Category Archives: Childhood Redux

Return of the Fluff

Holy gawd: it appears I let half a month pass by without posting. OOOOPS! Life gets in the way of blogging, it seems. But, hey: I have updates! I started a new blog (kategarklavs.com — add it to your G-readers, yo!*), signed on as the content manager for LitBridge, continued the dating blitzkrieg, and spent a week in the glorious Midwest! Forgive me my absence? Oh, hell: forgive me or not, I’m still gonna post.

Fluff salad, a midwestern treat

As I mentioned, one of my favorite parts of visiting my ancestral homeland is eating junk food. I eat junk food in my Real, Everyday Existence, but not to the extent that I do while jammin’ in the flyover zone.** I’ll relate more of my junk-food experiences in another post, because what I really want to talk about now is Fluff.

Are you familiar with Fluff? I was not until three days ago. A cold salad of unknown origin, Fluff (aka Five-Cup Salad) is disgustingly simple to prepare and unsettlingly tasty. It’s a food you don’t want to cop to liking, but you will like it — unless you have a heart of stone, in which case you have larger problems to attend to. Are you ready for the recipe? Here goes:

Ingredients

  • One tub Cool Whip or other non-dairy whipped topping
  • Half a bag of miniature marshmallows. (You may use colored marshmallows, if you like.)
  • One packet pistachio pudding
  • One can cubed pineapple, drained
  • One can Mandarin oranges, drained
  • Approximately one-third bag sweetened shredded coconut
  • One tiny jar maraschino cherries, drained, stems removed

Method

  1. Dump your marshmallows into a large (and I mean LARGE) mixing bowl. Add the Cool Whip. Stir.
  2. Add the pudding mix to the Cool Whip/mallow mixture. Stir well to combine.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients; stir well to combine.
  4. Refrigerate before serving.
  5. Eat until you feel ill.

That’s it: really. You dump a bunch of sugar products in a giant bowl, stir, and devour. I was skeptical at first, but you know what? I’m a believer, so much so that I made my own batch of Fluff yesterday. Sarah and I ate some, and then ate some more, and then I had to put the leftovers away so we’d have some Fluff for tonight.


This isn’t the most flattering picture of yours truly, but it does depict me holding one of my favorite sugar products: frosted animal crackers. Oh, man: those things are good. Didn’t eat any while at home (surprisingly), but as long as I’m on the FluffTrain, I might as well add these lit’l dudes to my shopping list.

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*I will warn you, however, that kategarklavs.com is still under construction. There’s no About section, and I’ve only uploaded a handful of posts. Par for the lazy-ass course!

**Note: I do not consider Minnesota (or Illinois) flyover states, but some California residents do. They are missing out on the riches/wonders that would await them, were they to deplane before hitting the East Coast.

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The Victory Garden Strikes Back

Slowly but surely, I’m trying to work myself out of the food rut I now occupy. Here’s the thing about ruts: they’re comfortable, if not always glamorous or practical. There’s a reason I eat cereal with berries most every morning; that reason, aside from Cereal Tastes Good, is the ease with which the meal is prepared. Breakfast on autopilot. Certain situations call for not-thinking, for a series of motions that carry you from Point A to Point B without the need for higher cognitive functioning. Breakfast, for me, is one of those situations.

Ruts are behavioral shortcuts that can, in the right dose, streamline one’s morning routine: one’s life.

Such streamlining can lead to complacency, though, and I know this firsthand. My diet has become borderline snooze. Friday, I felt itchy to eat something I’d never eaten before. I worked under the additional consideration of wanting to use materials I had at hand. (Note: I may or may not have been wearing loungewear on Friday afternoon — a sartorial choice that may or may not have influenced my resistance to hit up the Safeway.)

I began with a pound of carrots, The Victory Garden Cookbook, and a dream. Half an hour later, I had a batch of marinated carrots: tangy, tender-crisp coins that are perfect mixed with fresh greens or just eaten with a fork, even.

Out of respek for my main lady Marian Morash, I’m not going to post the recipe here. Really, you all should own The Victory Garden Cookbook: not only are the chapters divided by ingredient (which, helllllllllo, ease of use!), but the book features photos of rad, early-80s fashions — the perfect accompaniment to any cooking project. Or any project. Not normally one to preach about what y’all should/should not do, I do encourage the purchase of cookbooks, especially those central to one’s formative years.

