Archive for November, 2011

In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, I found myself looking forward to the day-of not because I would get to enjoy the company of my friends (which I did,) gorge myself on food (which I did), drink a lot of wine (which I did), or text message my Black Friday shopping boyfriend at 4 a.m. to ask him to grab some Tums at Target (which he did).

No no no. I was looking forward to spending the day in the kitchen, preparing a lot of food.

This isn’t weird to me. I learned how to cook some basic things (read: desserts) at a fairly young age. My parents were always indulgent when 12-year-old Jessica wanted to try a fancy pasta recipe that involved buying cheesecloth and fresh shrimp, and my sisters and I were granted full kitchen access. My high school friends and I used to throw little dinner/snack parties and wow each other with how decadent/elaborate we could get with indulgent snacking. I did a fair bit of cooking for my family when I lived at home.

Making food has always been a fun and satisfying activity. Even though I never set out to have food serve as a “hobby” of mine, I recognize it as one now. Standing in the kitchen, preparing a meal, takes you away from the rest of your life.

This is not revolutionary stuff. Plenty of food writers have captured this experience with a great deal more eloquence and sensory details than I can muster. But it’s important, I think, to having a healthy relationship with food. You have a lot more respect for the food you eat, the body you have that you fuel with that food, if you take the time to prepare it yourself. And if you enjoy the process? It gives you reverence for the act. It makes you want to do it more. It keeps you in the kitchen, even when you have no energy or motivation. If cooking becomes part of your downtime and not part of your chores? Then every day, you are nearly required to have enjoyment.

I say this from the midst of a really-busy semester. I’ve been subjecting my boyfriend to weekly meals of rice & beans & ground beef. While I find this endlessly delicious, as I have previously discussed, my boyfriend finds it largely uninspiring. I won’t even buy white rice! How mean of me. Anyway, as the weeks go buy, menu planning has become harder and harder this semester. I want things to be quick, easy, and healthy. That doesn’t leave very many options.

Yesterday I spent 4 hours cooking a single meal. My excitement for Thanksgiving cooking coupled with the unfamiliar feeling of standing in the kitchen for 2+ hours made me realize that I’d temporarily forgotten that cooking is fun.

It is.

And the time and effort and chutzpah to try a new recipe often make for a tasty result! I cooked a chicken and sausage gumbo from Annie’s Eats last night. There were three separate meats involved, and a roux, and copious chopping. I accidentally ate too many snacks while I waited, so I was barely even hungry once it was done.

But it was delicious.

And the boyfriend didn’t make quite the same face as when we at gumbo in New Orleans… but he liked it.

I hearby solemnly swear to make something interesting over Christmas break.


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Hello, friends: Jessica here!

First of all, if some of you missed Lindsey’s Kitty Litter Cake? Well, I am having trouble recommending anyone look at those pictures, actually. My stomach is not strong enough to look at cake-poop, much less eat it, apparently. However, it did turn out amazingly realistic, and Lindsey’s post also features one of our many mutual friends (and one of my favorite friends), Frank. Say hi to Frank, everyone!

Okay. Moving on. Topic at hand: Thanksgiving. It is on Thursday. As it usually is. But unusually, I am having my first Thanksgiving away from family… which means this is the first Thanksgiving where I have been somewhat charged with menu-planning and food cooking!

And for the first time, I am realizing just how bizarre everyone’s family food cultures truly are.

Our slap-dash, twenty-something Thanksgiving looks a little like this:

The hosts:

  • G, our longtime friend from Michigan
  • G’s roommate, from Texas

G’s guests:

  • Myself, from Michigan
  • My boyfriend, from Michigan
  • Our roommate, from Elena

G’s Texas roommate’s guests:

  • Cousins who live nearby… but maybe are from Texas? I don’t know.

So, my involvement in this event planning has revealed a number of people telling me what they MUST have for Thanksgiving. As in, if there is no X, Y, or Z on the table, then why bother?

The whole event began with G’s Texas roommate, who, despite living in an apartment building in Boston, MUST have a Deep Fried Turkey on the table for Thanksgiving.

