Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Marie Claire, you are dead to me.

Just a couple of horrifying big girls, miracle the camera didn't break!

I’ve been struggling all day with figuring out a response to the current circus surrounding Maura Kelly’s horrifically hateful fat-bashing blog post that is garnering so much attention over at Marie Claire. Especially since today @MarieClaire supposedly solicited some counterpoint to the piece.

For those of you who have not read the post, you can find it here, in all of its prejudiced, ill-informed, dismissive, and indifferently spelled glory. Should Fatties Get A Room…

I recommend you actually click over and read it, since otherwise the following will make little or no sense.

For starters, it seems clear I should preface this by saying that Maura Kelly has every right to her opinions. I am a strong believer in the right to free speech, and I will defend anyone’s right to express themselves. After all, just because you are small-minded and bigoted, doesn’t mean you need to be silenced. I can choose not to listen to you, the same way I ignore racists, misogynists, homophobes, and people who think they were abducted by aliens. I have never before delved into the work of this particular hard-hitting journalist, as I already know he is into me, have never had a Holiday related dating disaster, and I would never have sex in public for sport. Just for pay. But I digress.

Maura, at the prompting of her Marie Claire editor, read an article on that indicated that people were finding the new sitcom Mike and Molly, about two plus-sized people who fall in love, was making them uncomfortable. And while some people are uncomfortable with the visual of humans of this particular heft getting hot with each other, most people seem more uncomfortable with the reliance on fat jokes as the driving comedic force behind the show.

AHHH!  The Horror!  Look away!

Now, my first instinct was not to address this, as I have not seen the show. But lucky for me, Ms. Kelly felt free to write about it without watching it either, so now I know my ethics are okay! In fact, Ms. Kelly indicates that she is both “not much of a TV watcher” and “can be kind of clueless”, an admission which became very obvious over the next few paragraphs.

For starters, Ms. Kelly indicates that the particular level of obesity in the main characters is problematic. Because apparently, Ms. Kelly is unaware the current AVERAGE size of women in America is 14, and they might want to see people who look like themselves on television in lead roles. For every size 0 actress in Hollywood, is a size 28 somewhere who probably would be happy, now and again, to open a magazine or go to a movie that celebrates her experience and does not dismiss her because of her size.

Ms. Kelly also implies that showing these people on TV is somehow implicitly promoting obesity, (despite the fact that the two meet in Overeaters Anonymous, dealing with their obesity in a proactive and healthy way) which makes her angry because her insurance premiums might go up for dealing with the related health issues of fat people.

Ms. Kelly goes on to say:

“So anyway, yes, I think I'd be grossed out if I had to watch two characters with rolls and rolls of fat kissing each other ... because I'd be grossed out if I had to watch them doing anything. To be brutally honest, even in real life, I find it aesthetically displeasing to watch a very, very fat person simply walk across a room — just like I'd find it distressing if I saw a very drunk person stumbling across a bar or a (sic) heroine addict slumping in a chair.”

Poor Maura. Life must be very distressing with all these aesthetically displeasing people running around spoiling her view. She acknowledges that she has a couple “plump” friends, but that comes off as the equivalent of a low-level racist claiming a pal of color or two. But she does accidentally touch on the issue which is actually nearest and dearest to my heart.

She aligns very obese people with alcoholics and drug addicts. With whom, in fact, they have a lot in common. Compulsive overeating has the same hallmarks of any addiction. There can be genetic predisposition. There can be environmental factors. And there is a very strong element of being out of control. The addiction takes both psychological and physical hold. There is an emotional toll for loved ones. It can negatively impact your relationships, lifestyle, and health.

But here is the difference, Ms. Kelly, since you are so quick to say that “I think obesity is something that most people have a ton of control over. It's something they can change, if only they put their minds to it.”

Alcoholics, drug addicts, they can quit cold turkey and never touch booze or dope again.

