30 May 2007


Too tired to write much tonight -- Lawnmower and I are going to Boston this weekend. Life is insane. I hate research. Amazon sucks.

More on the last two tomorrow.


28 May 2007

Trapeze, Maple Lawn, Maryland

I always feel a little bit wierd blogging about a restaurant, since I don't know much.. but here we go. The last time Sideshow and I went out to dinner in the new development at Maple Lawn, we were pretty disappointed in our experience; however, as the other restaurant in the shopping center isn't affiliated with that one, there's no reason (except some odd pavlovian-type conditioning) to project a bad experience at one onto another. And a good thing, too, because dinner at Trapeze was really very pleasant.

I liked the open decor of the dining room, but I'd like to go back on a normal night (there was a wedding occupying the 'downstairs' which was the server's way of describing the other dining room and the bar. The crowd there was fairly loud, particularly when twenty or so (feeling the booze) led a conga line through the non-private dining area. I could have done without the screaming child, too, but that's what we got for dining at 5:45 (the only reservation available when I went to make them on Friday). But even with the large party, the service was excellent -- the server was attentive, she brought us bread without having to be asked ('ask and ye shall receive' is the policy of the restaurant, as stated on the menu), and the food came out quickly without auction.

Not in the drinking mood, I opted for water. Sideshow and I did share appetizers, though: he ordered up an Ahi tuna appetizer, while I got the Roasted Garlic Caesar Salad.

The Ahi Tuna appetizer, something I think is getting to be overdone at restaurants, was actually very nice. The plate was pretty (and appreciate the pictures, given the amount of attention Sideshow kept calling to my unusual dining habit. He's used to it. His family, not so much.), and the fish was so delicately sliced it came apart with the slightest pressure from my fork. It was paired with a rosy slice of pickled ginger, and a crisp pickled cucumber salad, along with a dressing that I imagine was wasabi, though it was subtle enough I didn't really notice, with or without. I loved the quick sear, nice and crisp on the outside, and cool on the inside. The caesar salad was a little disappointing. The romaine hearts were crunchy and nutty, but they hadn't dried the salad mix well at all, which led to a watery dressing and moist croutons. It didn't really have much of a taste until I added some pepperoncini someone didn't want from their Mediterranean salad. To be fair, it was light.. but I always think of Caesar dressing as just wrapping around the leaves, not dripping off.

The main course was Alaskan halibut, a fish I've had as sushi and sashimi but never cooked. It was amazing! The pan-sear gave it a nice crust on the outside which gave way to a light, tender, buttery inside that steamed when the filet fell apart. It was mounted on a small pile of lobster-whipped mashed potatoes (I couldn't tell any difference between those and the regular, except they were a mildly alarming shade of pink -- but I like lumps, so that was fine), and a pool of vegetables in a Pernod sauce puddled around the dish.

I had no idea what a Pernod sauce was. But it was pleasant. The vegetables made me think of spring.

Nowhere on the plate did I see the promised shaved fennel, but that's ok, there was plenty of food. I also got to sample the sesame-crusted ahi tuna entree (also delicious) and the crab cake that was part of a surf-and-turf type meal. I think the crab cake was the best part - mostly lump crab meat and very little filler, it was the size of a baseball. And there was a very distinctive spice, something like allspice though I'm not really sure, that I've never had in a crabcake before. My favorite.

Desert was beautiful -- a key lime pie type custard layered with sections of what tasted like a hazelnuts and cake crumbs, fresh blackberries and strawberries seeded throughout the glass and piled with blueberries and raspberries alongside a pillow of whipped cream and a fresh sprig of mint. A beautiful blue syrup (I forget what it was) was brushed brilliantly across the plate. Wonderful.

That's my (amateur) summary of Trapeze. Yum!


No.. no ribs?!

Here's an article from Newsweek, titled How to Have a Healthy BBQ. It begins with common sense... undercooked food is bad, fruits and veggies are good, etc. Until the recommendations that totally ruin the point of a barbecue.

How to Have a Healthy BBQ
A weekly look at the nutritional value, or lack thereof, of some of our favorite foods.
By Noelle Chun
Updated: 4:17 p.m. ET May 25, 2007

May 25, 2007 - Before getting fired up over your Memorial Day barbecue, take a moment to contemplate the capacity of your grill. It might be stainless steel and heat tolerant, but it may also be a conduit for cancer, E. coli, salmonella and unhealthy doses of sodium. Bottom line: barbecue chicken may be great for holiday get-togethers, but it's only healthy if you properly prepare and cook the meat, eat in moderation and have some fruits and vegetables on the side.

