, it's important with me to connect with my audience. Especially with academic talks, since they're nervewracking enough as it is. It's nice to find the one person who is nodding and smiling at you (even if in their head their thinking, this it total BS) so you can make eye contact once in a while, for moral support. I just imagine them saying, Go on, you're doing a great job. Tell me more about your multitrait-multimethod matrix. It's so intriguing. Anyway, the thought of speaking into a phone, telling someone "next slide please" while the audience stares at an empty lectern just doesn't really do it for me. Plus, I wanted to network with people, see Robin, and hang out a bit. I guess I'll go another time, it just won't be as cool, and I'm out $100 for having to change the flight.

Wah. Darn my non-US citizenship. (Did I really say that? Oh, great Canadian maple leaf, I didn't mean it!)

Well, maybe we will have time for an OFT this weekend after all...

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

OFT No. 6 - The Museum of Contemporary Art

Sorry, yes, have been neglectful in the past couple of weeks. I like how the absence of OFT posts makes people contact me and ask "oh no! Does this mean you're not having any fun?"** It's just been kind of busy recently, and last weekend one of us was not feeling well so we took it easy. All is well now, not to worry.

Last weekend (ok, two weekends ago), we felt like getting a little cultured up, so we headed to the Chicago MCA. Smartie Brian noticed that it is free for forty days to celebrate 40 years of being open. Score!

The MCA is actually pretty small. The building itself is not really impressive, unlike other museums where the edifice is a work of art in its own right. The main temporary exhibition was called "Sympathy for the Devil: Art and Rock and Roll since 1967" which sounded so promising! But it wasn't really that great. We joined a tour, and while the docent obviously knew her stuff about the pieces and the artists, she didn't really have that rock 'n roll kinda feeling, you know? Also, it seemed like they mostly were showcasing music and art from the 60s and 70s. I think the 80s and 00s could have used a lot more press (I am kind of willing to skip much of the 90s...shhhh...not all of it). One cool thing was that they set up a recording booth that anyone could book, so it was like a performance and a demo session all in one.

The rest of the museum was just kind of eh, although they had a nice exhibit of Calder mobiles (Brian: "I wouldn't want that in my house"). I would!
Polychrome and Horizontal Bluebird

The lowlight of the museum was a performance art piece that just involved a male/female couple making out in various positions. I'm sure it was supposed to make us aware of our discomfort (or arousal?) at such a public display of affection, or our immaturity. Yeah, I'll admit it, I giggled. It was just odd though, and I kept wondering a) if they had a whole lot of chapstick stashed somewhere; and b) what would happen if someone plunked down beside them and starting making out too.

Anyway, that was about it. Then I dragged Brian to an art supply store for some more canvas. We met Donald for dinner at a Mexican/Cuban resto, where I had some decidedly awesome pork chops (size of my head! perfectly cooked! on top of sweet potatoes!) Portions are definitely not lacking in this corner of the world.

**Since starting work at the U of Chicago, I have since learned that it is often referred to as the place "where fun goes to die"... sigh.