Compulsive Overeaters have to have a relationship with food multiple times a day every day for the rest of our lives. No one has to try and teach alcoholics how to have just one drink three times a day, or show a drug addict how to take just one tiny toke every three hours. Food is the hardest addiction to overcome, and the one with the most misconceptions. Maura seems to genuinely believe that the difference between fat and not fat is just “eat more fresh and unprocessed foods, read labels and avoid foods with any kind of processed sweetener in them whether it's cane sugar or high fructose corn syrup, increase the amount of fiber you're getting, get some kind of exercise for 30 minutes at least five times a week, and do everything you can to stand up more — even while using your computer — and walk more.” There is nothing wrong with any of this advice. It is a blueprint for a reasonably healthy life for anyone at any size (although the standing at the computer thing is ridiculous and obsessive). But none of that shows any awareness or sensitivity to the very real psychology behind the disease.

Now, I have had this discussion with many people over the years, as a plus-sized woman, and often it is simply that they themselves have had no personal experience with eating disorders, either as a sufferer or having someone close to them dealing with the issue.

But Maura Kelly, by her own admission, is a recovered anorexic.

Who never stopped for one second while writing this diatribe of intolerance to think that perhaps her utter loathing of fat people might be related to her own very personal demons? My whole life as a fat girl, I was always so relieved that if I was going to have an eating disorder, at least it was overeating and not starving myself. I cannot imagine how awful it must be to feel compelled to reduce yourself to the smallest possible person. To work so hard and suffer so long to become a size 0, to become nothing. (And let me be clear, I don't mean you tiny girls whose natural state happens to be a size 0.  I mean the people who obsessively seek that non-number as a mark of pride and success.)

To say to the world that you do not deserve to take up too much space.

I might be fat, and I have had my share of sad moments when I wish that I were not, but I genuinely like what I see in the mirror most days, and have never once felt the need to try and shrink myself for any reason other than my health. And let me be clear, I have no desire to be skinny. I’ll take voluptuous, curvy, and healthy. A double digit size is fine with me, as long as the first digit is a 1. It is a constant struggle, a battle I win one day and lose the next.  But along the way, I never forget to love who I am, because who I am is pretty spectacular no matter what size I happen to wear, or what people like Maura Kelly might think of me.

As an educator who spent over 15 years working with teenagers, I know how damaging the sort of attitude that Kelly espouses can be.  Marie Claire is a magazine targeted at young women in their most impressionable and vulnerable years.  They might think that cheeky little pieces like Maura Kelly's are sassily provocative, but what they are is the propaganda of hate.  Its okay to revile overweight people, because of course, it is just an issue of having some self control!  That they don't seem to care that it gives permission for others to embrace that very intolerance, can feed into the culture of bullying that is so prevalent today amongst young people is irresponsible and extremely disappointing.

It is an issue I deal with in all of my books. In Inappropriate Men, the size 24 heroine is having a passionate affair. (Look away, Maura, fat girl having sex!) In Room For Improvement, the lead character worries about how being a size 14 will affect her budding career as a designer on a home improvement television show. And in my new book,Good Enough to Eat, the woman at the heart of the story is a formerly obese woman who has lost the weight, and loses her husband in the process.

For Good Enough to Eat I drew on my 25+ years of experience as a plus-sized person. The kind of person who would “gross out” Ms. Kelly if she saw me crossing a room.

Ultimately, I feel terrible for Maura Kelly. For the struggles she herself has been through with her own body, and for the pathology that makes her knee-jerk to being repulsed by all fat people because they represent her own personal most deeply held fear of what she herself could become.

So while I am, and have been all day, seething at this post, it is not Maura and her anti-fat vitriol that bother me the most. I have long been used to fat being the last acceptable prejudice. My distress comes from the fact that Marie Claire Magazine not only assigned this piece to an admitted former anorexic who has not watched the show, but read it, gave it their stamp of approval, posted it on their site, and defended it when it garnered negative attention.

Now, I do not often read Marie Claire, as I am a 40 year old plus-sized woman who already got the guy, got the job, knows how to organize her purse, and will never EVER wear an item as unfortunately named or generically unflattering as “jeggings”. But I thought it was great when they brought on Ashley Falcon, a plus-sized stylist. And Nina Garcia has always been pretty great on Project Runway when they have had the rare plus-sized challenges, taking designers down a peg when they complain about how hard it is to design flattering things for women who are built like women and not ten year old boys.

