Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Great Burger Debate, part 1

Yes, Erin, I will stop blogging about food eventually. I swear. And then I'll blog about linguistics. Then you'll be sorry.

Hamburgers and I have a long, conflicted relationship. From age 6 to age 21, I hated hamburgers. My brother has always loved hamburgers, and I have always unilaterally rejected them (except Annie's hamburgers, but then only maybe once a year). It began as a personal preference. I don't like gristle and hamburgers can sometimes have a lot of it. I hate it when things are chewy and sometimes hamburgers are chewy. Also, I just like(d) hot dogs better. What's wrong with hot dogs? I could easily get by in fast food joints by eating arguably more dubious food items, such as the Filet-o-Fish.

Setting aside that my contamination fear irrationally excludes hot dogs, when I went to college and was forced to take a biology class, my relationship with hamburgers took a turn for the worst. It wasn't that I was surrounded by vegans and began to enjoy vegetarian food; it was that I had to sit right next to the incubator in biology lab. And while we were in biology class, we had to do a months-long experiment with E. coli.

In case you're not familiar with E. coli, it's a thing that lives in your colon and will give you diarrhea if it somehow makes its way out of your colon into other parts of your body. Let's go back and highlight something. E. coli is a thing that lives in your colon. In case you've forgotten, your colon is where poop lives. In case you can't see where I'm going with this, E. coli smells like poop.

We did eventually do an experiment where we tested storebought hamburger patties for poop E. coli. I don't remember what the results were exactly, but the point of this story is that I was never able to eat hamburgers again. Every time I saw a hamburger, all I could think about was the incubator and how terrible that stupid thing smelled.

There's a happy end to this story. A couple of summers ago, I did an internship in DC. In DC, they have a restaurant called Five Guys. I would never have gone to Five Guys until I learned that our President eats there, and as it happened there was a good chance (or so I believed) that if I went to the Five Guys near my workplace on Pennsylvania Ave, I might eat at the same restaurant as the President. So one day on my lunch break, a fellow intern and I went out to go find the Five Guys, which ended with us never finding it and me being accused by Special Police of being a plant to test security... but that's another story.

I eventually made it to Five Guys, where I enjoyed a cheeseburger. Yes, after 15 years of reluctance and/or disgust, I ate a hamburger, and I enjoyed it. Five Guys taught me to love again. I ate Five Guys frequently the rest of that summer, then went back to Portland into famine, as the nearest Five Guys was in Hillsboro. But my eyes had been opened. Soon, I was eating at Burgerville, the Pacific Northwest's own venerable burger chain. And I began to consider the burger a legitimate form of food, capable of great heights of culinary awesomeness.

Now, in Arizona, I discover that I have access to what appears to be every good burger chain in the entire United States (except Burgerville). Five Guys. In-N-Out, the place Californians won't shut up about. Culver's, the bastion of the Midwest. Whataburger, the one true Texan love. Fatburger, endlessly promoted by Jon Huertas on Twitter. There are probably more, but I have to stop somewhere.

And now that I love burgers - yes, I love them - I have decided that I must make the best of the Phoenix wasteland. I must take advantage of the chain saturation.

I must settle, once and for all, which chain has the best burger.

Some of my Facebook friends have already weighed in, but I invite you to fight it out in the comments some more.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Cooking With Booze, Vol. 3: Tequila


Across the globe, there is one drink that is spoken of perpetually in loud tones one day, and hushed tones the next. One drink that is consumed only in the most classic of ways. No drink inspires more profound glee and profound regret than this, the regal, golden scourge of the Southwest, TEQUILA.
As a Texan, my relationship with Tequila is a good one. A lot of people talk crap about my drink, but other than that it always seems to be the tequila shot that I wish I hadn't agreed to, I don't understand why. Probably, most people drink terrible tequila. That, or they haven't been raised on margaritas from birth, like many, if not most, God-fearing Texans. In any case, tequila is a difficult drink for its storied past, its Spring Break woes, and its complicated taste. I honestly believe that the closest drink to tequila is gin. Both are extraordinarily complex liquors that people have strong feelings about.
My feelings about tequila are so strong that I have a hard time imagining what to do with it besides drink it. I've already done quite a bit of research on tequila recipes, but everything seems to end up as just another margarita recipe! And I'm still looking. But in the meantime, I want to convey to you an extremely important fundamental of Tex-Mex that you can have while you are drinking your tequila...


