0522 Ode to Sam’s French Toast

There are many Champaign institutions for which we’ve found acceptable substitutes.  OK, maybe not many.  A few.  Having Buzz down the street made up for the lack of Cafe Miels from Kopi.  The fried stuff and beer at the Galaxy Hut more than made up for the loss of fried stuff and beer at the Esquire, though they’re totally different animals. But there’s no replacing this:


Sam’s French toast, originally uploaded by Tiger_Bee.

Sam’s French toast is the stuff of dreams.  It’s basically the perfect diner breakfast.  I know that by saying this, I’m risking losing some of my local food cred. But Sam’s French toast is amazing.  And there’s no replacement.

You’d think that some other diner would be able to figure this stuff out.  I mean, take a couple of slices of white bread – the more commercial and generic, the better.  Dip them in pancake batter – probably batter made from a box mix that can be bought in bulk at GFS.  Slap it on the griddle until it’s toasted golden, then top with cinnamon sugar and a small lake of imitation maple syrup.

You wouldn’t think it’d be that hard to duplicate.  You probably also wouldn’t think it’d be so damned good that this weekend I tried to write a song about it to the tune of Julia.  But seriously, guys, this is the best French toast on the planet.

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0521 Champaign Bars

Oh Champaign, I have missed you.  And you apparently have missed me, as within five minutes of parking our car, I saw someone I knew from my Aroma days.

We were in town for Darren and Hannah’s wedding – Shane’s first trip back since we moved in 2007 – and kicked off our trip with a visit to the Esquire.  $5 for a pitcher of PBR!  It’s not good beer, but it is exceptionally cheap beer, and we split it while catching up with people at Symposium.  Some things never change – if it’s a warm summer night, GSLIS folks will be found on a patio, and DocD will be alternating between coffee and white wine.

Blind Pig Brewery
photo by HorsePunchKid

With our alcohol blankets firmly in place, we wandered over to the Piglet, the new Blind Pig brewery.  The original Blind Pig was voted one of the top 50 places to drink beer in the country, so we had high hopes.  I really enjoyed my cider, while Shane was less satisfied with his APA – good, but nothing to write home about.  The new space is great, though, and if we were still in town, I could see us hanging out there all the time.

And then….the diner.  The first place we hung out, and the last place we hung out before we started dating:

shane, e & camera

There were no diner stacks tonight – or hangover horseshoes.  Just good old diner fare and the bondage toilet:

Bondage toilet in bathroom at the Merry Ann's Diner in downtown Champaign
photo by benchilada

Like I said, some things never change.

0520 Spinach Frittata

We’re on the cusp of summer right now, halfway between the austerity of winter vegetables and the abundance right around the corner.  Around this time of year, my thinking about food gets all muddled up.  In the colder months, we fall into a routine of planning meals, then going to the grocery store with our carefully composed list.  There are almost always impulse buys, but we come home with the fixings for a week’s worth of meals and maybe a little extra to throw in the freezer.  Come summer, though, our crisper overflows with whatever’s available at the market – which isn’t to say that we don’t plan in advance, but we’re definitely more prone to improvisation.

Over the last couple of years, frittatas have become key to getting through excess market produce.  If we participated in a CSA, I can only imagine that our frittata consumption would be exponentially higher.  Tonight’s frittata was made with the mysterious spinach-like greens from our garden and enriched with a handful of shredded cheddar cheese.  Many of the recipes you’ll find online call for 5-8 eggs, but I’ve found that 4-5 are plenty for the two of us for a quick dinner.  If we’re entertaining or want to have leftovers for lunch, I’ll use more eggs and veg, and will serve with bread and/or a salad.

My rough frittata recipe for two is as follows:

1 tablespoon butter, plus more for sauteeing if necessary
4-5 large eggs, whisked together
1 medium onion
1-2 cups of whatever vegetables you have on hand, chopped (spinach, asparagus, more onions, garlic, kale, chard, broccoli, tomatoes, zucchini, summer squash, peppers, etc – you get the idea)
1/2 cup shredded or crumbled cheese (cheddar, mozzarella, swiss, gruyere, goat, feta – anything that melts well)

Special equipment: oven and stovetop-safe pan

Preheat the broiler.  Melt the butter in your pan, swirling around to coat the bottom and sides.  Sautee your veg until tender, then pour the whisked eggs over the top.  When the eggs are just set, top with your cheese, then transfer to the broiler and broil until golden.

