Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sunday Dinner: Spinach Tofu Risotto

Tonight we had some vegetarian friends over for dinner.  As anyone that knows me can attest, I love vegetarian food, even though I am not vegetarian.  So, I decided to make my spinach tofu risotto.  I love this dish!  This is one of those dishes that appeals to vegetarian and non-vegetarian friends alike – even those that don’t like tofu.  The trick is that the tofu is blended with some olive oil and salt into this delicious sauce that doesn’t taste anything like tofu.  In fact, it tastes more like a creamy, cheesy Alfredo-ish sauce!

I originally got this recipe from my “Giant Book of Tofu Cooking” by K. Lee & Chris Rankin.  However, I’ve made it enough times and modified it enough, that I feel fairly confident in calling it my own.

First you blend the tofu, about 1 tbsp of spinach (and squeeze some of the spinach juice out of the thawed bag of frozen spinach), 2tbsp olive oil and salt until the sauce becomes creamy and slightly green (wow typing it out, that doesn’t sound terribly appealing, but I promise you it is!).

Then you sauté the onions and garlic in the largest frying pan you have (or saucepan, whatever suits you fancy) until the onions are translucent.

Then you add the rice, spinach, black pepper and sauce.  Stir it all together and then dump everything in a lightly oiled casserole dish.  Bake it for about half an hour and voila – yumminess in one dish!  I like to add some parmesan cheese to top it off. 

(You can also keep the dish completely vegan by not adding the cheese.)

Today, one of my friends posted an interesting article in which the author finally put into written words what I have been arguing for years: that it is cheaper to cook at home than to eat fast food.  While it may seem easier to hand over hard earned cash for food that is already cooked, I will argue that it is almost always cheaper and healthier to eat at home.  The meal we ate tonight is a prime example - even I was surprised after I crunched the numbers:

Spinach Tofu Risotto

2 cloves garlic minced*

1 package firm tofu

1 bag frozen spinach (thawed)

1 onion finely chopped

1 1/2 tsp salt*

3-4 cups cooked rice
(I bought a 10 lb bag of rice at Costco for $4!)
1/4 tsp black pepper*

2 tbsp olive oil*


8 servings =
per person

Did I really do that right?  Less than 50 cents per serving???  Yes.  Yes, I did that right.  If you want to add in the Two Buck Chuck Chardonnay (which we drank entirely) and salad that we ate (which still has plenty leftover), that brings it to about $1 per person – and there is enough leftover (even after people had seconds) for me to bring lunch to work tomorrow. 

* Full disclosure, I have decided to assign a cost of 5 cents for all “stock” pantry items – i.e.  tablespoon here or there of spices or olive oil or something like that.  Unless I can quantify the exact cost (i.e. a quarter cup of olive oil, and I have on record how much I actually paid for that bottle of olive oil), in which case, I will assign the true cost of that item, of course. 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sunday Dinner: Ratatouille

In our CSA box (from ) this week, we got some eggplant (along with a whole bunch of other yummy stuff).  Instead of doing my usual stir fry with the eggplant, I decided to make ratatouille.  My first thought, knowing this is a French dish, was to reach for the Julia Child cookbook.  But since her recipe starts out with “A really good ratatouille is not one of the quicker dishes to make . . .” I decided to search my plethora of other cookbooks for a less complicated recipe.  I finally found one in my “The Taste of Home Cookbook” that sounded perfect for this particular Sunday evening.  Aaron is out of town this weekend, and I had plans to go hiking this morning with a friend, so I knew I didn’t want something too labor intensive.

This recipe is actually really easy as far as prep work.  You cook bacon and onions together (I used turkey bacon because that’s what I had on hand), and then add a can of diced tomatoes, tomato paste, olive oil, garlic, salt and some seasonings.  Then you layer half of the sauce followed by half the eggplant, zucchini, green pepper and cheese in a baking dish and repeat the layer one more time.  Then you pop it in the oven for about 50 minutes and voila!

Dinner in one dish!