Outdoor grilling has been an American mainstay since pre-Civil War days. Southerners were accustomed to slow-cooking pulled pork in a savory sauce of vinegar, ketchup, water, salt and pepper. But that traditional combination of sweet and salty may have a price. Recent research shows that cooking meat at high temperatures could increase your risk of cancer. One Mount Sinai School of Medicine study, released in February, showed that higher heat, lower humidity and longer cooking times increased the number of carcinogenic agents, called advanced glycation end products (AGEs). "We've proven it in animal and research labs, and in humans we have strong suggestions," says Jaime Uribarri, lead writer of the study and professor of medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. "But essentially it means avoid too much heat."

To be safe, saw off any charred pieces and wrap the grate in foil with holes, to minimize exposure to carcinogens. Use your kitchen to precook meat at lower temperatures and then finish the job on the grill. Limiting the fat content minimizes the plume of cancer-causing smoke, so peel off that chicken skin. "There are two main goals," says Colleen Doyle, registered dietitian and director of Nutrition and Physical Activity at the American Cancer Society. "One, you don't want to cook for a long time at high temperatures. Two, you want to avoid the exposure of meat to the smoke that comes back up."

WHY?! What is life without those delicious-grill-crunchy-bits?! The best part of Sideshow's home-made ribs is the way a crisp outside gives way to a succulent, slow-cooked, tangy, salty, spicy, melt-in-your-mouth bite of rib meat.
On the other hand, undercooking chicken could put a serious damper on the party with salmonella or E. coli contamination, both of which can cause life-threatening sicknesses, diarrhea, vomiting, fever or abdominal pain. To strike the balance, buy a meat thermometer and be sure to cook whole poultry to 180 degrees Fahrenheit and chicken breasts to 170 degrees. Serve foods as soon as possible, and if you can't, keep the hot foods hotter than 140 degrees and the cool food colder than 40 degrees. "An easy tip is keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold," says Amy Jamieson-Petonic, registered dietitian and a American Dietetic Association spokesperson. "You want to avoid the temperature danger zone."

If you cook the bird right to 180/170 on the grill, it'll be as dry as desert. I hated home-cooked poultry for many years, for this reason.
Nutritionally, chicken is a healthier choice over richer barbecue favorites, like ribs. Low in saturated fat, the poultry provides lean protein and an excellent source of zinc and vitamin B12. Go for the boneless, skinless chicken breast when possible, and eat fattier portions—such as wings—in moderation. "Yes, even I have had chicken wings before," says Jamieson-Petonic. "But I only have a couple and I have a salad with it."

And if you think meat is the condiment for the sauce, instead of the other way around, it is important to realize that many barbecue toppings are often devoid of any nutrition and packed with simple carbohydrates and salt. If you are concerned about breaking the recommended daily value of 2,400 milligrams of sodium a day, turn to light seasonings and herbs, such as lemon, lime and garlic. Jamieson-Petonic also suggests using garlic power and onion power instead of the salt forms.

Don't skimp on the veggies and fruits either. One study from the University of Carolina in Columbia observed that postmenopausal women who ate the most grilled, barbecued or smoked red meat over their lifetime increased their risk of breast cancer by 47 percent. Meat lovers who neglected their veggies increased their risk by 74 percent. "There is a lot of evidence that eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables reduces the cancer risk," Doyle says. "Let vegetables and fruits and grains that make up most of your plate. Make meat the side dish."

Just for this... I think I'll be grilling soon.


27 May 2007

Porcelain Ponderings

Does the title of this post give you reason to pause?

There are very few magazines I subscribe too, because for the most part I don't have time to read them. Something that I found interesting enough to pay for eventually becomes stressful, because issues pile up high enough to make me feel as if I'm wasting my money. So in an effort to read them, I put them in the one place where people generally have little choice but to sit down and sit still, just for a moment: the porcelain palace. The readable ones, anway. (Yeah, you heard me, Every Day With Rachael Ray...)

I thought of this practice in new light when I moved back home a few weeks ago, and realized my parents' magazines go in much the same place, a magazine rack within reach of the toilet. Yet another example (these seem to be accumulating) of how as I grow older I'm becoming more like them? Hmm. More on that later.

Anyway, I was perusing the magazine rack (what?!) at my parents' house the other day when one magazine caught my eye: an issue of a rag called DiversityInc Magazine. Now, I have no idea why they'd have this one, other than it might have been a trial subscription. Though they can certainly appreciate diversity, neither of them owns a business. What I noticed, however, was the headline. Apparently, the issue in question ranked a number of businesses/organizations based on 'diversity' and found the shocking conclusion that the worst company for diversity was.... (drumroll)

The US Senate.


