Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Polymath Hits A Snag, Part Thirteen

Finally, after all the waiting, the results were in.


I check the website.

“Congrats to the top three vote-getters and their recipes. Stay tuned to see which of these three cocktails takes the grand prize on June 3 in NYC!”

You have got to be fucking kidding me.

All the website stuff said May 15, on or around, date subject to change.

I booked a non-changeable, non-refundable, non-avoidable vacation from May 22-June 11.

Out of the country. (Yep, chickens, your polymath is not currently stateside, and is very grateful for being able to schedule posts ahead of time!)

I call Mionetto, and am told that the date changed due to some important employee who was having a baby and they wanted her to be back from maternity leave. I am tempted to rail at the gods, but the sweet girl on the phone says she will check to see if the date is firm and get back to me, she has a meeting later that day, she feels terrible and is sure that they will want to try and fix it.

NEXT: The Polymath Waits

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Polymath is Not Alone, Part Twelve

One afternoon, a couple of weeks before the voting is over I’m watching the Sutter Burger Challenge (which I had entered half-a-dozen times to no avail) on television, when one of the judges asks one of the finalists how many times she made her burger before submitting the recipe.

“Honestly?” She asks.

“Of course.” The judge says.

“Never. I made up the recipe and didn’t cook it for the first time till I got the notification that I was a finalist.”

This made me both sad and vindicated. I called Jen.

“I’m sure you’re not the only crazy person in the world, just one of the best. What is her burger?”

“Salmon. Ick.”

“What was your burger?”

“Well, I had a BBQ burger* with fried onions and bacon and smoked gouda on a brioche roll with homemade BBQ sauce. And I had a Greek lamb burger with feta and tzatziki sauce. I had a spicy adobo pork burger with a Thai slaw on top, a saltimbocca veal burger, a chicken satay burger, and a tuna nicoise burger with…”

“Good lord! Enough.”


“It is a miracle you finished the book.” Jen sounds equal parts bemused at my idiocy and shocked that I manage to dress myself in the morning.

“Yeah. I know.”

“Well, tell me how she does!”

“Will do.”

I watched the progress of my fellow no-cook recipe writer on the show, and it probably makes me not such a good person, but I was kind of glad when she didn’t win.

NEXT: The Polymath Hits a Snag

* BBQ Burger

1 bottle favorite barbeque sauce
2 T brown sugar
1 T tomato paste
1 T buckwheat honey
1/2 T grains of paradise, ground
1/4 t red pepper flakes
2 tsp. vegetable oil
1 medium yellow onion, grated
2 cloves garlic, grated
4 egg yolks
2 tsp. fresh thyme
1 tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 T chili sauce
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
½ c whole milk

1 1/2 lb. ground beef chuck
1/4 lb. ground pork
1/4 lb. ground veal
½ c French’s fried onions, chopped
2/3 c crushed saltine crackers
1/3 c minced fresh flat leaf parsley

1 bottle favorite barbeque sauce
2 T brown sugar
1 T tomato paste
1 T maple syrup

9 slices thick cut bacon, cut in half, then cooked until crisp and set aside
6 slices smoked gouda
6 brioche rolls
6 T butter-softened
1 T garlic salt

1. For the glaze: Mix ½ bottle barbeque sauce, brown sugar, tomato paste honey, grains of paradise and red pepper flakes in saucepan, cook over medium until bubbles appear, and turn off heat. Set aside.

2. For the burgers: Heat grill to high. Heat oil in medium skillet. Add onion and garlic; sauté until softened, about 3 minutes. Set aside to cool while preparing remaining ingredients.

3. Mix eggs with thyme, salt, pepper, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, chili sauce and milk. Add egg mixture to meat in large bowl along with crackers, fried onions, parsley, smoked paprika, and cooked onion and garlic; mix with fork until evenly blended and meat mixture does not stick to bowl.

4. Turn meat mixture onto work surface. With wet hands, form into 6 even burgers.

5. Brush grill with oil, and cook burgers on first side about 2-3 minutes until well seared. Flip and sear other side. Turn heat off on one half of the grill, leaving the other side on high. Move the burgers to the off side and brush with half the glaze, close lid of grill and cook 3 minutes. Flip burgers, baste with other half of the glaze, close lid and cook to desired internal temp.

