A Look Ahead: 2011

2010 is officially over now. I’ve been meaning to talk to you about it for months, but life got in the way. It’ll be a bit more concise now. Lucky you.

If the second half of 2010 had a theme, it was Challenge is the New Black. A couple of months ago something snapped and I realized that who I think I am isn’t set in stone and even though I’m 33, I can still redefine the things about myself that I’m not down with. Continue reading A Look Ahead: 2011

Not-LIve Blogging: Top Chef 5.13

Again with the Not-Live Blogging thing?

Yep. I had enough fun doing Grey’s and kept wanting to do it while watching Heroes (but didn’t because i suspect the constant pausing would have driven Ryan a wee bit crazy), that I’m doing it again.

This time, I’m doing Top Chef Season 5 Episode 13 – the first part of the New Orleans finale (the bulk of the show was shot in and around New York City). I’m not too far behind as Top Chef was on last night and most of the chatty blogs are just now putting up their reviews and quizzes and such, so the live is a bit less dead. It’s possible you even still remember what happened last night.

Before we begin, here’s a brief introduction to how I feel about the 4 contestants left after 12 episodes:

Stefan: I do not like this man. I want to slap him. Is it the show editing him to look like the Most Arrogant Man Ever, or is it who he is? I don’t want him to win. But. He’s clearly very good. He’s very well-rounded (has he ever come across a challenge he didn’t have experience with?), and a lot of what he makes I’d want to eat. So, since this is neither Top Scallop nor Top Nice Guy, the smart bet is on him, and I think that’s okay.

Hosea: He was my favorite for a while, if only because he seemed most likely to beat Stefan, but then all that Leah stuff happened. According to her a lot of that was blown out of proportion, but it was clear that he was letting his relationship with her pull focus from doing his best, and that’s not what a winner does. I suspect he’ll be second place, and only take first if Stefan makes a serious misstep in the last challenge.

Carla: Man, I do not know about this woman. I was shocked she managed to get this far, with how loopy and erratic she’s been with her dishes. She’s growing on me, though, as interviews have stopped being about how crazy she is and are now about how much she knows about making good food. I am very glad she’s in New Orleans instead of Leah. I don’t think she’ll make it to the top 2 though, but I think she has a greater chance of making it to the top 3.

Fabio: I have had a huge change of heart on him. At first, when it seemed like he was just as much of an arrogant prick as Stefan, I did not like him. Now, though, he’s kind of adorable, and in retrospect, I can see why he would have allied himself with the “other European”, and also why the show would have made a big deal about it. Teams are good for ratings. I suspect he’s going home today, though. He’s just too inconsistent and aside from Carla, the others aren’t.

I could spend another few hundred words chatting about the judges and the host and the past contestants, but I think you’ll pick up anything else that might be relevant while I’m blogging. Here we go!

0:00 I’m skipping the recap, k? (not skipping, just not blogging)

0:00 i lied. I hate that Tom said “I don’t want to be embarrassed” to the chefs last week. I cannot stand how negative and mean he is to these people. It’s not a good motivator. Kthxbye.

0:02 Fabio has a mohawk! I love how some people’s looks change so drastically when they get to finale episodes. (and Carla’s hair is flat!)

0:02 I am not a feminist. I don’t see why having 2 women win in a row is so note worthy. I also didn’t understand when Carla said she was rooting for Leah because having 2 women in the final was going to be so great. Leah was a crummy chef. I wouldn’t have wanted to compete with her in the final over someone worthy, regardless of her sexy parts.

0:03 and that face-slap thing that Stefan always does to Hosea? It looks like Hosea wants to deck him afterwards every time. …or maybe I’m just projecting.

0:04 Dear Hosea: stop telling everyone you’ve never been here. We’re all interpreting it as “I’m totally screwed and going home first.”

0:04 Emeril? Really? Sigh. That’s such an obvious choice.

0:05 Padma looks like she’s struggling to remember her lines. Maybe the fact that she can’t do a voice-over later is making her nervous. (Also, doesn’t it look like Emeril’s not really there? The pause in the cuts between Padma’s and his lines seem harsh.)

0:06 YAY! Jamie and Jeff are back! (they were some of my favs). Oh, and Leah. yay.