Considering this is an elected body of officials, chosen by the people, what is this supposed to tell us? Are we to be chided for our selection of rich white men for government? Are race, class, gender, or ethnicity supposed to be a determining factor for our votes? (Nope, Pennsylvania already elected the black guy, maybe we can go for a latino woman with a bum hip and a learning disability...) On the flip side, are race, class, gender, ethnicity, or disability legitimate portions of a resume? To what point does a politician have to experience life through the eyes of his or her constituents to faithfully represent their interests? And how can they do that without alienating all the other groups? One might as well split up the community, be it neighborhood, city, state, or country, into similar groups, and then have representatives for each one.

I think a survey like that.. and the fact that 'diversity-minded' (what the hell does that even mean? I'm not sure, and I worked in resident life at a liberal public university for two years. Diversity was my favorite D word.) literature would chide our selection of representatives, tells us a lot about the system, and about who we are as voters ourselves. The analysis of Barak Obama's chances for a presidential nomination are a good example. I can't quote the sources (too lazy to go back and find them), but I know I've read analysts several times who suggested he was 'too black' to get the 'white vote,' or 'not black enough' to get the 'black vote'. One author hosted on The Colbert Report was emphatic that he was not black, but that he was an American of African descent, which was an entirely different thing.

I wonder if, in our push to balance the ideologies of equality and of an appreciation for the individual/diversity, we're really missing the whole point, getting too caught up in the package and not the person within it.


Waking up...

Halfway through a mug of coffee with breakfast (a cupcake! Shhh.) in my stomach, I'm finally starting to come awake. Bright light is now more than a haze, it's something clearer now, illuminating the long list of things I have to do today before I can finally crawl into bed. Like most days, a third that list will go neglected, either from circumstance or an indulgence of laziness.

Most of it will keep.

There's a sharp corner pressing uncomfortably into my elbow, which I recognize as the edge of my desk, and a timer is going off with a rhythmic beeping that's actually preferable to that annoying new Avril Lavigne song (brought to me by AccuRadio). Groggy, my eyes fix on the neon pink postit elevated like a flag over the top of my flatscreen monitor. I'm supposed to email Donna, but I have no idea who she is or what the email is to reference.

It's just another fluorescent morning, brought to you with a flick of a switch.


26 May 2007

Set at three hundred and fifty degrees...

I love to cook. When I have a hard day at work, I usually stop off at the grocery store, pick up a few items, and have a field day with one of the cookbooks in my library. This worked out well when the Teach was my housemate, as she also loves to cook. I did play around with food blogging, but... I don't know enough. And it got annoying.

It's still fun taking pictures of food in restaurants though. More on that later.

Anyway, I can feel it. It's a Saturday of a holiday weekend (all though I'm sitting here in the lab) and the clock is ticking toward five o'clock. It's time to do something wild. Party. Go Crazy.

Break out the KitchenAid from the box it's been sitting in since I moved a week ago. I didn't mean it, baby, I'm sorry.

I'll be making three, maybe four baked goods tonight, depending on how ambitious I get. The first is Paula Deen's Red Velvet Cake, for three reasons.

  1. Sideshow has about four bottles of vegetable oil in his house, and we need to find ways to use it up.
  2. Who needs clear arteries?
  3. It's so PRETTY!
I'm almost curious as to what would happen to her recipe if I changed the oil to that 'healthy' (read, run right through your GI tract) oil, used splenda, and used egg substitute. But what would be the point? Plus, my last baking experience with splenda was not a positive one. So half of her recipe will become cupcakes.

What will I do with the other half? Haha! You'll have to wait and see.

No just kidding. I'm making Tie Dye Red Velvet (Duh) Cheesecake, though this one I am lightening up a little. Again, the colors are pretty. Are we seeing a pattern?

The third recipe is another one I found from TasteSpotting (see link bar to right), submitted from a blog called Vanilla Garlic. I heart TasteSpotting. It is fabulous. Vanilla Garlic (the blog) is pretty good too. And the recipe is Maple Bacon Cupcakes.

I'm too curious. I can't help it. And the recipe only makes six.

Finally, the fourth course (!) will be a dozen or so grasshopper cupcakes. I don't know what the recipe is because I haven't decided yet. But no grasshoppers will be harmed in the making of this delicious treat.

Happy Saturday!


18 May 2007

On aspiration, philosophy, and relief.