6. Mix butter with garlic salt, and spread on the cut sides of the brioche buns. Open grill and grill buns, butter side down, until lightly toasted.

7. Put slice of smoked gouda on bottom bun, and then then arrange bacon slices, 3 halves per bun, overlapping slightly and place burger on top. Top with other half of bun, and serve with shredded lettuce, thin sliced red onion, and ripe tomatoes on the side for people to add as they like.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Polymath Puts Up A Fight, Part Eleven

You should not be shocked to discover that my little plan works. Within two days I am in fourth place, with 593 votes, only 75 votes behind the third place, and in tasting distance of that trip to NY! And then my aforementioned BFF Jen, who was very supportive when I didn’t win any of my contests and only snorted at me through her nose a couple of times muttering “shocking that people who actually cooked things might have won”, does a very Jen thing. She posts a really lovely blog about me and my contest and asks her fans to please vote for me.

In an hour I’m in first place.

In two hours I have twice as many votes as the person in second place.

In twenty-four hours I have over three times as many votes as the person in second place and have received an e-mail from the contact pages of my website which says, in brief “Stop cheating in the Mionetto Contest.”.

Who’s your polymath?

The voting is open for two and a half months. I bookmark the site, and obsessively check my stats a gabillion times every day, amazed every time that I am still winning the voting. When I get to around 3600 votes, the next guy has around 2500 votes, and the voting slows down to just a few votes a day. I keep telling people about it, and leave the link up on my Facebook page, and I continue to exploit opportunities to promote myself.

I might be too lazy to test recipes, but I am not too lazy to score a mention on a wine and spirits website ( ), a little piece in a NY mag ( ), or to use my food column at Oy!Chicago to get more votes (oy!).

NEXT: The Polymath is Not Alone

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Polymath Gets Her Groove Back, Part Ten

I’ve always been one of those people to scoff at the art in the museum that is just a big canvas painted black. After all, how hard is that? Then again, I’ve never actually tried to make a large canvas perfectly, evenly, black, so maybe it’s not as simple as it appears.

I’m a good cook, often a great cook; I write my own recipes and tweak other people’s all the time. I figured how hard could it be to win some contests?

Then I entered about 30 different contests dozens of times and didn’t win bupkes, not even honorable mention or an e-mail to thank me for my participation.

Oh well.

Onto the next project.

That’s the best thing about being a polymath, after all, if you try something and don’t succeed, there’s a bunch of other stuff you’ll be genius at, so you don’t have to pout for long, and never have any regrets.

Then I got an e-mail.

Mionetto Prosecco cocktail entries now ready for voting! Click here to tell us your favorite!

Hmmmph. Mionetto. One of my favorite proseccos, and I had entered their cocktail contest with what I thought was a pretty killer martini *, one I had actually made and tasted! I wonder who beat me out? I click.


They have not chosen the top contenders, as I assumed they would, they have posted all 300+ submissions and are asking for online voting. The top three online vote-getters get a free trip for two to NY and make their drink for a panel of judges, third prize $500, second prize $1000, first prize FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS!

This bitch is still in the game.

I check to see how my little cocktail is doing.

Zero votes.

The leader has nearly 700 votes. There are a couple of people in the 500s, a few in the 300s and a few in the 100s.


I vote for myself.

I feel better. I feel empowered. This I can do. Polymaths, after all, are very popular people, being so multi-dimensional and talented and all, so I have a good group of supporters. I send out an e-mail. I post a link on Facebook. I put it on MySpace. I tell everyone I know to tell everyone they know, and sit back and wait for the shampoo-commercial-effect to hit the airwaves.

