Thursday, November 25, 2010

Corn casserole.


Happy Thanksgiving, all! Hope everyone has been able to enjoy a relaxing, good-people, good-food filled day. Even though my family is way far away and I can't participate in any of their feasts, including my mom's famous extensive pie making, we've always been able to enjoy our West Coast holidays with good friends. We just arrived home from stuffing our faces at Erin & Grey's, and since I have to wake up early tomorrow to work, all I can really think about right now is plopping into bed, pronto.

But I feel like over the last year and a half that I've had this blog I've kind of glossed over some of my favorite things about the holidays, probably because I am always too busy and exhausted (in the best way) on the actual holidays to write. So I'm going to start now, with a small step, and tell you about how much I freaking love corn casserole. Although nothing can beat holidays with my family, I do have to say that perhaps the best part of going through some holidays on our own is getting some experience cooking some feasts myself. Granted, corn casserole, and green bean casserole, as pictured above, are two of THE most easiest things in the world to make, but they are always SO DELICIOUS. So much so we've made both for both Thanksgiving and Easter the last few years we've been out here.

While there are probably some variations on the good ol' corn casserole out there in the world, I've been using a recipe I printed from the Food Network website a few years ago, from Miss Paula Deen. Say what you want about her, but when it comes to overwhelmingly unhealthy, down home hearty cooking, her recipes are exactly what I want at the holidays.

Ingredients:
1 (15 1/4 oz) can whole kernel corn, drained
1 (14 3/4 oz) can cream-style corn
1 (8-ounce) package Jiffy corn muffin mix
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
1 to 1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar

Instructions:
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- In a large bowl, stir together the 2 cans of corn, Jiffy, sour cream, and melted butter. Pour into a greased 9x13 inch casserole dish. [This is what the recipe says, but after using different pans, I find that a square, 8x8-ish dish works the best--since the bulk of the casserole isn't as spread out it stays a little gooey-er in a good way.]
- Bake 45 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from oven and top with cheddar. [I am very generous with this part.] Return to oven for 5 to 10 minutes, or until cheese is melted. Let stand for at least 5 minutes and then serve warm.

So to summarize: A bunch of corn, a bunch of cheese, some melted butter, some sour cream, some Jiffy? Sounds like a perfect, purely American dish to me. I could eat it until I'm sick. And I do.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The travel section.


Subscribing to The Oregonian when we moved out here was one of the best decisions I've ever made in my life. That may sound like hyperbole, but I don't think it is. I know it's a little late in the game to have been made into a newspaper person when the industry is dying, but so be it. I fully understand that almost every other person my age, and really pretty much every other person in general, gets the news these days (that is if they're interested in getting the news at all) by logging on daily to CNN.com, The Huffington Post, whateverconservativenews.com, etc., but I just don't like it. When I try reading this stuff it just seems too fast and jumbled to me, like I'm reading it but not really comprehending it. And yes, I swear I wasn't born in the 1950s. I love reading blogs about random things and about people's personal takes on the world to infinity, obviously, but when it comes to sitting down and really finding out what's happening in the world, I just want to be sitting on my couch, in my pajamas, with big crinkly paper whose ink smears off onto my fingertips, when I feel calm and focused and able to let the information really seep into my brain. Even if the information is two weeks old because I haven't had time in two weeks to sit down, in my pajamas, and read anything before that point, I don't care. I don't know what to tell you, that's just the way it is.

There are numerous reasons why I love The Oregonian, and newspapers, some more of which I'll perhaps get to in even more mind-numbing installments on this blog, but for now I want to focus on the best part of the week: the Travel section in the Sunday paper.

Sometimes when I'm not in the right mood, or none of the articles stand out, or I just want to push through to get to some more sections of the paper because I have a really huge stack of papers to get through, reading the Travel section is just okay. But when I am in the right mood, it makes me happy like you wouldn't believe. I have had the wanderlust for a long time, which is no secret, and I will never get rid of it. However, this wanderlust has led me to make some irresponsible decisions in the past. I mean, wanderlust is inherently irresponsible. To people who don't have it, extra money means savings. For people who kind of have it, extra money means, hey, let's go somewhere! For people who have it really bad like me, extra money normally doesn't exist, but having no money doesn't always hold you back when it should--when you have credit cards! The experience of seeing new places and new things is worth it for a little debt. And I do still think this, but my debt has gotten a little out of hand, and grad school has only made my situation even darker. (While I have never been a luxurious traveler, any sort of travel involves a decent sum of money.) To make a long, too-personal story short, I sometimes have moments of rationality and realize I have to stay put for awhile. Of course, I will still be traveling a lot in the next few years because lots of people I love are getting married and they all happen to live on the opposite coast. But that's different.