But this. This erases all former goodwill.

If Maura Kelly’s post had been about the disgusting nature of interracial couples kissing on television, or how uncomfortable it is to have to see gay people walk across a room, Marie Claire would have issued a formal apology, made a donation to GLAAD or the Anti-Defamation League, fired Ms. Kelly quickly, and hired a talented gay writer of color.  And lord knows, if they were smart, they would hire a plus-sized writer to do an ongoing blog about living as a larger person.  To fill the vacancy they should create where Maura Kelly currently resides.

My twitter page today was filled with note from my Tweeps, all of whom know that I am a plus-sized woman who writes about the lives of plus-sized women with what I hope is sensitivity, honesty, compassion, and love. I got e-mails from some of my fans saying how much they hoped Marie Claire would ask me to write a rebuttal piece. But like my BFF Jen Lancaster, who wrote her own very wonderful piece on this issue today, which I strongly recommend you read here, I don’t need Marie Claire to ask me to share my thoughts on their tacitly endorsing the views put forth in a piece of writing that is deeply hurtful and offensive to a large segment of the population.

I cannot force major women’s magazines to stop ignoring plus-sized women, any more than I can stop Hollywood from taking an extraordinarily talented actor like Melissa McCarthy and either marginalizing her to the “fat bestie”, or when they finally give her a lead role, taking the sad path of relying on the fat jokes. She is so much better than that, and as Jen mentions, if ever someone has the guts to produce any of my books as movies or TV shows, she is up there on the top of my dream list for casting.

But I can use the same freedom of speech that supported Maura Kelly in putting out such a sad piece of crap to say shame on them.

Shame on you, Marie Claire. In an age where bullying sends kids down a suicide path, endorsing ANY denigration of another human being based on who they are and not what they do is shameful. You want to hate someone because of their actions, fine. Lord knows I have a list of my own. But weight, no less than skin color, sexual preference, religion, or gender identity is a part of who someone is, and intolerance of who someone is, that is as base as someone can be.

To Marie Claire I can say that I wish I believed that this was purely an insensitive oversight and not, as I suspect, a cheap shot intended to create media uproar and bring you attention.

To all the larger girls who read Maura Kelly’s ugly words, I can only say this.

You are beautiful. You are deserving of love. You are deserving of respect. No one can take away your intelligence, your kindness, your generosity of spirit. The person you are has nothing to do with the number on the scale or the tag on your clothes. You are sexy. You are powerful. And there is nothing you cannot do. If you decide to get smaller, for your health, or because you simply want to be smaller, I am on your side and pulling for you. And if you decide that you like yourself just the way you are and have no desire to change, I am on your side and pulling for you. You deserve to see women like yourself represented in the magazines you read, the television you watch, the movies you see. Not made the butt of the joke, or as the sidekick, but front and center in the spotlight. Do not ever be ashamed of how much air you displace in this world. You are not minimal. You are a celebration. Revel in yourself, and love yourself. And know that you are not ever alone.

Some women of size that I have looked to for inspiration:

Oprah Winfrey, Queen Latifah, Emme, Camryn Manheim, Delta Burke, Ann Wilson,Eleanor Roosevelt, Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Rosie O’Donnell, Whoopi Goldberg, Mo’Nique, Gabourey Sidibe, Kathy Bates, Della Reese, Mae West.

And of course, Jen Lancaster. Who had the ability to not only express her own outrage, but to go for the funny, which I was too angry to be able to do.

Yours in Outrage,
The Polymath

Monday, October 25, 2010

Squeaky Wheel

Well, Chickens, we have an update to the United Airlines story....

Last week I posted that I had been having problems booking award travel with United Airlines, and was so frustrated that I made a little animated movie about it. 