Be advised that these carrots are totally noshable. I found myself sneaking back to the Tupperware, picking out a coin, returning the container to the fridge, and beginning anew. Bonus v 2.0: the recipe is exceedingly simple to prepare. I prepared it while talking on the phone and halfheartedly listening to this Chuck Berry album I bought for $1 on the street, and if my carrots turned out well, I’m sure yours will, too.

Bottom line: if you’re feeling lazy, making marinated carrots will make you feel like more of a functional adult. If you’re not feeling lazy, you’ll be pleased at having made a healthy, colorful side dish in 20 minutes flat. We’re all winners here!

With a Twist: Banana Chocolate-Chunk Muffins

G’day, Garkyfriends! Not sure how your week is panning out, but mine is A-OK, despite climatological gloom + a persistent headache. You know what, though? Gloomy weather makes working indoors seem like less of a task, and this headache will surely be dispelled with some ibuprofen + coconut water. Voila! Attitudinal magic works wonders.

These past few months, I’ve been really into buying flowers. Not only do blooms brighten the common spaces, but buying cut flowers seems like such an adult thing to do. I mean, it is an adult thing to do, but some actions — dry-cleaning delicate garments, scrubbing the bathtub, turning in early on a weekend night even though you don’t have to wake up early the next day — seem robustly more adult than others.

Fridays, returning from acupuncture, I stroll past a wholesale floral shop; it was there I got the red bouquet, plucked from a flimsy plastic bucket and cradled for the duration of my trip.

Friday flowers are becoming a ritual. Establishment and practice of rituals — small and large alike — is what drew me to writing. Likewise to cooking. I am, by nature, a collector, and these activities fortify my amassment tendencies.

Banana bread was my mom’s go-to baked good. She made it for PTA meetings and potlucks, gifting foil-wrapped loaves to the neighbors. As a kid, I wasn’t crazy about the bread — my extreme sweet tooth wasn’t sated by its subtle flavor — but I’ve come around. Flavorwise and associationally, banana bread is a gem. It’s quick to make, and it offers an outlet for the scratch-and-dent bananas that would otherwise land in the compost bin.

Instead of baking one loaf, I made muffins, which bake more quickly (20 minutes!) and are easier to store and eat. I made a few other mods to mom’s recipe, namely reducing the amount of sugar and oil, adding a bit more banana mush, and tossing in some coarsely chopped, sea-salt-flecked dark chocolate. This tinkering yielded delicious results.

Sweetish but not cloying, toeing the line of wholesomeness, these muffins are a new standby.

Banana Chocolate-Chunk Muffins (makes 12)

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • Two eggs, beaten
  • 1 1/4 cup mashed bananas (appox. two large)
  • 1 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar (I used Turbinado, but use what you have on hand!)
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • One high-quality chocolate bar, roughly chopped

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease a muffin pan (or line each cup with cupcake papers — you do you!).
  2. In a medium bowl, combine oil, eggs, and bananas.
  3. In a large bowl, mix well all dry ingredients, including chocolate. Once dry ingredients are mixed, add wet ingredients, mixing just to combine.
  4. Spoon batter into the muffin pan, filling each cup only 2/3 full.
  5. Pop the pan in the oven, set your timer for 20 minutes, and clean up (or not). Muffins are done when a fork inserted into one comes out clean.

 

Blast from the Garky Past: Chicken with Bacon, Leeks, and Chives

Last week, nothing (healthy) sounded good to eat. Cheetos sounded damn fine; I’ll admit to having eaten a few peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches, too. (These are a trending meal in meinem Haus.) Nothing wrong with PB&B — it features like, three food groups! — but it’s not the sort of thing I wanted to serve to Alex when he came to dinner. Necessarily, I put on my thinking cap and generated a slightly classier dinner idea.

When I’m low on ideas, I mine my personal history. During Thursday’s introspection session, I remembered a dish my parents used to make: sautéed chicken served with scallions and bacon over egg noodles. As a kid, I wasn’t much of a meat-eater, but I fiercely craved this dish; I realize now that the flavor combination of bacon and scallions pleased me greatly. Egg noodles, of course, are good in whatever form they’re presented (unless that form = “overcooked”).