NEXT: The Polymath Puts Up A Fight

* Mionetini

1 oz Mionetto Brut or other prosecco
1 oz premium vodka
1 oz Elderflower Liqueur (St. Germain, available at
1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
1/2 oz pineapple juice

For rim of glass:
1 T lemon juice
1 T sugar in the raw
1 t grains of paradise, ground (African pepper available at

For Float:
1 T Mionetto Brut or other prosecco

Fill shaker with ice, and shake all ingredients well.
Dip rim of martini glass in lemon juice and then in the combined sugar and grains of paradise.
Strain cocktail into glass and float 1 T Mionetto Brut on the top for extra fizz.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Polymath Gets Some News, Part Nine

I exhausted all my recipe contest possibilities and had no choice but to hunker down and finish the book, which I managed to do on time, even though it required an 8,000 word day during the last week. (For those of you who care, that is about 50 pages.) Then I sat back to wait for the results, the accolades and the money to pour in.

When the Tillamook people didn’t call, I was sad. After all, I thought for sure Stacey’s Smoky Mac and Cheese with bacon and smoked cheddar and smoked paprika panko topping would have clinched it.

Then when the pork people never contacted me, I was surprised, because that Tuscan style pork roast has always been a huge hit at dinner parties.

The Colman people went another direction, which was okay, I guess. Their loss, if you asked me, but still, that grill would have been too big for my porch anyway.

And then the 7up people actually chose a person of Latino descent as the winner of their clearly ‘targeted at the Latino market’ contest, and I swore that if only my last name or Kevin’s hadn’t so obviously been Anglo, we both would have been in there.

But when the butter contest ended with nary a butter bell headed my way, I’m not going to lie, it was a big bucket of suck, and a very hard day to be a cheerful polymath.

Months went by. I got copious notes on the book and got to work on the rewrites. My passion for entering contests waned, and I stopped checking online for new opportunities. I figured it was just a passing thing and that if all those contests didn’t know a good thing when they had it, why should I bother?

NEXT: The Polymath Gets Her Groove Back

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Polymath Cooks With 7up, Part Eight

Five days after returning from the Farm where I had in fact gotten some good work done, found me in my kitchen surrounded by the detritus of a full day of cooking with 7up. I had developed five entrees, had used 7up in every possible application, and was sitting with my friend Kevin, who had to come over and help me taste. Kevin was very excited to be my guinea pig, and tucked into the dishes with gusto, offering excellent advice.

The top dish, we decided, was a chicken breast marinated in 7up, coated with bread crumbs that contained both lemon and lime zest, and was served with a rice salad with a 7up cumin lime dressing. Second place, 7up brined pork chops with a 7up chipotle glaze, served with butternut squash that had been mashed with butter and 7up reduced to a caramel. The 7up marinated pork loin with 7up honey jalapeno sauce, paired with sweet and sour 7up slaw with cabbage, fennel and green apple was pretty good. The 7up Spicy Thai Peanut Noodles with Chicken was almost addictive, and the 7up Asian Chicken Salad also was excellent. *recipes below

Kevin helped me take the photos, and we made some notes - the chipotle glaze needed to reduce more to be thicker, slightly more cumin in the rice salad - I sent Kevin home with a bag full of food to take to his pals at work, and wrote up the recipes. It was after midnight when I logged into the website to enter the contest. I uploaded the first picture, the pork chops, and the recipe and hit send. Then I went back and entered the chicken breast. A screen popped up.

We’re sorry, but you have already entered this contest.


I went back to the rules. In tiny tiny print way at the bottom, one entry per household. ONE. I hadn’t even entered the best one! I sat feeling defeated. Then I called Kevin.

“You could make that chicken if I taught you how, right?”

“Yeah I think so.”

“I’m entering you in the contest.”

“Oh, I don’t know…I’m not a good cook…”

“Kevin! I didn’t read the fine print. There is only one entry per household. I sent them the pork chop recipe, but we liked the chicken even better! If the pork wins, no problem. If the chicken wins, we’ll practice practice practice before we go to Miami for the cook-off, and we’ll split the prize! And if we both get in, then we double our chances!”

Kevin laughs, and then, in all seriousness, says “Okay, but e-mail me the recipe in case someone calls and asks me questions!”

“Done.” I entered the chicken recipe under Kevin’s name and thought about how much fun the two of us would have “competing” against each other at the finals in Miami.

NEXT: The Polymath Gets Some News

7up Recipes for your oddly delicious cooking pleasure....

