Saturday, February 20, 2010

And Now For Something Completely Different

We Slivers are in a bit of a culinary rut. Mr. Sliver does most of the shopping and cooking, but let's not blame him. I know how hard it is to put food on your family. Every week, he prowls the Manager's Markdown bin hunting for bargains. The equation of frugality plus testosterone always adds up to slabs of meat the size of our six-year-old, all with menacing expiration dates. The bottom shelf of our fridge perpetually sags under their weight. If it's not a pork loin doing an impersonation of a human thigh, it's a roast shrouded in plastic sacks like something buried at the bottom of Tony Soprano's dumpster.

Despite all the words up there to the contrary, I'm not complaining. Really. I love the discount. He learned to shop like this by watching me, back in the dark ages when I actually used to help around here. What wears on us both, though, is the commitment. I've had exes who didn't stick around as long as our meat. Every night we're faced with the challenge of reinventing the roast — roast tacos, roast Stroganoff, roast ala King, chicken fried roast. If colon cancer doesn't do us in, boredom will. Suicide by Manager's Markdown.

So we're experimenting with new recipes, and entirely new sections of the market — sections regular folks shop in, not just us and the Duggars. Join us on our maiden voyage out of the doldrums as we prepare Beef Rendang, an Indonesian dish traditionally served at ceremonial occasions and to honored guests, like you.

RENDANG DAGING — Dry-Fried Beef Curry (Just trust me, okay.)

(click to enlarge)

Step 1: Gather mise en place

I learned that term in Culinary Arts school. It's all I remember, so I try to use it as often as possible. It's French for get your shit together. Sometimes I use it with my class, like this, "Boys and girls, if you plan to go to recess today then you had better mise en place right this minute!"

The Buddha isn't officially part of the recipe, but we think he adds good mojo.

Employ child labor whenever possible. It's an Asian dish.

Step 2: Cut beef into 1 inch by 2 inch strips.



Step 3: Put onion, garlic, ginger and chilies in blender with 1/2 cup of coconut milk. Find a small child or someone you don't like much to blend it until smooth.

Step 4: Wait several hours for the burning of his eyes to subside.

Step 5: Pour pureed toxic onion goo into a large saucepan. Swirl remaining coconut milk into blender container to get every last drop of pureed toxic onion goo. Pour that into saucepan, too.

Step 6: Add all remaining ingredients except tamarind liquid and sugar to saucepan. Mix well.

Step 7: Add meat to saucepan. Bring quickly to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and add tamarind liquid.

Step 8: Cook uncovered for as long as you've got. Hours and hours and hours. Watch a movie, get a pedicure, call your mother.

Step 9: When gravy is thick, reduce heat to low and cook, and cook, and cook some more. Don't watch a movie this time, maybe just an episode of Mad Men or The Office — something interesting, but forgiving enough that you can get up and stir frequently until gravy is almost dry.

Step 10: When oil separates from the gravy, add sugar and stir constantly. Allow meat to fry in the oily gravy until it looks dark brown and delicious.

Like this:

Serve in prawn crisps as an appetizer, over rice as an entrée, or over Idris Elba for dessert.

If you try it, please let me know how it turned out. Or better, invite me over.

*No joke, when you seed your chilies, wear gloves. Or a hazmat suit. Or poke them with long sticks and scrape the seeds out with your toenails. Under no circumstances should you touch those seeds. Only a real idiot would touch those seeds. But if you do, find somebody to help you use the bathroom for the next several hours.

Don't ask.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Love — 1, Some Assembly Required — 0

Somehow, we've managed to enjoy ten years of happy marriage and perfectly respectable sex without ever owning a bed. It was just one of those priorities that never managed to claw its way to the top of the list. I sleep blissfully sandwiched between my husband and our son, three spoons in a drawer. Marking the boundaries above and below hardly seemed necessary. Besides, our mattress was manufactured in heaven. I climb on and barely have time to mutter a few words of sincere appreciation before I'm drooling daintily on our down pillows. Who needs a bed?

But I guess it's time. If we're going to sleep in a Family Bed like a couple of aging hippies, we should at least have the decorum to do it in a proper bed. And is there a better time than Valentine's Day to absolutely push your love to the brink of divorce? I can't think of one.

It wasn't buying the bed that challenged us. Buying the bed was a little miracle; we agreed on the first one in the first store. In retrospect, that should have been a clue. Nothing is that easy. The hard part was lurking quietly in the shadows, mocking our solidarity, waiting to pounce, smug in its invincibility.

Some Assembly Required.

Oh, it was good. It took a minute or two for Some Assembly Required to find our Achilles' Heel, but once it did, it chomped down mercilessly. After watching us strain gently to get the first three cumbersome boxes into the house, it had all the information it needed.

It bided its time until we got to the final, largest, heaviest box on the roof of the car. Then it lunged, pushing the box brutally out of our hands and onto our six-year-old's foot. The bastard.

After a few minutes kissing away tears, we redoubled our efforts and were back on track.

Some Assembly Required wasn't at all pleased that we got the boxes into the house without death or serious bodily injury, so it decided to fuck with our minds. While our backs were turned, it maliciously shredded several pages of the instruction book. All we were left with was a random list of hardware and a vague suggestion that we should make it all stick to each other.

And, for added fun, we should do it in an area that is actually several square feet smaller than the bed itself.

Oh, he almost had us.

Better luck next time.

The neighbors are having twins. We'll tell them to expect you.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Passing the Hat

Go ask your child what he learned in school this week. Go ahead. I'll wait.

Yeah, that's what I thought. It's in there, I promise. But it's trapped under thick layers of video game cheats and plot lines to every SpongeBob ever aired. The stuff they learn in school gets mired in mental quicksand, unless it's tethered to their heart. The limbic system of the brain controls thinking and learning; emotion is its on/off switch. If we want to make kids think, first we have to make them feel.

Today my school had a fundraiser — Caps for a Cause. The kids were invited to donate money in exchange for permission to wear their favorite hat to school all day. The money would be going toward the relief effort in Haiti. But these are little kids, few of whom have crossed Piaget's invisible line from concrete learning to abstract reason. An earthquake? In Haiti? We may as well be speaking French as we try to explain what that could possibly mean to a bunch of kids in Arkansas. So we got concrete. The day before the event, we showed them a video of who they would be helping, and why — just graphic enough to give their little limbic systems a good jolt, but not raw enough to disturb them.

Five minutes later, every child in the building understood. They went home, carrying the children of Haiti in their hearts. And they came back the next day, determined to help. The $350 we collected isn't much, I suppose, in terms of what Haiti needs. But our kids learned something invaluable — we all matter; we are all powerful; we can change the world. All we need is the capacity to care.

It's not too late. Have you done something to show you care?