Ofiuco's Family Recipe

4 ripe avocados (just a little give to the touch. Not too much. Not, as a former housemate of mine once assumed, the consistency of a boob. Firmer.)
2 small tomatoes (or 1 medium)
1 medium onion (You may pick which color - yellow's sweeter, red's fieryier, white's white)
Salsa of your choice (In emergencies: Tabasco)
Lemon or lime juice

1. Cut each avocado in half, around the seed. Remove the seeds, peel the avocados, and set all of them in a large bowl.
2. Dice onions and tomatoes. This is going directly into your mouth on a chip, so size should be appropriate for chips.
3. Mash avocados. It doesn't matter how, but get it good and mashed, like you would mash potatoes. Lumps are fine, though, really.
4. Add diced tomatoes and onions and as many spoonfuls of salsa as are necessary to bring the heat quotient where you want it to be.
5. Unless you used Tabasco, add a good squirt of lemon or lime juice.
6. Stir it all up and add salt and pepper to taste.
7. Eat!

Guacamole en estilo pacifico

I don't know if this is actually 'Pacific style' guac, but in my short time in Zihuatanejo, almost all the guacamole we got was like this. There are as many variants of guac as there are chili.

4 avocados
1 medium onion
1 lime
Salt to taste

1. Prepare the avocados as we've already discussed.
2. Dice the onion. You can use less onion than this (I probably would, since as far as I'm concerned this may be too much onion) and I usually cut it a little finer than my family would.
3. Mash the avocados.
4. Mix in the onion.
5. Cut the lime in half and squeeze the juice out of one half. Mix it and taste it - if it's not enough, add more. I usually vote for more.
6. Salt to your taste.
7. Eat!!

Bon appetit!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sounds of the outside

I don't know what it is about today - the laughter of my neighbors' children, the blue sky, the light breeze - but today everything feels familiar. Setting aside the odious smells emanating from the Safeway next to my apartment complex, today is a really nice day. I found myself desperately wanting to be outside, so I am sitting on my porch in my Goodwill Pepsi lounge chair. This is the first time the weather's been nice enough to do that and I've remembered.
Today feels like Colorado and Houston and Mexico. On days like this, a whole flood of memories comes back to me, a collection of moments of stopping and looking around and absorbing the totality of the environment. A crisp day in a Rocky Mountain forest in summer. A jaunt in a Texas park with my brother, pretending to be looking for Pokemon around the creek. A hot, bright day at the beach in Zihuatanejo, with families enjoying the sunlight as far as the eye can see. I guess it is this feeling of simple beauty and connectedness with everyone else who is enjoying it. A ball game. A barbecue. Being down by the pool. Being surrounded by good things, being happy, being in the moment, experiencing, being one with the universe.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Cooking with Booze, Vol. 2: Bourbon Reprint #2

Readers, food isn't just a mechanism by which your body creates ATP to be used by your muscles. I'm not a Bio major, so I'm not even sure if I got that right. But trust me when I say that food is an adventure, and that's a scientific fact. Making food can be exciting, like trying to find a restaurant on foot at night on 82nd Street and getting lost. Except you're in your own kitchen, where only your housemates or dormies can mistake you for a prostitute.
One way of making food exciting is applying sauces. This is because making sauces sounds easy but takes some actual effort and practice. I have failed often enough to assure you that messing up a sauce is easy.
Fortunately, you can learn from my errors. Even if you still mess this one up, you can console yourself with the following Mint Julep recipe:

Mint leaves (as many as you like - how about five? Five is a good number)

1. Take your glass and your mint leaves and put them together. Put a little bit of sugar and pour it in with the mint leaves.
2. This is the tricky part. Muddle. Basically, the goal is to bruise/shred the mint leaves by means of abrasive action with the sugar. If you don't have a muddler, get creative... but not too creative, this isn't Renn Fayre.
3. Once you've muddled your mint leaves (the more the better, I say!) pour in some of that sweet bourbon.
4. Add sugar to taste. I won't judge you.
5. Imbibe. You just made for a pittance what costs 7 bucks at the Delta.

Now, a tasty sauce: bourbon creme anglaise.

1 cup whipping cream or heavy cream (or milk)
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 egg yolks
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons bourbon

You will also need a whisk. Trust me, it's the best way to go.

Now, creme anglaise can be intimidating - there are several places where you can go wrong, and there's one skill required that not everyone has ever even heard of - keeping the yolk. To extract the yolk only from an egg, crack it carefully, but don't open it yet. Instead, hold the egg upright (pref. over a sink or something, because white is going to spill when you open it) and open it carefully. Really carefully. Now, you should have one half with some white in it and one half with most of the egg in it. Carefully trade the yolk back and forth between shell halves until you've gotten rid of most of the white. Voila!

