Something Old, Something New

This weekend I traveled to Tucson, Arizona to attend my cousin’s wedding (mom’s side) and visit my grandparents (dad’s side).

Prior to this weekend, I hadn’t been to a wedding since I was in 4th grade!  Only a handful of my high school classmates are married, and none of my close friends are.  (At that wedding in 4th grade, I was SO amazed by the bride wearing Minnie Mouse-themed Converse sneakers, it was like — wow, she is SO cool!  Hahah.  Offbeat bride before it was cool…. ;D )

I also haven’t seen my cousin and his younger brother more than a few times in the past 10-15 years, so it was nice to catch up.  There were only about 130 guests, and it wasn’t too crowded.  Tucson has some really nice desert landscapes, and it was so neat the whole thing was on the outskirts of town with lots of natural desert beauty to spruce the place up.

The wedding was fairly typical, but I appreciated the short ceremony (15 minutes!) and their dog being the master of ceremonies. ;)  Luckily there weren’t any awkwardly long and inebriated toasts, just a few short heartfelt speeches by immediate family and some of their college friends.

But best of all?!  GELATO BAR.  I’m really enjoying the trend of people personalizing their ceremonies and receptions, and I love gelato, so I was totally excited to see they had hired a local company to bring a small gelato cart to the reception!

Chocolate hazelnut gelato and salted caramel gelato and flower centerpiece.

A cup of chocolate and hazelnut cookie gelato and salted caramel gelato with one of the nice centerpieces at the wedding. Good times!

YASSSS.  I had chocolate hazelnut (it wasn’t just flavored — it had crumbled chocolate hazelnut cookie mashed in with the chocolate gelato!) and salted caramel.  The other flavors available included strawberry & champagne, raspberry, mint chocolate chip, pistachio, and one other.

Best of all — they were super friendly and aware.  My dad asked them to leave off the cookie straw in his cup, and they quickly said “Oh, gluten allergy?”  He explained he’s sensitive, and they immediately said “oh, I would recommend choosing another flavor, since this one is made with hazelnut cookies inside”.  Super on the ball but casual — sometimes you find out too late there’s something you can’t have, and you suffer.  We appreciated their attention to the customers!

So if you’re ever in Tucson or Phoenix, be sure to visit Frost Gelato.  …or apparently in the Middle East (?!?!) or Chicago.

The next day at my grandmother’s house, she told me she had some photo albums I’d never seen — a big one of my dad’s family trip when he was a kid, they picked up and spent 3 weeks on the east coast in Pennsylvania, doing Civil War battlefields and seeing family friends.  It also had some excellent 60s fashion and silly cowboy outfits on my dad and uncle!

Dog and great grandmother at the wall by the house.

My dad’s dog Duchess and my great grandmother, both looking over the wall at my grandmother’s house in Tucson — about mid-1960s.

I also got some quality time with a few albums from times I visited when I was 2-7 years old — awesome old 80s and 90s pics!  Hahah.  Love it.

Me in 80s-tastic clothes.

Me in my bomber jacket-style sweatshirt and super cool plastic visor. Not sure where we were, but it was 1989 and I was probably 3 and a half.

The archivist in me is screaming in horror that the albums are made of such acidic paper and I have a burning need to rescue the oldest photographs of the one album — they’re fading like crazy and the paper sure isn’t helping.  Unfortunately I didn’t have time to scan the pictures properly, so I was stuck taking pictures of pictures.   Also, the plastic sheets covering each page are horrible, and make it really hard to take clear pictures of what’s underneath.  Agggh.  Definitely going to make a concerted effort on my next trip to rescue the albums, or scan what’s in them at the very least.

Family photos are my favorite things. :D  Anyone have memories of some great old pictures?

Fleischpflanzerl — Little Meat Plants

Yes, literally.  (Fleisch = meat/flesh, pflanze = plant/vegetable, -rl = a diminutive form like -ita in Spanish.)  Probably the only plants I can work with successfully…

When I visited my friend P in Germany last May, she graciously cooked for me two nights, and this was one of the dishes!  We ate out other meals, heated up precooked pasta, or ate leftovers other nights.  Let me tell you, these are great hot or cold!

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P’s kitchen. Bacon on the stove, fleischpflanzerl and garlic bread in the oven.

There are lots of variations, it seems — but essentially, they’re meatballs.  This recipe uses a lot of ingredients, including spices and things that I didn’t use, but they sure look good!  I’m not sure about the soaking in milk though.

