Saturday, November 28, 2009

Food Week: San Diego Pizza Smackdown

I am closing out Food Week with a taste-test. Bryan and Veronika have forever been touting what they think is the best pizza in San Diego. I have my own opinion, too, and so decided we'd settle this once and for all.

As a native New Yorker, Bryan claims that the best NY-style pizza in San Diego is at a little place in PB across from the library. An added quirk, he says, is that it's run by an Asian family. God bless America.

You must also bear in mind that, while Bryan touts this place as the best, he hasn't been in six years. When ordering today, we learned that the place had been sold three years ago to an exuberant Italian man named Mateo. Which I thought boded well for BO's choice--pizza from Italy.

Veronika thinks Bronx Pizza is the best slice in town. This place is tiny and does a lot of take-out service, but you can also eat in their cramped little back room. New Yorkers work here instead of Asians or Italians, and they have the attitude to prove it.

Since this is my blog, I get a say in the contest, and entered Costco's pizza.

The ground rules:
We each purchased one slice of plain cheese pizza from our favored establishment and brought them to Veronika's condo. We then cut each slice into thirds and put one each on a paper plate, labeling the rim with the establishment's name. One by one, we were blind-folded and tested each pizza. The taster's comments were recorded in a notepad, and each taster had to ultimately pick their favorite.

Veronika: Good spices in the sauce. The crust isn't too hard.
Michelle: Good sauce, good flavor. It has more oregano, I think? The sauce smells a little like pepperoni.
Bryan: I smell spices. The crust is thin. I like that. The sauce is flavorful. Surprisingly, the pizza's a little greasy.

Veronika: I like it. I like the mix of the sauce and the cheese. Nice consistency throughout.
Michelle: Good. Tasty sauce.
Bryan: Not as aeromatic as the other (Bronx) one. Definitely not as flavorful. But it's simple. It's not as greasy.

Veronika: The cheese isn't as soft as the others.
Michelle: Nice aroma. Smells good. It has more cheese, less sauce. It's satisfying.
Bryan: The cheese is crispy. I like that.

In the end, while still blindfolded, we each picked the pizza we'd nominated for the contest. But afterwards, we also agreed that Bronx was the most flavorful.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Food Week: Thanksgiving Leftovers

On "Top Chef," contestants sometimes prepare an ingredient multiple ways. "Kobe Beef Two Ways" or "Salmon Two Ways." Today, I offer you a Thanksgiving leftover--yesterday's cranberry relish--prepared five ways.

Cranberry Muffins
I used a basic Bisquick recipe and added 1 1/2 cups of cranberries.
Bryan's rating: 2 turkeys
Comment: "The high points are the cranberries and nuts. But they're a little doughy." I agree. Next time, I'll use a real muffin batter recipe.

Cranberry Salsa
Equal parts salsa and relish, plus a few drops of Marie Sharp's hot sauce.
Bryan's rating: 3 1/2 turkeys
Comment: "Pretty good."

Bread, brie, cranberries, more brie, a second slice of bread. It's then grilled in a pan with butter.
Bryan's rating: 5 turkeys
Comment: "On a scale of four, it's a five." I agree, this is aMAZing.

Cranberry Vinaigrette
Along with leftover cranberries, we also have leftover apricot-walnut-crouton salad. So I added a little balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and cranberry juice to the relish, and then poured it on the salad. I found this idea online, but can't find the link.
Bryan's rating: 4 turkeys
Comments: "Delightful!"

Turkey burgers topped with cranberries would've been to easy. Inspired by the above-linked recipe, we decided to make cranberry-stuffed meatballs. Several of them split open, but not too much spilled out. After the photo was taken, we topped them with turkey gravy.
Bryan's rating: 4 turkeys
Comments: "Now THAT is one satisfying dinner."

It's been a good run, but I hope tomorrow will be cranberry-less.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Food Week: Thanksgiving Day

Nothing I could post here could adequately sum up this Granddaddy of all food days in America. So I won't even try. Instead, I humbly offer you a cranberry relish recipe, which my dad and I first started making when I was in high school. Of course, you can double, triple, quadruple, et cetera the recipe to fit your feasting needs. We also make this relish at Christmastime.