0:06 I was going to comment on how much I loved Fabio’s face during his cut-scene, but before I could hit pause, Leah just goofed like crazy and turned my stomach. Can she go now?

0:07 I agree with Hosea. Letting one of these guys back in seems like cheating and diminishes the accomplishments of the top 4. I can’t help but wonder if there was some sort of shenanigans behind the scenes (like someone’s pitching a fit over how/why they got eliminated) that is the source of this.

0:08 An hour and the crawfish aren’t even cooked or shelled yet? Leah is so screwed! (hurrah)

0:08 “I’ve never made a gumbo before.” tee hee.

okay, we’re pausing to talk about gumbo for a second. I know that Carla somehow magically pulled it off (or did she pull back at the last minute and call it a soup?), but you can’t make gumbo in a hour. Plus, gumbo is such a “family secret” recipe, that everyone who cares about is very opinionated about how to do it right. I wouldn’t touch that dish in a competition where Emeril is a judge.

0:09 out of all the dishes being prepared, Jamie’s is the only one that sounds Top Chef worthy.

0:10 Calling it a crawfish soup was a smart call on Leah’s part. Damn.

0:11 Tossing a single boiled crawfish on the side of the dish was a smart move on Jamie’s part. There’s just something about that “plus one unshelled crawfish” garnish that says New Orleans food to me. Also, begrudgingly admitting that Jeff’s looks pretty tasty too. Unless there’s something spectacular about Leah’s dish that nobody’s commenting on, I think i’ll be happy with whoever the 5th contestant is. (shenannigans aside)

(was that the first commercial break?)

0:16 Yay Jeff! If he can stay focused and not be all over the place with too many ideas (his problem in the regular competition), he’s my new #3, possibly even #2.

0:16 Damn. Curve ball. He has to win the next challenge to stay. Nevermind. He’s going home today.

0:17 Emeril has a new book out? You don’t say!

0:18 pssst! Korbel.

0:19 The shot of Hosea and Stefan sitting right next to each other is funny. They look like twins. They’re even dressed alike. Also, I’m getting tired of Hosea whining about Stefan. Almost to the point of rooting for Stefan. …Almost.

0:21 Okay, I’m confused. This can’t be the annual masquerade ball for the Orpheus Krewe unless there’s an “annual ball” that is not on Mardi Gras weekend as well (that’s this upcoming weekend, yo). I don’t speak New Orleans Mardi Gras that well, though, so I may be wrong. Or they’re “lying” like they did with the 12 days of Christmas challenge, which was sometime in August.

0:21 Oh Hosea, you’re never going to win if you think that Creole, Cajun, and Soul Food are all the same thing. They’re similar, sure, but I hope you studied well enough to know the key differences.

0:22 I wish i would have started counting the references to Emeril’s restaurant by it’s unnecessary.

(wow, there was a pointless bit of show stuck between two giant commercial breaks. i hate that.)

0:31 Hosea’s plan looks like a good one, assuming he knows what Creole gumbo is like (I think it’s the one with tomatoes in it. I know that’s the key “don’t f*ck this up or you’ll be chased out of town difference between Creole and Cajun gumbo. One has tomatoes and the other Does Not.)

0:31 Hrm, we glossed right over Carla’s menu to listen to her drama with the oysters. Beignets sound like a fabulous idea. Not so sure about the non-alcoholic spritzer, but it sounds like something she would do (that is, consider the folks that aren’t being well represented).

0:31 Stefan’s beignet needs to be way more interesting than just “apple”. Duck and Rabbit is probably a good interesting-but-traditional bet. Damn him. I’m worried that cocktail might be too sweet, unless the beignet is more savory.

0:31 Jeff’s menu: I think frying oysters to order is going to bite him. He’s making his own sausage, with andouille sausage right there? It had better out-andouille andouille, then. I would eat a crawfish pot de creme. I’m not sure a cucumber mojito goes with that, but it might be a very light refreshing taste after all that spice and flavor. Or nobody will be able to taste it because their mouths are on fire.

0:32 Fabio’s menu looks over-thought. I wonder if something will get cut. That having been said, i think it might be my favorite. Although I don’t know the details of Carla’s since we didn’t talk about that. Bell Pepper Martini? Yes Please!