Frustrated I was, since I had been checking in with United every day since July 26 about these tickets.  So frustrated that I sent a very long VERY snarky letter to Glenn Tilton, CEO of United Airlines.  The text of that letter, wth some minor changes, is what became the dialogue of this movie.  (If you are having trouble watching the movie on the blog, click here to watch on YouTube)

I sent a copy of the e-mail, which I addressed to The Underling that Reads Glenn Tilton's E-mail, to Charming Suitor who thought it was hilarious, and gave me the names of the guy in charge of Mileage awards and the guy in charge of Customer Relations.  I forwarded the e-mail on to them.  I got auto-replies that they are both "transitioning out of United", and listed different people to contact.  I forwarded the e-mail to the people they recommended.  Then I decided to e-mail everyone, every day.

After all, since I was having to look for tickets every day, why should I not keep them informed as to my progress?

For a week, I e-mailed every day.  "Still no tickets."  "Checked again, pas de billets."  and then...  "Here is a little movie I made about how there are never any tickets."

Oh yes, Chickens, I did forward my little film to them.

I posted it on Facebook, where several pals indicated both a preference for American Airlines for award travel, and said it must have been cathartic to make the movie.

I Tweeted about it, and several Tweeps said "U go grl."

Charming Suitor's Dad, Reverend Charming, praised me highly which made me blush.

Saturday morning, around 8:30 am, the phone rang out.  CS grabbed the receiver (the phone is on his side of the bed) and in one fluid movement threw his arm over and chucked it under my chin.

"Hello?"  I said groggily.

"Hello, is this Stacey Ballis?"  A perky voice on the other end chirped. 

Really?  With the early Saturday wake-up solicitation, really?  Am I not ON THE DO NOT CALL LIST????


"I'm sorry, did I wake you?"

"Yes."  Well, why should I lie to make someone feel better about waking me? 

"I'm sorry, this is Tanya from Glen Tilton's office at United Airlines, I can call back at a more convenient time."

Sweet Fancy Moses.

"No, no, don't call back!  I'm up."  To say that some adrenaline kicked in is an understatement.

"Wonderful.  Well, I'm calling to say that Mr. Tilton did receive your e-mail, and that he does read his e-mail and he asked to me call you and see if I can help you get your award travel booked, and that he is very sorry for your frustration."

Squeaky wheel, meet grease.

Tanya was beyond helpful.  She was honest about what she could and couldn't do, and set up our tickets in the best way possible.  And while it does still annoy me the tiniest bit that the reason the award travel was so difficult is that the destination is popular, and therefore they can often sell the tickets for money..because, um, when we do your mileage reward programs we are essentially pre-paying for the tickets, and so it shouldn't matter if someone might use cash to buy them, we should get access to a rational percentage of them...since I cannot change the policy, at least I can now stop checking every day, and know that our vacation is secure and we didn't have to use double the miles to do it.

Saver Award Mileage Tickets:  NOT FAIL

So, I have to give props to Mr. Glenn Tilton, CEO of United Airlines, who read a very snarky e-mail from a very frustrated consumer and sent a little fairy godmother to fix it.

As a result of his kindness, I will not post his e-mail address here.


After we finished laughing about the riduculousness of the award ticket adventure, Charming Suitor and I had a talk and have decided to take our relationship to the next level. 

From now on, he is going to feel free to answer the phone at my house.

Game, Set, Match.

If you are in the greater Chicagoland Area, come to The Book Cellar on Lincoln this Friday night at 7pm to see me, Jen Lancaster, Wendy McClure and Claire Zulkey be all sorts of hilarious in our Fourth Annual Witty Women night.  Readings, signings, and wine.  We'd love to see you there!

Yours in Good Taste, with a rocking vacation to look forward to,
The Polymath

Friday, October 22, 2010

Feasting Friday- Just a Quickie

Things got a little awayfrom me this week, work to do, social and book obligations, and a little bit of the "Oh Crap it's Fall" scatteredness.

Also, I have been desperately trying to book airline tickets for a wonderful vacation for myself and Charming Suitor for the last three months which is making me batty.  Want to see a little animated movie I made about it?

If the movie doesn't play for you here, you can see it HERE
Anyhoo, with all of this I haven't really had time to focus on a fully realized post for you today.  But sometimes, all you need is a quickie!