Lemon Lime Chicken with Confetti Rice

For Chicken:
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
½ c 7Up
¼ c lemon juice
Zest of one lemon
2 T Dijon mustard
2 T fresh thyme leaves
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T soy sauce
1 T Worcestershire sauce
2 T butter, melted
1 T lime zest
½ c bread crumbs

For Rice:
4 C cooked rice, white or brown, cooked according to package directions with ¼ cooking water replaced with 7Up, cooled to room temperature but not chilled

¼ c each-
chopped celery
chopped carrots
chopped red bell pepper
sweet corn kernels
canned black beans, rinsed and drained
toasted pine nuts
chopped green apple
chopped scallions
chopped flat leaf parsley

½ c 7Up
¼ c lime juice
1 shallot, minced
1 T sugar
1 t kosher salt
½ t grains of paradise, ground
1 T ground cumin
¾ c extra virgin olive oil

Chicken: In Ziploc bag put 7Up, lemon juice, lemon zest, mustard, thyme, garlic, soy, Worcestershire, and chicken breasts. Squish around so chicken is completely covered with marinade, and put in refrigerator 1 hour to overnight.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Mix bread crumbs with lime zest in shallow dish.

Remove chicken from marinade to bread crumbs, and coat completely. Place on baking tray. Drizzle with melted butter and bake in oven 14-18 minutes, depending on thickness of chicken. Should be golden brown on top and cooked through.

While chicken is baking, whisk all dressing ingredients in small bowl. In large bowl, mix rice and rest of salad components, add about ½ of the dressing. Taste and add more dressing to desired flavor balance. Serve at room temperature.

7Up Chipotle Pork Chops with Butternut Squash

For brine:

1 ½ c 7Up
¾ c dark brown sugar
¼ c kosher salt
10 cloves garlic crushed
2 bay leaves
1 t coriander seed
1 T celery seed
4 cassia buds (may substitute cloves)
2 cups hot water
4 cups cold water

4 pork loin chops, rib on
2 t canola oil
Salt and pepper

For Sauce:
½ c honey
¼ c dark brown sugar
1 c 7Up
Zest of 2 limes
1 t salt
2 cloves garlic, grated
4 chipotles in adobo, chopped

For Squash:
1 c 7Up
1 large butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1 inch chunks
2 T unsalted butter
1 t salt
1 T dark brown sugar
½ t nutmeg
½ t grains of paradise, ground
¼ c applesauce, natural style

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Spread squash chunks on sheet pan and roast in oven until soft, about 20-30 minutes.

Dissolve sugar and salt in the 2 cups hot water. Add cold water and rest of brine ingredients. Put brine in Ziploc bag with pork chops, and let rest in fridge one hour.

Put 7Up, honey, sugar and salt in small saucepan over medium high heat until thoroughly combined. Add lime zest, garlic and chipotle. Cook until reduced by half, and thickened. Blend with immersion blender till smooth. Taste for seasoning.

Remove chops from brine and pat dry. Discard brine. Oil chops and season well with salt and pepper. Sear over high heat in sauté pan until browned on both sides. Move to sheet pan and finish in oven to desired doneness (I prefer slightly pink in the middle, about 12 minutes)

Mash squash in bowl with potato masher, or put thru ricer. Add butter, and blend until melted. Stir in salt, sugar, nutmeg, grains of paradise, and applesauce. Put 1 c 7Up in small saucepan over high heat and reduce to caramel, about 6 minutes. Should be medium golden brown, and should yield about 1 T or less caramel. Watch carefully so that it doesn’t burn. Mix caramel into squash.

Serve chops with a spoonful of chipotle sauce, and a side of squash.

Sweet and Spicy Glazed Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Sweet and Sour Slaw

¼ c lime juice
2 T sugar
1 T cumin
1/3 c olive oil
1 crushed garlic clove
1 T fresh thyme leaves

2 small or 1 large pork tenderloins (about 2 lbs)
2 T canola oil
Salt and Pepper

½ c tangerine juice
½ c dry white wine
¼ c lime juice
Zest of 1 lime
2 c dark brown sugar
2 jalapeño peppers, seeds and ribs removed, sliced into thin strips

Mix marinade ingredients in Ziploc bag and add tenderloins. Marinate 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Mix all glaze ingredients in small saucepan over medium high heat, and reduce till very thick, about 15 minutes.