0:33 Someone’s roux is going to die, right? Please? I don’t care if it’s Stefan’s because he’s neglecting it, or Hosea’s because he’s too busy thinking about Stefan.

0:34 Dear Tom: I have a limited time to make my food. Unless chatting with you does not count towards that time – get the hell out of my kitchen. Kthxbye.

0:34 That apple beignet is dessert. It had better be flawless. I don’t think it’s going to go well with a super-sweet cocktail.

0:36 Glad Tom’s talking about how important and difficult making roux is.

0:36 Glade Glade Glade! (they’re the least obnoxious product placement, so i’Im mostly teasing).

0:37 So Carla’s making Oyster Stew, but she doesn’t have all the Oysters shucked yet and it’s time to go to the catering site? I do not think that’s going to go well. Stew needs to stew and she’s got an hour left.

0:37 Ack! She’s made the stew but hasn’t put the oysters in it yet?! How will they soak up the flavor and not taste like a soup with a few oysters sprinkled on top?!

0:38 Go Carla and your drink!

0:39 Yay! The icky English judge is gone and Gail is back!

0:40 “Better than the other gumbo?” Man, you’re a d*ck!

0:45 Jeff’s food looks tasty for me! Mojito looks a little too thick, though.

0:46 Stefan’s beignet looks really good (he does desserts well without being all freaked out about being labeled a dessert chef like everyone else). His gumbo looks about 80% grits and 20% gumbo. I hope that’s just the fancy picture version because they ran out of gumbo at the end of the night. I would be seriously disappointed if I was served that.

0:47 (just before everyone eats Fabio’s food) I’m glad he’s confident and not stressed. I hope that means his food is worthy, too. I don’t want him to go home just yet. (I’m thinking Hosea right now. His whininess is annoying)

0:48 Fabio’s reviews were good, but they commented on the lack of heat. I hope that doesn’t bite him. I can see them editing downplaying the importance of that that now, so they can slam it at us (and him) later. I hate that the editors play games.

0:48 Dear Carla: This is not that crappy movie (that I secretly love) with Buffy and Young Indiana Jones and her emotions translate into the food. Your food does not taste better to other people because you love it.

0:48 That beignet looks fabulous! (Using Emeril’s sauce, though. Will that get her in trouble, or get her a kick-back for pimping the sponsor, erm, I mean guest judge? Probably both, that way they can talk about it more.) Heh. Tom just tossed back at Emeril a “There you go” about it.

0:48 Looks like Carla’s shaping up to be the winner (didn’t she win the Superbowl challenge with gumbo? Girl definitely knows her southern food stuff.) That means Jeff and someone else are out. WIll it be Hosea or Fabio?

0:50 Hosea’s gumbo is spot-on. Guess that means non-spicy Fabio is out?

0:51 Pre judges table predictions: Fabio and Jeff are out. Carla wins by a nose because while Hosea was perfectly accurate, Carla beats him for adding her personal touch (unless this week they want perfectly accurate and not your personal touch, in which case Hosea).

It’s always hard to tell, though, since they only show you want they want to. They blew by everyone’s immediate reactions Stefan’s food, which may make him the dark horse.

0:52 Nobody makes light roux unless they don’t know what they’re doing, Stefan :)

0:53 Really hate the pre-commercial previews of what’s happening in 90 seconds. If you think I need that to keep me watching or excited, you need a better show. Plus, they’re almost always intentionally misleading. (looks like Stefan’s in trouble though – squee!)

0:56 Bonus point to Jeff for calling it a “mudbug bisque” without sounding like he was trying to say “see? I know about crawfish!”

0:57 Bonus point, too, for the “winners make their own sausage” dig, too. (Although that seems a little petty).

0:57 Yeah, Fabio’s going home. The drink wasn’t right, either.

0:58 Bonus point to Fabio for taking his criticism quietly. That had been a problem, previously.

0:59 I hate when they start off with “How did you feel about your dishes?” It’s a trap either way. You have to own up to your mistakes if there was something glaring before they do, or you have to be perfectly confident if they didn’t notice anything. Poor Carla, she’s the easiest to knock off her game with that, too.