 So… turkey. Complete. What’s left? I asked G. He had come up with a little list of things he was going to make – green bean casserole and something with sweet potatoes – and what was missing.

The Texas Cousins were bringing cookies and brownies. Hmm. Weirdos. Whatever. I asked G what I could bring, and he said we probably needed either potato salad or cole slaw.

To that I say: is this a barbecue??

Michigan boyfriend says as long as someone is making green bean casserole, we are good to go, but he insists on making corn bread and maybe biscuits that taste like they are from Red Lobster. I am still hoping to persuade him into following a RECIPE for corn bread, being that it is bread and relies on certain scientific reactions to make it… um… bread.

Even though I have already committed to dessert patrol – a pie and a bonus cake – I feel a need to pipe in an offer a vegetable to the table, since they seem notoriously absent.

Both Michigan Boyfriend and Kansas Roommate give me funny looks. Apparently, vegetables are quite optional at many Midwestern tables. Kansas Roommate indicates that the only vegetable that makes the cut at her house is a casserole made from creamed corn, crumbled cornbread, milk, and cheese. Oh, and they have turkey AND a ham.

So without further ado, here are the Thanksgiving essentials in my family. You probably think they are as weird as I think yours are.

My Thanksgiving Table

Turkey – often grilled.

My parents started grilling their turkey out on the charcoal grill to keep the oven available during the day. They must have liked this system a lot because most years our turkey spends time outside. Even if there is snow on the ground.

Mashed potatoes

You can’t pour gravy on potato salad. Just sayin’.

Homemade bread

My dad spends entire days baking a few times a year, so we either reheat a loaf of his famous cheese bread or make some potato rolls the day before. They are usually very thick, doughy, and way too filling for Thanksgiving… but so delicious.

A salad with mandarin oranges

This is somewhat blasphemous – both for its salad-ness and its Asian-ness – but my aunt brought it over one year and it was so tasty we keep resurrecting it.

Broccoli Casserole

Look guys. I didn’t eat a green bean casserole until I went to Thanksgiving at my Michigan boyfriend’s house a few years ago. I was too busy eating an entire brick of Velveeta, mixed with frozen broccoli florets, oil, and eggs, and baked with crunched up crackers on top. My bad.

An assortment of interesting vegetables

Even before half my family went vegetarian/vegan/food allergic/picky (wait, that’s like, all my family), my mother always used Thanksgiving as an excuse to try out a fancy vegetable recipe. And hey, when else are you going to make those 7 ingredient green bean dishes you see in Real Simple every month? Tuesday after work? No. Of course not.

Chess Pie

In addition to the traditional pumpkin (or sweet potato, which is actually superior), and some kind of fruit pie, my family makes this delicious yellow-y custard pie. It seems weird, but tastes delicious.


Sadly enough, I will not be eating any of these things this year for Thanksgiving, except for an interesting vegetable. But as long as someone else handles the giant turkey (and apparently a few gallons of peanut oil…) I am open to the formation of new traditions.

Happy Holidays to you! Anyone making anything particularly delectable this year?


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cat food for cat people

This post is dedicated to friend of the blog, Frank.

Hey Frankles.

Frank and I have been friends, basic besties, since the first day of Honors Colloquium in college. He complimented my Brand New shirt (it said “Mics are for singing, not swinging,” ooh, take that, Taking Back Sunday and other pop-hardcore bands of the early 2000s!), I asked him about his quotation book that he carried everywhere, and from then on we were pals. We took classes together and did projects in which we could incorporate Electic Six’s dancehall hit “Gay Bar.” We both moved out to DC and caused a commotion in our neighborhood. It’s been good times.

Frank is many things, but above all else, he is a cat man. So for his birthday this year (the big 2-7!), I did the only suitable thing. I made him a kitty litter cake. And I veganized almost all of it. Very nearly literally, eat shit, dear vegans.

You’ll need:

A box of chocolate cake mix and a box of yellow/vanilla cake mix. Make sure these are vegan if you hang with those dudes.

Two cans/bottles of your favorite soda. I chose diet root beer, but you do you.

One box vanilla instant pudding. Pick a vegan version or make your own with almond milk (it sets better than soy milk).

