Monday, February 27, 2006

Weekend Eats

Despite my low energy level following a week long battle with a respiratory virus, I had the cooking urge this weekend. Saturday found me dreaming of golden brown crispy skin on a succulent roasted chicken so off to the store I went. I was disappointed that my neighborhood store was out of roasters but didn’t have the heart to face the weekend crowd at Central Market so I settled on a good sized frying chicken instead. Even though the market was out of roasters, they had plenty of fryers on the heavy side at 5lbs and change. For sides, I picked up some ready made organic green chile and cilantro polenta and decided to try a spinach stuffed tomato idea that had been floating around my head for a while.

At home, I washed and patted the chicken dry before salt and peppering the cavity and oiling the skin with EVOO before seasoning it liberally with salt, pepper, garlic powder and lemon pepper. I sliced half a shallot and inserted it along with tiny pats of butter under the skin of the breast. For the cavity, I sliced up a key lime, the remainder of the shallot, a bit of carrot and a few strips of bell pepper. I mixed the veggies with the same seasonings that went on the exterior of the bird and added a small bit of butter before shoving it all inside. The chicken went into the oven to roast at 475º for 20 minutes before lowering the heat to 375º for an additional hour.

By the time my boyfriend made it home from his noon spin class our meal was minutes away from ready. The roast chicken looked food magazine beautiful when I pulled it out of the oven. I plated up slices of the juicy breast along with a drumstick and wing, a stuffed tomato and several cheese topped sliced of polenta and realized that although the cooking time for the chicken was long enough for me to catch a nap, I hadn’t and now desperately wished I had. The food was delicious, even as tired as I was. The spinach and tomato cups were a perfect side dish with the richness of the greens tempered by the simplicity of the tomato. The polenta was good, too, but I think I prefer other flavors to the green chile. After a week of illness suppressed appetite, it’s no shocker that I cleaned my plate. And then took a three hour nap.

Here is my recipe for spinach stuffed tomatoes. Feel free to tinker with it and make it your own. I’m thinking that you could make it truly decadent by mixing some goat cheese in with the cooled spinach as well as topping the cups with it.

Spinach Stuffed Tomato Cups
9 oz bag pre-washed spinach
2 large beefsteak tomatoes or four large Roma tomatoes
2 slices turkey bacon
2 Tb. Chopped shallot (can sub red onion)
½ tsp. butter
1/8 tsp. garlic powder
shredded parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 325º. If using beefsteak tomatoes, cut a thin slice at base to make a level surface for tomato to sit upright and slice off top stem side to form a flat top “cup”. Using a spoon or carefully with a paring knife, remove tomato meat from middle and reserve. You’ll want a nice hollowed out cup. For Romas, you’ll slice them lengthwise and hollow out. Turn tomato cups upside down on a paper towel to drain. Chop tomato meat and set aside. In a large frying pan, fry bacon until very crisp. Cool, then crumble. Add butter and shallot to pan and cook slowly until shallot carmelizes. Add the chopped tomato, crumbled bacon and spinach and cook until the greens are wilted, seasoning with garlic powder and salt and pepper to taste. Remove pan from heat. Lightly salt and pepper the insides of the tomatoes before filling with the spinach mixture and placing into a baking dish. Top with parmesan cheese and bake for 10 minutes.

I used some leftover chicken in a breakfast dish on Sunday. I’d made a tasty green chile, chicken, cilantro and avocado omelette a few weeks prior but I didn’t feel up to a labor intensive meal. Easy enough. I sautéed some onion and mixed in shredded chicken, chunks of avocado and sliced roasted jalapeño pepper before scrambling the goods with eggs. A pinch or two of shredded cheese topped things out. We had refried beans, sliced seasoned avocado and more of that good turkey bacon along with the scrambled version of my omelette. Sunday afternoon found me back in the kitchen stirring a simmering pot of my version of beef & venison chili made velvety smooth with beer, ancho chili powder and dark chocolate. Comfort foods, all of them. What did you eat this weekend?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Follow Your Heart

I saw a movie recently that posed the questions of does love at first sight really exist, and when love presents itself under less than perfect circumstances, what does one do?

To answer the first question, I honestly don't know if love at first sight exists. I'm not discounting it for others, but I've never experienced it. I think for some lucky people there are occasions when they see a person across a crowded room or walking down the street and catch their eye and just know that something important's about to happen. For the rest of us, love is a growth process, starting with some sort of attraction, be it friendship or a less respectable but oh so biological blatant chemical reaction called lust.

I wish I could say that I saw my boyfriend and simply knew he was The One but it's just not true. And I didn't think that the second time I met him, or the next year or even the next. I have never in my life had that instantaneous reaction and felt like I was in love. Ask me about sexual attraction and I can talk about that all day long. As for love, I used to think it was the ultimate codependent relationship. Now that I've found it, or it found me however the truth be told, I know that love is an undeniable force.