Ok, now onto the really fun part: the costs.  It aggravates me to no end when people attempt to claim that it is cheaper (and/or healthier) to eat out than to cook for yourself.  I seriously had an argument with a friend about this.  Take a look at my numbers for this meal and tell me who wins:

Total cost:
4 turkey bacon strips
1 cup onion
1 can tomato paste
1 can diced tomatoes
1 large garlic clove
1 large eggplant
2 large zucchini
1 large green pepper
6 oz Monterey Jack


$11.50 total, yielding a supposed 8 servings = $1.50 per person (ok, ok, with Aaron in the house, that is probably more like 6 servings, so a little under $2 per person).  Full disclosure: I had to fudge the numbers for the eggplant and onion a little bc they both came in my CSA box, and I pay a flat fee per box, not per vegetable.  But it’s great!  I pay $15 for half a box every other week (my friend and I each split a $30 box).  This week we got eggplants, apples, onions, cauliflower, lettuce, tomatoes and figs!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Networking is Not My Game

“Where am I?”  I scan my printed directions for the third time to verify the address.  I look at the address on the building again . . . it's the same address.  I consult the directory posted on the wall, searching for the law firm where I was supposed to be five minutes ago . . . it is not there.  I look up and down the empty hallways wondering if maybe someone will know where I am supposed to go.  Finally a woman emerges from the elevator and I manage to corner her and ask if she knows where this law firm is.  She’s never heard of it.  But then a light bulb goes off in her head!  She says “Oh, there are two buildings with this address, the other one is just across the road.”  I thank her graciously and then walk across the street all the while thinking to myself “Who does that?  What brilliant city planner thought that having two different buildings with the same address on opposite sides of a service road would be a good idea?”

Tonight I went to my first law school alumni networking event since graduation four years ago.  I recently decided to attempt to get over my fear of networking and try to improve this skill that I never quite fully developed.  I am not a natural networker; I am who I am.  I know that I am not good at peripheral chit chat.  I am not good at making my work and/or life sound more important than it is without sounding pretentious or like I am bragging.  Whether valid or not, that is what I think of when I think of “networking.” Just the thought of walking into a room full of strangers and acquaintances, knowing I will have to engage in small talk in a noisy, crowded room is enough to make my palms sweat.

I almost didn’t go to the event tonight.  I had already had two business functions during the day – breakfast in Hollywood with a music supervisor and lunch back at the office with some composers/producers.  I was essentially “functioned” out.  The address fiasco was yet another setback in my attempt to “network.”  I also had not realized that the attire requested was “business” attire until half an hour before the event was supposed to start.  Remember, I am an entertainment attorney – not only that, I work in-house for a music company  . . . we are not exactly a buttoned up operation.  Fortunately I had heels in my car to change into so that I wouldn’t have to walk into a room wearing my trusty converse sneakers when everyone else was wearing suits.  The only thing that kept me from backing out was that the new alumni relations director is a friend of mine and she had personally emailed me asking if I could go.  I didn’t want to let her down – otherwise, she might “accidentally” kick me the next time we go to a kickboxing class together (just kidding).

Once there, it was actually a pretty good event.  I saw some faces that I haven’t seen since graduation.  I will say that it was very nice to be able to talk to people in person about what I do and feel like I sort of belonged in the "lawyer" club.  As I am the only attorney in my company, it can get a little lonely.  I was grateful to hear that many other alums have been as bad as I have in relying mostly on facebook to keep up with our old classmates.  In the facebook age, networking in person can seem irrelevant.  You already feel like you know what is going on in a person’s life.  However, I realized through (in person) comments at this event that I tend to post things on facebook that are more relevant to my personal and/or performing life than I do about my professional life.  Perhaps I shall have to change that . . . or maybe I could give this in-person communication thing a try. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sunday Dinner: Boef a La Mode (for cheap)

Today was the first day in a very long time that I posted a blog entry.  I have been following other friends' blogs for awhile and had been thinking that it would be nice to start mine up again.  After poking around here at blogspot today, I realized that they have made it much easier to insert pictures and videos into blog posts.  Back in the old days, you used to have to html a link to a photobucket account, and sometimes, if you were lucky, the photo would actually link and it would appear in the blog entry.  Other times, you just ended up with html gobbledy gook and have to start all over again or just give up.