My point is: the Travel section can be, and satisfy, my need to travel sometimes, if just in my mind. Because you better bet that every time I read about someplace really interesting and wonderful-sounding, I read the article with the conviction that I will in fact go there one day. I am planning the trips right now, in my head! Even if these notions are nowhere near true, imagining that they can be is enough, sometimes.

My favorite articles seem to be not ones about international and exotic destinations (although I of course like those too) but ones that are about Oregon and the Northwest. Oregon is a vast, diverse place, and while I have been able to see quite a bit of it, there always seems to be more. In fact, the idea that I won't get to see all the places I want to see before we move back East makes my heart palpitate a bit.

My only complaint about the Travel section is how inherently catered to the upper-middle-class it is. I'm a little put off sometimes by articles that always list restaurants and hotels that only rich people could enjoy. While I know that listing the best of the best is what travel writers are supposed to do, the implication that this is where you should eat and stay when you visit these places, and knowing that I could never afford any of them, makes me feel kind of crappy. Beyond that, the idea of just being able to visit any of the places listed in these pages at all is literally way out of reach for a lot of people.

That said, since I am going to go to all of these places one day--right?--right?!--this is my current itinerary of things to do, just from the last two Travel sections I've read:

- Downtown McMinnville, drinking Willamette Valley wine and eating ice cream!
- Taking an intense bike ride through the desert of the Four Corners!
- Enjoying Christmas in New York City!
- Taking a ferry from Seattle to Poulsbo, a Scandinavian town on a bay full of European things!
- Oh, and I'm also going to be going to a few places in South America and Southeast Asia. And I'm going to be going to Europe pretty frequently, too. Obviously.

I know, pretty sweet, right? Don't worry; I'll post pictures.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Ben Folds, Rockin' the Suburbs


I love Ben Folds something fierce and always will, with or without the Five. I do love him from the Ben Folds Five days, including old school tunes like Emaline. I love him live--I love him live more than life itself. I love random tracks he's put out on random compilations, like Leather Jacket, from No Boundaries: A Benefit for the Kosovar Refugees (and yes, you probably DIDN'T know this album existed, and yes, it IS an astounding compilation of 90's awesomeness--in fact when I'm looking at the list of artists again it is blowing my mind with awesomeness) and like Golden Slumbers from the I Am Sam soundtrack, the best Beatles cover on that thing--and even all of his tunes from the Over the Hedge soundtrack (Still is an amazingly beautiful song with some of my favorite lyrics, the entirety of which goes like this--

I must give the impression
that I have the answers for everything
You were so disappointed
to see me unravel so easily
It's only change
It's only everything I know
It's only change, and I'm only changing

You want something that's constant
And I only wanted to be me

But watch even the stars above
Things that seem still
are still changing.

--yeah). I love the wayyy dark and moody Reinhold Messner; I love his newer albums a little less but still love a few stellar tracks a lot a lot--Bastard, Gracie, Time, and Prison Food from Songs for Silverman are pretty fantastic, and from Supersunny, There's Always Someone Cooler Than You (great title), and Adelaide (freaking love Adelaide. Also love that he up and moved to Australia). I love him in The Bens--Bruised, oh man, Bruised! I love that he is from the town where I will one day live!

Okay, so, apparently, I am a big Ben Folds nerd.

But back to the point here--above all, there is nothing quite like Rockin' the Suburbs, in terms of whole-album-quality, in terms of sentimental value. I love this album from start to finish, from the creak of a door opening and those first piano bars in Annie Waits to the heart-achingly sweet finish of The Luckiest, one of the most eloquent love songs ever written, whose lyrics I could listen to overandoverandover and let his rising and falling piano notes and the swelling strings wrap me up in a warm blanket forever.

