Monday, February 26, 2007

Al Gore, Movie Star

Did you see the Academy Awards last night? We've been TV-less for weeks after pulling the plug on satellite, but M and I went to Best Buy yesterday for rabbit ears so that I could watch the stars come out. So many questions: Will Martin finally nab a golden statue after decades of snubs? Will anyone do one-handed push-ups on stage? Will Beyonce go with the tacky diva look or something tasteful? I just love the Oscars.

I think I'd seen only three films in the entire round up: Cars, Little Miss Sunshine, and An Inconvenient Truth. My friends Kim, Katie, and I saw An Inconvenient Truth last summer when Katie spontaneously called us and said, I know it's a longshot, but could you guys go see a movie after work tonight? Our husbands obliged us, and we skipped to the theatre for a crazy girls' night out to see... a Powerpoint by Al Gore about global warming. And you know, it was riveting. If you haven't seen it, you should. Previously, I had a Tarzan-like understanding of global warming ("depleted ozone bad!"), but didn't really understand or think I could understand what was happening, why it was happening, and what the results could be if it wasn't stopped. But this film explained it at a level I understood, and did it without putting me to sleep.

This morning I read several reviews on Amazon about the film and accompanying book, and while most were complimentary, there were a few reviewers claiming that global warming is a crock, that this graph or that graph is wrong, that Mr. Gore's whole presentation is nothing but propoganda.

So let's say it's fake. Even if it is, would it kill us to act like it's not? Would it *really* be so bad to eat bulk-purchased or even homemade yogurt vs. a single-serving bright blue Gogurt with packaging that's destined to clog a landfill? Do people in Indiana, the seemingly flattest state in the nation, really need to drive Hummers, or could something more modest suffice? Is it so awful to grow tomatoes in the summer rather than eat ones that are shipped across the country or internationally?

I feel like we're on the verge of a true mind shift about using the Earth's resources, and that the shift isn't a red-state or blue-state issue, but the natural reaction to the way we've been living for the past several decades. And I do believe that Al Gore, who has been repeating the same cautionary message for 30 years about global warming and what we have to do to stop it, deserves credit for making that message understandable, accessible, and even hip. So regardless of whether you voted for him in 2000, and regardless of whether you agree with all of his politics, I hope you'll join me in congratulating Mr. Gore on last-night's red carpet victory.

And in congratulating Beyonce on what ended up being a really pretty, tasteful ensemble.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

If the Pressure Cooker Could Do My Taxes...

I'd probably have to leave Phil and marry it. I love it that much.

Last week I was off for the day with the boys while they both had their annual checkups, and was really craving risotto for dinner. I rarely make risotto, except the baked variety. The baked is really nice, although still too time-intensive to make after work, and it doesn't have the same comforting, creamy consistency of the classic risotto that requires 20 or 30 minutes of loving stirring. I actually love making the latter risotto, but it doesn't fit into my life so much right now, so I'd given up on creamy risotto except for the rare dinner out.

(Risotto always makes me think of the early scene in Big Night where the customers are waiting and waiting and waiting for their risotto, with poor Secondo trying to pacify them and Primo in the kitchen, refusing for his art to be rushed.)

Anyway, I'd heard the pressure cooker could actually make a quick, easy risotto that tasted like the slow-stirred variety, so decided to try it. I found a recipe I liked online and played with it a bit. Here's what I did:

Basic Pressure-Cooker Risotto

2 Tbsp. butter (you'll use 1 Tbsp., then another Tbsp.)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup or so finely chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
4-1/2 cups chicken broth (you'll use 4 cups, then 1/2 cup)
1/2 to 1 cup grated cheese; any mixture that works well together, or you can go straight Parmesan
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
1/2 cup or so frozen peas

Using the Browning setting, heat up 1 Tbsp. butter and the Tbsp. olive oil. Add the onion and garlic, and stir frequently, being really careful not to brown the onion. When the onion is soft (about 3 minutes), add the rice and stir around for a minute or so to coat the rice. Now add the white wine and stir until it's largely absorbed -- this took about 30 seconds.

Pour in 4 cups of the chicken broth (reserving 1/2 a cup for later), stir, and close 'er up. Set the timer for 10 minutes of high pressure. Pour a nice glass of Pinot Grigio if you're with adults or go play a quick round of Candyland if you're not.

When the timer goes off, release the pressure and then take the lid off. Stir in the remaining 1/2 cup chicken broth, 1 Tbsp. butter, cheese, salt, and pepper. Stir around until the cheese and butter is melted. Then add the frozen peas and stir around until the peas are cooked through -- another minute or so. Then it's ready to eat.

I think next time I make this I'm going to add some fresh mushrooms before I cook under pressure, and add some prosciutto with the peas. But it was pretty fabulous as it was.
I've seen lots of packaged microwave risotto mixes, likely filled with unpronounceable names and unspeakable preservatives. At the very least, they carry heavy price tags (when you consider they're largely comprised of *rice*) and packaging issues, and likely don't taste all that great. I love this method of making risotto because it's a way to get good food without resorting to those pre-packaged approximations of actual food.
I was off in NY yesterday for ComiCon, the world's largest comic book convention. It was work related -- seriously -- and slightly traumatic. When I'm recovered, I'll write about it.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Magic Bus

At the end of last month, M turned five. It's a big day in a little boy's life. He started having birthday parties a couple years ago, and after last year where I felt defenseless trying to herd and entertain half a dozen four year olds, I decided this year we were going to go somewhere and have someone take care of the party for us.

I thought up several different places that a little boy could be entertained without his mom developing a nervous tick over her left eye. No dice. I even took him to Build-a-Bear to explain how much fun he'd have. Nothing doing. He wanted a party at home.

