Saturday, March 19, 2011

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly

I remember catching episodes of No Reservations on the Travel Channel and thinking, "Wow. Anthony Bourdain is a dick! I sure like him." But if people see him as cocky, it sure seems that he's earned it.

The more I learned about food and cooking over the years, the more I wanted to read Kitchen Confidential. Anthony Bourdain is a "celebrity chef" now, due to this book (originally published in 2000 and reissued in 2007 with a prologue), but after graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, he toiled in kitchens all over the world for years before scoring several "big breaks."

Kitchen Confidential follows Bourdain from his start of his career in a restaurant on the New England waterfront, to his current position at executive chef at Brasserie Les Halles in NYC.

Along the way, the reader is treated to stories and anecdotes of what really goes on behind the kitchen doors in restaurants - from no-star eateries to Michelin-rated establishments. Many stories are hilarious and self-deprecating, others make me nervous to eat out at all.

For example, never order fish on Mondays, never order a nice cut of meat "well done," and never stiff your server. Trust me.

Bourdain acknowledges the many, many mistakes that line his career path, and the reader is privy to his descent into alcoholism, drug use, and other addictions. He's not alone in the restaurant world, apparently, and the lives that chefs lead are definitely not your typical nine-to-fives.

My favorite parts of Kitchen Confidential are those when Bourdain gets technical - explaining how and why professional kitchens are designed, how the sous chef and line cooks operate and set up his/her station.

Actually "his/her" is misleading. Very few women are found in kitchens, due to the rampant misogyny and crassness. Those who can handle it are legends.

Bourdain loves his choice of career, and it's obvious. He is writing, first and foremost, for the people in the industry - the ones who will "get it." It's a love letter of sorts. Laced with cocaine.

(Kitchen Confidential was a short-lived television series starring Bradley Cooper. It's actually quite good, but FOX pulled the plug after 13 episodes. Full episodes are available at

Friday, March 18, 2011

Prehistoric Pantry

Look what Mike found for me at the grocery store:

He really gets me, you know?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

And I Am Telling You That It's Too Effing Warm

I was going to start this post with, "I don't mean to complain..." but we all know that I most definitely mean to complain, so I have prepared a brand new opening statement for you!

Mother Nature is on freaking crack and can go to Hell.

There, I said it.

I know that by living in Michigan, I should know better than to blindly accept what the weatherman tells me, because, more often than not, it's going to be not only wrong, but wildly and inexcusably wrong.

The forecast today, on this green-like St. Patrick's Day, was 50 degrees. Low and behold, it is close to 70 degrees out there, and the students are running amok like they have never seen the sun before. If I had fewer scruples (which I guess is possible), I would post pictures of the morons in their revelry wear. Green, next-to-nothing, skin-tight clothing.

It's fine, they're young, good for them and their fast metabolisms! I am not jealous at all.

But I do take issue with the weather.

Why do I have issue with a sunny, 70-degree day in mid-March in Michigan? Because it's NOT TIME YET.

Yesterday, it was 40-something degrees. Today it's 70? What the hell, Mother Nature? Do we just not get spring this year? Are we jumping ahead to summer? You're skipping the best degrees! The 60s!

Spring and Fall are the best seasons in Michigan precisely because of their mild, moderate temperaments, and if I don't get to experience them, I am going to lose my fucking mind.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

I Don't Think That Traffic Rules Should Apply to Me

I don't know what it is about my brain sometimes. I drive the same way to work every day, and the lights are timed so that I know exactly which ones I am going to make and which are going to make me scream.

So why is it that every morning - every morning - I am convinced that I am going to make that one pesky light? If I just drive a little faster... If I just drive a little more recklessly... If I don't get stuck behind morons going the speed limit. The speed limit!

The same does not hold true for when I drive in from Mike's house. There are three different ways that I can take to Ann Arbor, but it really doesn't matter which way I take, because I am always going to get stuck in rush hour traffic. The two expressways are BY FAR the slowest routes, so I take the country backroads. Apparently, others have made the same decision.

The same thing always happens. I'll be trucking along in the Focus, thrilled to be driving even five miles over the speed limit, when I get stuck behind some asshat going fifteen under.

But I am going to have to get used to that country road route... I'm moving in with Mike!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Bad Monkeys

I bought Bad Monkeys because of the cover.

Okay, I had it on my wish list already, even before I saw it at the store, but really, the cover made my decision for me. I mean, look at it - it's pretty cool.

(For some reason, my exact paperback is not coming up in any image search, which is strange, but it looks like this is the one you can find now.)

Also, google gave me this gem...

...which is absolutely beyond awesome.
(Click to enlarge for hilarity.)

Anyway, the Bad Monkeys cover is kick ass, and just like studies have found that women buy more wine bottles with animals on the label (of which I am also guilty), I buy books with sweet covers.

But seriously, what a fun book!

Jane Charlotte is in jail. She was arrested for a murder that she committed and admitted as much. So why is she in the psych ward?