Heat one side of grill to high.

Remove tenderloins from marinade and pat dry. Coat with oil and season well with salt and pepper. Sear over high heat on the grill until golden brown on all sides and remove to unheated side of grill. Baste with glaze. Close grill. Finish over indirect heat to desired doneness (I prefer slightly pink in the middle). Let rest 10 minutes after removing from oven, and slice about ½ inch thick slices, with more glaze as sauce. Serve with slaw.

1 small green cabbage, shredded fine
1 head fennel, shredded fine
1 green apple, julienned
¼ c rice wine vinegar

1/4 c 7up
¼ c lime juice
1/3 c sugar
1 T + 1 t kosher salt
½ t ground black pepper
1 T caraway seed
½ c canola oil

Put shredded cabbage in a strainer over a bowl, and toss with 1 T salt until well blended. Let rest 1 hour, then rinse well to remove salt, and pat dry. Toss with fennel and apple. In a bowl whisk 7Up and lime juice with sugar and salt till dissolved. Add caraway and oil and whisk until emulsified, toss dressing with cabbage mix and taste for seasoning. Chill.

Spicy Thai Noodles with Chicken

1 lb. linguini
4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
4 c 7Up

1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup rice vinegar
6 T peanut butter, smooth style, (not natural)
2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp sugar
1 T lime juice

6 T sesame seeds, toasted
1 tsp ginger, grated
4 T peanut oil
3 garlic cloves (or more) finely minced
1 tsp hot red pepper flakes (depending on how hot you like it)
4 scallions, whites and green tops, chopped
½ seedless cucumber, sliced into half moons

Cook the noodles according to package directions; toss with 2 T peanut oil; set aside.

Bring 3 c 7Up and 5 c water to boil in small saucepan. Add chicken, bring back to boil, cover and turn off heat. Leave covered 1 hour till cooked through. Remove from poaching liquid and shred meat.

Put 1 c 7Up in small saucepan and boil over high heat until reduced to ¼ c, about 6 minutes.Mix together soy sauce, vinegar, reduced 7Up, lime juice, peanut butter, sesame oil. Does not have to be thoroughly combined, peanut butter will not blend until heated.

In large sauté pan, saute garlic and ginger in 2 T peanut oil; add red pepper flakes and cook one minute, until fragrant. Add soy mixture and cook 2 minutes until smooth and slightly thickened. Add in noodles, and toss and mix over medium heat just until heated through. Add in shredded chicken and mix well. Cool to room temperature. Garnish with chopped green onions and sliced, seeded cucumbers. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds.

7up Asian Chicken Salad

1 rotisserie chicken, skin removed, meat shredded
½ c rice wine vinegar
½ c sugar
1 c 7up, reduced over high heat to ¼ c
¾ c almond oil not roasted, just plain (or canola)
2 oz. sliced almonds, toasted
4 scallions, white and green, chopped
4 T sesame seeds, toasted
1 t kosher salt
½ t white pepper
1 head iceberg lettuce, chopped
1 cup fried chow mein noodles

Put vinegar, reduced 7up, sugar and salt in bowl and whisk until sugar is dissolved. Whisk in almond oil. Add chopped scallions and toasted almonds and toasted sesame seeds and pepper to dressing. Taste for seasoning and adjust to your palate with salt, pepper or sugar.

Remove chicken from poaching liquid, and shred into rough strips and chunks. Put chicken in Ziploc bag, and add dressing. Chill in fridge one hour to overnight.

Toss chicken in dressing with iceberg lettuce, and garnish with chow mein noodles.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Polymath Visits the Country, Part Seven

The book needed to get done, so I secluded myself out at the Farm. The Farm is my family’s weekend place, about an hour and fifteen minutes outside Chicago. We've had it for over 30 years and it is one of my favorite places on the planet. It is a lovely place at the end of a long gravel road, with beautiful woods and lots of room and trees and quiet. There is a pool for the summer and a fireplace for the winter, and cable tv, because it isn't exactly about roughing it! When I need to have real peace and quiet and to focus, it is my sanctuary. So with my deadline positively LOOMING, I packed up myself and headed out there to limit distractions.