One package vanilla sandwich cookies. Fun fact! Oreos are vegan. Find the white ones.

Green food coloring.

Tootsie Rolls, the cat-turd-sized ones. Note: these aren’t vegan. If you’re serving some veg friends, I recommend “not burying the poop.” My sister says this is legit; her cat Popsicles doesn’t bury hers because “she’s too proud,” much like Prince’s father, I’d guess.

Here’s what you do:

Mix one cake mix with a can of pop, or as you may call it, “soda.” Pour into a cakepan and bake according to the directions. Repeat with the other cake mix and the other beverage. This is a neat trick I learned in Weight Watchers and if you live in a place where there’s Faygo, you have limitless cake-pop flavor combination possibilities.

While cakes are baking/cooling, make yourself that instant vanilla pudding and chill the hell out of it. Also, pour all of your sandwich cookies (except the few you will eat while preparing this monstrosity) into a food processor and make ’em crumbs! You can also do this with a zipper plastic bag and some aggression. Save between a quarter- and half-cup of the cookie crumbs and put those in a bowl. Sprinkle some food coloring there and stir with a fork. Set aside.

You should have a brand new, never-used kitty litter tray for this beast. Use your hands to rip apart your cakes and blend them with the pudding and about half of your regular-colored cookie crumbs. It will feel gross. Spread this out in the kitty litter tray. Sprinkle with the rest of the normal-colored cookie crumbs. Now take the ones you dyed green and sprinkle in little patches, like the litter has been “activated.” Gross!

Unwrap a few Tootsie Rolls and nuke ’em for, like, ten seconds. You want them solid but a little pliable so you can round the ends so it looks like cat poop. I’m so sorry I have to type that but it’s a real thing. Put them in the middle of the “activated” spots or, if you have nonvegans eating this thing, bury them for a little surprise. Serve the whole dang thing with one of those litter scoopers. Watch at least one guest dry heave. You’ll never feel prouder.

This is what my cake looked like before I gave it to Frank:

My sister, cat poop expert, said “Your poops look so good!”

This is what Frank looked like when I gave it to him:

Happy birthday, Frankles.


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Hello, friends!

I just chanced upon this article today, “Confessions of a Former Big Food Executive,” and I was reminded, yet again, of how and why I’ve rebuilt my food philosophies over the past few years. Bruce Bradley, a former executive of marketing for Big Food companies like General Mills and Nabisco, establishes these as the “bottom line” for food consumers (aka, food eaters… aka everybodyontheplanet)

  • Big Food is profit-driven. Don’t be fooled into thinking a brand or the food company that owns it cares about you or your health.
  • Think critically. Most claims and advertising by Big Food companies are meant to manipulate you, not educate you. Read your labels and do your research.
  • There is no free lunch. Over the long-term, you always get what you pay for. Cheap food is very expensive once you add up the true costs — like the taxes you pay to subsidize Big Food companies, health consequences like obesity or diabetes, the devastating harm to our environment, and the inhumane treatment of animals raised within the industrialized food system.

As you might recall, I’ve been trying my hand at a Paleo-ish diet. This transition has taken up most of my food-related-thought as of lately. As I read this article, I happened to be having a desperate snack at work – a bag of Pirate’s Booty and one of my favorite Kind bars. I had already abandoned my dietary morals to be intaking in such a sugar/carb-fest (I am having trouble with weekends, to be truthful, especially weekends when we have guests visiting), but I stopped mid-crunch to think about how, apparently, I’d also abandoned my anti-processed-foods morals as well.

With all my anti-carb focus, had I accidentally started to eat a lot of processed foods instead?

I got kind of anxious.

(In case you couldn’t tell, I’m something of an anxious food-consumer).

Lucky for me, I did half of my grocery shopping this morning and will do half after work… which means my grocery list is sitting in front of me. I thought I’d share with you, my dear readers, whether or not I have subconsciously began to eschew the processed junk, or if I’d slipped back into old, StandardAmericanDiet ways.

Unprocessed Foods/Processed in a Good Way Foods

These are foods that I know haven’t been processed… or the process was “turn milk into cheese,” a food-processing method I refuse to malign.