0:59 SEE!? There was nothing wrong. Meanies.

1:00 Post-Judges table, pre judges discussion prediction: Jeff and Fabio going home (maaaaybe Stefan instead, but I think he’s a stronger chef and they’ll want him in the finale). Hosea’s roux was flawless and his complicated fish thing was surprisingly good. I think that pushes him over Carla. Wonder if there will be any surprises when the judges discuss.

1:01My dvr seems to be having issues. I don’t know what Gail’s saying.

1:04 Called it on Stefan’s cocktail being too sweet. Am proud of me.

1:04 The judges aren’t being fair. I think Stefan cares. I think that’s what an arrogant prick looks like when he thinks he might be beat. He got snapped at for arguing with a judge a few weeks back, so this is his other option.

1:05 Sound cuts out while the judges summarize their thoughts and they show the competitors. lame.

1:05 Final thoughts pre-elimination: Fabio and Jeff on the bottom. Hosea on the top. Stefan will get a serious lashing from Tom about his attitude, but in the end, there was nothing wrong with his dish, unlike Fabio’s. If Jeff had won, Stefan would be going home instead. Hosea wins because of the roux and the quality of his fish.

1:09 So glad they’re mostly positive this week. Oh, wait. Emeril sounds like he’s going with Carla.

1:09 Yay Carla! (although really, I think she’s lucking out that they’ve switched to southern cuisine)

1:11 I’m a bit sad to see Jeff go, but he doesn’t deserve to be in the finale.

1:12 Wow. The differences in their game faces are incredible. Stefan almost looks like he’s going to be sick and Fabio is already bracing himself for the bad news.

1:13 Yep. Fabio. He was probably the weakest over all, so that makes sense.

And that’s a wrap!

Carla, Hosea, and Stefan in the final. I think I want Carla to win now. It’s possible she’s a fabulous chef under all that crazy (what with the classic French training and all those incredible southern techniques), and an entire episode with Hosea looking over his shoulder at Stefan and Stefan being all cocky and stuff sounds so boring. It’s likely that Stefan has gotten a proper kick and not assume he’s winning. Or he’ll shut down completely because he doesn’t think he can win. The preview suggests the last challenge is going to be cooking their ideal 3 course meal. It seems like Carla does better than anyone else when she’s doing something she loves (gumbo, peas), so who knows what will happen. If anyone’s going to mess that gig up, it’ll be Hosea, trying to out-think everyone and do something special (and then bork it up).

We shall see next week!

post-edit note: I was thinking of Cajun vs. Creole jambalaya (not gumbo) with my “one has tomatoes, one doesn’t” comment. Am embarrassed but did not delete it, because that’s what this is about.

the ghost of lobster dinners past

1993: as near as i can figure, lobster dinners started christmas of my junior year of high school. the original guests included my parents and me. the menu has changed little since that first meal: lobster, baked potato, and a salad, although the salad dropped off in the early 2000’s because it just got in the way of the lobster, and wine became a more prominent component once i reached legal-ish age. the dinners were designed as a way to welcome in the christmas season by taking a moment to be thankful and grateful as well as serve as a collective “introverted” moment for the immediate family. our extended family (which had grown crazier over the years) would soon be upon us, bringing with them all the stress and drama that turned the three of us into angry little balls of crankiness that we usually “spared” our family from by taking it out on each other. lobster dinner was just us and something to look forward to while we were preparing for anything else.

1998: 1998 was a big year of change for the dinners. the first guest at lobster dinner happened out of necessity. although there was some brief talk of making my new boyfriend sit in the other room while we feasted, he had travelled to dallas with me to visit my family and that seemed rude, even for us. there was much joking about the “outsider” while we ate, but it was clear to everyone that he was a permanent guest. this was also the first and only year that lobster dinner occurred on christmas eve instead of a week or so earlier, thanks to the timing of our visit.

1998 was also the year that the lobsters started growing in size. wanting to impress his guest (although he claimed this was all they had), my father bought slightly larger lobsters. the next year, when it was our turn to host, we didn’t want to “look bad” so we stepped up as well, likely with even larger lobsters. when it became my father’s opportunity again, he stepped up to show off, and so on and so on, until in recent years, one or more of us has been unable to finish our share. a decade later, the lobsters are a full pound larger than the original dinner, and that’s only because once you get over 2.5 pounds, they become hard to purchase and a logistical nightmare to cook (every year we tell the story of that one 5lb lobster my parents had back in the late 70’s).