1. Heat your cream in a saucepan over medium-low heat, aka setting 2 or 3. Be very, very careful not to go overboard with hotness, because it will split the cream and you will feel very sad. Add vanilla and simmer (setting 1). Always stir!!
2. Once you've got your yolks, whisk them with the sugar until the mixture is a sort of pastel yellow color, not unlike a cooked yolk.
3. Slowly pour about half your warm cream into your yolks and sugar and mix. Then pour all of that back into the saucepan.
4. Simmer this for a while. Don't let it boil, and don't stop stirring it. Ever. You should start noticing it thicken.
5. Add your bourbon. If you want to add even more bourbon, advance at your own peril. While White Russians don't curdle, there is a threshold at which you will cease to have bourbon creme anglaise and begin to have ugly bourbon and creme curds. And that's gross.
5a. (A tip for advanced users: When I get scared I have too much booze for the cream, I save some of the sugar from previous steps, put it in a cup with bourbon, and microwave it to zap some of the alcohol out, then add it back in.)
6. Serve on top of something delicious, like cake! Or ice cream! Or, now that you know how to make creme anglaise, add something to it besides/in addition to bourbon!

Allez cuisine!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Cooking with Booze, Vol. 1: Bourbon Reprint #1

When I was in school (not so long ago) I wrote two columns for the school newspaper in order to open the minds of my colleagues to the wider possibilities of teh booz. As a bon vivant, serious chef, and equally serious drinker, I am not satisfied with just one side of one thing. Like Alton Brown, I need everything in my life to be useful or beautiful in more ways than one. So it is with his cooking implements, and so it is with my drink. What is the point of buying something you will only ever experience in one way?
As I tried to point out in my short-run column, cooking with alcohol can immediately elevate the sophistication of a dish, especially if you are a poor college student. Steak with port sauce sounds a lot cooler than just steak. And moreover, if you try hard, you can do it cheaply. For example, I currently have like a gallon of cheap port sitting on my countertop.
My recent attempts to get friendlier with my copy of that longtime bible of cuisine, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking", have reawakened a desire in me to cook with booze. Mainly because cooking with booze is well-nigh one of the foundations of French cooking. That, and it makes for some good blog posts. Without further ado, I'd like to kick it off by offering you a reprint of my first column. Keep in mind that this was tailored for college students; if you have nice things, don't let my sassy instructions keep you from using them.

Readers, while I cannot in print endorse or support underage drinking, I think we can all say that alcohol is one of nature's great gifts to humanity. Besides getting you drunk, booze also has the magical property of making food taste DELICIOUS, which is something everyone can enjoy even if they don't drink. You can save yourself a lot of money and impress the hell out of whoever is eating at your place by mastering the art of cooking with booze. Let me take you there.
This month's booze is bourbon. If you live under a rock and don't know what bourbon is, it's a type of whiskey produced and favored by the American South. Bourbon tastes excellent with muddled mint leaves, AKA the 'Mint Julep'.
Bourbon also tastes great in sauces and marinades. As I found out thanks to Tarah at Genesis of a Cook, it also tastes great in DESSERT. Here is Tarah's recipe for Vanilla Bourbon Bread with Walnut Coffee Crumble, translated by me into College Student:

For Crumble Topping

1/2 cup walnuts
2 tbsp. brown sugar
2 tbsp. flour
2 tbsp. cold butter
1 tsp. instant coffee
1/4 tsp. cinnamon

For the Bread

2 cups flour
3/4 cup powdered sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 cup heavy cream
3 large eggs
2 tbsp. bourbon
2 tbsp. vanilla extract
3/4 tsp. salt

You will also need a 9x5 baking pan.

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and grease that pan.
2. Put all the ingredients for the crumble in one bowl and then mix it. Don't worry about it; it doesn't need to be hardcore mixed.
3. Put all of the dry ingredients for the bread in a different, much bigger bowl. Mix them together until it's all nice and evenly mixed. Be careful, because if you're an out of control mixing freak you're going to get flour everywhere.
4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones. If you want to, you can add more than just 2 tsp of bourbon - though not TOO much. I personally think that another tsp would be awesome, but YMMV. Stir until ingredients are combined. If you don't have a mixer, don't sweat it - small lumps will come out fine.
5. Pour the batter into your greased pan, and top with the crumble. Bake for 40-50m, or until it's done (if you stick a toothpick in it, it comes up clean).

Allez cuisine!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Don'tcha wish your girlfriend was a sociolinguist like me?

As a student of linguistics, I have been trained to keep a professional ear out more or less at all times. This is good when I'm trying to figure out the sounds of languages I don't know, but most of the time it only really distracts me from conversations that I'm trying to have by drawing my attention to the form rather than the content. Which is to say, I geek out when I hear something cool or unusual. One of my favorite games to play when I watch TV is 'Spot the Canadian'. (Admittedly, some of these people might just be from the Upper Midwest, but given the number of successful Canadian actors on American television, chances are pretty good that that 'aboat'in' actress is really from the Great White North.)
Needless to say, in my many travels, I often hear variations on English that appear to have bizarre, nonsensical distributions (just because the sample size is too small) or that I simply can't connect to any dialect group I already know about (again, small sample size). Here are the two most common and bothersome:

both: My pronunciation of this rhymes with 'growth', vowel and consonants included. What I hear a lot around Arizona, my new home, is something that sounds more like 'boulth'. I've also heard this outside of AZ, but here it seems especially prevalent.
else: My pronunciation is something like 'elss'. What I hear some other people say: 'elts'. I want to say this is a West Coast thing, but I have no idea.

