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Archive for February, 2010

Summer as an adolescent is a restless experience. At least this was the case with the adolescent summer I remember best– the three months following our move to Montana–which found us virtually friendless, transportation-less, and apparently lacking any propensity for meaningful creative endeavors. And so, with all manner of orthodontic tortury plaguing our jaws and the just-as-attractive opaque silver lipstick coating our lips,* we turned–as you might expect three conflicted sugar-loving hermits to do–to the comfort of Maury, country music videos and a seemingly endless supply of boxed pudding mix.

A daily portion of televised domestic conflict can lead a person to do some unnecessary things–like allow their picture to be taken by a younger sibling while wearing opaque lip gloss. Or to spend almost an entire summer inside. But, perhaps it was an overdose of Toby Keith in a tank top that led us to one day combine a questionably old box of graham cracker crumbs with instant pudding and top it with some candy covered nuts and grated almond bark. Not so far-fetched perhaps, but my teeth hurt just thinking about it. Then, there was the day when we squandered an inordinate amount of perfectly good fruit by covering it in vanilla instant pudding. If you have never tasted this, I feel I’ve let you down a bit by not being able to describe it, but the truth is I found it so unpleasant even under the judgment-squelching clutches of boredom that I have not eaten it since.

I hope you have not lost confidence in my culinary skills because I am about to share something of a recipe with you. I tell you all this to suggest that perhaps my food-related prowess lies not in the invention of recipes, but in the re-imagination of items that might otherwise go to waste. While I’m sure those almonds tasted like Reba McEntire’s hair as we ate them in front of what must have been our forty-fifth top twenty CMT countdown, I maintain that if that was our best creative invention that summer, at least we can stay we didn’t stop at the instant pudding fruit salad.

Today, however we turn to savory rather than sweet. If I were to write a food blog, perhaps I would call it something like “Delicious Dregs,” and would consist of posts regarding two part recipes, wherein the first part would require you on one day to make a full-on recipe I had found somewhere else, and the second part would suggest, on a different day, that you remove the leftover contents of your previous dinner from a tupperware container in the refrigerator, throw them in a frying pan with extra cheese, maybe additional butter, some fresh herbs, or an egg, and cook until parts of it caramelized and transformed into a new meal. Bam!

Or maybe I would call it “Cheese is a Miraculous Thing.”

Oh, HEY. Or . . . “After Dinner!” As in after the dinner you made from scratch.

Either way, the power of cheese never ceases to amaze me, and so I present you with “Delicious Big Bowl Quinoa” refrigerated, re-imagined, and refurbished.

First make this recipe and enjoy it for dinner.

I generally halve it if making it for two people, and I’ve used a pretty wide variety of vegetables: asparagus, broccoli, green beans, even frozen peas. When finished, just put all leftover ingredients, excluding feta and walnuts, into the same container.

For part 2.

Remove leftovers from refrigerator. Pour a little olive oil into a skillet and warm over medium heat. Spoon a pile of quinoa mixture onto the pan and sprinkle it with tiny cubes of cheese–could be feta, could be cheddar, as I used. Allow this mixture to heat up, you can toss it a little to distribute cheese, but end with it in a circle.

Make a well in the center and crack an egg into the hole, allowing the white to seep through the grains. At this point you could treat it like you treat a fried egg. If you like them sunny side up, just allow the white to cook completely. I flipped the egg briefly, it was easy because the egg had adhered to most of the quinoa, so it was all one piece.

Last night, I ate this plain with some salt and pepper. Today I had it with guacamole. I briefly considered, last night, eating it with some garlicky plain yogurt, but then realized I had eaten yogurt for two other meals and a snack, and decided to refrain.

But, lest you think this more complicated than it really is, here are the simplified instructions.

For delicious transformation of quinoa, potatoes, and onions:
Dump leftovers.
Sprinkle Cheese.
Crack Egg.
Cook until done.

*And by “our,” I mean “my.”

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You could say I’ve come a long way since first grade.

When I was dropped into my first year of school, no kindergarten under my belt, and was required to free-write in my journal for a half hour a day, to use what they called inventive spelling, I did what any self-respecting, afraid-to-be-wrong six year old would do: I stuck to what I knew. And what I knew was several random words I was sure I was able to spell. The first page of my first-ever journal, written in penciled letters with random capitalization, reads something like this:

Cat bat fat mat hat pat sat rat . . . Dog log bog pig wig gig big jig I it me the on . . . man can pan fan tan ban van ran . . . one two three four five six seven eight nine ten

Perhaps you would not be surprised to learn that the first book I published in the school writing and publishing center had four pages, each with one of the following lines.

The cat on the fancy mat wore a fancy hat.
The dog on the fancy log played in the bog.
The pig in the fancy wig played a little jig.
And as the moon shone down, they all danced around.

I guess somewhere along the way, I learned the word “fancy”. And as you can see, it served me well.

Mixed in with the words I knew I could spell came words I thought I could spell, a bit more creative, and certainly more inventively constructed:

Brd uv rit dans pnts shon arond grond rond

I gained some confidence the second week of school, and tried some phrases:

A leaf can grow.
A plat [sic] can grow.
A flowr [sic] can grow.

And when the word bank started to grow, I began to write letters to my classmates, which I never sent, but remain in my journal to this day.

Dear Colleen,
I like you. I like your hair.
I love you,
Jessica

Dear Jacob,
You are funny. I like you. You make me laugh.
I love you,
Jessica

Given these un-daring combinations and the far-from-generous vocabulary, it is sometimes hard for me to believe that I like words so much, that I think they are so funny and pretty that you might say I love them. Hard to believe that at times, I experience difficulty resisting the use of a word even when it may be wrong for a given sentence, even when, say, my spell-check tells me it does not exist.