6 cups fresh cranberries
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups water
4 seedless tangerines, peeled, sectioned, and cut into chunks
1 tart apple, peeled, cored, and cut into chunks
1 1/2 cups dried apricots, cut into small chunks
1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

Put the water and sugar in a large pot and allow to boil, stirring occasionally. Once it boils, turn the heat down to medium and add the cranberries. Let these cook for about ten minutes, or until the cranberries start to pop and cook down. Then add the tangerines, apple and apricots. If the relish is boiling and splattering, turn heat down to medium-low. Finally, add the walnuts and allow the relish to continue cooking. If it seem too thin, raise the heat and some water to boil off. Finally, turn off the heat and allow to cook. Relish can be served either warm or chilled.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Food Week: Dog Donuts

With tomorrow's impending gluttony, I just couldn't eat something good enough to post about (despite a lead on a Peruvian restaurant). Thankfully, Louie--the cockapoo with a bottomless stomach--agreed to take one for Stray Carrier Pigeon, and let me cook for him.

While the canine carrot biscotti was intriguing, I don't make anything for a dog that requires more than five ingredients. I hardly cook anything for myself that requires more than five ingredients. So Louie got garlic-spiced donuts. I've never had a garlic-spiced human donut before, but they do exist.

Onto the preparations:
(Cutting out the donuts with a measuring cup and pill bottle top.)

(Louie waiting patiently.)

(Cooked and cooling.)

(He's polite enough not to bite my finger.)

(Not bad. They could've used a little more garlic, but I'm declaring them good enough for a celebrity to eat.)

It's been two hours and Louie hasn't shown any signs of stomach distress, so I am calling these biscuits a success.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Food Week: Yogurt World

Today I was in El Cajon to observe an ESL class. On the way home, I went to Mission Trails for a run. After that, I stopped at Yogurt World.

I first heard of Yogurt World from a student last semester. He came into class with a slurpee-sized cup of frozen yogurt. When I asked when he'd gotten it, he said, in the most obvious tone, "Yogurt World."

Of course.

Today was my first visit to one of the chain's locations. It's self-serve with yogurt and toppings, and you're charged thirty cents per ounce.

I opted for acai-blueberry and mango yogurt swirled together. After many happy years of Souplantation patronage, I fancy myself a yogurt-swirler dilettante. Today, my swirling was just average. Which was fine; I covered up the oblong spiral with toppings.

The extremely happy woman behind the bar helped me choose what to add to my yogurt. Of course there were sprinkles and strawberries and sno-caps, but those are too boring for Food Week. I settled on three toppings.

Long-yen: This is my phonetic spelling of the word. It's a fruit that looks like very large, peeled, white globe grapes. They have the texture of fibrous lychee and are sweet. They taste like something I've eaten in Central America that I can't place right now. Not termites, though. Those taste like carrots. There's one long-yen visible in the bottom of the photograph.

Candied fruit: These are the red, yellow, and white strips visible in the picture. Sweet, they remind me most of really thick Jell-o Jigglers.

Sweet white beans: These are white beans that have been soaked in sugar (brown sugar?) and cooked. They taste like, well, white beans in sugar.

And to think, after finishing my run, I could've drank Gatorade and missed out on all this colorful, Asian food fun.


Monday, November 23, 2009

Food Week, Day Two: Peanut Butter and Butter Sandwich

With yesterday's deep-fried turkey post, and Thursday being Thanksgiving, I am making this Food Week at Stray Carrier Pigeon.

Day two:
A few weeks ago, I referred to the peanut butter and butter sandwich of my youth. This is a snack/meal that I loved to make. Today, I reprised it for lunch.

How was my dining experience? It wasn't a sandwich that I particularly enjoyed, although I did eat the whole thing (too much energy to fix something else). I chalk the pb&b up to youth and an immature palate. Bp& j is successful because it combines creamy peanut butter with sweet jelly. Just like butter and jelly on an English muffin (a pre-run favorite!). Or waffles with butter and syrup. Of the pb&b, I think Tom Coliccho would say it lacks flavor range.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Sunday Before

...because one Thanksgiving meal isn't enough.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Behind Every Man

I was poking around the Time website, looking for a picture to include in a blog post on a different subject, when I learned that Jeanne-Claude, Christo's partner in life and art, passed away yesterday.

