Thursday, February 25, 2010

Breakfast of Champions

A few days ago, I had a day off, and the night before I proclaimed "tomorrow for breakfast I am going to have oatmeal, an egg and a half of a grapefruit." I don't know why I felt the need to make such a statement, but I went to bed very excited about my upcoming first meal. it was everything I hoped it could be. Easy to make, so very healthy to eat, and I didn't find myself feeling hungry until much later in the afternoon. My usual breakfast consists of greek yogurt with granola and honey, but I think this one may need to make an appearance more often.

Speaking of champions, I have been devouring the Winter Olympics with the same fervor as I did with this breakfast-I am a huge Olympics fan. Be it Summer or Winter I love seeing athletes at the top of their game, their eyes filled with dreams of standing atop a podium with the coveted Gold hanging from their necks. When the Olympics are on there is always entertainment just a remote control click away. You have all the drama, the excitement, the anticipation, the despair, and the joy you would find in a movie of the week but it's live and unscripted.  I can't get enough of it.

Perhaps my favorite moment in any Olympic event is the moment before. The brief period of time before the athlete takes off down a hill, or around a rink, or onto a beam or into a pool.  The look in the athletes eyes, the mental prep going on inside their head.  I always try to imagine what that moment must feel like, knowing that in seconds they will be chasing after a lifelong dream, but not knowing if it will be realized. How do they even handle themselves in that moment? How do they cultivate that competitive edge that keeps them in control? It's fascinating to me. It's theatrical.

Athletes and Actors have oft been thought of as totally different specimens. You have those who are sporty and strong, and those who are expressive and sensitive.  However as I have been watching these games, it has occurred to me that Actors and Athletes may not be so different after all.  Both of us must possess a competitive spirit, which keeps you going even when you don't perform to your personal best.  Oftentimes our "fate" is determined in a matter of seconds, be it 16 bars of a song or .16ths of a second at the finish line.  We train, we get judged, we size up our competition, and many people think we are crazy for putting ourselves in such a position in the first place.  No I doubt there has been an audition which has landed an actor in traction, but the emotional wounds of some auditions can seem just as painful (albeit way less dangerous thank god).

However, one thing I always envied about being an athlete is you usually know your outcome right away.  If you have the fastest time, or you attain the highest score, then you know where you stand.  As an actor you get to be a contestant in the waiting game, which is not a fun game in which to compete.  Getting cast in a show rarely comes down to "who is the most talented" but rather "who is the right height?" "who's has a certain 'energy'?" "who looks good with whom?"  Still at the heart of it, the prizes aren't always awarded to the "best" but rather who was the best on that day.

To me, it seems crazy to ski down an icy slope at over 90mph, but to many it would seem insane to sit on the floor of a crowded studio, at 7am, as you wait in line to sing for one person sitting behind a table.
Yes, I do believe that Actors and Athletes may have more in common than we think.  Perhaps we should have shared a lunch table more often back in the days of "jocks" and "theatre geeks."  We could learn a thing or two from one another.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Simple Pleasures: Snowy Days and Snuggly Kitties

It has been a long day folks, when you arise at 4:45am after a fitful night of little sleep the wrong side of the bed is the only side from which to emerge.

Apparently the word on the street is that a good half of the country is blanketed in snow, with potentially more looming in the wings.  Here in NYC we certainly saw our fair share throughout the day yesterday, but amazingly enough the damage seems to be minimal as the early trudge to work this morning was not slowed down by drifts of snow.  They move fast here in Ol' NY, and with the heat from the subways underfoot and the snow plows which appeared from every corner out of thin air, the city really only had time to take a breath before it was back to the daily grind.

However, this evening I allowed myself to take more than just a breath, and really lay still.  In a rare occurrence Jürgen and I both had some simultaneous free time and spent a good portion of it laying on the bed cuddling with our beloved feline friends.  It was so calming to just sink into the down comforter and feel the warmth and low hum of their purr, and my heart swelled a little with my love for them.  They have been such an amazing addition to our lives and they have an incredible way of centering you when the days are long and cold.

Stanley didn't allow us to photograph him for posterity, but Toaster didn't mind snuggling with me for a few extra minutes.  

It's a lovely little gift when life affords you the opportunity to take a breath and feel the love around you.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Sunny Side Up: Vol 3

Well the pots are on the stove a simmerin', and things are in the oven a bakin' and bubblin', and due to the huge new number of food blogs I have been devourin' (see my growin' list to the right), I have many recipe ideas a brewin'!


I'll have to admit that while I have enjoyed making a dish and having it sustain me for days on end, basically taking the guesswork out of "what should I eat" it does begin to weigh a bit on your spirit after you have eaten the same lunch/dinner/or both after more than a few days.  My wise mother suggests I make a bunch of dishes and freeze parts of them so I can add a little variety to my life.  She has a valid point (don't you hate it when she does that?) but I am just not quite there yet when it comes to my planning and organization. So until that day comes, monotony will be my guide.  Ima tellin' you though, this following dish was a fun one to chew on each passing day.