And then I got bored, so I called my favorite distraction, Jen, and begged her to come visit.

Lying on floats in the pool and discussing our mutual love of procrastination, and the things we do when we should be writing books, and pondering why there were about fifty tiny little baby frogs the size of a thumbnail in the pool with us, I mentioned the recipe contests.

“Oh my god, how are you not gaining weight eating all that food?” She asked me incredulous that I had not doubled in girth.

“Well, good lord, I’m not cooking any of it! I’m just submitting the recipes.” Which is logic that makes sense to me, if not to anyone else.

“You aren’t cooking the recipes?”

“Are you kidding? Can you imagine me making forty butters? I’d be a house!” Instead of my current size, which I think of as more ‘condo’.

“So how do you know they work?”

“Well, I’m a good cook, I know what proportions should be like, I read cookbooks like they’re novels, I subscribe to every cooking magazine known to man, I just make them up.”

“So you’re not really entering cooking contests, you are entering WRITING contests!”

I think about this. “Well, I guess, if you want to be a stickler about it!”

Jen begins to laugh. “That is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard! Don’t people like spend a whole year making their families taste eight-six different versions of things before they enter? And you are just like, la di da, I’ll just make some stuff up and send it in!”

“Well, I have to actually cook the 7up stuff!” I’m feeling a little sheepish with her mocking, and want to defend myself.

“What 7up stuff?”

I explain about my holy grail, the $70,000 7up grand prize.

“Why start cooking now?” Jen snorts. “Why not just make it up!”

“Well…” I hesitate.


“They need a picture of the food.” I admit, knowing full well that if they didn’t, in a million years I wouldn’t bother to test those recipes either. That’s that whole laziness thing again.

Jen stops laughing out a lung just long enough to point out “Dude, you are totally insane, and you have a mini-frog on your neck.”

“You’ll see.” I say, removing the wayward amphibian.

“Yeah, I’ll see allright, when the truckload of Butter Bells shows up at your door!”

I had, in fact, already considered that in addition to the grand prize I might win up to thirty-nine ceramic butter bells, and had made up a list of people to whom I would give them for holiday gifts this year.

I did not mention this to Jen, who was still laughing at me, and mentally crossed her name off the list of possible Christmas butter bell recipients.

NEXT: The Polymath Cooks with 7Up

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Polymath Finds the Holy Grail, Part Six

It was on the first day of the second week of my new habit that I found the mother-lode.


7up was looking for the best entrée using 7up, and was paying SEVENTY THOUSAND DOLLARS for the grand prize. This would be the best one ever! I blocked off the dates for the Miami finalist cook-off in the old calendar, and went to the 7up website. I conveniently ignored the fact that I don't actually like 7up, and when craving something citrus, I prefer Fresca, Sprite or Squirt.

I noticed that the contest was called the Receta contest, that the instructions were in Spanish, that the sponsor was Telemundo Television, and that the celebrity judge was Carlos from Top Chef season 3. But there was a place to click to get the instructions in English, so I paid it no mind.

The rules were simple. It had to be an entrée serving at least 4 people, and it had to include a minimum of 1 cup of 7up. And the entry had to have a photo accompanying it.

This would be a challenge.

For this is where I admit that I wasn’t actually cooking any of the recipes I was submitting.

I was just taking recipes I had developed along the years and tweaking them to fit contest rules. After all, I’m a great cook, remember? I know how much cheese to put in my mac and cheese, and how much ground mustard powder to put in the marinade for my Mustard Grilled Chicken Thighs. I didn’t need to start pre-spending any of my future winnings on groceries, and for sure I didn’t need to gain ten pounds by having to taste forty different types of butter.

The book?

Thanks for asking, it was going verrrry slowly, as every third hour I felt the need to track down a new contest, or submit an additional recipe to one I had already entered. I started waking up with butter blends fully formed in my head, like Paul McCartney did with “Yesterday”, only for me it was “smoked sea salt maple butter for pork tenderloin” or “anchovy parmesan butter for foccacia”.