And that brings me to the next question. What do you do if love finds you but the timing just isn't right? Do you follow your heart or do you push it away? In the movie, the central figures are torn by this concept. How do you know when the love you're offered is enough for you to turn away from your old life, to step blindly into a relationship or to renew a failing one? Can you measure how much love it would take to propel you into a new relationship even if it means leaving behind another?

I've always believed in following my heart. It's certainly gotten me into some good and a lot of bad relationships, but in the end has shaped me into who I am today. Listening to my heart and loving simply as an act of faith has led me to a great relationship. And when I am old and at the end of my days, I will be able to look back at the loves in my life and know that I have no regrets. No regrets for the relationships I've had and most importantly, no regrets for ones I didn't have.

I believe that the force of love is such that to deny it would mean giving up part of yourself that you hadn't yet discovered. I think that when we love someone else, deeply and truly, we see ourselves through their eyes. Sometimes the reflection is beautiful and flattering and sometimes I think "jeez, am I really like that?". No matter what, that vision of us is definitely part of the attraction of love. Who am I but what my lover believes me to be?

So I'll ask you, what do you believe? Does love at first sight exist? And is love so important that you will change your world for it?

Friday, February 17, 2006

Meat Beat Manifesto

My friend Rocket & I hung out at The Parish on 6th last night to catch the Meat Beat Manifesto show. I didn't know what to expect, as I'd heard of MBM but hadn't actually ever listened to their music. Rocket tried to explain their sound as a mix of a little bit of every genre, kind of a Heinz 57 of a band. Yeah, that wasn't quite right, either, but at least it guaranteed I'd attend the show with an open mind, not knowing what to expect. MBM is a pop culture AV electronic rock band. Two huge screens served as the backdrop for the stage and featured everything from video footage from movies or television to live webcam images of the band and audience on top of twisting graphics. It was a rock & roll marriage of audio and visual in a way that hasn't been done since Styx broke out with their Kilroy Was Here tour and had all of us singing along to Mr. Roboto. And just like the down with Big Brother theme of Kilroy Was Here, MBM did share their anti-establishment, learn to think for yourself views.

But how did they sound? MBM rocked. They not only rocked the house, they vibrated it. The low bass tones literally massaged you as the sound washed over, through, under and around you. At one point in the show I had the wild idea that if I leaned forward into the music, the heavy, pulsating sound waves would hold me up. It was as if you could feel the words they sang, like the lyrics were being written across your body as you grooved to the beat. And you grooved, oh yes you did. I couldn't have stayed still if you'd paid me.

So, you're dancing, your body is literally thrumming along with the sound and you're being educated as well. What more could you ask for? Your money's worth. This is a band that plays and plays and plays and finally exits the stage but of course returns for a curtain call. But instead of the usual one last song big hit kinda number, they play and play and play again.

If you're smacking yourself for missing this kickin' show, make sure you check out MBM's website for tour info. We should be seeing them back in Austin in the fall on the return leg of the tour. Don't you want to see if sound waves really can support your weight?

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Preview Vicki's House

Vickilicious sent a pic of her home-in-progress. Even with the Wisconsin snow, you have to admit this is one goodlooking casa.

A Lovely Evening Out

My Valentine’s Day did not include being lashed with bloody leather whips in the ancient tradition. It didn’t feature a sex partner lottery, either, although that would’ve been quite entertaining. Instead I shared a pleasurable evening with my co-conspirator in life. I was under strict orders to rush home from work and make myself pretty. Jeans and khakis were outlawed. Those of you who know me well are already wondering what in the world I found to wear. My closet is not the typical woman’s repository, stuffed with all manner of clothing and dozens of pairs of shoes. I lucked out with a little black dress that’s been hiding in the inner recesses of my closet for a while. It’s a dress I’ve worn only a few times, and perfect for the occasion. There was but one small minor problem: my stomach. My belly, panza, gut, tummy, spare tire, breadbasket, keg…whatever you want to call it. What to do about the jiggle in the middle?

Valentine’s Day at lunchtime found me in a lingerie department, pawing through the section devoted to body shaping apparel, henceforth to be known as BSA’s. BSA is synonymous with bind, strap, append, brace, swathe, adhere, bolster, secure and affix. Trying on BSA’s is worse than bra shopping and far more hateful than swim suit shopping. For the men out there who are clueless, think of attempting to wrench a child-sized spandex tube over your head, struggle it down your shoulders and wriggling it inch by inch to cover your torso. Once on, you have to fasten the snaps in the crotch to form a panty, which is supposed to make the BSA look like a sexy teddy instead of a giant black Ace bandage. You know you’ve got on the wrong size if you can’t straighten your back and find yourself staring at a grotesquely bent image of your pudgy self in the mirror. Under harsh florescent lighting.