In honor, of the new ease of photo entry, I am posting pictures of the dinner that I made tonight.  I love to cook, but I hate cooking for just me.  So, now that I am married, and my brother in law is living with us, it gives me an excuse to pull out a cookbook and make a "real" meal on Sunday evenings.  Tonight, I decided to break out the Julia Child cookbook and make Boef a La Mode.  It sounds fancy, and, well, I'm not going to lie, it was definitely time intensive, but it was worth it.  Around10 am this morning, I started by marinating some beef in a concoction of wine, onions, carrots, celery and thyme.  Every couple of hours, I would open up the fridge and turn the meat and baste it a little.  This was the bowl I used for the marinating (and yes, that is a Han Solo bobblehead in the background):

Around 5:30pm, I took the meat out of the marinade and had to dry it on a rack for about 30 minutes:

I browned the meat in a dutch oven and then added the marinade and cooked it at 350 in the oven for about 2 hours.  While it was cooking, I made a salad and roasted some potatoes and made braised carrots (which is really just boiled carrots with some butter added).  Once it was done, we served it with a fantastic wine: good old 2 Buck Chuck Cabernet.

Here is the finished product (my food photography skills probably need some improvement, but you get the idea):

How much did this delicious meal cost, you ask?  Well, it kind of depends on how you want to divide it up.  I had to buy an entire bottle of Brandy and a container of cloves and some beef boulion - but those are all staples that will remain in the kitchen for a long time to come.  On the other hand, I already had some staples, like butter and garlic.  Here are the two alternate calculations for the entire meal (including side dishes of salad and potatoes):

Meat $6.50
Wine $2.00
Bouilon $2.99  (4 tsp used) $0.40
Cloves $3.49  (2 used) $0.05
Brandy $10.00  (1/2 cup) $1.00
Potatoes $3.69  (4 used) $1.47
Lettuce $0.99
Onion $0.79
carrots $0.99
celery $1.99
cucumbers $0.99
parsley $0.99
green bell pepper $0.99
red pepper $1.00

total: $37.40

per person (4 people) $9.35

So, there you have it, a delicious Sunday dinner for 4 people for $5-$10 per person (depending on how you do the calculations).  We didn't have any leftovers, except for a little salad (which I will probably take to work with me tomorrow for lunch).  We had three grown men sitting at a table that had meat and potatoes on it - I knew there wouldn't be any leftovers.  But I am glad it was a success!

September 11

September 11, 2011

“What the bloody hell is going on?”  Those were the first words my British boyfriend at the time said to me as he called me from 6,000 miles away at 9am on September 11, 2001.  Not “hi” or “hello” just “What the bloody hell is going on?”  I had no answer for him.  I had just spent the past hour glued to the TV, jaw gaping, in complete silence as I watched the towers fall.  It was like something out of a movie, not real life.  My entire view of the world had been altered in one single morning.  Even though, I didn’t personally know anyone in the twin towers at the time, and even though I lived on the other side of the country, September 11, 2001 had a huge impact on my life.

Over the summer in 2001, my sister had the opportunity to play in her marching band in the 4th of July parade in Washington, DC.  We made a family trip of it, going to DC and then taking the train up to New York City.  It was only my second time in New York, and I loved it.  We had a blast! We went to several Broadway shows, and did all the tourist attractions, including visiting the World Trade Center.  I have a picture of the twin towers 2 months before they fell.  I remember looking up at them, reaching high into the sky, and thinking “What would they do if there was a fire in one of these buildings?”  Little did I know that, in less than two months, the entire world would soon get the answer to that question.