Serve from the pan or, if you’re fancy and careful, flip out onto a plate and serve at the table.

Knees and Grace

I went running after work yesterday on already sore knees, and within half a mile, I had to stop.  The hills hurt too much.  I walked until I found a relatively flat route, and then put in almost two miles before I had to quit altogether.  I walked the rest of the distance home, arriving drenched in sweat and on the verge of angry sobs.  I hate feeling out of control.  I hate that I might not be able to do my first 10K in two weeks.  I hate that I have to admit that something might actually be wrong with my knees.  I turned the fan on full bore and stood in front of it in my sports bra, feeling terribly sorry for myself.

And then I read this:

— — — — — — — — — — — —

Rob Brezsny’s Astrology Newsletter – May 26, 2010

CAPRICORN (Dec. 22-Jan. 19): You’re not living in Iraq or Sudan or the Congo, and you don’t have to walk five miles a day with a jug on your head to fetch the water you need, and you’re not so bereft of food that you have to resort to eating worms and tree bark. So how bad could your problems be? The single best thing you can do to start fixing your life’s small glitches is to feel waves of gratitude for how many resources you have and how lucky you are. The second best thing would be to aggressively take your worried attention off yourself and turn your mind toward people who could really benefit from your help. As you carry out those two assignments, your dilemmas will begin to solve themselves as if by magic.

— — — — — — — — — — — —

I want my life to be full of the sort of grace that comes from aggressively taking my worried attention off myself, and turning my mind toward others.

On Becoming an Aunt

Perhaps someone should write What to Expect When Your Sibling is Expecting. I don’t know what I was expecting with regards to my sister giving birth, but it certainly wasn’t this:

Waves of every single emotion at once. Waiting by the phone.  Obsessively reloading her Facebook profile in hopes of news, and now in hopes of photos of the little guy that we don’t get to meet for another few weeks. Happiness. Jealousy, not because I don’t have a baby of my own, but because her family now includes a perfect little boy, because she has experienced things I haven’t experienced and can’t understand. Sadness that we don’t live closer, that I won’t be able to be a more regular part of his life.  Wondering what my role will be in his life.  Relief and thankfulness that everyone came through (and out) OK.  Getting choked up at the DMV watching mothers accompanying teen sons who are getting their permits.  Getting choked up at pictures of my dad holding my nephew, so similar to pictures of my dad holding me – the joy on his reserved face.   Realizing that I am the same age now as my beloved aunt was when I was born, and hoping that I can be as special and wonderful to my nephew as she has been to me.  Wishing I could do more to help.  Love.  So much love.

Despite all of the anticipation and backlash about the LOST finale, I woke up feeling just fine about it. There were a lot of questions that weren’t answered that drove me crazy last night. There were dropped threads, missed connections, and continuity problems out the wazoo. The ending was unsatisfying and more than a little too convenient.

But maybe in the end that’s what it was all about? That the best we can hope for is peace and happiness, that our lives mattered, and that we will be reunited with those that we loved and lost? And the worst we can imagine is the absence of those things, isolation, fearful monsters, and a constant battle against real and imaginary adversaries?

I don’t know that the ending could’ve been any better or worse than it actually was. And maybe that makes us all suckers for wanting to believe?

What I’m mostly thinking about right now, though, is our shared desire to make sense of things by telling stories. And I kind of love that this will be LOST’s legacy for me.

Making the Magic Happen

I still don’t know how much credence I give to these things, but the last two Astrology Newsletters have really resonated with me and where I am right now – emphasis below is mine.