For example, tonight we are going to dinner at a friend's house.  Big John loves dessert.  I once brought, at his request, a chocolate cake with milk chocolate frosting and halfway through his second piece he said, not directly to any of us, but more to the universe "I wuv cake." in the way only a 6'4" gentle giant can say.

I also found myself in possession of half a loaf of brioche from the local Boulangerie, ust a day off from being sandwich worthy.  And if you have stale bread, milk half and half or cream, eggs and sugar, you have bread pudding.  Five minutes prep, twenty five minutes in the oven, and the most comforting, soul soothing dessert ever.  Have some chocolate chips?  Toss them in, I did.  Nuts?  Sure, why not?  Dried cherries, cranberries or raisins.  Chopped apples or pears, sliced bananas or fresh berries.  Little bits of crystallized ginger.  Really, you can tart it up however you like.  But even at its most basic, it is delish.

So here you are, just between us.  A little quickie in the afternoon.  I won't tell anyone!

Basic Bread Pudding

1/2-3/4 loaf of day old bread
4 eggs
2 c whole milk, half and half, cream, or a combo
1 c sugar (white for mild, brown for a more caramelly richness)
2 t vanilla
4 T butter, grated (more on this below)

Preheat oven to 350.  Cut bread into large cubes.  Blend eggs, milk, sugar and vanilla into a custard and pour over the bread cubes.  Let soak in for a few minutes, up to a couple of hours.  Add up to 1 c total of any add-ins you like- chocolate chips or shavings, nuts, fruit, whatever!  Pour into buttered casserole pan.  Sprinkle grated butter evenly over the top.  Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a knife slid into the middle comes out clean.

Serve warm, cold, or room temp.  Add hot fudge, caramel sauce, or berry coulis.  Serve with ice cream or whipped cream.  Or just eat it as is!

Grated Butter

When I first discovered that my microplane grater and sticks of butter could be friends, it changed my cooking.

Forget "dotting the top with butter" making a mess, not to mention only little parts getting that buttery goodness.  Grated butter can bespread perfectly over an entire casserole like a light dusting of snow. 

Want the fluffiest omelets and scrambled eggs ever?  Grate your butter directly into your beaten eggs, where it will slowly melt and emulsify as you cook the eggs, keeping them ethereal and never greasy or rubbery, even if you have to hold them for a few minutes before serving. 

Hate that your hard butter turns your morning toast into crumbs or mashes down your bagel into a bagel chip?  Grate your butter over the top and it will soften and be spreadable in a flash.

Want to butter rice or cous cous or something that can get gummy easily with too much fussing?  Grated butter will fluff in with a couple of forks in no time.  And your mashed potatoes will never be the same after you blend in grated butter instead of big chunks or pre-melted.

I use my Microplane for this, for ultimate fineness, but your box grater should work fine.  Just make sure your butter is either very cold or frozen, or you will have a gloopy mess on your hands.

Do you have a quickie tip or recipe to share with the class?

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Contest Winner! And short ribs!

After much deliberation, and some input from a couple of friends....



Seriously?  The very idea of a bottle of syrup with dead ants in it squicked me out so much, I had to pick you.  And I once ate a live termite!  On purpose!

Heather, please e-mail me your shipping address to staceyballisinfo (at) gmail (dot) com and I will send your prize out.

In the meantime, for the rest of you, a quick couple of really great and easy recipes...THAT WORK!

Charming Suitor and I had another couple over for dinner last weekend, and the main stars were a Thai-Braised Short Rib, and Potato Gratin with Prunes.

The short ribs were inspired by some we got a while back at Charlie Trotter's To Go.  I asked the chef for the recipe, and got a vague sense of ingredients, so this is as close as I could approximate.  And they are seriously yummy.  I really do recommend making these the day before, they taste even better once they have had a chance to merge overnight.