Cause when push comes to shove you taste what you’re made of
You might bend ‘til you break, 'cause it’s all you can take.
On your knees you look up, decide you’ve had enough
You get mad, you get strong, wipe your hands, shake it off
Then you stand
--Rascal Flatts,"Stand"

If you're still reading, and wondering why I'm starting a blog post with song lyrics (when I've vowed so many times that most people who do the same should be punched in the head)... it really is me. The safety word is "Hyacinth." I have not been kidnapped, lobotomized, and replaced on this earth by aliens (or bicycling missionaries) poised at the edge of a coup against society.

It's just been a long couple of weeks.

I passed my qualifying exam, and I'm very, very relieved.

I didn't really appreciate until later what I had been thinking, while I was waiting in the hallway for their verdict, the memory of my blank silences and dry-mouth stuttered explanations fresh in my own ears: what would I have done differently? The logical answers came of course.. study longer.. study smarter.. finish the lists of possible questions I'd come up with, and then study those. But the priorities that had actually taken precedence over this plan of mine in the week leading up to the test.. my family and my friends.. were never once called into question. Not for a second did I wish I had locked myself away in a room, ignoring the people who I care most, when they needed me.

Over the last few months, the concept of success, hard work, the need to excel in my 'profession' have become more important to who I want to become as a person. But I never, ever want to be a person who puts work above the needs of those closest to them. What kind of success would that be?

The way I prioritized these things without even thinking didn't actually sink in as important until I was reading a book the next evening that Half-dozen lent me, called the five people you meet in heaven by Mitch Albom. Its not a book about religion, as Sideshow assumed when I showed it to him. At least, it wasn't for me. It's a book about self-reflection.

"Sacrifice," THE CAPTAIN said. "You made one. We all make them. But you were angry over yours. You kept thinking about what you lost.
"You didn't get it. Sacrifice is a part of life. It's supposed to be. Its not something to regret. It's something to aspire to. Little sacrifices. Big sacrifices. . . .
" . . . Sometimes when you sacrifice something really precious, you're not really losing it. You're just passing it on to someone else."

There are big sacrifices. Going to war, regardless of whether you support the cause or not, would be one. Giving up your life to your children, to really make them the first priority, would be another. And there are little ones. But whether great or small, they're made every day when we make a choice. And, relieved as I am that I passed.. I'm more affected by the knowledge that when opportunity was provided to question such a choice, I didn't. It's easy to be a selfish person, to rationalize other people out of the equation when considering my own hopes and fears. But because of this one thing.. maybe there's hope for me.

I'm very, very relieved (if not mildly self-righteous. We'll see how long this lasts.).


10 May 2007


Why do people fixate on the 'normal' progression of relationships? Here's how it goes, according to our parents, Disney, and every issue of CosmoGirl out there...

Boy meets girl.
Boy and girl date.
Boy and girl get engaged.
Boy and girl get married.
Rugrats soon to follow.

What about the things before? In between? What about the people who don't fit this paradigm?

People go on and on about the divorce rate in America, and how it's so high. There are a lot of reasons for that.. education, for example. More equal treatment in the eyes of the law and society. Access to alternatives (doesn't it sound cold, referring to a 'new relationship' as an alternative?). And so on. But I also wonder how closely it correlates with the number of people who force their relationships into this timeline, when they really have no business doing so? And why do they expect other people to do so, too?

I think there's a huge gap between a sensible outlook, and a desire for social conformity. And I've seen it both ways. I've seen women (and men. JUST as many men) go on and on about how they want to get married some day, how they want to find their soulmate and raise a family. And I've seen men (and women) go on diatribes about how they don't believe in marriage or they have no desire to rush into this social dynamic just because people think they should.

Both camps miss the point.

It's not about 'getting married.' It's about who you are or are not marrying. A judgment that you want to be married or you never want to be married is complete bullshit, because a marriage (and the decision to get to that point) isn't a solo act. It takes two people. What you're really saying is that YOU do or do not want to marry that person, regardless of their own feelings. You're just trying to spare yourself the guilt of hurting theirs.

Marriage is not about 'completion.' Sure, there's something to the idea of soul-mates I guess, as people who match you so well it's startling. But I don't think this is just one person. What kind of evolutionary mechanism would that be? If it were the case, believe me, population problems in this country and globally would be non-existant. But if one significant other sees the other as critical to their identity as a whole person, well, doesn't that make love less than altruistic? They become needy of the other person. It's in their interests, not in the interest of the relationship, to keep the other happy. It's selfish. And what happens when both parties change, as so often happens? Rather than develop into his or her own person, the needy spouse now has to conform to what the other has become. Can we say resentment? No wonder the divorce rate is so high...