I refused until I remembered the Tumblebus.
The Tumblebus comes to his and T's school every Monday, and for a pretty reasonable fee, they get to go exercise and play and tumble to themed programs -- Your Toy Story. Your Blues Clues. Your Christmas in July. And, as luck would have it, Mr. Mik makes housecalls.

Here's how the day went: The kids came, and we did a Treasure Hunt. This is a brilliant idea I ripped off from someone else's party where you get a bunch of stuff from the dollar store or the Party Favors aisle at a party store, and tape different colored pieces of paper to them, and then "hide" them around the house. "Hide" being in places like on bookshelves and on dining room chairs. Each kid has a different color and goes and finds all the treasure with that color on it. Then we went and made "frames," which is just sticking foamy stickers onto foamy frames. And that's when IT pulled up.

I forgot to mention we hadn't told M Mr. Mik was coming, and he'd planned a party that involved things like showing everyone his dry-erase board and letting them have a turn on the treadmill -- things dear to his five-year-old heart. But when Mr. Mik pulled up, he got very flexible with his plans.

So the kids all herded out to the bus for an hour, and we parents hung out inside eating local cheese and talking. By the time M got his birthday medal and Mr. Mik said his goodbyes, the pizza was here, they ate it, had some Power Rangers cake, whacked a pinata, and headed home.

M konked out early in the afternoon, just like a happy party boy should.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Snow Day!

Other than having my New York office closed on September 12, 2001, after the WTC was destroyed, I've never had an office close due to extenuating circumstances. And I've certainly never had a snow day since I've joined the working world.

But today I do. Indianapolis got dumped with about a half foot of snow, blizzard conditions, and some expected sleet that's going to make driving a nightmare, so my office is mercifully closed. M & T's school is closed, as well, and we haven't ventured outside yet, but it's looking blustery and nasty and the kind of day where you'd like to stay inside drinking tea and baking Valentine's Day cookies with your boys.

Which is what I'm doing.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Under Pressure

So here's how it happened: I took M to my friend Kim's house to play with Kim's daughter O. O is several years older than M, but they're fabulous playmates, and they pretty much entertained themselves while Kim and I talked, knit, and split a bottle of Cabernet for several hours over the afternoon. Kim is the friend who'd raved about her pressure cooker, and before I left, with the two of us feeling high on free time, adult conversation, and a few glasses of wine, she decided to demonstrate the cooker. Here's what she did: poured in a cup of rice, two cups of water, and a drained can of pinto beans; turned on the cooker; set the timer for 7 minutes; and poured another glass of wine. When the timer went off, she had some perfectly cooked rice and beans that she added some spices to and called dinner.

Next thing I knew, I was on her laptop making my first-ever QVC purchase to get the same model, which is here.

It's really pretty fabulous. While neither Phil nor I were happy with the black angus steak I tried in there (overcooked and too dry), everything else -- including a nice dijon stew when we had surprise guests last weekend -- has been fabulous.

I own a pressure cooker/canner that I desperately wanted and received as a wedding gift. I did can some tomatoes in it the summer I received it, but it's not recommended for flat-top stoves like mine, so I haven't been able to use it since we moved into our current house five years ago. Also, it's a stovetop model, like our grandmas have, and needs to be babysat while it sputtered and hissed. Basically, a little metal piece was supposed to clank every five seconds or so. If it clanked more often, the heat must be turned down; less often, the heat must be turned up. It isn't a tool I felt very comfortable using while chasing after toddlers or half-working on my laptop while preparing dinner.

But pressure-cooker technology has come a long way in the last ten years. This new cooker plugs into the wall like a slow-cooker and takes care of any monitoring of pressure. It also has settings for browning meat (so the meat doesn't need to be browned in a different pan before going into the cooker), slow cooking, and warming. I've already used it quite a bit in the week or so since it arrived.

Yesterday after a week of back-to-back meetings while senior management was in town, I planned to finally get caught up on my work. Instead, I got a call around 11:30 that M had pinkeye and needed to leave his daycare. So my day workwise was shot, and I wanted something easy and comforting for dinner. I started with a recipe from Pressure Cookers for Dummies and embellished a little, working with ingredients we had and cutting some of the fat. Here's what we had for dinner, which Phil and I both loved. (The boys had hot dogs, which they also loved...)

Indian Butter Chicken
1 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
1-3/4 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs cut into 1- to 1-1/2 inch chunks
1 large onion, minced
1 jalapeno, minced
1-1/2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp garam masala
1 6-oz can tomato paste
1 15-oz can chicken broth
1/2 cup fat-free evaporated milk
1-1/2 Tbsp butter
Lime juice
Salt and pepper the chicken. Using the Browning setting, heat up the olive oil and then add the onion, jalapeno, ginger, and garam masala. Stir around for about three minutes, then add the chicken, browning on the outside. Now add the tomato paste and broth, stir well, and set the cooker on high pressure for 8 minutes. Go have some green tea. When the buzzer goes off, release the pressure quickly (a very dramatic step that still sometimes makes M cry), and then stir in the evaporated milk and butter.
We ate this over leftover heated-up rice, which was delicious. We also sprinkled lime juice on top -- bottled, sadly, because we didn't have limes to squeeze. Fresh limes would have been better.

A couple notes:
  • We both thought more onion, some frozen peas, and big potato chunks would be welcome additions.
  • Phil felt that I should have added the whole lot of butter called for (3 Tbsp), but I thought it was delicious without all that butter. Let your taste and waistline be your guide.
  • The actual recipe calls for sprinking the final dish with 2 Tbsp fresh minced cilantro, which probably would be wonderful. We just didn't have any.

It's been a busy few weeks with out-of-town guests, a five-year-old birthday party, business reviews, and colds all around in the Kitchel house. I'm hoping I'll be a little more regular poster now that things appear to be mellowing out for the next several weeks.