The recipe we used was from a generic recipe book P had, which she shared with me.  Unfortunately, it’s sort of vague.  I’m pretty good at following recipes, but not so great with being spontaneous!

Here’s the original recipe:

– 1 roll from the day before (aka breadcrumbs)
– 500 grams ground meat (she used a mix of beef and pork)
– 1 egg
– 1 onion
– 2 pears
– bacon  (one for each patty)
– raclette cheese (one chunk/slice for each patty)

Chop onion and tear up the bread.  Mix the bread, meat, egg, and onion.  Form into patties/meatballs, and fry on the stove until cooked through. Spray pan or baking sheet and heat oven to 180*-200*.  Chop pears and raclette cheese.  Put a slice of pear and a piece of cheese on each patty/meatball.  Put the assembled patties on a baking sheet/pan, and pop in the oven.  Start frying your bacon.  Pull them out when the cheese is melted.  Pop bacon on top of each one, and serve.

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Delicious delicious meat plants, courtesy of P’s kitchen.  I love her green placemats. :D

…well, this is a little vague for me.   How much bread is one roll, exactly?

So this is what I did!

I didn’t have a box of breadcrumbs, so I decided to make my own.  I had “french toast bread” on hand — it’s uber-whitey bread that’s slightly eggy in color, and is about an inch thick.  I thought it would be better to have too much rather than too little, so I cut up 2 slices into cubes and let them dry out overnight.  (P used boxed breadcrumbs, they were easier to gauge how much you were adding.)

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Ingredients for the recipe. (The egg is hiding.)

…the pears at our grocery stores, even the nice local one with nearly-always-amazing produce, were hard as rocks.  :(  So I bought canned pears in pear juice (not syrup).  At least I didn’t have to skin them…

The store also didn’t have raclette cheese.  (It’s used in nice cozy Swiss chalets, they stick it by the fire and warm it up, then you scrape off gobs and eat it with bread and stuff.)  I’m sure Whole (Paycheck) Foods has it, but… even a chunk an inch thick and the size of the palm of my hand of Edam or Emmentaler was a good $12.  For something with canned pears, I’m not spending $12 on cheese.  I don’t even LIKE Swiss cheese that much!

We already had Oscar Meyer’s finest bacon… and an egg…

Then onion.  I don’t know what size onions are in Germany off the top of my head, but if I had used a whole onion like what we get here, they would have been called Little Onion Patties (with some meat in there somewhere).  I used three generous slices, about a third of the onion.

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About a third of a decent-sized onion. Also, some Hobbit-y moral support! Breakfast, second breakfast, lunch, dinner…elevenses…

For the meat — I used just a hair over a pound of meat.  500 grams is 1.1 pounds.  Obviously, this recipe is not built on an exact science, so really you could use as much or as little as you want. :P  I used ground round, and it’s the one good ingredient in there — from our local non-chain market’s own meat counter.  Mmm.

It never occurred to me to make the bread chunks into crumbs — stupid me… so you’ll see my patties look like they have Kix or croutons in them.  My mom suggested rolling the chunks with a rolling pin to make crumbs.

I ended up using 1 cup of chunks/crumbs — that was half of what I’d cut up, so about one giant slice of bread.  I’d use less than a cup of crumbs if I was using just crumbs, since they would be packed so much tighter than my crouton-chunks!

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Breadcrumbs, go.

After beating the bread/meat/egg/onion mix to death with a fork, I scooped out blobs to make patties in my frypan.  When P made them, I think we had about 11 or 12 tiny patties.  Enough for about 3 bites each.  I’m too lazy to take care of that many, and I wanted to have something more the size that I could just eat one.

I made 7 patties.  I cooked them about 5 minutes on each side, to make sure they weren’t pink in the middle, and so they got a nice little crust on the outsides.

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The bread bits look so weird. @_@ Luckily everything smells amazing once you start cooking.

Unfortunately I didn’t flatten them quite as much as I would have liked — oops!  I forget they shrink up.  They smelled amazing though!

After cooking the patties completely, I transferred them to a glass pan and started assembling.  My canned pears were pear halves, and my mom kindly sliced them nicely for me.  I’m lazy — I probably just would have cut them in half and called it a day.  Also, the swiss cheese slices made life much easier, just half a slice or so, and done.

Meat, pear, cheese, go!

I preheated the oven to 350*, and popped them in for 2 minutes or so for the cheese to melt.  While I was melting the cheese, I microwaved the bacon.  Yes, I’m a bad lazy person.  Whatever.