It became a part of my routine.

Get up. Brush teeth. Shower. Dress. Check e-mail. Enter Plugra Butter Blend Contest.

Think about book. Enter recipe contest.

Make lunch. Get inspired by lunch and Enter Plugra Butter Blend Contest.

Take nap. Awake with new idea and Enter Plugra Butter Contest.

Check website for new recipe contests. Work on book. Eat dinner. Watch TV. See something on tv which inspires new recipe for contest, and enter new recipe in contest.

Go to bed. Dream of butter. Repeat.

MMMMMmmmmmmmm. Butter.

NEXT: The Polymath Visits the Country

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Polymath Goes Postal, Part Five

Lest you think I limited myself to butter in my newfound career path, it is important to note that I instantly became obsessed with entering all sorts of recipe contests. I pored over the website and made charts. I only entered contests with minimum prize money of $5000, since I am a broke-ass writer and piddly little hundred bucks here, basket-of-goodies prizes there aren’t going to cut it. And in cases where the finalists need to appear for an in-person cook-off, I made sure not to enter any contests where the cook-off dates conflicted with each other.


Because, and this is very important, I assumed that I would be a finalist.

In every contest I entered.

(This is where I also confess that I am genuinely baffled when I buy a lottery ticket and don’t actually win.)

Since I was fairly (okay, totally) certain that I would be a finalist in all of the contests, or at least most of them, I blocked off the dates in my Blackberry to be sure I would not double book myself. I thought about the prizes that would start rolling in, the money and the products. I would live like that book where the mom kept her impoverished family going with prizes from tagline contests!

You know, without the eighteen kids and abusive husband.

Some contests I was particularly excited about. The Tillamook Cheddar Mac and Cheese competition, which I entered three times. Five grand and 25 pounds of cheese for that one. My dad loves cheddar, he’d be so excited when that cheese arrived. A Colman Mustard Grilling challenge, five grand and a new gourmet grill. I mentally rearranged my back porch to accommodate the new equipment. The chicken contest, now down to fifty grand, probably due to the economy, but still, I entered that one a dozen times.

I was off to the races, and wondered where the hell I was going to store all the huge foam-core prize checks…

NEXT: The Polymath Finds the Holy Grail

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Polymath Ponders Making Money From Home, Part Four

After watching not only the chicken contest, but every other competition I can find on the Food Network for a couple of days, I can’t take it anymore. In the middle of trying to flesh out a chapter, I click over from Microsoft Word (finish the book finish the book finish the book) to Explorer, and type into Google “Recipe Contests”. I immediately find that there are whole websites devoted to archiving info on such contests, and that there are literally dozens in every possible arena. Forget the chicken, there are contests for pork and pizza and Prosecco. There are contests for cheese and chili and chocolate. Contests for cooking with kids, cooking with grandma, and cooking with Kraft products. I’m hesitant. Where to look, where to click first? I see one that catches my eye. Plugra European Butter contest.

I use Plugra.

It is my favorite daily-use butter.

I click. A form pops up on my screen.

Plugra European Butter is looking for your best butter blend. Grand prize $5000, and a trip for two to New York, and appearance on a local New York television show, plus Plugra may use your recipe in a blended butter for sale. Fifty honorable mention prizes of special ceramic butter bells for storing your Plugra.

All they need is basic info, the recipe for the butter, with Plugra being the primary ingredient, and serving suggestions. I think about the carefully crafted herb butter I have developed for use in my Thanksgiving Turkey recipe.
It is flawless.

I fill in the form in less than two minutes and press send. It thanks me for entering and encourages me to enter again as often as I like.

As often as I like turns out to be over forty butter recipes during the next two weeks.

Apparently butter is very inspiring to me.

There is brown sugar, cinnamon, pecan butter for use on baked sweet potatoes. Strawberry balsamic butter for putting on scones or biscuits. Feta oregano kalamata olive butter for your lamb chops. Dijon caramelized shallot thyme butter for chicken, and BBQ butter for pork chops. Chocolate hazelnut butter, cheddar chive butter, orange nutmeg butter and lemon rosemary garlic butter. Tomato basil butter, and pesto butter, and sweet pea butter with mint.