2006: lobster dinners continued as an annual tradition for almost a decade without much changing except for the venue and the unfortunate animals startled by a confrontation with an angry lobster on their kitchen floor. In truth, there wasn’t much noteworthy about 2006, except in hindsight. The four of us lingered longer on how fortunate and healthy we all were. Although my dad was suffering from some strange pains in his stomach, this was not a particularly note-worthy event. He’d suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and the complications of the harsh treatments for almost 20 years, and was doing better than ever. i remarked that 10 years previous, when he was having heart attacks and the treatments for his RA weren’t doing much besides make him sick, that i hadn’t expected him to see 60 years old. “there’s still time,” my dad said, full of uncharacteristic mirth and optimism. “i don’t turn 61 for another 5 months.”

and because sometimes life is like a ridiculously contrived plot point in a “feel-good” christmas special, that strange pain in his stomach was pancreatic cancer and he died 5 months later. 10 days before his 61st birthday.

2007: lobster dinner added two more guests. the first was our daughter, who was less than 6 weeks old and might have been asleep before the bright red beasts made their way onto our plates. the second was my father-in-law. tragedy hung out for quite a while that year and my mother-in-law passed away as well. it just made sense to open the group up for him as well. i don’t remember much, thanks to the fog of new-parenthood, but i remember breaking a dish and finding it a few days later and generally being in a bad mood. i suppose it was understandable, given all the circumstances.

2008: tonight will be the first dinner back at my mom’s house since my father died. i didn’t really catch the significance of that until a few moments ago. while packing charlotte’s clothes for her over-night visit with grandma, i started telling her about lobster dinner and explaining some of it’s history to her. for a brief moment i couldn’t remember why her grandpa was coming. and then i did. and then suddenly i hated lobster dinner.

lobster dinner 2006 was the last night with my family before Everything Changed. it is the last moment before a wave of harsh anniversaries starts assaulting my family and although the intensity fades around june, it doesn’t really let up until september.

avoiding lobster dinner doesn’t avoid all of that, but there’s a small part of me that really wishes it would.

Tasty things i “invented” this weekend

blueberry sunshine

  • glass of ice (24 oz glass, maybe?)
  • shot glass of vodka (they tell me that’s 2oz)
  • equal parts:
    • sparkling blueberry juice (found many places i’m sure, but i found it at trader joes
    • lemonade (from a can will do)

mix and enjoy. mix again and be drunk.

best guacamole ever

  • 2 avocados – smashed
  • “some” garlic – minced (i used 2 decent cloves)
  • “some” fresh jalapeno – also minced (next time i’ll use more than 1)
  • “some” onion – only you know how much.
  • “some” tomato – i used grape tomatoes quartered. about 1.5 times the amount of onion
  • teeny balls of fresh mozzarella (the secret ingredient. same amt. as the tomatoes
  • (optional) – half a packet of guac seasoning – i don’t think this made much of a difference, personally

mash the avocados, garlic and jalapenos together until as smooth as you want it. stir in onions, tomatoes, seasoning. let sit for 1/2 hourish to let the flavors blend. then add the mozzarella. oh sure, you can do it without the cheese, but i’m telling you. good damn times.

this has to stop

most weekday mornings, i’ve ingested one of these in its entirety, by about 9:30 am. for those of you playing at home, iced venti drinks have 3 shots. not 2 like hot ones. by the time lunch rolls around, i’ve also tossed back a can of soda (usually diet). some days i feel cautious and only have water, but water just doesn’t taste as good as diet dr. pepper or diet cherry coke, or even diet dew, which pretty much tastes like caffeinated water.

as a result, on lazy-assed saturdays (like today) where i don’t even get out of bed until after 9:30 (it is so very comfy), and i start in on my one can of diet soda around 10:30, and by lunch time i’m only 1/3 of the way through it, i grow some serious head-splitting headaches. (the sinus issues aren’t helping)

this has to stop.