Rob Brezsny’s Astrology Newsletter – May 12, 2010

CAPRICORN (Dec. 22-Jan. 19): These days you have an extraordinary capacity to perform magic. And when I use that word “magic,” I mean it in a very specific sense: causing practical changes to occur in accordance with your most noble and beautiful desires. I’m not talking about the kind of “magic” that helps you gratify mediocre wishes or tawdry fantasies. I’m not saying you should go on an acquisitive binge as you gather up booty and bragging points. Rather I’m letting you know that you have the power to create inspiring transformations in the way your life works.

May 19, 2010

CAPRICORN (Dec. 22-Jan. 19): “Is Fast Food Too Tempting?” read a headline in *The Week* magazine. The accompanying article discussed whether people have the right to blame and even sue McDonald’s and Burger King for their health problems. In my opinion, we might as well add other allegedly appealing poisons to the discussion. “Is heroin too tempting?” “Is cheating on your lover or spouse too tempting?” “Is watching TV five hours a day too tempting?” I hope you’re seeing where I’m going with this, Capricorn. The coming weeks will be a good time to take personal responsibility for any supposedly fun activity you’re doing that warps your character or saps your energy. It’s prime time to end your relationship with stuff that’s bad for you.

0519 Tempeh Sloppy Joes

I’m not going to lie to you.  Tonight’s dinner was better in concept than in execution.  Tempeh, when prepared well, is savory, nutty, and delicious.  When prepared poorly, it’s nutty and BORING and kind of a chore to eat.  This recipe fell somewhere in between.  It was the sort of dinner that I would’ve been proud of had I made it up from scratch, but as it was a published recipe, I’m not sure what to think.

We had a smaller package of tempeh on hand than was required for the recipe, so I scaled everything back, resulting in not enough sauce for too much tempeh.  Oh, and the sauce?  Totally bland.  So I added more vinegar.  And tomato paste.  And ketchup.  And a whole lot of hot sauce.  And then it started to approach palatable.

Maybe the problem was that I didn’t make the coleslaw?  Entirely possible – but then the focus of the dish really shifts off the tempeh, and then what’s the point?  We piled our sloppy joes with more of the weekend’s pickled onions, which provided a nice tangy crunch, and had some steamed vegetables on the side.  Shane’s going to have the leftovers tomorrow, and then I think we’ll disavow all knowledge of this dish.

Recipe:
Tempeh Sloppy Joes from Cooking Light

Some Thoughts On Running Home From Work

Things I Do Not Like About Running Home From Work

  1. The amount of crap I have to carry with me:
    • keys: even with removing the keys I don’t use on a daily basis, I still have 3 for the office and 1 for home.
    • wallet: even with removing the stuff I don’t use on a daily basis, I still have driver’s license, debit card, MCard, and cash.
    • phone
  2. The amount of crap I leave at the office which I then have to carry home on another day:
    • Work clothes
    • Lunch bag and coffee mug
    • Day planner
  3. The first mile is on campus and downtown, where I get stuck behind strollers and other slow-moving pedestrians. The last mile is all uphill.
  4. I arrive home to hungry and annoying cats who need attention immediately when I really just want to sit down and cool off for 15 minutes
  5. It’s hard to think about making dinner etc when I’m sweaty and tired and just want to put fuel in my body.
  6. I’m tired from being in the office for 8 hours, which doesn’t bode well for a quality run.

Things I Do Like About Running Home From Work

  1. It’s convenient, both in terms of time and distance.
  2. It’s faster than taking the bus or walking.
  3. I don’t have to get motivated to run later in the evening.

0518 Spontaneous Soup

Like last night, it was unseasonably cold and rainy tonight – a good night for a simple but filling soup and for sitting on the couch.  While Shane ran a few errands, I sauteed onions, garlic,  and a leftover sausage in a bit of butter, then added chicken stock and simmered the whole thing with a couple of handfuls of white rice.  Just before serving, I tossed in some fresh spinach and let it wilt while warming up leftover dinner rolls from this weekend.

I imagine we won’t have many more nights like this for a few months, so it was good to enjoy a last cold weather meal – and then some (kind of miraculous) PRETZEL M&Ms later during LOST.  That’s right: pretzel. m&m’s.  Pretty ridiculous if you ask me.