Chiles Rellenos

Dave had to work on Friday, so I got up and did some video exercising. I had a project in mind—cleaning up my home e-mail (1193 messages in the inbox!)—so I worked on that along with emptying the file folders that hold our bills and paperwork for the year. It’s nice to start a new year with the house cleaned up and everything ready for a fresh start. Around noon I took my bike to the grocery store to buy groceries for the next few days, since I was planning to cook several good meals. We get so busy during the working weeks that we eat whatever’s fast instead of trying new, slow food.

I wanted to try cooking chiles rellenos, one of my favorite Mexican dishes. Dave and I both enjoy watching Rick Bayless on PBS, so I found his recipe online and bought the ingredients. I read it through once and took a deep breath—it sounded pretty complicated. But then I just dove in, hoping for the best.

Sauce and pork filling cooking on the stove.
Sauce and pork filling cooking on the stove.

I had planned to make only cheese rellenos instead of the pork-filled ones, but I hadn’t divided up the ingredients list and had bought some supplies that were only needed for the pork filling. “Shoot,” I thought, “I could do half and half, but I don’t have any pork.” Maybe you’re ahead of me here, but I was pretty impressed with myself when I realized we’d had pork for dinner the night before. I chopped up some of the leftovers—they wouldn’t be as tender as fresh ground pork, but they should work fine. In fact, I made several changes to the recipe. Albertson’s didn’t have any poblano peppers, so I used Anaheim chiles. My raisins weren’t as tender as they’d been if they hadn’t been at least a year old. Rick said to use “high quality” canned tomatoes, but I just couldn’t stomach paying an extra $.50 per can to get Hunt’s. And I used regular old cinnamon instead of canela. I started cooking at 2:00 p.m. and didn’t finish until we ate dinner at 6:30 or so! (I did take a break while the stuffed peppers were in the freezer for an hour.) I gulped down some lunch—my favorite, cold spaghetti—standing up in front of the kitchen sink.

Cold spaghetti lunch.
Cold spaghetti lunch.

This recipe called for several steps. The tomatoes for the sauce had to be blended and reduced for 45 minutes. The pork filling had to be cooked. Then part of the sauce went into the pork and chicken stock went into the rest of the sauce. More cooking.

Peeling the skin off the peppers.
Peeling the skin off the peppers

Meanwhile, the peppers had to be fried in hot oil to blister the skins, which had to be removed. The peppers were sliced and a finger inserted to remove the seeds (the pepper juice inflamed a burn on my finger, swelling up a small spot just above my knuckle).

Then the peppers were filled with pork (two) or cheese (two). The recipe was for eight peppers, but I halved it for just the two of us. The stuffed peppers were closed with toothpicks and frozen for an hour. I went back upstairs to hang a shelf and pass paint out the window to Dave. (He’d arrived home and was repainting the spot he’d previously gouged with the ladder. See this post for details.)

Stuffed peppers, ready for batter.
Stuffed peppers, ready for batter.

Once the peppers were adequately frozen and I’d repainted a few spots of red in the back of the house that had peeled off with the blue painting tape (multitasking!), I got ready for the next step: frying. Luckily, it was a warmish day with no precipitation, so I could do the frying outside on the gas burner part of the grill. (Dave gets nervous about having hot oil inside. Dangerous—and messy.) First you have to make the batter, which involves beating egg whites and salt until they’ll hold a stiff peak. I’m not much of a baker, so I was impressed by that. Then you beat in the yolks and a bit of flour.

Ready to eat!
Ready to eat!
Outside, once the oil had heated up to 350°, I dredged the peppers in flour and then in the egg mixture. They looked like real chiles rellenos when they came out, fluffy and golden! Finally, after frying, they had to be baked for 15 minutes, during which time you reheat the sauce. Yes, I felt like I had used every appliance in the kitchen and dirtied every dish. But when I ladled sauce into the bowls and added two rellenos apiece, one cheese (Monterey Jack) and one pork mixture (pork, cinnamon, slivered almonds, raisins, and tomato sauce), I felt like Rick Bayless. It was a lot of work, but the recipe was perfect— everything worked just like it was supposed to and the ingredients were proportioned perfectly. I’ve cooked enough now to know that’s not always the case. This dinner was a delicious advertisement for Rick Bayless’s books and TV show. I’ve been thinking about buying Mexican Everyday as my next “international” cookbook, and this tricky recipe made me think that his easier recipes are probably terrific too. I’ll need guinea pigs, of course, so invite yourselves over…