I consulted the Almighty Intertron and found a similar recipe — a disconcertingly basic recipe, I should add — one that had seven ingredients (chicken, bacon, scallions, pasta, salt, pepper, white wine). Kids aren’t known for their refined palates: truth. Using the googled recipe and my Very Vivid Memories as inspiration, I began. Here’s the recipe I came up with:

Garky’s Chicken with Bacon, Leeks, and Chives (serves 4)

Ingredients

  • Eight ounces egg pasta — curlicues work best, if you’ve got ’em, but you may also use those wide, flat, yellow strips
  • Two large chicken breasts, totaling roughly one pound.
  • Four strips of bacon
  • A goodly amount of chives, minced
  • One bunch of leeks, chopped, cleaned, and patted dry
  • One bunch maitake mushrooms, cleaned and roughly cut
  • Two or three cloves of garlic, minced
  • Salt & pepper
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • About two tablespoons white wine (chicken stock may be subbed)

Method

  1. First things first: set a pot of (salted) water to boil. Clean your chicken breasts, trim them of fat, and cut them into equal-sized chunks. When the water boils, add the pasta and cook until just done (between three and five minutes). Drain pasta, toss with a bit of oil, and set aside.
  2. In a rather large skillet, cook your bacon. Set bacon aside to drain and remove most (but not all!) of the fat from the pan.
  3. In the bacon-fat pan, cook your chicken. Add salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, chives, and white wine to the chicken and cook until just browned. Remove from pan/store in separate, heatproof dish.
  4. In that selfsame pan, saute your leeks, mushrooms, and garlic. (Note: it helps to start the leeks first, then add the garlic and mushrooms after a bit.) Cook leeks until they’re soft and gently brown. Remove from pan.
  5. It’s combination time! To your pasta, add your chicken and vegetables. Crumble your bacon — which should be cooled by now — and toss that in, too. Mix thoroughly and serve right away.

Raaaaaaaaaaaah! This dish nailed it. I’m glad I didn’t follow the internetted recipe as it was — the leeks and mushrooms added a level of earthiness I might not have appreciated as a tot, but that I sure as hell appreciate now. Garlic, too, was a good call; I’m totally befuddled by recipes that don’t involve garlic. Verdict: I will be making this dish again in the near future. (Note: Alex was also a fan — he took leftovers to work for a quik-n-easy lunch.)

After dinner, we found ourselves with a mad jones for ice cream. No, I’m not using the royal we — Alex also craved sweets. So we hit up our new go-to, St. Francis Fountain, for A SUNDAE!

That there is the Buster Brown: one gooey brownie topped with Mitchell’s vanilla, raspberry sauce, cronchy slivered almonds, and enough whipped cream to topple Paula Deen herself. ALSO: our server, maybe noting our Lady-&-The Tramp-type behavior, added two maraschino cherries so neither of us would have to go without one. All together: awwwwww! Thanks, beanied hipster dude!

This week, my goals are as follows: 1) Find and prepare another leek-centric recipe, because leeks are the shit; 2) Hit up St. Francis again; 3) Eat fewer PB&B sandwiches, lest I burn out on that delicious combination. Good day.

Best of the Midwest: Dinner at Dino’s

Before hittin’ the skies, I laid out a few eating-related goals for my visit to Minnesota. I knew at the outset that I wouldn’t meet all the goals — I was only home for a few days, and I can’t eat that much, despite my best efforts — but I’m pleased to report that I made it to Dino’s Gyros, home of the killer fries.

Here they are in all of their greasy glory.

My family grew to love Dino’s a solid decade ago, when Ali worked there part-time. (In fact, I credit Ali’s love of All Things Greek to this formative tyme in her lyfe.) Fairly standard as far as fast-casual places go, Dino’s offers sandwiches, salads, Pepsi soft drinks, and a few desserts, including the seemingly out-of-place French silk pie. My go-to order, established when I was a young lass of 16, is as follows:

  • One large soft drink, which is a mixture of Diet Coke (2/3) and Light Lemonade (1/3);
  • One Greek salad with chicken breast;
  • French fries, to be split with my dining companion.

Annnnnnnd, because I am the ultimate Creature of Habit, I did not deviate from my ordering pattern. Shown above is a close-up of my salad; the green pepper ring encircling the pepperoncini and the olive strikes me as beautiful — as in, if it could be preserved and dipped in silver, it would make a badass pendant. Not pictured is my large soft drink, but you all can use your imaginations.