I was 23 and fresh out of college.  I wanted to be an actress; so obviously, my choices were to move to either New York or LA.  Even though I had a great time on our family trip, I didn’t really know anyone in New York at the time, and my parents grew up in LA, so I had plenty of resources there.  Some family friends offered me a job at their law firm in LA and were letting me stay with them until I decided whether it would a permanent move.  I figured I would probably give LA a try for a year or two and then move to New York and try for Broadway.  September 11 changed all that.

Growing up as a teenager in the 90’s, we didn’t have a “cause” to get behind.  Our parents had the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War, our grandparents had World War II.  What did we have?  Nirvana and the grunge movement; a bunch of pretentious kids who don’t feel like showering and imagining that they are miserable without necessarily having a real reason to be miserable.  Rebelling against the bubble gum pop and neon colors of the 80’s – (insert sarcastic tone here) because that’s something “real” to rebel against. I think it lead to a certain amount of apathy and selfishness on our part.  And then our world was shaken apart in a very real way.  But unlike the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, and World War II, we were now engaging in a “War on Terror” not a war against a specific country or government.  It is very difficult to wage a war on an idea.  This is probably one of the many reasons the focus of the war eventually shifted to Iraq; because it is much easier to go up against a country than an idea, but that’s an entry for another day . . .

Obviously, the idea of me moving to New York any time soon was completely out of the picture.  I had been offered a job as a cocktail waitress at the Century Club the week before September 11.  My first shift was September 13 – after my first night, they told me they no longer needed me because no one felt like going out and partying.  I had a cousin who got married in Vegas less than a week after September 11.  I can remember sitting in the airport with my grandmother.  We were hungry, so stopped at a restaurant to get some food, and there were real forks and spoons, but all the knives were plastic.   My sister and I each took home a centerpiece from the wedding, a potted rose plant, and were nervous that security would take them away because of the thorns on the roses – and the potential for burying something in the dirt in the pot.

One upside was that my British boyfriend came out to visit that October and we went to most of the theme parks in Southern California.  Everyone warned us not to go because “a terrorist might attack Disneyland.”  I refused to be terrorized.  My theory was: if I get killed at a bombing at Disneyland, at least I died having fun at the happiest place on Earth.  There was definitely extra security at the theme parks.  However, as a result of everyone else giving into the terror and staying home, there were hardly any lines and we had a great time.  I don’t blame September 11 for the break down of that relationship, but it definitely was a factor.  September 11 made everyone skittish.  It was hard to commit to anything long term in the immediate aftermath.  No one knew where the world would be or what the economy would do in the days/months/years to follow.  The dot com bubble had already burst, and this was yet another setback in the world economy.  It was very hard to keep up a 6,000 mile long distance relationship with that much world wide uncertainty.

In some ways, it’s hard to believe that it’s already been 10 years.  The feelings are still fresh in my mind.  I haven’t been able to watch the news this week without breaking down in tears.  But at the same time, so much has happened in the years since.  Not just worldwide, but in my own personal life.  I am now happily married, I own a house, I have a cat, who is currently meowing at me because she wants attention.  I didn’t become an actress (at least not full time).  9/11 caused all the production in both New York and LA to come to a screeching halt – which seriously derailed a lot of plans.  It definitely broke my momentum for pursuing that career path.  But at least I ended up in the industry I have always wanted to work in.  I went to law school and now work in entertainment as a music licensing attorney.  I am in the industry I always wanted to work in, and yet I have a steady paycheck, which I definitely would not have had I remained on the actor career path.

The oddest thing to me in all this is knowing that, someday, I will have to explain what the world was like before September 11 to my kids.  I remember, when I was looking at law schools in New York City, I came across the globe-like statue that had been saved from the rubble of the World Trade Center.  I was standing there in front of it reminiscing when a family came up and I overheard the mom explaining to her 2 year old what it was and why it was important.  I have so many friends with kids now and they were telling me that it was difficult explaining to their children who Osama Bin Laden was and why Americans were happy that he is dead.  I guess someday I will have to face explanations like that myself.  In the mean time, I think I will take today and just remember what it was like before the world changed.