Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Julia Never Made Alpo in her Bare Feet

Gold-diggers, children, animals and old people all get distracted by shiny objects. And so do I. Wave that glittering, sparkling aspiration in front of me and I'm instantly distracted. I have to have it. This time the aspiration was a big one. And even was food.

Boeuf Bourguignon is the quinessential comfort food recipe from the first American culinary goddess: Julia Child. Beef Bourguignon is a succulent, warming, indulgent beef stew whose first step in preparation is the rendering of fat from 8 ounces of bacon. Bacon is never on my grocery shopping list, but I decided that if I could simply follow the recipe, I too, could join the ranks of Julia and change our lives with this meal. Surely, we'd think to ourselves, "How did we ever deign to consume anything less than Boeuf Bourguignon?"

I set out to construct the ultimate weekend meal. This is far from a food blog, so bear with me. I started with the Barefoot Contessa recipe for Beef Bourguignon. Ina Garten, a contemporary culinary goddess who hangs in the Hamptons, typically offers excellent recipes that are easy to execute and that live up to your expectations. With my high expectations in tow, I skipped over Kroger and headed straight to Publix, living large with every push of the buggy. Veggies, broth and seasonings made their way to my cart. I think I even looked down my nose at other shoppers; after all, I was about to make Boeuf Bourguignon... what were they going to make? Chicken and rice casserole?

I approached the deli and decided that I could half the fat in the recipe by using 4 ounces of pancetta in lieu of the bacon. I'm a budding food snob, and anything Italian sounds much better to me than pedestrian American bacon. Freshly sliced pancetta in tow, I headed to the meat department. Determined to select the perfect cut, I even consulted a friend I found in the aisles of this exclusive food market. Once again distracted by shiny objects, my eyes went to the cut of beef that was all bright, succulent red. I decided I'd even butcher the three pounds down to cubes myself. Beaming with all the pride of a kept woman who has just spent her allowance, fun money and mad money in one shot, I made my way home eager to put my plan into action.

The cooking process was fairly straightforward. Chopping carrots and onions, searing beef, adding a bottle of red wine, and allowing the entire concoction to simmer in the oven for a few hours. And now the moment of truth...the results looked like Alpo wet dog food. If I had a dog, I'm sure that he would sniff my beef stew, wimper in distaste, turn his nose and saunter away. Don't get me wrong; I'm not a bad cook and my beef bourguignon was not inedible. It just didn't change my life, and I know it didn't change Paul's either. And, by the way, this isn't a blog about trying each and every one of Julia Child's famous recipes anyway.

The lesson learned is simple. If you're distracted by a shiny object, and you've just got to have it, don't settle and don't cut corners to get there. Pancetta is salt-cured, and this move served only to half my fat and double the recipe's salt content. And that lean, bright red cut of beef had no fat and marbling in it to make it tender. But as a health nut, it sure did look like the best cut!

Julia Child had a goal in mind and she followed simple, straightforward steps to get there. She practiced incessantly, and she developed tried-and-true methods for excellence. So, yes, improvisation has its place. But, substituting for something that "might get the job done" will leave you in the dog house...with dog food. I guess wisdom is in knowing the difference.

Currently Drinking: the last glass of wine from the bottle of Pinot Noir that went into my Boeuf Bourguignon

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Victim of the Laws of Physics

Sir Isaac Newton had it easy... of course what goes up must come down. You could say the same of Benjamin Franklin and his shocking discovery of electric currents.  And these cursory mentions of major discoveries wouldn't be complete without Albert Einstein and the theory of relativity.   Sometimes the most fundamental laws of nature are the most obvious ones.  

But, at this point I'm plagued by another law of physics...the law of interia.  Inertia is the notion that objects in motion will tend to stay in motion....and objects at rest will tend to stay at rest.  Unless said object is acted upon by an outside interfering force, the path upon which the object... or person... treads will remain the same.   A friend of ours once suggested the possibility of "Relationship Inertia,"  a type of dating limbo where the no one's boat gets rocked by any sort of current...emotional, physical or intellectual.  The path is set, and without an outside force, will not change or develop.   Do you think she stayed with that guy for very long?  I think she exerted a force of her own on that relationship.