New Year’s Eve and Day

Dave and I spent our weekend off doing more or less nothing, except having fun and storing up energy for 2009. We spent New Year’s Eve with Andrew and Maggie, Andrew’s parents and sister, and assorted friends. It was a really nice evening—plenty of good drinks and several great conversations, including one about authorly integrity that I particularly enjoyed. Andrew’s mom, Cheryl, is a journalist in Amarillo, and two of the assorted friends were also journalists. We got to talking about A Million Little Pieces, a subject about which I feel strongly, especially after a drink or two. The journalists tended to think that authors should be honest about their writing—either it’s a memoir, and therefore all true, or it’s a novel. I pointed out that five people watching an accident will tell five stories about what happened. So what’s true? And I pointed out “New Journalism.” Hard to tell if the feelings described in In Cold Blood were really experienced by the characters, but the book is clearly intended to be “true.” I read The Executioner’s Song not too long ago, and while I was enamored of it for many reasons, one of the things that impressed me was that Mailer built an extremely complex character out of various writings and interviews—a character who was real. Yet I had the sense that Mailer could’ve described Gary as a monster with equal veracity. I really disliked journalism in college, mainly because I was far too shy about interviewing people and I hated to edit my precious words down at all. (After writing 599-word book reviews for a year, I’ve come to see the value in starting longer and editing down, but it’s still painful!) But I’m also annoyed by the failure of imagination that causes us to feel cheated and lied to if events are portrayed as true and then turn out not to have happened. What about Truth?

The first sunrise of the year, from the bedroom window.
The first sunrise of the year, from the bedroom window.
New Year's Day dinner.
New Year's Day dinner.

Oy. I meant to tell you that we had a nice time on New Year’s Eve. The next day, we woke up to a gorgeous sunrise. I slept in and Dave made scrambled eggs and bacon for breakfast. We watched some bowl football, sat at the coffee shop, and headed into Boulder to go to REI and Bed, Bath, and Beyond. We ate a wonderful, traditional New Year’s Day dinner of pork roast, potatoes, onions, carrots, and sauerkraut with apples.

Jess making a duck beak out of oplatky.
Jess making a duck beak out of oplatky.

We drank some of our favorite wine and Dave broke off some oplatky for each of us. The candle flickered straight up, not choosing either one of us to be absent next year. (We’re likely to be out east visiting family, actually.) All in all, a very nice start to the new year, complete with rest, continued traditions, and the two of us enjoying each other’s company.

Dinner Party

blue cheese ravioli leftovers
blue cheese ravioli leftovers

Dave and I had fun at our dinner party last night. Our guests were our caving friend Jen, our church friend Rob, and a co-worker of mine, Andrew, and his wife Maggie. The blue cheese rigatoni turned out to be delicious, although it got cold really fast. We had a spinach salad that was basically the same ingredients as the ravioli: spinach, red onion, tomatoes, and green peas. We played Trivial Pursuit and our two-editors-and-a-scientist team beat the two-lawyers-and-a-scientist team, although both teams had all their pie pieces at the end.

This morning Dave and I went over to church to normalize the Christmas tree in the sanctuary. Several of us YABSers (that’s young adult Bible study, although it’s more of a fellowship group) put the tree up on Thursday, along with the garland and bows on the windows, but at the end of the evening the event devolved a bit and the gentlemen started throwing the Christmas ornaments onto the very high tree. (Some of them actually stuck!) We called it a night and a few of us went over to Tandoori Grill for dinner. Yum. However, we thought it would be nice to make sure the Chrismons were more or less evenly distributed on the tree, so we went back today.

dishes from the dinner party
dishes from the dinner party

Dave and I also did a bunch of Christmas shopping today. The first rule of Christmas shopping is that you always find yourself something first, right? Last week we went out and I finally got some new underwear. (That’s how you know you’re a grown-up–when new underwear is really exciting.) Today we decided to get ourselves/each other a new TV. Our big old console TV, while very dear to my heart, has been slowly dying (the picture turns bright red at random). That, added to the necessity of deciding about a digital converter box, means that we’ve been thinking about a new TV for a while. We found a good deal and decided to go for it. We’ll save some money by building the stand ourselves, and I hope we’ll have this TV as long as the Gribble family had the console. (Since 1989. The TV cost $1937 with a 30% discount and weighs 140 lbs!) Never fear–we found some gifts for other people, too. We came home, had dinner, did the dishes, and went out to a Christmas party, thrown by Anna, an ex-co-worker of mine, and her husband Aaron.

In other exciting news, our good friends Kelli and Pete Bronski have brought their first child into the world! Marin Concetta Bronski was born on Friday. We’ll go meet her tomorrow and rejoice with our friends.