After the fifth BSA, I found one that fit surprisingly well and was slightly more attractive than not. For the record, “fit surprisingly well” translates to mean I could breathe almost normally instead of with shallow panting breaths and as an added bonus was standing completely upright. I hopped up and down a few times to see what, if anything, could still manage a Jello tremble. Satisfied, I made my purchase with the addition of black stockings with a seam up the back. Rarrr! It is a romantic holiday, after all. I was going to be dressed to kill, or at the very least, maim. My efforts were rewarded later that evening with a sweet compliment from my boyfriend. It’s always good to know you look as beautiful as you feel.

All dressed up, we fought rush hour traffic and made it to our destination slightly after our reserved time. Our meal was delicious, although we didn’t have the best table, probably because we were late. We dined at Asti, a classy and cozy Italian spot in Hyde Park. Frank ordered wine for me, which is unusual in that I normally order my own. He chose well, a bold pinot noir bursting with flavor that paired up nicely with both the mussels we shared as an appetizer and my lamb entrée. I implore you, if you visit Asti you must order the mussels. They are steamed in a broth of tomatoes stewed in white wine, garlic and red pepper flakes and served with grilled focaccia bread. Heaven. My main dish was a meltingly tender lamb osso buco served with the traditional celery and onion but substituting sweet potato for the carrot. The richness of the meat and vegetables was tempered by a creamy saffron risotto. Frank enjoyed a grilled NY Strip steak, which although it was tasty doesn’t compare to the steaks at Austin Land & Cattle Company on Lamar. I was anxious to sample his black truffle mashed potatoes but was disappointed that the earthy, nutty flavor was barely discernable.

Upon leaving the restaurant we stopped to admire the moon. Not quite full anymore, it was still heavy and luminous in the sky. Inspired, we chose to lazily wrap up our evening by winding down with a few cocktails. Once home, I was content to happily dissolve into sleep with only a miniscule struggle to free myself from my BSA. Life is good.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Love, Lust and Lupercalia

As with many modern holidays, Valentine’s Day is a church-sponsored derivative of an ancient Roman festival. Today’s mass marketed celebration of love complete with flowers, chocolate, red hearts and cupid is a much distilled G rated version of a lustful pagan holiday filled with nearly naked young men and women, consensual S&M in the name of fertility and the chance to win a year long one night stand.

The Romans dedicated the holiday to the god Lupercus, a fertility deity. There’s nothing like a government sponsored sextravaganza, hmm? The sanctioned naughtiness was kicked off the good old fashioned way, with animal sacrifice. Two young and virile men from fine upstanding families were anointed with blood and given whips fashioned from the hide of the sacrificed goat. Dipping their whips into more blood, the youths would chase after the town maidens and, well, um, flog them lightly to purify them and bless them with an easy childbirth. I have nothing against a hottie with a spanking fetish, but the blood part would ick me out in a major way. I would be completely not well, which is unfortunate because then I wouldn’t be able to muster up any excitement for the sex lottery.

Yes, sex lottery. After the very public foreplay, the area’s Most Eligible Bachelors and Bachelorettes would participate in a lottery to pair them up for a year. Imagine, rows of titillated, recently flogged ladies anxiously waiting to be given to the lucky stud that drew her name out of the lot, savoring the delicious tension while glancing nervously at each and every robust man, wondering if the event would produce highly satisfying results. Sometimes at the end of the year the pair would marry, sometimes not. At any rate, by the end of the day you had your bedmate until the next Lupercalia and reality t.v. dating shows were conceived. At the very least seeds were planted that would one day sprout into group gropes cleverly marketed as lifestyle celebrations, such as Southern Decadence, Beat Me in St. Louis and pretty much every high school's prom.

The church shoved Lupercalia into the closet and slammed the door shut during the reign of Pope Gelasius who was outraged by the lust, leather and social seduction. He did what he could to ensure the holiday would fade into oblivion, replaced by a more conventional and respectful observance of love. Never fear, there are still followers of Lupercus who honor the old ways. Why waste time buying a heart shaped box of third rate chocolates when you can immerse yourself in the seduction of centuries past? Lupercalia 2006 boasts a master/slave scavenger hunt along with whip demonstrations, merriment and feasting.

My Valentine’s frolicking does include feasting, as my boyfriend is taking me to an undisclosed locale for dinner. Unquestionably, the food will be delectable. I’m certain to rave over our menu in a post V-Day blog. However, I won't share details of any personal fertility rites coupled with flogging. There is a limit to what I'll disclose, people. What do your plans include? Anyone out there planning an enticing and seductive evening?