Thai Braised Short Ribs

8 pieces short ribs, bone-in
3 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
1 medium onion, sliced
1-2 pc lemongrass, cut into 2 inch pieces and smashed
2 oranges
½ T Thai chili garlic paste
¼ c peanut oil
Salt and Pepper

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Heat oil in large Dutch oven. Season short ribs with salt and grains of paradise. Sear short ribs on all sides to deep brown caramelization. Do in batches if necessary. Remove beef from pot, and pour off excess fat. Caramelize onions and carrots in remaining fat in pan. When they have good color, remove to plate with ribs and pour off remaining fat. Squeeze the oranges by hand into a small bowl and dissolve chili paste in the juice. Deglaze pot with juice mixture then turn off heat. Put veggies back in pot, followed by ribs. Nestle smashed lemongrass and orange quarters among the ribs. Add water to the level of the ribs, so that they are barely submerged. Cover and cook in oven 3-4 hours till very tender. Cool to room temp, and then store in fridge.

Heat oven to 350.

Take pot out of oven to come to room temp, and then put in oven to reheat for 45 minutes to an hour. When ready to serve, gently remove ribs and veggies from liquid into a serving dish, and hold to the side. Defat pan juices, then return to pot and heat over high to reduce to desired thickness. Taste for seasoning, then pour over ribs and vegetables.

Once upon a time, CS took a cooking class with the incomparable David Bouley.  Apparently throughout the class Bouley kept wistfully referring to a dish his grandmother made, potato gratin with prunes.  After five or six mentions, he finally said "Chef!  What is the recipe???"  The Chef listed a set of ingredients, vague proportions, minimal instructions, and then moved on with the scheduled class.  CS scribbled as much of it down as he could, and this recipe is the result.
I know what you are saying. 
Really, with the prunes, really? 
And to you I say, hell yeah baby.  Delish.
I know, I too was very skeptical, I love my potatoes, especially in such a wonderful and creamy preparation, and I even like prunes, but together?
Oh. My.  Yes.  Please. 
The prunes add a subtle sweet caramel richness, and it pairs beautifully with just about any protein...the sweetness is perfect with pork, cuts through the rich spiciness of these short ribs, and elevates a simple roast chicken.  Make it.  I promise you will be happy.


Bouley Grandmere Potato Gratin with Prunes

3 lbs starchy potatoes, peeled and sliced thin on mandolin
2 leeks, chopped
2 scallions, chopped
2 T flat leaf parsley, chopped
2 c half and half
2 c cream
1 clove garlic
Salt and Pepper
1 c prunes, halved or quartered
1 stick butter

Preheat oven to 350

Rub gratin dish with the cut side of the clove of garlic. Butter the dish liberally with about 2 T of the butter. Saute leeks and scallions in 2 T butter till soft but not browned. Put potatoes in pot and add half and half and cream, the garlic clove, and a good grating of nutmeg. Bring to a simmer, and cook 5 minutes until slightly thickened and potatoes become flexible but not cooked through. Ladle half of the potato mixture into the gratin dish, followed by the leek and scallions and sprinkle the prunes evenly over the top, and then the parsley. Add the rest of the potatoes. Fill with cream and half and half mixture just to the level of the potatoes. Discard the rest. Dot the top of the dish with remaining butter and bake 40 minutes to an hour. Cook till well browned and softened all the way through. Should be creamy, but thick and not soupy. You can hold in a 200 degree oven nearly indefinitely.

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath

Friday, October 15, 2010

Feastless Friday- With a Contest

Well Chickens, I sadly do not have good news to report.

I wanted to be able to write about the delicious dinner I whipped up the other night for Charming Suitor, who has been under tremendous work-related stress lately, not to mention the ghastly cold I might have shared with him. 

I wanted to be able to write about how, at the end of a long day, he came home to a wonderful and comforting meal.

I wanted to give you all the recipes for this festival of yummy, so that you could make it for your own sweeties when they were having rough days.

But sadly, I cannot.

I cannot write that post because your Polymath went four for four on the mediocrity scale.