  • Frozen salmon
  • Goat cheese
  • Coffee
  • Bottom round roast
  • Chicken Thighs
  • Grass-fed Ground Beef
  • Seriously Sharp Cheddar
  • Eggs
  • Green Onion
  • Rice
  • Bacon
  • Salad mix
  • Garlic
  • Onions

Minimally Processed Foods

These are foods that have undergone some kind of “process,” but haven’t deviated much from where they began.

I feel okay with these foods, but they could be made at home or sourced locally/better, and I’m not currently bothering to do so.

  • White wine
  • Dark chocolate
  • Chili powder (??)
  • Salsa
  • Bread (for my boyfriend)
  • Lunchmeat – sliced Roast Beef

“Processed” / Packaged Foods

These foods have multiple ingredients, are formed from one kind of food to make another, have brand-names and wrappers, etc.

  • Box ‘o’  Trader Joe’s soup (for my boyfriend… but I’ve been known to eat some once in awhile
  • Larabars

Not too shabby? I think that if you are eschewing simple carbs, you are also, by default, eschewing 95% of packaged or processed foods. I hadn’t thought about this, but eliminating “processed foods” from your internal “food” list is probably one of the most healthful consequences of adopting this type of diet.

So here here to sinking money into terrible food practices, big business, and empty calories. Did I mention my carb-snack cost me over 4 dollars? Good gravy.

I hope everyone is having a lovely November and enjoying pumpkin flavored goodies. Remind me to tell you about how I can’t drink pumpkin spice lattes anymore! Great story…. (not really)

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Last month, Mama Woho came to town:

That’s her, eating a sandwich. Isn’t she the cutest?

Mom is my favorite food guest, because my sister eats vegan exclusively, and my dad has trouble with spicy, but also tries to eat healthy because he trains for century rides on his bike. Mom and I have what I like to call “the most normal” eating habits, so when she visits alone, I miss the other two, but we have a lot of food freedom. Here’s what we ate when she was here:

Friday: Tacos at Taqueria Distrito Federal

Mom had one each of chicken, pork and steak. I had two lengua (tongue) and one al pastor and got mad at myself for not getting two lengua. It’s the best! But I couldn’t convince Mom to have a bite.

Saturday: Sandwich and sides at the Smithsonian Museum of American History

This was surprisingly good. We split a roast turkey sandwich on cranberry-pecan bread, then got a side of mac and cheese and steamed veggies. The mac was really good, with the baked stuff on top, you know what I mean? The veggies were still crisp and flavorful. The sandwich was totally filling and delish. The Museum of the American Indian has a really good food court too, but this one was surprising in the best ways.

Also Saturday: Hotdogs and beer at the Washington Capitals-Detroit Red Wings game

If you don’t like hotdogs at sporting events, you can just FADE. Also, if you don’t like hockey, we probably can’t vibe. Here’s a sampling of the pregame skate (mom’s favorite part. Mine too).

Jimmy Howard, I like you.

 Sunday: Sandwich and fancy chips at Dean and Deluca

Where I come from, we don’t have D&D. When my old friend moved out to “the city” and I was still living Up North, she sent me a gift package from Dean and Deluca and I imagined the fanciest food store ever. And as far as grocery stores go, D&D is pretty fancy. I like to call it “rich people groceries,” and don’t usually visit much since there’s a Trader Joe’s a few blocks away. However, when it’s time for lunch in Georgetown, D&D’s sandwiches are all I want to eat. Mom and I split the turkey sandwich with basil mayo and avocado, and each got our own bag of Route 11 chips, which are a local delicacy that I would dare say are better than Better Made, but just barely.

Also Sunday: Delivery from Thaitanic

When the whole family is in DC, the one restaurant we can agree on is Thaitanic, the Thai place up the street from my house. Vegan stuff for my sister, seafood for Dad, all kinds of stuff for me and Mom. By the end of our whirlwind weekend, Mom and I just wanted to loaf and watch Food Network in our sweatpants. So we did, with the cashew chicken and veggies and spring rolls (top five favorite foods!) from Thaitanic.

Now it’s a countdown to Christmas. Until then, I’ll be dreaming sweet tasty dreams of family dinners.


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