I first saw the work of Christo and Jeanne-Claude on "Sunday Morning", which chronicled them and their Umbrellas installation. When people talk about these Umbrellas, or about the Reichstag, or the New York Gates, they talk about Christo. But he had another half.

I'm not going to get all feminist on you. If, by reading this blog post, one more person will know Jean-Claude's name, I will be exceedingly happy.

An artist-friend was recently lamenting to me how art is not purposeful. But it is. The sublime is necessary. I am reminded of a comment made in one of my fiction workshops at Maryland, shortly after 9/11. My workshop mate said of fiction, and art, "In some ways, it doesn't seem to matter very much right now. In another way, it's the only thing that matters."

Thanks, Jeanne-Claude, for things that matter.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Good and Rooted

Many years ago, when I spent a summer in South Dakota working at Wall Drug, I worked with an older, eccentric woman named Violet. Violet lived in a cabin in Badlands National Park. I'd never heard of this before (I was 20; I grew up in the OC) and it seemed so exotic. Travel writer Tim Cahill lives in a national park, too.

From the Wall Street Journal:

"Tim Cahill has traveled to 100 countries, riding on horseback across the steppes of Mongolia, hiking through remote villages in southeastern Turkey in search of the supposedly extinct Caspian Tiger, driving a truck from the tip of Patagonia to Alaska and going swimming in an ice hole on the North Pole.

The veteran travel writer chronicles these adventures from a 500-square-foot cabin hidden in a thickly forested river canyon in southwest Montana. The cabin sits in this national forest on the edge of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, about an hour's drive down gravel roads from the "big town" of Livingston, where Mr. Cahill has a house."

Thanks to my mom for forwarding on this article.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A Story That Insists on Telling Itself Again

Paul Lisicky read tonight at USD. From "The Boy and His Mother are Stuck!", this:

"Just yesterday, when we were all a little calmer and safer, my younger brother put his palms on the oven of her and murmured duck, duck, I want a duck as if words alone could make the thing inside her grow feathers."

Lately, many people around me--and when I say "around me," I include myself--are wishing for things to be other than they are. None of us wish our bellies--or any of the bellies around us--to contain a bird instead of a fetus. No, our angst centers around jobs/careers/what we do each day/what we call ourselves/what others call us. In other words, identity. Which is a theme Lisicky dealt with several times this evening.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the duck that is held hostage in Richard Russo's Straight Man, where the protagonist, a long-suffering English professor at a financially struggling college, cries, "A duck a day, until I get my budget."

How did ducks come to represent such futile yearning? Hopefully there's a PhD--who self-identifies as an modern American lit expert--secreted away in some dank office, toiling on this very topic.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

On a November Evening

Dear The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf:

I am writing to you with a suggestion that you change the name of your Apple Roobios tea to Wood. Because, really, this is what it tastes like. I'm not exactly sure what type of tree bark it is-- Sequoia or Pine or whatever (I'm just the idea gal, I don't have all the particulars). Apple is, of course, the obvious choice, but is obvious what you really want in an overpriced drink? I trust that your ad people can come up with something. Gap once had a perfume called "Grass," and it sold quite well. Marketing is everything.

Warm regards,
Michelle Panik

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Dime Stories

Last night, I found myself wandering around a place I spent five years at, and wondering where the hell I was.

I'd gone to UCSD for Dime Stories' November Showcase, to hear, among others, my friend Nancy read her award-winning story. Which was great. What the pluck?--I don't know why she was nervous.

I'd parked in the Gilman Parking Structure, which was built after I'd graduated, but I'd become accustomed to it when I'd returned as an employee. I stopped working there in June of 2007, and since then the campus has exploded with buildings. One of which is a new student center that makes UCSD a real college and give it a real central place for students to hang out. Which is a good thing. As along as you can navigate all the other bright and shiny and windowy buildings.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Brooding about Broods

Dear TLC:

I am a fan of American Chopper. Watching the Teutul family is a melange of action, engineering, graphic design, comedy, drama, and family. Bravo. No, not Bravo. Bravo.