A very patient psychiatrist sits with her, day after day, to get to the bottom of her story. She claims to be a member of a secret crime-fighting organization - I'm sorry, an evil-fighting organization - called the Bad Monkeys. Meaning, she and other chosen few rid the world of exceptionally evil people. People that, alive, have been determined to be more of a harm to society than if they were dead.

The story is clever while never letting the ridiculousness of the plot waver. It is strong and proud in its ridiculousness! For example, Bad Monkey operatives kill using special guns that don't fire bullets. The MI-gun gives the victim a myocardial infarction, while the NC-gun kills the victim with natural causes. In fact, while the plot is completely out there, the novel takes a bit of a 1984 turn and causes the reader to wonder if organizations like this could exist.

I love Ruff's writing style. It's dry and funny, but also intelligent and insightful. Jane is a snarky, troubled, complete bitch of a character, and yet you just can't help but like her.

As the therapist tries to pull information from her, bit by painful bit, we learn more about Jane's past: her childhood, her drug-filled existence, and the organization that has given her life meaning.

The reader cares about Jane and wants her to succeed - every twist of the plot is juicy and entertaining, and the finale is worth the short read (227 pages). The revealing conclusion actually got a ecstatic "HA!" out of me. Bad Monkeys is a quick, enjoyable, unpredictable read.

Friday, March 11, 2011

In Like a Lion? God, I Hope That's the Explanation

I woke up this morning before my alarm. I was rested and happy, and it was Friday! And then I heard a noise outside. It sounded like a machinery noise, but I couldn't place it.

Heather's Inner Monologue: "What could that noise be at 6:30 in the morning?"

Listens to sound. The sound seems to be right outside the house.

Inner Monologue: "It sounds like... well, it sounds like a snowblower, but that can't be the case."

Listens to sound again...

"Holy fuck, that's a snowblower."

Runs to window, and sees car covered in four inches of snow.


Snow covered bush has murderous intentions.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Fatty Fat Tuesday

In Michigan, Fat Tuesday is about one thing, and one thing only: paczkis, a Polish filled pastry/donut thing that takes over the state on the day before Lent. Even though I am Polish, I had never tried one. Until today.

As a rule, I don't love filled donuts, and because paczkis are basically filled donuts, I've always shied away. Today, like most offices in southeastern Michigan, there were paczkis everywhere, and I was bullied into trying one.

I figured that it was about that time, and since the Detroit area is famous for the delicacies, I thought I would be getting a treat. Well, the ones in the office were not from a bakery in Hamtramck, but from the grocery store.

It tasted like barf.

I tried half of one, basically eating around the filling, and it was gross, you guys! No thank you! If I wanted to eat 1000 calories in one sitting... well, I wouldn't want it to be on a glorified donut.

Anyway, as a sidenote, the Lenten season begins tomorrow. What to give up? Last year didn't work so well for me, but I think that I am going to have to be more in charge of my this year.

This year, I am giving up my beloved mochas from Biggby. Not only are they expensive, they have more calories in them than I'd like to admit.

Now, I'm not stupid. I know that that drinking Coke isn't much better. But we all know what happens when I give up that kind of sugar. I CAN'T DO BOTH. It would kill me.

I will cut down on the Coke, however. Probably. Maybe.

Monday, March 07, 2011

The Historian

It took me some time, but once I got into The Historian, I didn't want to stop reading. Each time I closed the cover, I had the urge to read just one more chapter (I gave in on more than one occasion, and it didn't stop at one chapter). The story was so riveting that I seriously sat at work and contemplated what little white lie I could concoct just so that I could leave early and crack the cover once again. I suppose I could have brought it to work, but it is a bit of a monstrosity -- and in hardcover! Besides, I slack off enough as it is - adding a good book to the equation would be very bad.

I've read a little fantasy (mostly
Terry Brooks), Philip Pullman, and, of course, the Harry Potter series, but that's about as dark as I've gotten. I've never read Anne Rice, so the whole vampire genre was new to me. I don't think that this would really fit into that group, however, as it is more about the historian himself (or herself, depending on the character). Kostova grabbed me right from the start with her descriptions of these historians as well as librarians, and I found myself remembering the rather recent days of researching in a dark library or a dusty archive. It is really the thrill of the chase - wanting to find something that you just know is out there, but haven't quite discovered the best path.

Finding the correct path in research is the heart of this book. At the risk of making this sound like the dullest book ever written (I know that many people find the idea of research tedious at best), it is a thrilling, suspenseful novel that rarely drags - an impressive fact at 656 pages.

It is a story of a young American girl living in Amsterdam with her father: a loving, caring man, concerned only with her well being, and just as overprotective as any father, really. With him gone on a diplomatic trip, she discovers a book while snooping around in his study. Along with the mysterious book and hidden from view for years, she also finds yellowing letters addressed to, "My dear and unfortunate successor." Soon after, while traveling with him in Eastern Europe, she confronts him with her find, and he slowly weaves a painful tale set twenty years in the past. A tale of his search for his graduate school mentor in the darkness of Europe's past: A search for Dracula.