How did my nostalgic meal stack up? Better than I expected, actually. The salad was basic: a bed of chopped romaine hearts topped with tomato slices, thin-sliced onions, a handful of kalamata olives (pitted, thankfully), cucumbers, chicken, feta, and a quartered, grilled pita. (Dressing — about 1/4 cup of it — came on the side.) To my great pleasure/surprise, these winter tomatoes didn’t totally suck; they were a little mealy, but not as mealy as they could have been. Olives were salllllllllllty and briny and delicious, and I ate every last one. Chicken was gorgeously browned and gristle-free. The romaine offered the only obstacle — about half of it was browning at the edges or otherwise wilty. A tad bit gross, but not gross enough to prevent me from chowing down.

Sys, stoked for our traditional meal.

 And how, you ask, were the fries? Quite tasty, thank you. Revision: our first order of fries was pretty bad — they’d clearly been re-fried* and sparkled with salt. Sis returned the basket and asked for unsalted fries, which the cook promptly provided. Hell yeah! The new fries (pictured blurrily above) were golden and slender and mercifully salt-free. Of course, we added our own salt and gobs of HFCS-rich ketchup, and the result was damn fine.

Yep, this trip to Dino’s was resoundingly successful. I ordered my traditional meal, which hasn’t changed a bit in the past decade, and took part in a good-ole-fashioned French-Fry Feeding Frenzy (F^4). No French silk pie this time around, but it’s on the to-eat list for my next Midwest trip.

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*Never be afraid to bring back re-fried fries, people! I worked for four years at my college’s diner, and I KNOW. Protip: ask for unsalted fries, and you’ll often have a fresh batch made just for you!

Best of the Midwest: Costco Lunch

For most of us, the holidays are all about tradition: we prepare spiral-cut ham and serve it on the good china, or watch Home Alone while eating kettlecorn and drinking hot toddies, or go caroling, or whatever. It’s no different for my family, except one of our traditions is eating lunch at Costco.

That’s right: my sister and I have made a habit of eating a Lunch of Samples at Costco. Here’s how it goes down: we choose a day when we know the pickins will be good,* drive our patooties to Costco, and bolt from sample station to sample station, grabbing our snax before they fall prey to the grubby hands of ten-year-olds. Do I feel bad about elbowing 10-year-olds out of my way? Hell no! Do you think those 1o-year-olds are paying for Costco memberships? Again, hell no! They can wait a damn minute to scarf tiny pizza triangles.

Per our own set of instructions, Ali, Mom, and I hit up the Coon Rapids Costco just after noon on Xmas eve. The parking lot was full; we knew our competition would be fierce. We weren’t worried, though: we’re seasoned pros, and we can throw elbows with the best of ’em.

We were in luck as soon as we stepped through the massive door: a lit’l old lady was serving miniature cups of Martinelli’s Sparkling Cider. It had been years since I’d sipped this stuff; aside from being a bit sweet, it wasn’t bad. (Note: the juice’s sweetness isn’t enough to prevent me from drinking it in the future; it’s more subdued than all sodas and many of the zany cocktails I get.) My mom tossed a four-pack of bottles in our cart, and we moved on.

This lady greeted us as we waltzed through the door.

The Deli Area is the best sampling zone: the stations are condensed, requiring less movement on the part of the diner, and there are no tall shelves that might block the diner’s line of sight. As is typically the case, Sys and I found the best tidbits near the deli: Cabot Habanero Cheese (which was actually, legitimately spicy — and good), Basha hummus served on an elongated tortilla chip, and “Margherita” pizza, plated on an oil-streaked paper napkin. Margherita is in quotation marks because I detected neither tomato nor basil atop the pie. In fact, the crust tasted more like a lukewarm Ritz cracker than anything resembling pizza dough, but oh, well: you get what you (don’t) pay for.

The hummus was so-so — pretty typical store-bought hummus, if you want to know. What puzzled me was the sample lady’s addition of salsa to the snack. Is there anyone out there who serves (watery, Pace-picante-style) salsa with hummus? If so, what’s your motivation? I’m curious — really, I am.

Hummus with tortilla-chip wands and runny salsa. It's tradition, baby.

Stage II samplingtakes place in the frozen and paper goods sections. Back near the pallets of Brawny, I grabbed a dainty cup of Boylan’s all-natural root beer and slugged it back, fueling my quest for MOAR SAMPLES! (Note: I’m no root beer connoisseur, but this stuff was solid: spicy, not too sweet, and highly carbonated. Max carbonation is one quality I dig in a soda.)