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Patties, assemble! This is after adding all the pears, and halfway through the cheese process.

Once the cheese was done, I took them out of the oven, popped them on plates, and dropped the bacon on top.

They were surprisingly good, considering I used canned pears and Swiss cheese isn’t my favorite!  Hahaha.  The meat came out perfectly, but I would like a way to make them taste more flavorful — maybe spices?  I don’t know.  Maybe just cook the onions first, or something.  I love onion flavor.

They tasted even better the second night — I reheated one in the microwave, and ate it as a sandwich between two pieces of toast.  Yummmm!

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The finished product! Sorry for the darkness, but it was getting late, and I was hungry. >.>

So!  -My- …recipe, we’ll call it…

– 3/4 to 1 cup of bread crumbs/croutons/assorted bread bits — add to your desired consistency
– 1/3 of an onion-ish — add to your preference for onion
– 1 egg (yay, something straightforward!)
– about a pound of ground meat
– 1 can of pears, or two pears, sliced — you could also do apples, I bet that would taste amazing
– 1 slice of cheese per meatball/patty
– 1 piece of bacon per meatball/patty

Mix patty ingredients.  Make patties according to your desired size, anywhere from 5 or so to 12.  Fry patties about 5 minutes per side (less time for smaller patties, of course).  Preheat oven to 350*.  Assemble meat + pear + cheese, toss them in the oven until cheese melts.  Fry bacon.  Take m+p+c out of the oven, add bacon, serve!

I call them ‘MERICAN STYLE.  They’re larger than the German ones, canned fruit, Oscar Meyer bacon, and lunchmeat-style sliced cheese.  Classy.  ;D

Campfire Fried Chicken

Call me a city slicker, but who knew you could fry chicken over a campfire?

When we arrived our first night at the lodge in Wyoming, we pulled up near the campfire area and saw someone tending a campfire with a giant iron pot on top.

Huh.  Cooking on the campfire.  This seemed like advanced camping cooking to me — I personally only trust newbie campfire foods, like marshmallows and hot dogs.  (My friends tried to make campfire nachos one trip — a nice idea, but they came out TERRIBLY…the random sticks they put on the fire made such acrid smoke that it made the chips taste disgusting.)

Sadly, I don’t have any pictures of the campfire chicken… I was too busy trying to shoo a stray dog away from the fire.  The poor thing kept trying to lick the chicken greased lid of the pot, but not being too smart, it didn’t realize (multiple times) that the lid was hot!

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Basque doggy basking in the sun, hoping for a snack handout.

We found out that Basque sheepherders move through the area with their sheep, wagons (like wooden covered wagons/mobile homes!), families, and dogs.  This dog got separated from the group, but nobody decided to come looking for it, so it  hung around at the lodge/campground hoping for some food.

In the first Wyoming post, I mentioned we were a little fearful about the food situation.  An hour and a half+ away from the nearest grocery store?  New, unknown staff?  No electricity?  I was envisioning horrible lumpy biscuits and gravy, tough gross meat, and instant mashed potatoes.

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This is not your average camping dinner. Mmm! Dinner the second night, as described below.

Um, can I have a HALLELUJAH for our wonderful cook?  She was an angel.  She not only cooked for about 20-25 people (full breakfasts and dinners) but made lunches for everyone, cleaned up, did all the dishes, checked guests in, and cleaned cabins and probably a million other things I never saw.

Sadly, I don’t have pictures of the campfire chicken — curses!  I was shocked though.  I’m a lazy food snob — I don’t like most fried chicken (greasy and slimy) and I usually can’t be bothered with bones in my meat.  (I just want to eat.  Give me the delicious things ready to put in my mouth!)

It was -amazing-.

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One of the other guests’ dogs looking at our food. It was so cute, but unfortunately the dog had to suffer seeing a group of 12’s meals right by the window!

I did recover from my shock the next night and took pictures of dinner.  Holy.  Cow.

Steaks grilled over the campfire — SOFT and delicious and juicy, I can’t even comprehend how they did it over a campfire…it’s hard enough making a good steak on a stove in your house.  Sweet potatoes au gratin.  Herbed biscuits.  Sweet tea.  (Mmmm.)  Salad with fresh ingredients!  Grilled veggies.  Other things I forget.  TWO CAKES.

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Yummmmm. Cake. And yes, those are kerosene lanterns.

The only time they turned on the generator was to use their washing machine and dryer, to power the internet once or twice a week to check lodge email, and to occasionally use the lights to clean the kitchen.  I’m still in awe!  I’m so not used to living like that.