These are bothersome only because I have no idea what larger phenomenon to connect them to. Let's increase the sample size. How do you pronounce these words?

Friday, May 21, 2010


I graduated from college, and therefore now have more time for blogging.

I can't think of anything to blog ABOUT right now, though, because I have a headache, but if you absolutely positively need to read something I wrote RIGHT NOW, then allow me to bring to your attention my Yelp profile, where you can follow my petulant mini-reviews to your heart's content.

I'm headed off on a fantastic island vacation soon, but when I return, I have solemnly vowed to write some serious blog posts about the thesis that I wrote in order to graduate from college, which was about how online communities use language. Hopefully you will like it if only because it necessarily applies to you, since you are on the Internet right now.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Foods I have Eaten Meme

I couldn't pass this one up. Got it from Swati. I couldn't post it on my LJ, though, because I gave up LJ for Lent. But fortunately I have a blog.

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you've eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating. (HAHA YEAH RIGHT)
4) Optional extra: Post a comment here at linking to your results.

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht (I even make borscht)
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
(sometimes good, sometimes bad)
16. Epoisses (Don't even know what this is)
17. Black truffle (just a slice)
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes (marionberry)
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans

25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava

30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float

36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat (No, but I have had cabrito, which is just goat uncurried...)
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear

52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal

56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV (I probably have)
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S'mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin (I thought this was a rock.)
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs' legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake

68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette (I've had andouille...)
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
(Not at the same time though)
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill (Disclaimer: "This deer just got hit by a car and it's a shame to waste good meat" is roadkill for this purpose. "I found a racoon on the side of the road and it doesn't smell too bad, wanna eat it?" so does not count.)
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong (Not a fan)
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky

84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant. (I have eaten at a restaurant with Michelin stars, just not the tasting menus.)
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare (I have had rabbit)
87. Goulash
88. Flowers (I would eat flowers every day.)
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta

99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake (I would like to someday)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Free on Hulu: "The Discovery of Heaven"

I've decided to begin a new project. This project is essentially the written form of something I do often in real life, which is suggest movies and television shows to my friends, provided that they are free to watch on "It's free on Hulu" is a phrase that comes out of my mouth so disgustingly often that NBC should seriously cut me a paycheck.

That said, here is the first of my reviews of things that are free on Hulu, a movie called "The Discovery of Heaven".

"The Discovery of Heaven" is a four-part, two-hour movie I found by looking at the 'you might also like' section under "Ink", which will probably be the subject of my next review. It's an adaptation of a novel by some Dutch guy. I decided to watch it because I didn't realize it was two hours long, and the premise of 'Angels create a human for the purpose of reclaiming the Ten Commandments because God is pissed' is always enough for me to at least watch thirty minutes.

Contrary to the sort of silly plot synopsis, the movie is quite good, quite serious, and quite coherent. Starring Stephen Fry and some other dude whose name I can't remember, the movie is neatly divided into two halves. The first half chronicles the attempts of the angels to engineer a situation in which their special envoy, who will recover the Commandments, can be born. Incapable of travelling to Earth, the angels are forced to play the deus ex machina game throughout the entire movie. The second half of the movie chronicles the life and mission of that special envoy, whose name is Quinten.

While words like 'deus ex machina' might suggest that the movie's literary devices are hamfisted, one of the most surprising things about it is that it's not. The plan that the movie is essentially composed of is both artful and clever, which is a difficult piece of writing to pull off. A key factor in pulling it all together may well be the quality of the acting. Stephen Fry is magnificent, of course, playing Stephen Fry the classical linguist, and the wide-eyed Greg Wise as his cosmic twin/best friend Max the sex maniac astronomer gives the whole movie a really nice feel of... this is just a series of lives, playing out naturally, except for when divine influence intervenes.

I wouldn't call this movie funny, or awe-inducing, or particularly filled with ideas that make me want to go run off and immediately start writing something off the inspiration high, but it is enjoyable, and it feels smooth. It doesn't feel like a two-hour movie, and there is little in the movie that is jarring or disruptive to the plot line, which is so uncommon these days (or maybe just in my trashy movie selection).

If you feel like a gently rambling, clever piece of contemplation on life and humans' relationship with the divine and the church, then "The Discovery of Heaven" might be a good afternoon's movie for you. If you love Stephen Fry, then you definitely won't be disappointed!