Thursday, November 13, 2008

Butter for Bliss

A friend told me a long time ago that one of the best cures for depression is a grilled cheese sandwich. I couldn't agree more. Not only does it harken back images of my childhood velveeta obsession (forbidden fruit, what can I say?), but the deliciously excessive amount of fat in a grilled cheese boosts your saratonin levels making you feel quite a bit better, even on a rainy day with not too much to look forward to.

These days I've been needing a grilled cheese almost every day. Still on the hunt for a job. I had another interview today at a physical therapist's office. All the people there seemed really nice, but it would be working long hours for peanuts. I think not. The financial firm has not quite offered me a job, but I don't know if I really want to keep track of my own withholdings throughout the fiscal year. Also the pay certainly doesn't seem to be 15-20% higher than a W2 employee relationship position.

Luckily, Rutgers has contacted me and I may very well have another job opportunity lined up on Monday. It's for a clerical position at the Center for Alcohol Studies on the Busch Campus. It's part time, so no health care, but it seems to pay pretty well for being part time. Let's hope they love me.

Two days ago, I made stuffed buttercup squash for dinner. The buttercup squash is not to be confused with the butternut, although they are slightly similar in taste if roasted. It was entirely delicious.

Estimated Time: about 75 minutes.

You will need:

1 buttercup squash
Lots of olive oil
Salt and Pepper
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/2 pound ground meat (I used turkey)
1 box rice pilaf mix (I used Zatarains New Orleans Style Dirty Rice)
Water as directed on pilaf mix
About a pound of mushrooms, chopped (I used white button, but that was due to a lack of imagination)
Pecorino Romano, or a similar white hard cheese.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Using a sharp knife, cut the squash in half, removing the seeds and squash ganglia with a metal spoon. You can toss this out, unless you want to salt and bake the seeds.

Lovingly massage the interior of each squash half with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper (if desired).

Place the halves face down on a baking sheet (or glass dish, whatever is convenient) and bake for approximately 50 minutes.

While the squash is baking, lightly coat a saute pan with olive oil and saute the onion at a medium low heat, as they release their juices more divinely with less heat and more time. When the onions are sufficiently translucent, add the ground meat and brown.

While the meat is browning, boil the appointed amount of water and add the rice. When the meat is finished browning, add the meat and the onions to the rice mix and let simmer until the rice has absorbed all moisture (about 25 minutes).

Meanwhile, add a little more oil to the pan and saute the mushrooms. Once they've been coated with oil, put a lid on the pan and keep them on a low heat, stirring every now and then to see how they're reducing.

When the baking time for the squash is up, test its consistency by putting a fork into the back of one squash, to test its consistency. If the fork slides in relatively easily, then take it out and let cool for a few moments. Don't turn the oven off, you're not done with it yet!

Flip the squash over so their cavities face toward the ceiling. Then, put a layer of mushrooms at the bottom of each half, followed by a generous grating of pecorino romano. Then, fill the remaining space with the rice pilaf mix, and coat again with pecorino romano.

Return the stuffed halves to the oven for about 6-10 minutes, so the cheese is melted but not burnt.

One half can easily serve two hungry people.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Weekend Letdown

So no one called me today. That's OK, it's Friday night! Too bad I'm too broke to go out and do anything typical of a Friday night. There are plenty of bars, restaurants, and movie theaters calling me but I'll just have to ignore them tonight. Besides, after a very exciting trip to the Stop N Shop in Highland Park, NJ, I have so many new lovely tools to work with.

It's been a compromising situation purchasing groceries here. Since I've come from the slow, seasonal, organic, local mecca known otherwise as the Bay Area, it's hard to know what to do. Do I go for price or quality? Both? The sweet little co-op on George Street has a disappointing array of slightly withered and very costly vegetables that no doubt come from far and wide. But at least they're organic, or are they? Perhaps they're just local and are withering with the autumn glow.

I'm reading Marion Nestle's fascinating look at the american supermarket titled "What to Eat". Her section on vegetables lists her highly educated and thoroughly researched findings on the conundrum of produce hierarchy: "Whenever I have the choice, here are my priorities in that [produce] section: (1) organic and locally grown, (2) organic, (3) conventional and locally grown, (4) conventional." (pg 66). I myself have always tried to stick with guidelines akin to that, but times have changed. With the economy spiraling ever downward and the difficulty of finding gainful employment, one has to make adjustments. This greatly saddens me, as if I am already electing to choose variety over quality, what of the ordinary citizen who ignores issues of quality and safety and automatically goes for the lowest price, regardless of origin and growth conditions? There is something very wrong about the globalized food system, and it won't change without citizen action. That action has to start with ordinary, pedantic, yet informed persons such as myself who are willing to go the extra mile (and the extra few bucks) to vote with our forks.

Although perhaps I'll wait til I have a steady paycheck coming in. The revolution can wait for a few weeks, right?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

A Brave New World

Obama has won the White House and the world stands poised for change. Or at least, I stand poised for change. I've now been in New Brunswick for 14 days with little more to show for it than a waning bank account. But no matter, there has to be something good to do around here.

To pass the time, I've been searching for jobs and walking around this industrially inflated hamlet known as central New Jersey. The leaves are turning colors and falling off the trees, students brave the streets clad in various sweatshirts and ugg boots, and life moves along.

The prospect of getting out of bed before 10:30 AM seems alluring and simultaneously impossible. Tomorrow I await a potential employer's phone call which may or may not come. If it does, life will change and my impecunity will be lessened. If not, hell, at least I'll be home for thanksgiving.

I believe tonight for dinner I shall make feijoada, brown rice, and mango avocado salsa. One great thing about living in this part of the world is that no one seems to know how to pick an avocado, so all the ones in the supermarkets are ripened to perfection. That could also be from reasons of proximity. We're not in Watsonville anymore, Toto.