What amazed me was that people would wander in — hikers, fishermen, and more than once the forest service weirdos (in our three day trip…what???) wondering if they could buy dinner or whatever.  It’s not a restaurant, people!  The cook was so amazing though — she usually was able to accommodate these random people.

Moral of the story — praise your southern cook highly, and tip her well!  I’m usually hungry for snacks all the time — I was NEVER hungry between meals at this place, despite horseback riding and hikes and running after small children.  :)

** New theme, guys!  You probably wouldn’t notice unless you actually visit my actual blog, rather than the wordpress reader/RSS feed/etc. Any thoughts?  How do the pictures/layout look?**

Impromptu iPod Eavesdropping

Alright, I can’t be perfect and alliterate everything. This is a first and a test — I’m posting from a tablet!  (Okay, I may have cheated…I centered the pictures and added captions from a real computer.)

A friend of mine and I met for lunch, but the first place we tried was closed! Yelp and their site said they open at 11, we got there at 1…ghost town.

So we got BBQ instead. I haven’t had BBQ in a while — I can’t even remember what style they had. Memphis maybe, but I also have a sneaking suspicion they just mix and match anything they want to give people options.

Since it was 86 F/30 C and sunny here (sorry folks everywhere else!) we decided on an unscheduled stop at Trader Sam’s Tiki Bar, which is located near the pool area of the Disneyland Hotel (adjacent to Disneyland, Downtown Disney, etc). PERFECT. The weather felt great, they have outdoor couches to sit on (and fireplaces when it’s cold), and since it was midweek around 2:30 pm, it was nearly empty.

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The front of the menu, and the view from the patio. Sorry iPod, you’re not the best camera…

Score. We sat outside in the warmth like lizards for about a hour, blissfully eavesdropping on the business people at the table near us — they were discussing ideas for small Disney-themed products for places like the Dollar Store. Choice quotes include: “we gotta jump on ring pops” and “light up suspenders” and “just to be clear, Jumbo Eggs are NOT an innovation”. Hahah!

Moral of the story — take some time to relax and take a break, sometimes you’ll be unexpectedly entertained. :)

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Everything is themed. Everywhere.

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They updated the pool area to have slides that look like the monorail and with the retro sign, plus waterfall! How cool. It’s pretty new. Again, apologies for terrible quality. :(

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I can’t resist walking by the candy shop in Downtown Disney — you never know what new candy apples will be on display!

Faluda with Friends

Alright, and a lot of other things too…  On Friday night, I was invited out to try Burmese food for dinner at a local restaurant (by the same friends who hosted the tea party I wrote about).

Apparently I’ve lived a mile and a half away from this place and never knew it existed.  I suffer from a deplorable lack of diversity in the places I go eat.  I’m a creature of habit… I mean, I like a lot of different foods and cuisines, but I tend to go back to the same places because I liked what I ate so therefore I want to eat it again.  Forever.

FALUDA.  Yum yum yum.  I'm easily swayed -- this was my favorite of the three desserts.

FALUDA. Yum yum yum. I’m easily swayed — this was my favorite of the three desserts.

This friend is very detailed and thoughtful — she wrote to the group beforehand: “As a reminder, Burmese food is influenced by China, India, and Thailand.  They are not necessarily known for spicy heat.  Their flatbread is similar to Indian paratha bread. They use a lot of fish sauce and fermented fish paste in their cooking, along with tamarind, lemon, and pickled tea leaves.”

These are deceptive fish chunks.  The veggies and sauce were excellent though.

These are deceptive fish chunks. The veggies and sauce were excellent though.

When she talked to me about it in person, she kept mentioning “pungent” and “fish sauce”.  Now… I’m not exactly a fish person.  I don’t like the texture, and the taste doesn’t do anything for me, and the “fishy” smell makes me gag.  Sorry Romans, I love you, but garum (fish sauce) by the boat load?  No thanks.

So I went in with a mostly open mind, determined to try everything but attempt to eat around the fish chunks if I had to.  Luckily I was able to avoid fish chunks, and was only assaulted by unexpected fish sauce once!

Curse you, unexpected fish sauce.  This was otherwise probably delicious fried rice.

Curse you, unexpected fish sauce. This was otherwise probably delicious fried rice.

My overall assessment?  GET IN MY FACE, FOOD.  Faster if at all possible!