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Modern Miracles in Science

Austin marked a huge advancement in the treatment of descending thoracic aortic aneurysms this morning. The Heart Hospital of Austin was the site of the first Gore TAG Thoracic Endoprosthesis procedure. What, you say? A blogger talking about something serious and not related to celebrities, restaurants, sports or something equally mundane like what I had for breakfast this morning (bacon & egg taco)? Yes. Trust me when I say that the patient undergoing the surgery and his or her family members find this topic to be not only fascinating but the number one news flash on their internal CNN site today.

A descending thoracic aortic aneurysm occurs when a weakened section of the artery wall begins to balloon outward, filling with blood. Think of a tire with a bubble in the sidewall...if you continue to drive on it, eventually it will blow out. Same thing happens when the lining of an artery develops a weak spot, tears and begins to pool blood. If it isn’t fixed it may dissect, or rupture, causing life threatening internal bleeding.

The Gore TAG Endoprosthesis is a revolutionary process that moves the surgery from high risk with a large incision in the chest to a minimally invasive one where a small incision is made in the groin. The biggie here is that a synthetic stent/graft is put in place using a catheter placement technique. In other words, a compressed flexible tube is inserted into the area via a guided tour of either your femoral or iliac artery from the groin up your abdominal area, to the chest and the aneurysm site. Once in place, it self-inflates and a tri-lobe balloon helps out the process by ensuring it is sealed and properly seated in the artery. Check out the nifty video animation by clicking on the large red circle on the right side of the Gore TAG web page. The stent/graft basically relines the aorta, kind of like putting a permanent bandaid on the inside of the artery. Nifty, huh?

As simple as I’ve described it, this is a sensitive and delicate surgical procedure. Dr. Joe Wells of Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgeons performed the surgery this morning. The descending thoracic aorta provides blood flow to the intercostals arteries that feed the spinal cord. Because of the possibility of rapid pressure changes, the plan was to give the patient a cerebral spinal fluid shunt, in order to be able to regulate pressure. There was neurological back up for monitoring, just to be on the safe side. It was a carefully orchestrated event designed to most efficiently repair the problem with the least amount of negative impact on the patient. And it was a success.

CTVS has quite the history of state-of-the-art performance in Austin. Their internationally respected surgeons were the first to do an open heart surgery in Central Texas way back in 1961. CTVS docs were also the first in Centex to perform a coronary artery bypass graft in ’68, kidney transplant in ’71 and heart transplant in 1986 among other equally important surgical breakthroughs. Their list of “first to do’s” is lengthy and impressive. I’m certain the patient today is grateful for the expertise of Dr. Wells and to Gore, for the advances they’ve made in device manufacturing.

It’s simply amazing what can be done with a skillful surgeon and the right materials.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Besos Are a Lovely, Lovely Thing

Those of you who read my TMI post may have followed the comments, in which I revealed the details of a nightmare involving Joel, my gorgeous hunka hunka burning love echo tech friend. I had not one but two horrid dreams involving sexual frustration and, um, disgust. In the least awful of the two, Joel & I kissed and he was so repulsed by me that he threw up during the kiss. I guess I didn't have enough insecurity in my waking world so my subconscious decided to pile on the self-doubt and loathing. Ni-i-ice.

I saw Joel on Saturday night and just to set the record straight (no pun intended), not only did he kiss me, but he kissed me thoroughly. Let me say to all the educated and well bred gay men out there who possess a keen sense of humor and are gainfully employed, health conscious and love to dance: Run, don't walk, to Rainbow Cattle Company each weekend until you find Joel. He kisses mighty, mighty fine.

There's only one man I know whose kisses leave me happily breathless, but Joel mi amor, you are a close second.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Baring Your Soul the 2006 Way

A friend of mine emailed me a link to Postsecret, a blog that solicits you to mail a postcard in with your true and never-been-shared-before secret to be posted as part of a "community art project". Of course, this community art project is paying off for someone, as there has already been a book released from the freely given postcards of secrets as well as an upcoming art showcase.

I scrolled down the page reading secrets which range from lighthearted to the downright tragic and was struck by the thought that for someone, seeing their most intimate and understandably undisclosed thoughts displayed in anonymous glory must surely be therapeutic. I read a few that were downright disturbing. Although I'll grudgingly admit there was at least two that hit home.

Give the site a glance and let me know if you identify with any of the postcards. I can honestly say that even though I did, I'll never tell which ones. I'd like to keep my therapy a bit more private.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Damn Fine Cookie

I don't know who is in charge of product ordering at my neighborhood HEB but they deserve a raise. This weekend I bought a box of cookies for the office. No, I did not allow myself to be pressured by 9 year olds hawking Girl Scout cookies in front of the entrance. Instead, I fell for the low price and exotic appearance of Anna's Ginger Thins, the delicately crisp ginger cookie produced by a Swedish bakery in Canada. Every one who's tried one agrees, this is one damn fine cookie. I like ginger snaps but some brands are baked so hard you nearly break a tooth eating one. These thins are the perfect texture. Why don't you grab a box and a cup of coffee and try one yourself?