Food and Exercise

I’m here to talk about food. Food and exercise. This afternoon I pulled on my running shoes and went for a jog. The whole time, I was thinking about how much I hate jogging—I can’t breathe, I immediately get a stitch in my side, my ankle hurts, my knees ache. I was also trying to remind myself that I feel really good when I get enough exercise. Generally, the crankier I am, the likelier it is that I haven’t been outside or climbing in the gym in a while. Make no mistake—I HATE the idea of exercise. I love to ride my bike—especially mountain biking—but it’s exhausting. I love to climb in the gym, but I hate postponing dinner to head over there after a long day at work. I love to ice climb, but I hate being cold. I love caving, but I hate worrying about how scared I’ll be. I love running about with friends, but I hate the idea of spending an afternoon playing soccer. I love swimming, but I hate suiting up and sliding into cold water. I hate jogging. Yes, I just hate it. But the easiest exercise to get in the middle of day is pulling on stretchy clothes, pocketing my iPod, and lacing up my really cool Adidas (bought when I was laboring through triathlons a few summers ago). Then heading out to the bike path near work and going ten minutes in one direction until—thank goodness!—my watch beeps and I can turn back. Luckily, I inherited some of my dad’s desire for a regular schedule, which has made it easier to get in the habit of exercising. In college and grad school it was Abs of Steel, every other day, for years. I still do exercise videos that Dad taped from the TV back in the 80s—Denise Austin and Basic Training: The Workout with Ada Janklowitcz. I also did Buns of Steel for a while, until I realized that building muscle in your rear means building your rear.

Anyway, I hate jogging. And I hate the idea that I get a bunch of exercise and then I have to do it again! I should immediately look like a movie star. It’s all well and good to be healthy (as always, The Magic Mountain comes to mind), but I’m already fairly healthy. If I’m going to kill myself huffing and puffing up the path, I want to be gorgeous at the end of it, immediately!

I also exercise because I LOVE FOOD. I love it as much as I hate jogging (maybe more). Dinner is a beautiful reward for a workday. Breakfast soothes the pain of having to be awake. Lunch is probably my least favorite, but at work it gives me time to read for fun and enjoy some leftovers. I’ve always loved to eat, but I have no appetite. I’m never hungry. I think I have a terribly slow metabolism and I eat because it’s finally time, hooray! So I simply must exercise. I’ve struck a happy balance with my body. I eat more than I should, but I don’t worry about what I’m eating, and I live comfortably with the results.

I’ve recently discovered that I love to cook, and I’m also learning that I like to garden. I love to eat vegetables that taste like they’re supposed to, and that have to have the dirt washed off before I can eat them. I’d love to learn to can and learn how to freeze things in useable quantities—so I could pull out carrots in the middle of winter for a soup or a stew. (Advice welcome.) Since I’m talking about cooking, I’ll mention that we’re having a dinner party tomorrow. Dave suggested that I make either Indian food or stir-fry, but I decided on blue cheese rigatoni and spinach salad, with pineapple upside-down cake for dessert. If it turns out well, I’ll post the recipes.

Sleeping Late

Alexander doesn’t sound too happy this morning, but I am. It’s been great to sleep late in the mornings, hang out with Jennifer and Lee, interrogate them about the joys and travails of parenthood, and eat plenty of food. Yesterday Dave and I didn’t get up until 10:30 and we didn’t make it out of the house for coffee until 11:30. We stopped at a really cute coffee stand and I had an excellent latte. Then to another terrific family-owned business, a pastry shop, where I had a cherry turnover. We looked around St. Joseph, walked on the beach in the cold November wind, and walked up and down the cute little main street. It’s terrific for Jennifer and Lee to be living so close to the water, which they both love. I was surprised to see very few ethnic restaurants, but I guess I’m spoiled, living in Boulder and traveling for work to big cities every several months. It makes sense that there aren’t a lot of Nepalese restaurants in the Midwest.

I can hear Lee singing The Turkeys on the Bus to Alexander, who is still making annoyed whines. You guessed it—the turkeys go gobble-gobble-gobble. It’s terribly cute. And it happened more naturally than I expected. One day we were whitewater rafting and the next we’re all singing at and poking at the baby.

Yesterday we had dinner at an Italian restaurant (I had fettuccine primavera) and then headed to the bowling alley, but you had to have cash to bowl and none of us had any. We almost always go bowling when we see each other, so we’ll probably go back today. We’ll also head over to the library, which is just across the street from the housing development—a wonderful feature! Jennifer and Lee have plenty of space in their new house and they’re close to work, shopping, and the beach. Nice.