At some point, in my more recent past, maybe in the midst of some John Stewart reruns, I learned the word “clusterfuck,” and I found this to be a word with such aural allure that even the most stringent of literary constraints could not restrain me from its application. That glory of a half rhyme. That pop culture punch. The unsuspecting, half-deserving victim on which to drop it.

Excuse me, but we might have to continue this conversation in a cold shower.

So, my vocabulary grew, and then one of us—okay, this too was me—wrote something contentious enough to warrant a comment from KOPB. In all fairness, it was about them. And I admit that after all my talk of party analogies, I was caught in a bit of a party of my own, tossing word confetti such as ‘clusterfuck’ and ‘trod-upon outcast,’ rearranging dialogue like furniture.

Oh, I’m not saying there wasn’t truth in it, in fact the dialogue content is fully bona fide–all I’m saying is that there may have been some inventiveness. My grade school called it inventive spelling—where you don’t allow the trouble of correct spelling slow you down. I think it’s just as easily applicable in writing composition. We call it poetic license, the delicate art of hyperbole. My grandmother told me not to let the truth get in the way of a good story, and while I won’t make any claims to good, I will say that truth is often a much better story informant than story—maybe not in an argumentative essay, but at the very least, here.

This blog is After Dinner, food and tales, about the sharing, passing, and embellishment of stories. There may well be contentions at the dinner table when the wine bottle gets its second pass around. You might break a dish or alarm the neighbors enough that they stop by just when you were complaining about how their annoying and redundant rooster crows too loudly and too often. We’ve had post-dinner conversations that bring up world changing ideas like teleportation. After some ranting, you might develop a better method for the neighbors to conduct their OPB member drive—although I can’t guarantee they’ll listen. Still, I’m not actually here to start arguments or embed my essays with facts, but to keep the evidence anecdotal, as personal and utterly subjective as possible. And if you had seen how many times it took me to spell ‘segue’ last week, you would know I’m not altogether above inventive spelling–although I do now spell the word ‘bird’ the widely accepted way.

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Had you told me anytime this week that you were in the mood to hear some shameless begging for money, cringe worthy half-puns, and the kind of banter that makes you want to kick your radio, I would have advised you to turn to AM 1600, KOPB, Eugene’s public radio station, this week’s cluster fuck of member drive desperation.

I have no shortage of compliments for Oregon, but living in multiple places, a person tends to compare. And be it the climate or the cost of living, sometimes one town just comes out on top. I just want to take a few moments to commend my former place of residence on a few things it really has figured out. One of them is the lack of house pet fleas. The other is a wholly bearable, even enjoyable public radio member drive. First of all, it only happens once a year. I had to check this with my mother, I assumed it had to be twice considering that the Eugene drive is quarterly, but “no,” she said, “it’s just annual,” and for just a week and a half. Second, there is no guilting, no prefacing a donation recognition with, “Now, here, this one will make you feel guilty: Derek is a college student from Eugene.” Third, it is fun–people actually tune in.  Unlike the member drive here, which could stand to be doused with a tube of Advantage flea poison, we were actually able to admonish Fang’s fleas this week. The member drive we continue to  endure until we cease this senseless martyrdom in the name of the news and turn the radio dial. Oh, how we suffer.

But then again, it’s also kind of funny. A few minutes with the fundraiser discourse and you begin to see where someone might get the idea to write this Saturday Night Live skit parodying the awkward clarifications, the tendency to dwell on a single joke.

“All Things Considered,” the newscastor was saying as I tuned in one night last week, “This is where we take all these stories and put them in a way that’s a little easier to understand. We give it context.”

Then, as if the idea had just occurred to her, “Context, that might as well be our middle name.” Then, the obligatory qualifier, “if OPB had a middle name.”

“Well, right now our middle name is excitement. We’re so excited to be here, hearing all these phones ring.”

A male voice cut in, “well, OPB’s real middle name is public.” He just couldn’t resist this segue. “We count on the public funding for our programs. There are at least thirty people out there listening, probably more, that haven’t contributed yet. So, everyone listening in there cars, just leaving work, driving home, going to soccer practice, well probably not soccer practice this time of night. We’re just waiting for you to call in and join the party.

“It’s like that party metaphor we talked about earlier, the party is better with every addition.”

Sake’s alive, you guys are killing me! You know I love you, but haven’t you learned the first rule of party promotion: Keep it short, keep it snappy, don’t bring up metaphors, especially when what you mean is analogy. That is the first rule of party promotion, is it not? Well, it should be because if you read it with the right inflection in almost rhymes. Kind of.

Speaking of which, I have a party analogy for OPB. When you actually start having a party, people will come. Make those deviled eggs you make so well, invite the people you know will get along. Break out the Pictionary board. Please stop begging. I don’t believe it when you say you are having fun. In Missoula, they allow community members to donate premiums, a carton of eggs, a few hours of manual labor, helping the community to forge connections as they donate to public radio in exchange for these items. They hold special nights where people pledge in their cat or dog’s name, and the members go crazy for it.  I swear I’m not writing this just to be harsh. I just think there is a more sophisticated way to host this party.

But, four times a year, KLCC, with the air of a trod-upon outcast, carries on: “There are so many ways to become involved with your local radio station. You can write us a check, you can mail in your contribution, you can set up a deposit from your bank account, you can bring in your piggy bank . . . you can give us the key to your gold vault, you can sell your children and use the money to fund This American Life. We really don’t care, we just want to make it happen for you.”

Maybe they will find a new way. Or maybe everyone in Eugene should just sell their children before these people go really crazy and ask for something like a funnel for Christmas.*

*See aforementioned video.

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