9pm dinner for two: I made a lovely steak.

Izzy came over again and I made a steak.  A perfect steak, really.  This is what I did: defrosted a rib-eye in the fridge overnight.  Made a marinade that I invented in my head: juice from half a lemon, olive oil, 1 small shallot and 2 cloves garlic plus chili powder, salt, pepper, and a little bit of cumin.  Marinated on a plate for about half an hour before pan frying about 4-5 minutes each side (covering the steak for the last 1 minutes on each side).  It was perfectly medium and delicious (the lemon juice added a nice tang!).

That weird blue sheen is from my TV.  I also sauteed some kohlrabi with garlic, and Izzy made tomatoes and eggs, a very traditional Chinese dish that her mom made all the time for her.  We ate it with rice.  It was yum.

Foodie Tuesday: Head Cheese

In a phrase, it's meat jello.  Mmm, right?

As evidenced by the photo above, head cheese is not a cheese at all, but rather a cold cut made of all the parts of an animal (cow, pig) that you don't normally want to eat, suspended in aspic (or jelly, traditionally made by boiling the head of an animal, brains/eyes removed, to produce a stock that would contain natural gelatin from the skull), and sliced.  A peasant food, no doubt. It might also include feet, tongue, and heart, and is usually flavored with onion, peppercorns, allspice, bay leaf, salt and vinegar.

I first encountered head cheese at Safeway of all places, right there next to the braunschweiger and salami.  I was horrified, and I'm not only relatively fearless meat eater, but also Chinese.  And you know what they say about Chinese - we'll eat anything on four legs that isn't a table, and anything on two legs that isn't a plane.  But this head cheese was really something else.  And with a name like 'head cheese,' which sounds like a euphemism for 'brains,' it didn't exactly encourage me to try it.

Then I realized that I have probably already eaten a variation on head cheese, in the form of cold cuts in Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches.  Along with "pork roll," which is also pretty much all the parts of the animal you don't normally want to eat, ground up and pressed into cold cut format.  And then I thought, well, how is head cheese any more disgusting than, say, a hot dog or a chicken nugget?  Just because you can actually still see what the meat product is made of since it hasn't been processed beyond all recognition?

The answer, of course, is that head cheese is NOT more disgusting.  In fact, it is less processed and thus 'safer' in that you sort of know what's going into it.  As opposed to the hot dog or chicken nugget, which contains heaven-knows-what including bones, beaks, eyeballs, membranes of all sorts.  Blech.  I think i just threw up a little bit in my mouth.

Japanese product design is the best.

I went to Daiso (the Japanese $1.50 store) today for the first time in a long time.  I went in with a couple of specific things I wanted to buy, and walked out with all that and more.  I love how the Japanese have invented something for every little common problem we face, from butter that won't spread easily to ramen noodles that won't cool fast enough.  We westerners have come to accept certain inconveniences in our everyday lives, but the Japanese say, there must be a better way!

The two things I really needed were 1) driving gloves, because I realize my hands are aging horridly and they get way more sun exposure than most other parts of my body, and 2) tiny containers.  I had tried to find tiny tupperware at Target the other day, to no avail.  You don't really realize how much you need tiny tupperware until you actually buy it.  All those little half-handfuls of nuts you can't finish, or three bites of rice you didn't want to throw away, or berries, or few spoonfuls of sauces you put a lot of work into and can't bring yourself to throw away, can finally find a home until they are ready to be consumed again.  
My most immediate problem is the one of taking salad in to work.  Because what are you going to do, lug an entire bottle of salad dressing every day?  Leave a bottle in the work refrigerator (only to have it thrown out mercilessly by your office manager at the end of the week, even if you weren't done with it)?  I actually don't like to buy pre-mixed salad dressing, but prefer to mix my own white wine vinegar with olive oil and salt/pepper to make a simple vinaigrette, but trying to do this for lunch at work would mean taking in TWO GLASS BOTTLES plus whatever herbs I'm using.  Or, I could mix a small amount at home, only to carry it in a tupperware container which inevitably leaks and leeches olive oil all over my lunch bag.  This has been a conundrum for months.
Enter: the dressing bottle from Daiso, a set of three small (like the size of hotel shampoo bottles), very flexible/squeezable little containers with screw-on caps that form enough of a seal to prevent oil-and-vinegar leakage.  They are the perfect size for the tiny amounts of salad dressing I use for one lunchtime serving.  I am so excited to try this out next week.  I heart Japanese product designers.
Other fun (and, I think, ingenious) inventions, like the butter stick (seriously, I hate how hard it is to spread cold butter on toast!):
Ramen fan that hooks onto your chopsticks to cool down noodles as you eat them:
Full-body umbrella for the kind of rain you sometimes get, that comes in every direction and gets your pant legs wet:
And of course, the "boyfriend pillow," to cure those lonely nights:

Dear Kotex: I heart you, but do I really need to feel so "edgy" about my feminine hygiene products?

Bless your souls, Kotex Marketing Team, for keeping third wave feminism alive and well.  As a feminist and firm believer in equal rights for men and women, I should applaud the neo-neo-feminist angle on your U by Kotex marketing campaign.  As Kotex marketing director Aida Flick declared, we need to stop hiding behind "feminine care euphemisms like vajayjay and hooha, the very things that represent the barriers facing young women today."  Yes, I agree.  People, not just men, are entirely too uncomfortable with words like "vagina," "menstruation," and even just "I'm on my period."