Here is the menu I wanted to tell you about:

Jamie Oliver's Milk-Braised Chicken
Lemon and Butter Rice Pilaf
Broccoli with Almonds
Butterscotch Pudding with Salted Caramel Topping

First the chicken.  CS and I have recently acquired a Chicken Monger.  I cannot think of another way to decribe him.  Like cheesemonger, but with chickens.  And eggs.  Farmer Paul pasture-raises his birds, all organic, and gathers their eggs (with almost irridescent orange yolks), and once a week heads on into the city to deliver.  He comes in on the train, which is around the corner from CS's office, so on Friday mornings they meet on the street like some weird drug drop, only with chickens and eggs.  We are now ruined for even the priciest organic birds from the store, and forget about finding eggs this good except at your local farmer's market.  These chickens are just chickenier.  The eggs are eggier.  We have been enjoying them tremendously.  So when I saw that Jamie Oliver, who I like very much and whose recipes have always worked for me, had a milk-braised chicken dish, I thought it would be a great way to highlight this week's chicken delivery.

I was wrong.  The bird was tender enough, and the flavor was not terrible, but there was nothing special or wonderful about it.  The milk braise did not create a special texture or add any extra deliciousness.  All it really did was create a weird curdled and thin sauce that was not worth spooning over the meat nor sopping up with bread nor moistening the rice...

Chicken:  FAIL

Speaking of moistening the rice...lets imagine what I assumed would be an easy dish.  The zest of two lemons was used in the boring and bland chicken.  Not wanting to waste the rest of the lemon, I thought I would make rice in the rice cooker, with fresh lemon juice replacing some of the water, and a little bit of butter added.  How bad could that be?  Apparently, pretty bad.  It was awfully gummy.  I think if I had used zest instead of juice it might have been fine, I am not a chemist, but I imagine that the acid in the lemon juice ate away at the rice and made it gummy. And then the butter made it greasy.  So we had greasy and gummy lemony rice on the side of our sad chicken. 

Rice: FAIL

Chicken and rice, even when they work, are pretty much beige on white, and make for a very visually stunted plate.  And I do believe strongly in the five major food groups.  (I think they ought to be changed to  bread, chocolate, wine, bacon and cheese, but for the moment, I use the ones everyone else does.)  I had a bag of broccoli in the freezer, so I didn't pick up a veggie.  But when I opened the bag, totally freezerburnt.

Broccoli:  FAIL

Now you have heard your Polymath tell you before that there is always room in the dessert compartment.  And CS is a pudding/custard/creme caramel kind of guy, so when I saw the recipe for Butterscotch Pudding with Salted Caramel Topping in one of my Tasting Table e-mails last week, I knew I had to make it for him. 

I made the caramel topping and set it aside.  I made the pudding, using Farmer Paul's wonderful eggs.  I spooned the pudding into individual cups and topped with the caramel and put them in the fridge.  Were they awful?  No.  Inedible?  Didn't I say the words pudding and caramel?  Of course not.  Will I make it again?  Nope.  The salted caramel did not really enhance the pudding, and despite my having put the pudding through a sieve, it still had a weird grainyness, and not nearly enough butterscotch flavor.  Which was fine because the caramel would have overpowered any extra flavor anyway.

Pudding: FAIL.

I have decided in order to salvage the day, I will offer up a prize to the person with the best failed recipe story.  Just post your tales of kitchen woe in the comments section before 11:59 pm CST on Monday, and I will announce the winner next week.

What will the winner receive?  How about a Cooks Choice Bowl Baker, for making your own little individual baked goods in the shape of small bowls, so that you can make things like brownie bowls for ice cream, or shortcake bowls for berries and cream, or even cornbread bowls for your chili.  It even comes with a how to DVD of ideas and recipes.

We're having friends for dinner tomorrow night.  I'm making a Thai-inspired braised short rib, potato gratin with prunes (sounds weird and is AMAZING), and Dorie Greenspan's Tourte de Chevre, a goat cheese cheesecake that I am going to serve with fresh figs as a sort of merged cheese course and dessert. 

Pray for me.  If it works, I'll share recipes next week.  If it doesn't, I may have to burn sage or sprinkle holy water in the kitchen.

Yours in (less than) Good Taste,
The Polymath