We had probably nine or ten dishes.  The fried rice had cashews and even hazelnuts I think (which I love!) but also the dreaded fish sauce.  The taste was sooo strong, unfortunately… I loved the veggies and sauce from the other fish dish above — it did not have a fish flavor, but was nice and rich.  We had tea leaf salad — strong and bitter!

This is not tea leaf salad, but I have no idea what it was.  Sort of like "anything goes" coleslaw.

This is not tea leaf salad, but I have no idea what it was. Sort of like “anything goes” coleslaw.

My favorite main dishes were the pickled mango curry sauce with pork, and then a veggie stew (multiple types of veggies) with tamarind in the sauce (yum!) — tamarind is a citrus fruit, strong also, but I like it.  I can’t even remember all the other dishes — we received a spreadsheet ahead of time with all  the proposed choices!  I love organized friends. :D

This is the pickled mango curried pork -- delicious, even if it doesn't look  that way.

This is the pickled mango curried pork — delicious, even if it doesn’t look that way.

After fish stew (I held off) and rice and OH my gosh the best things also — “golden triangles”.  Basically phyllo dough triangles filled with curried mashed potato, dipped in tamarind sauce.  DELICIOUS.  And I’m not even a fan of mashed potatoes!

Then there was dessert — my favorite like I mentioned, was the faluda (pictured above in uber-pink).  Apparently there’s endless varieties, but the one we had would have normally been served in a tall glass ice cream cup like an ice cream soda or fancy tall sundae glass, and layered.  It included tapioca balls, agar slices, rose flavor, milk of some sort I believe, custard (yum), and ice cream.  Sounds weird, tastes delicious.  We also were served coconut agar (like jello jigglers sort of…very plain), and a coconut cake-thing.  It reminded me of if you had leftover cream of wheat, and then added coconut milk to it and sort of baked it into little squares.  Light flavor, slightly strange, but also deceptively addictive!

After dinner, we walked next door to a local pan-asian market chain store.  I’d also never been inside, what a fun experience!

Hello, giant bamboo...shoot...things.  These were the size of very large sweet potatoes!

Hello, giant bamboo…shoot…things. These were the size of very large sweet potatoes!

My two friends proceeded to show me around the entire store, pointing out what all  the fresh veggies and fruits were for, what all the dried ingredients did… which frozen bao buns were the best… and of course, my favorite — thai iced tea ICE CREAM.  Oh man.

I noticed in the meat section they even stocked New Zealand venison! How cool, right? I don’t even think I can get venison at our local grocery stores — maybe Whole Foods, but I dunno. Of course, being me, I couldn’t help but be juvenile in the meat section…

Me: "lol." Friend: " *points* ...pizzle? What is PIZZLE?" Me: "Think about it."

Me: “lol.” Friend: ” *points* …pizzle? What is PIZZLE?” Me: “Think about it.”

All in all, a very educational evening! Delicious and very cheap for the amount and variety of food we got to try — $12.25 each (for 9 of us) including tax and tip.  7 or so dishes, 2 soups, rice, tea, and 3 desserts.

Verdict:  A+, would eat again.

Have you guys tried anything new recently, or have you been meaning to?  Have you ever had Burmese food, and have any recommendations for me?

Is there anything you’re craving right now? Because I definitely played a bunch of food categories in QuizUp last night, and it made me starving.  I want a Belgian waffle from Belgium.

Tea for Ten

I was invited to a tea party today — nothing too fancy, but boy did my friend outdo herself!

She loves trying new recipes and experimenting with new foods…undaunted courage.  Last month, she invited 25 people over to learn how to make tamales — our instructions came from a youtube video, and nobody had tried doing it themselves before!  (They actually came out pretty good, too.  Win!)

So today she made tea sandwiches, and salad, and soup, and scones, and various things in puff pastry.  Aaaagh I love puff pastry!  Most everyone was able to bring over a teapot or teacups, so I think we had a good 8 or so different types of tea going.  Not too shabby.

Near the end, she brought out some dragonfruit — I’ve had it as sorbet before, it’s a little plain and needs some sugar, but overall it’s quite nice and mild.  But boy does it look crazy!  It’s bright magenta on the outside, but the fruit inside is basically white, with little black polkadot seeds.

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Crazy, right?  Apologies for the poor quality… I only brought my ipod with me.  I’d definitely try it if you see it in the stores, or perhaps try an Asian market if you have one nearby.  (Make sorbet!  Extra fancy points if you put the sorbet back in the dragonfruit skins, like boats. :D )

Have you ever tried it, or anything similarly else you’d never seen before?