The tiniest pizza slice in all the world. Note: it contains no visible basil.

Stage III sampling — the final stage — takes place from the end of frozen all the way to the checkout lanes. In this region of the store, sample stations are placed at the ends of the aisles; they’re more densely clustered in the snack food area (which abuts the checkout zone). During Stage III, Ali and I nibbled ultra-sweet canned Dole pineapple (which, OK, who in this country has not tasted canned pineapple before? This was a total throwaway, IMO), mild cheddar on pretzel thins, and antipasto on crackers.** I feel as though I’m forgetting something — indeed, I know I’m forgetting something. I want to say we also ate pretzel M&Ms, but that can’t be it: if that were the case, I wouldn’t have forgotten, so deep is my love for those candies.

Of the noted samples, the Cabot Habanero cheddar was the clear winner. It’s the only product I’d buy voluntarily, the only product that was, to put it simply, appetizing. To be fair, the frozen pizza wasn’t cooked long enough, but it also didn’t contain its namesake ingredients. Canned pineapple does nothing for me (except when frozen and used in lieu of ice cubes in tropically themed cocktails — then it’s fine). The cheddar on a pretzel thin was total nursery-school fare, and the root beer was just root beer.

As you’d imagine, the joy in this tradition derives not from the quality of the foods sampled, which is highly variable, but from the rush of excitement the process brings. Driving to that giant, concretey warehouse store, Ali and I were aflutter with anticipation: Would the lecherous Muffins Roadshow dude be there, luring us to his table with giant chunks of Chocolate-Chocolate Chip? Would the Deli Hunk be at his post behind the plate-glass windows? Would we have to barge through a group of toddlers to get the last pieces of deep-fried eggroll? Only time would tell.

Of course, it’s not a trip to Costco without a behemoth slice of cafe pizza. When Ali and I used to live in Western Mass, we’d drive to the Springfield Costco, where we’d stock up on Babybel cheeses and then get pizza slices for dinner. Even now, I grin when I think of this homey tradition. With its fantastically chewy crust and inches-thick cheese, the pizza was only so-so: bland at best, oil-slicked at worst. But, it was a food we could agree on — a food of our youth. Tearing open that foil packet of red pepper flakes never fails to transport me to the distant past.

This time around, sys and I split a piece of pizza. (In the photo above, you’ll note the bifurcation line, made by the cashier at our request.) The slice was exactly as I’d expected it to be, and from this constancy I derived great joy: I didn’t have to worry about whether the recipe had changed — of course it hadn’t. Costco pizza will always be Costco pizza, progress be damned, and that’s why I love it. Reactionary food for the masses: it’s what Christmas traditions are all about.

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*The days prior to major holidays are a safe bet; last-minute shoppers will be out in droves, and the sample ladies will be at their posts, offering Dixie cups of Chex Mix and one-inch cubes of Monterey Cheddar. So it begins.

**Upon learning that this sample contained tuna, I tried to pawn mine off on my mom, telling the sample lady that I’m allergic to tuna. “She’s not allergic to tuna,” my mom countered, “she just doesn’t like it.” Which isn’t true: I like tuna! But I do not like the tuna surreptitiously included in weird, prepackaged, pseudo-Italian spreads, OK?

Enter/Return

Happy post-Xmas, Garkyfriends! After delayz for dayz, I’m back in SF. Though I only spent a few days in Minnesota, I definitely got my heartland fix. Sadly (or not so sadly?), there was no snow during my stay; we got a light dusting, but the snow melted as soon as it hit the ground. No matter: the ice-free streets enabled us to tour the old neighborhood on foot and take Louie for a few walks, both of which are better than snow.

I also got my Midwestern Food Fix, which I’ll describe in more detail in a subsequent series of posts. Not gonna spoil any surprises, but I will say that I ate more cheese in the past three days than I have in…a long time. I also ate more cinnamon rolls and more pineapple. But that’s all I’ll say about that.

Nachos Navidad: what on earth?

It’s super weird to be back in Internetland. The past few times I’ve traveled, I’ve left my computer behind, and let me just say that my four non-internet days were possibly the best Xmas present of all. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not trying to start an internet hatefest! Just expressing my gratitude at having had the chance to socialize IRL.

So, uh, on that note, stay tuned for the lurid details of My Midwestern Xmas!