My friends and I are guilty as charged, saying things to each other like "I'm exploding right now,"or "My good friend TOM is visiting (Time-Of-the-Month)."  We are in fact the target audience for this campaign.  And I sure loved this super-savvy ad when I first saw it on network TV:
My favorite parts:
  • "I'm a believably attractive 18-24 year old female."
  • "You can relate to me because I'm racially ambiguous."
  • "Don't all these angles make me seem dynamic?"
The thing is, something about the new campaign doesn't sit quite well with me.  Maybe because it's just manipulating me in another direction: trying to make me feel smart, in-the-know, and smug, like part of this cool, hip club.  Not to mention the super cool, hip, and edgy branding and packaging of the product itself: slick black cardboard, housing ultra thin pads wrapped in an array of loud neon plastic.  For anyone who's ever visited the feminine hygiene aisle at their local mass retailer, you'll know this kind of packaging sticks out among the sickly sweet pastels of the other brands.
But what about the product itself?
That's what I really want to know, because honestly, even as a feminist, I have to say all this talk about "empowering women" is getting stale.  It's so 2001 (the year I first saw Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues, which I'll admit changed my life).  And it's starting to sound a lot like whining.  I find it hard to whine about the "glass ceiling" when I work for a company in which 2 of the 3 most powerful people are women - we have a female president and a female Chief Technology Officer.  Let me say that again in plain words: a woman, in charge.  Of like 200 engineers, most of them men.  Do these women complain about "glass ceilings" and "sexism"?  No - they simply get the job done, and produce awesome work while they're at it.  When they say they don't think about gender at my company, I believe them.  If I'm really going to be a feminist, I'm not going to just sit back and object loudly while the men around me work towards their promotions.
Anyway, I saw the U product today at Target.  It was hidden sort of to the side, and I almost missed it, staring at the shelves looking for my usual favorite product.  I bought these today for a few reasons:
  • My usual favorite pads actually are by Kotex.  I remember I was once a victim Always marketing, thinking they were the last word in pads.  One day during college I realized I hated my Always pads because that "Dri-Weave" that was supposed to make them so awesome was actually really uncomfortable.  It was my roommate Wendy who turned me on to Kotex, which I would never have looked at twice otherwise because I'd never heard of them (guess their marketing team wasn't so strong back then).  I remember when I converted - it was like seeing the light, and I have never gone back. 
  • They didn't have my usual favorite pads in stock today.  I guess because Kotex is replacing them with the U line, and I sure as heck wasn't going to give Always another try.
  • I gotta admit I was attracted to the slick packaging. Especially the bright neon colors!  I often judge a book by its cover.
  • I wanted to see what the hullabaloo was all about.  I know it's a fallacy to equate quality of the marketing with quality of the actual product, but I just had to find out what was it about this product that launched a thousand, or at least one very smug, but funny marketing campaign.
Having just finished a cycle, I'll have to wait another 35 days to try these out (yeah, I'm on a 5-week cycle) and see if they live up to the hype.  Poking around YouTube, I found some more interesting videos the Kotex team put out.  
At first I feel lucky to be surrounded by men who are much more enlightened and understanding than the ones in this clip.  But then I realize I don't really like the message this video is shoving down our throats, because objectively speaking, it's kind of unreasonable and obnoxious to expect anyone, men or women, to feel comfortable buying something that a stranger is going to put between her legs.  I mean really, if some dude off the street asked me to buy an equivalent product for him (I dunno guys, a pair of boxers?), I'd think he was downright creepy.
Disclaimer: I should hope this was obvious, but just because I consider myself a feminist does NOT mean that I hate men!  Au contraire, we need more true men in this world.

So who else is rooting for Mike Chang, aka Glee's “Other Asian," to break his silence?

I mean, have you ever heard him speak a full sentence in all 19 episodes?  And have you ever seen anything as delightful as the tap dance number between Glee characters Mike Chang and Tina Cohen-Chang?  Ew, I just realized they have the same last name, sort of. Guess that coupling is never going to happen.  

It's too bad, because even though Tina's supposed to be with Artie, she had about 100x more chemistry with Mike in that 3-minute dance number than she's had with Artie in the last 19 episodes.  And it's not because Artie's in a wheelchair.  It's because their personalities are so awkward together.  And Harry Shum Jr., who plays Mike Chang, is really such a better dancer (he's appeared in the triumvirate of modern street dance movies: Step Up 2: The Streets, You Got Served, and Stomp the Yard).
I just spent about the last hour playing the dance sequence over and over again, so charmed was I.  You can catch the full episode ("Dream On") on Hulu, of course.  The good news is, having shone in this episode, Mike Chang will get more of a storyline in future episodes!

Sunday 8pm dinner for two

My cousin and I made the most delicious food for dinner tonight: risotto alla primavera (i.e. spring greens risotto) and a simple grilled rib eye steak.  I'd never made risotto before in my life, but my cousin showed me how to do it:

  • Chopped shallots and leeks
  • 2 c. arborio rice
  • A bit of white wine
  • 6-7 c. chicken broth
  • Asparagus
  • Fava beans (so labor intensive but soooo worth it!)
  • Yellow crookneck squash
  • Crimini mushrooms
  • Butter
  • Parmesan cheese
The results were so creamy and flavorful, I swear I'll never order risotto in a restaurant again (like I'll never order butternut squash ravioli).  My cousin also made me try some of her fresh garbanzo beans, which she had personally shelled while watching TV last night, then sauteed in some olive oil with salt and pepper.  The flavor and texture of these little green beans was outstanding!