And my favorite:

Honey bacon butter for your waffles and pancakes.



In butter.

Shut up. I am a genius.

NEXT: The Polymath Goes Postal

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Polymath's Writing Process, or Non-Writing Process, Part Three

Now, being a published writer, people ask a lot about “writing process”, and mine differs from project to project. But one of the things that tends to remain true for me, is that I often write with the television on, tuned to something relevant. When I was writing Room for Improvement, about an interior designer, I had HGTV on almost exclusively. With Spinster Sisters, a book about self-help gurus, there was a lot of Oprah and the Starting Over house on my tube.

My new book, Good Enough to Eat, is about a chef, so of course, it was all Food Network all the time. One day, while trying to knock out a chapter, I caught the tail end of a show about a cooking contest in which the winning chicken recipe won $100,000. In true Joe Biden form, let me repeat that.


I stopped writing. I turned up the volume.

Now, I always knew about state fair blue ribbons for pies and jams and the famous Pillsbury Bake off. I knew all about the big BBQ competitions. But here was a contest about chicken.

Something I cook all the time with frankly delicious results. And which is worse, the winner’s recipe seemed sort of pedestrian to me. Not nearly as good as some of the stuff I make for myself to eat alone on a random Tuesday! I looked at my laptop, and the book that I was under contract to finish ASAP. And then I looked at the television where a benign ashy blonde was accepting a huge prize-patrol check.





This is like two full years salary from when I was still working full time. This is more than I have made on all four of my books combined. This could be…my new source of income while I wait to be discovered as a literary genius!

NEXT: The Polymath Ponders: Make Money Working From Home!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Oh Tivo, My Tivo

I'm a Tivo girl. My folks got me my Tivo many years ago for my birthday, and it changed my life.

So I'm really conflicted about the fact that I am waiting at home for Comcast to come and upgrade my internet, change over my phone, and install my new DVR cable box. Which is making me a little panicky, since I'm an idiot and scheduled them to come the day after I get home from a week in NY, and so I am frantically trying to watch a whole week of recorded shows that I missed before they come pull the plug.

I have to say goodbye to my beloved Tivo, and it makes me sad. I like the little dancing TV logo guy. I like the soothing colors of the screens, and the ease of finding programs and the little bah-looping sound it makes when you fast forward through commercials.

Bah-loop, bah-loop, bah-loop. In slightly increasing pitch. Like a little song. Bah-loop, bah-loop, bah-loop. No-more, bore-dom, for-you! Do-not, watch-the, dumb-ads! Find-out, what-hap, pens-next!

It has become code in my family, when dad, who (like all dad's) hates to give up the remote, but is also not as quick on the fast forward as his daughters might like, falls asleep at the wheel and lets the commercials run.

"Um, bah-loop, bah-loop, bah-loop there dad."

or "You aren't bah-looping very well."

or "Do you need me to bah-loop this for you?"

The DVRs don't bah-loop.

But then again, at the moment it takes all freaking day to download something onto my computer, and the best bundle included the cable upgrade as well as the internet, and as much as I love my bah-looping buddy, it is an old model that can only record one station at a time, and this makes for some serious Sophie's Choices in the television department.

Law and Order SVU vs. Criminal Minds? Law and Order Criminal Intent vs. Lie to Me? Good lord, it's like asking me to choose between chocolate and caramel, between mashed potatoes and risotto.

The DVR can record two stations at once.

So, of course, can the fancy new Tivo HD XL, which can not only do two stations at once, but can record up to 1500 hours of programming. Mmmmm. Fancy new Tivo. How I covet thee.

But sadly, it is a $500 machine, not including the lifetime service package, and that just doesn't take precidence over, say, rent. Can't watch TV unless you live indoors.

So as of today, I'll lose my Tivo and all that lovely bah-looping, and the colorful screens, and the little dancing logo and clockwork gears and join the world of the DVR.

But someday, Tivo, I'll be back. Cause I have the feeling that I just can't quit you.