There are a few songs in the middle of the album that blend together into the background a bit for me, but there are some real standouts throughout; notably, Still Fighting It and Fred Jones, Part 2. The album in general takes me back to senior year of high school. I listened to Still Fighting It over and over in my discman in cold yellow school buses as we bussed to away football games for marching band and for field hockey games--dark night drives home from numerous depressing old coal towns around the Scranton--Wilkes-Barre corridor--and I listened to it on numerous drives with Lou and Wes, around Hawley and Honesdale and beyond in his huge-ass SUV. But I continued to listen to this album extensively even after leaving Pennsylvania so I don't connect it solely to angsty high school memories, but I can also picture myself walking around Boston with it inside of my ears and my head. And even then, even now, the way he sings this seminal line--everybody knows it sucks to grow up--with the emphasis on sucks is just as satisfying when, years earlier, he yelled at that bitch to give him back his black t-shirt. And Mr. Fred Jones, what a beautiful piece of musical storytelling. In fact, Fred Jones, Part 2 is a key example of why music is so wonderful and particularly powerful when it tells the stories of everyday life and people, not just the trials and tribulations of love. It tells the story of an old man upon retirement, sitting in his office, staring at boxes, no fanfare or goodbye parties, just waiting for the young bastards to take his place. And life barrels on like a runaway train where the passengers change but they don't change anything; you get off, someone else can get on. And I'm sorry, Mr. Jones. It's time. Streetlight shines through the shades, casting lines on the floor, and lines on his face. He reflects on the day. Then he goes home, tries to keep himself occupied, but can't get quite used to it, and can't get over feeling forgotten and old. It's a heartbreaking, yet undramatic story, and one that happens every day, and a story that gets overlooked, diminished. But in a song, you can fill in the emotion that actually belongs there, and return some dignity to Fred Jones, imaginative or real, simply be recognizing his plight. Music gives validity to our emotions.

I was going to say that if anything, the upbeat, tongue-in-cheek, social-commentary slinging, borderline-obnoxious title track is actually one of my least favorite tracks on the album, just because the whole tone of it seems kind of off-kilter with the rest of the album and seems to throw things off a bit. But, then I listened to it again. And yeah, I like this one too. The riff that comes in on the acoustic guitar around two minutes in and continues on a synthesizer later on is a great little pop music piece, and the whole, It gets me real pissed off and it makes me wanna say...fuuuuuuuuuuck! Well. That is just enjoyable. Obviously.

And then! Bam. You are back to here, suddenly engulfed by The Luckiest. Holy crap, Ben Folds. Holy crap.

Next door there's an old man
who lived to his nineties and one day
passed away in his sleep
and his wife
she stayed for a couple of days
and passed away

I'm sorry I know that's a
strange way to tell you
that I know

we belong.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Sweetness Bakery.

(photo from sweetness-bakery.com)

Sweetness is tucked into this strange little soulless-looking mini-mall type thing at the corner of SE 52nd and Powell, but when you walk in, BAM, it is the coziest, cutest, most welcoming place in the world, and the counter is CHOCK FULL of DELICIOUS SWEET THINGS. I took this photo from their website, but they're not doctoring it up - that is literally always what their counter looks like. And everything is so good. So good! In addition to pastries they also have breakfast items, a few sandwiches made with homemade challah bread (one of which I had for lunch today), and pretty yummy brunch specials on the weekends. It's a bummer we won't be holding our wedding in Oregon, because I'd have them make our wedding cake in a second.

Beyond their delicious food, there are a few reasons I like this place.
1) The homey, country-ish decor kind of makes me feel like I am in
Stars Hollow, and the truth is I am at my happiest/most comfortable in a place when it makes me feel like I am in Stars Hollow.
2) Since it's so close to our apartment, going there makes me feel like I am supporting my local neighborhood (Foster-Powell), and they in turn are very into supporting the neighborhood right back. Community association meetings for the 'hood are held there monthly, and at the few neighborhood parties/fairs we've gone to, they are always there. Even though it's one of the least glamorous, least hip 'hoods in the city, I have actually grown to fiercely love Foster-Powell, and plan to continue highlighting some of its hidden gems on this here bloggy blog.
3) It's run by a mother-daughter pair, which is adorable in itself, but is extra-awesome since they are super nice and great (at least the daughter, who I'm pretty sure is the one I see the most when I'm there). They are friendly and genuine and the whole place has an air of complete un-pretentiousness. Believe me, Portland is a city never lacking in abundance of cool, local, independent coffee shops/cafes, but finding an un-pretentious one is a much rarer feat.


Next unrealistic life goal: Be a "full time writer," that elusive position that some people somehow have, and be able to spend time in places like Sweetness, pretending I'm in Stars Hollow, for hours every day.