Kostova is a brilliant scribe, and I never once found myself skipping ahead or skimming paragraphs - something I am wont to do while reading, especially when the book weighs half a ton. Probably a remnant from my own days as a history student. (She's also a fellow alumna!) I loved her writing style and her ability to recognize when detail was necessary and when to hold off. Her intimate knowledge of historians and their quirks comes from direct experience, and her descriptions of those archives and libraries made me want to renew my reader's card at the Library of Congress.

Oh, and I did encounter a slight problem in that I couldn't read The Historian too late at night, or I would end up having to watch something mindless before I could even think about going to sleep.

But I
like to be frightened, and I think that I am not alone in this feeling! One only has to look to
Stephen King's sales figures to see our desire and need for our hearts to race and our brows to sweat. Perhaps the most chilling part of Kostova's carefully woven tale was the reader's realization that Vlad Dracula - the Impaler - could be alive today.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Working Out is FUN

I've finally started working our regularly. Well, it's been two weeks, but still. That's a more regular routine than I've ever had when working out. In the past, I would decide that I was going to start running again, which was always a bit of joke, even to me, because it would last for one day. Just one day. Hell, sometimes not even a day. Sometimes I would leave my house to run around the neighborhood, and by the time I got to the end of the block, it was over. I knew that I would be on the couch at that time the next day.

But Mike and I joined a gym, and I've really been pushing myself on the weekends, mostly because I have more time. Today, I stayed on the treadmill. I warmed up with a quarter-mile power walk - power walking like the crazies that show up at the mall at seven in the morning - and then fell into a jog/run for an hour. It was glorious.

So, to get down to it, I feel better about myself, sure, but I... am... sore. I mean, I am so sore that I fell over when I was trying to put on underwear. Apparently I don't recover like I used to.

Getting old is a journey, eh?

Thursday, March 03, 2011

America, You Confuse Me With Your Choices Sometimes

My parents were up for dinner the other night, and for SOME REASON, they have become American Idol fans. Way to jump on a sinking ship, PARENTS.

Now, I've never watched the show. No, wait. I have. Like, once. My old roommate, CreePaul, was a fan, and I would tape it for him sometimes when he was going to be home late. I definitely get the appeal, I do, but I'm not a fan. And you can't make me watch it.

Well, you can if you're my mother and won't give up control of the remote. Damn her. Thank GOD there was wine within reach.

So... what the hell, SHOW? I have an idea! Let's steal a show from the British and drag it out for TWO HOURS and have a hobbit-sized host with delicately-highlighted hair and a spray-on tan take FOREVER to reveal the contestants. Apparently this is considered awesome television to a huge portion of the population.

I understand that the show allows anyone to be a critic, which I guess is fun for some people? In the immortal words of Kenneth the Page, "And more then jazz, or musical theater, or morbid obesity, television is the true American art form." So it makes sense, then. I suppose.

Anyway, there I was, making wildly prejudiced assumptions about the people who watch the stupid show, and my parents, two very highly educated people, were enjoying it without any sense of irony.

And I was told that if I wanted to make any more "asshole comments" about the show, I could go out onto the deck. So basically, STUPID AMERICAN IDOL RUINED MY EVENING.

It was really cold out there on the deck.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

The King's Speech

(Note: I saw this film on January 4th. That's how long it took me to get off my ass and write the damn review.)

So, so many people had been praising The King's Speech, that I was a little worried that it had been over-hyped.

It wasn't.

Prince Albert (Colin Firth) is the second son of King George V of England (Michael Gambon). His brother, (Holy-Crap-That-Was Guy Pearce?), is first in line to the throne.

In Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter), Albert has a wonderful, loving, caring wife. She wants him to be happy, and she knows that while keeping silent forever would make him feel less conspicuous, it won't make him happy. She seeks out the help of a speech therapist, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), to cure that which other therapists and doctors have been unable.

It all seemed so simple. Albert would be able to continue with his official duties all while building his self-esteem and being the man he knew he could be. That is, until the king dies and Edward ascends to the throne. It's clear that his heart is not in the monarchy - it belongs to an American divorcee, Wallis Simpson - and he soon abdicates the throne.

Albert is to become King George VI, and is absolutely petrified.

There was not a weak link in this film. Every actor was pitch-perfect and wonderfully cast. The script moved along at a leisurely pace, and while the film dragged a bit in the center, it quickly picked up speed as Albert neared his coronation.

It wasn't until World War II broke out that the new King was thrust upon the world stage, and most importantly, must appear as a strong leader of the British people. He knew that he would be viewed as a joke if he were unable to deliver such an important speech at such an important time, and he rose to the occasion. Listening to the actual speech now, and recalling Colin Firth's performance, the continuity is absolutely amazing.

The entire film was building up to that final, perfect scene, and it did not disappoint. The King's Speech was one of the best films I have seen in years, and I am thrilled that it won the Best Picture Oscar.

There were, of course, a large number of people who thought that the Best Picture should have been awarded elsewhere, and while I agree that there were many amazing films up for the top prize, The King's Speech is absolutely timeless. It is just the kind of film that Oscar voters like, but it will also stand the test of time. I can't say the same for The Social Network.