                                                           (©Quentin Bacon-Food and Wine Magazine)

Free Form Sausage and Three Cheese Lasagne: Followed pretty much by rote from Food and Wine Magazine (January 2010)

You can tell it's winter and our household is craving stick-to-your-ribs-and-warm-you-from-the-inside dishes.  First Chili and now this.  However it makes sense to crave hearty dishes this time of year.  Still,  even I surprised myself when I found myself turning back to page 60 and slightly drooling over a lasagne dish.  I couldn't tell you the last time I ate a lasagne, as I have never been a huge fan of the family style classic.  In the past I have found so many of them to be laden with ill-flavored meat, buried in tomato sauce, with rubbery cheese (usually a chalky textured ricotta) and heavy noodles.  All converging together to create a mass that doesn't impart any individual or distinct flavors, and promptly rests itself in the pit of your stomach and overstays it's welcome.  I'll say it here first: I haven't been the biggest supporter of lasagne. Until now.

Not only did this dish pique my interest because it seemed to fit my mission of finding dishes which are affordable and lasting, but the individual components of the dish intrigued me.  I am sucker for the term "three cheese"-kill me now, along with the fresh basil and the subtle sweetness of an Italian sausage. It was definitely a reason to jump back on the lasagne bandwagon.

Honestly, I think I could be so bold as to write "this is the best lasagne I have ever eaten." I know, quite a big statement from this little blog, but I stand behind it (and I think Jürgen would agree).  The fantastic thing about this dish is while it is filling, and certainly hearty, it's also quite light.  I ate it while on a break at work many times and never returned feeling weighed down and semi-comatose.  After all,  when you are dealing with persnickity Upper East Side housewives, you need all the energy you can get.  Also, this is the first lasagne I have had the pleasure of tasting where each individual flavor was able to shine through while complementing the others.  The use of the whole tomatoes created a fabulous caramelized oven roasted tomato flavor,  the sausage was sweet and crumbly, and the cheese rounded out the dish with the fontina being the real winner.  It brought an unexpected creaminess along with a pinch of tartness to keep your tastebuds excited.  All in all, it was good enough to make a lasagne convert out of me. Never say never my friends.

                                         (source: authors personal collection-I am no food stylist so please don't judge the dish based on this photo)

When you first take the dish out of the oven it needs to rest for ten minutes, however if you eat it the night of its going to seem a bit "soupy" but do not let that worry you. All this means is you have an incredibly delicious tomatoy juice to sop (or in my case slup) up after you are done.  Trust me on this one.

The entire recipe can be found here, but again here is a breakdown of the ingredients (with a few substitution suggestions) and the total cost:

1/2 lb of lasagna noodles (we got two boxes for $3.00)
3 Tbls of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, plus more for tossing (had)
1/2 lb of Sweet Italian Sausage* (bought a package of 6 links, totaling 1lb for $3.29)
1 cup water (had)
4 large garlic gloves, thinly sliced (had)
One 28-Ounce can of Whole tomatoes, chopped and juices reserved ($1.99-we used Hunts)
Salt and Pepper (had)
Freshly Grated Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese (we always have a block on hand, but it usually runs between $7-$8 and lasts at least a month...make it a staple in your house, I'm telling ya!)
1/2 lb Fresh Mozzarella, cut into 8 pieces ($8.15)
6 Ounces Italian Fontina**, cut into 8 pieces ($4.99)
2 Tbls unsalted butter, softened (had)
1/4 cup thinly sliced basil leaves ($3.49 for a package)

*For those of you who don't eat pork or perhaps any meat products, you could easily substitute turkey/chicken/veggie sausage in it's place.
**If your grocer of choice doesn't carry fontina, Gruyere, Emmental or Gouda came up as similar alternatives. But do everything you can to find the fontina, it's worth it.

We made this dish on a Tuesday night and it fed us (primarily me) through Sunday.

Total Cost: $32.41 which breaks down to about $5.40 a day.

However-not only did we like this dish SO much, but we only used half of the sausage we purchased, so that Friday night (we had a bit of Lasagne overlap) we made an entire second helping of this yummy treat.  The only ingredients we needed to purchase for the second go-round were:

Another ball of mozzarella
A block of fontina
A can of tomatoes

Total: $15.13

With this second serving of lasagne I was able to feed myself for another full week (Jürg got a few digs in, and Neill got a taste as well).  This means a grand total of TWELVE days of lasagne bringing the daily total down to $3.96 a day!

Lately with all this talk of snow, I canot think of a more fitting dish for a snowed in evening.  We paired it with a viewing of the Disney-Pixar Classic Monsters Inc. on a Friday night, and I am not sure if it was the yummy-ness of the dish, or the sweetness of the movie, but I was definitely left in a puddle of tears by the end of the evening.  Fuzzy monsters and cheesy lasagne...they get me every time.