But, to be fair to Inertia, to dwell on its ability to keep objects in a state of rest would be unfair.  You've got to acknowlege its powerful force and ability to grant momentum & progress as well.  I'm working on turning the tables on inertia and making it work in my favor.  A lot of this is having the courage to turn off the TV and go do something instead!  Putting my thoughts on paper, working a confection or baking project, reading, writing a business plan...something to catapult me over this quarter-life crisis where I feel like inertia is getting the best of me.  

So, here's Step One.   I'd like to share with you a weekly memo entry from the Wizard of Ads.  The Wizard is Roy Williams, noted marketing & advertising consultant, author, creative mind, small business coach and modern day philospher.   I have followed him more and more recently.

The Wizard wants you to learn about the power of the elbs.   Elbs are exponential little bits. Its the power of the elbs that's going to help me turn inertia and all of the laws of physics in my favor (ok, so I still trip alot, but grace and poise are another issue).  As The Wizard says...
"When daily progress meets with daily progress, it doesn't add;  it multiplies."
   I think the elbs apply to everything.... nutrition, exercise, work ethic, procrastination, and kindness to others.    So, go click on this brief read about the power of the elbs. 

What little bit are you going to make happen today?

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Is the Vacuum Bag Half Empty or Half Full?

James Dyson is a sick, sick man. More cunning than any Columbian drug lord and more opportunistic than the top Starbucks executives. This man doesn't mess around. He's profiting off of those of us with a weakness that transcends addiction to legalized stimulants. He's a bottom-feeder in the retail market. He's going straight for people like me.

Type A Neat Freaks. Those of us who are compulsively clean and who can spot a dust bunny from across the room. Like sharks circling their prey at the first sign of blood in the water, we'll launch into a crusade of dusting and cleaning before tackling the real items on our to-do list. The ones with actual pressing deadlines.

I recently invested in a Dyson vacuum cleaner. I bet you're automatically thinking: Ooooh, the cool one with the ball? No. Not the one with the ball. As far as I'm concerned that ball is no good to me. (Did you know that the Dyson ball is based off of a wheelbarrow he originally invented?) What I'm talking about is the cyclone technology wrapped up into the DC 17 All Floors Model.

The best part of this vacuum is the clear cannister where all of the dustbunnies and grime I've swept up whirl about in dustbunny pergatory. With increasing satisfaction, I continue to sweep and to reach for the furthest crevices of the house until the cannister is full. Then, with the satisfaction of a hunter who has bagged a 12-point buck, and a sinner emerging from a dark [dusty] confessional, I detach the cannister from the vacuum, proceed to the garage, and purge its contents with a satisfying trigger pull. Secretly, I consider this action more of a "jetison" if I'm on the international space station and with the push of a button am sending our dustbunnies away to a black hole...never to be seen again.

Dyson aside, here's the real issue. Its a shame that the Law of Diminishing Returns is only covered in Economics cirricula. It needs to be a part of Home-Ec and maybe even psychology. As I vacuumed this morning, no matter how hard I tried, and no matter how many couch cushions I moved, the Dyson cannister simply wasn't full. The plus side: the house was relatively clean to begin with and is now in a satisfactory state. On the down side...just because the cannister is half full...the dustbunny purge was a little less satisfying. If you're a neat freak, you'll understand.

So, I entreat you, Gentle Reader, to be kind to the neat freak in your life today and clean your crumbs off of the kitchen counter. Or, if you're the thoughful type, you'll nonchalantly brush them onto the floor so that they can be vacuumed up later.

Currently Drinking: Espresso from my stovetop Bialetti espresso pot

Currently Baking: Cornbread to go with Chili for dinner

“The more original your idea, the more resistance you will meet." James Dyson