As we are in the middle of November Sweeps, I feel compelled to write to you about your other shows, which all seem to be about about freakishly large families. (Freaky, freakier, and still more freakiness.) They are taking over your network. I understand that shows are in the works for several months before going on the air. Perhaps you lined up all these crazy families before the Jon and Kate lost the love. TV executives live and learn. So in the spirit of living and learning, I humbly suggest you find something else to exploit.

The only monstrous family I want to see on TV is one made of up of adopted or fostered children. If at all possible, it'd be great to follow the lives of a family who takes in the children of an immediate family member, after their tragic death in a car accident.

Thank you for reading.

Warm regards,
Michelle Panik

Monday, November 9, 2009

"Goldengrove" by Francine Prose

I love this:

Margaret's death had shaken us, like three dice in a cup, and spilled us out with new faces in unrecognizable combinations. We forgot how we used to live in our house, how we'd passed the time when we lived there. We could have been sea creatures stranded on the beach, puzzling over an empty shell that reminded us of the ocean.

Francine Prose

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Coronado Library

Today I met my friend Nancy, a Coronado resident, for lunch (I recommend the Gorgonzola Tartine) and a tour of her library (I recommend everything).

This library was originally a small building (see above photo) but has been expanded out several times. The last one incorporated two 1938 Alfredo Ramos Martinez fresco murals. Originally, they were painted on the walls of Orange Avenue restaurant La Avenida Cafe, and transferred to the library in the early part of this century. "El Dia del Mercado" incorporated several cafe doorways, and the Coronado library's front desk was designed around these same spacing parameters. (Check out photo below).

While browsing the stacks, Nancy and I came upon a series of signs with arrows and the word "Playaways." Like good sheep we followed the arrows, and arrived at a shelf of single-unit audio book players. Which are pretty darn cool, because you'd never again check out a CD only to find it scratched. The San Diego libraries don't have Playaways. Coronado's one up on us.

This library is so geared to its small community that it doesn't just take suggestions, it has a suggestion notebook. Patrons write out their opinions and staff then type them up along with a response, and print out and incorporated them into a notebook. My favorite suggestion came from a patron who asked that markers be put back on the rose brushes out front, because "there is one rose bush that I just love, but can't identify". The library staff responded that this idea had been discussed in the past, but has not yet been enacted. I love small towns!

Nancy asked that I mention the "library neck" that seems to afflict a good deal of patrons in libraries the world over. Its symptoms include squinting eyes, a slumped chair position, and a pronounced tilt to one's neck as they devour their tome. I'm not sure what's to be done about it--computer use results in a similar affliction of "telescope neck"--but I'm sure there are worse problems to have.

(El Dia del Mercado.)

(Canasta de Flores.)

(The teen area. Since it was early afternoon, this section was dead.)

(After the library, Nancy took me to Jim Morrison's childhood home.)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

2009 "One Book, One San Diego" Title Chosen

I'd like to thank the good people of San Diego for voting for the same book I did--Outcasts United. I will soon be racing all of you to the book stacks to borrow a copy. But don't worry, I was raised better than to push. Although my brother did teach me how to hold my own (elbows out) several long years ago in a Smashing Pumpkins mosh pit.

The press release is available here.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

"Early Bird" by Rodney Rothman

Watch CBS News Videos Online

I first heard about Early Bird from the above Bill Geist piece on "Sunday Morning". I'd been interested in the book at the time, but well, so many books, so little time. But I stumbled upon the book again recently, during one of my library tours. And I just had the book transferred to my local branch.

Here's the premise: a twenty-eight-year-old former "Late Show" writer moves to a Floridian retirement community to see what his life will be like in forty years. He joins the shuffleboard community; hangs out by the pool with the gossipers; befriends a ninety-three-year-old, foul-mouthed comedienne; and even falls in love with a woman...who's younger than him.

Monday, November 2, 2009

This carrier pigeon has again strayed and is charting a course to a new web address. Missives will now be delivered from the following home:

Same great literary content, nine less characters to type.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

"The Road" by Cormac Mccarthy

A writer friend whom I met at Tomales Bay, John, believes that fiction can make humanity better. After reading The Road, I agree.

Who knew that a father giving his son a can of Coca-Cola could be so beatific?