The Hunger Games: Dinner on the Train

Once again, we turn to Panem for tonight’s meal. But instead of the hunting and gathering meals Katniss would eat in District 12, we get something a little bit fancier. The first really excellent food Katniss and Peeta encounter is on the train to the Capitol after the reaping. Katniss has volunteered as tribute in order to save her sister, and Peeta has been selected at random, and both are now heading for what they believe to be certain death. Why not enjoy the abundance that the Capitol has to offer until then?

The train doesn’t even offer food as decadent as the various feasts at the capitol, but it is a shocking and pleasant difference for kids who grew up in a community where people regularly starve to death. During their first meal on the train, Katniss and Peeta both eat until they just about make themselves sick.

The bulk of this meal replicates what Katniss and Peeta ate the night of the reaping, “Thick and Creamy Carrot Soup,” “Fresh Green Salad,” and “Tribute Lamb Chops,” and “Creamy Mashed Potatoes.” The dessert, however, “Peeta’s Hot Chocolate Pudding,” is a take on the hot chocolate that is served with breakfast. Katniss can’t even handle the hot chocolate, which she’s never had before, and dipping a sweet roll in it like Peeta does seems like an excellent idea.

Thick and Creamy Carrot Soup

Serves 4

Final Soup

I’ve never in my life eaten carrot soup. And up until I was well into my twenties, I didn’t really eat carrots much at all. They’ve never been a favorite, and my husband really dislikes cooked carrots as a side with meals. But, oh man, this soup, you guys. It was excellent. I mean, it’s really just pureed vegetables with some chicken broth and a touch of cream, but it tastes so rich and creamy you wouldn’t believe it. And my husband loved it, too! He even took some leftovers to work the next day. Oh, and the recipe recommends that you let the soup rest overnight for the full flavor to take effect. I won’t argue with that.

  1. First off, peel and chop a ton of carrots. Well, two pounds, anyways. And a big old Vidalia onion.Carrots and Onions
  2. Heat up a tablespoon of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium heat and toss those veggies in. Keep stirring and cooking them for 15 minutes, until the onion is pretty translucent.
  3. Stir in a teaspoon each of salt and pepper, ¼ teaspoon of ground ginger, and ½ teaspoon of tarragon. Cook for another minute or two.
  4. Pour in 3 cups of chicken broth (or vegetable broth, but I’m using chicken), crank the heat up high, and bring the liquid to a boil. Cover the pot, turn the heat down low, and simmer for 30 minutes until the carrots are tender.Add broth
  5. Take the pot off the heat and let it cool to room temperature. You can use a cool-liquid bath, placing the pot in a large pan of water, if you want. Or you can be like me and go watch your kid chase the pets around the house, completely forgetting about the soup for a few hours.
  6. When you finally remember that you were doing something and get back to the cool soup, blend it in batches in a blender or food processor. Or if you’ve got an immersion blender, fire that up and you don’t even have to go through the transferring process.Blend
  7. It was at this point that I left my soup to hang out overnight. I’m not sure if this is where it was intended, but it’s where I did it, and it turned out great. I just poured the batches of blended soup into a storage container and threw it in the fridge.
  8. When you’re ready to finish cooking the soup, pour it back into a pot over low-ish heat. Pour in two tablespoons of half-and-half and stir it up. When it’s up to temperature, serve it up in great big bowls with bread as a meal or in smaller bowls as a side dish. Sprinkle on some parsley if you feel fancy.Creamy Soup.jpg

 

Tribute Lamb Chops

Serves 4

In addition to various game, they eat a lot of lamb in The Hunger Games. I’ve eaten lamb before, but I’ve definitely never cooked it, so this is all new to me. In fact, I had to drive half an hour over the mountain to even buy lamb chops. These were quite good, if a little overcooked. I did have tiny little midget lamb chops, though, and thicker ones might cook better with the recommended times here.

  1. In a food processor, mix up all the herbs (1 teaspoon each of rosemary, tarragon, thyme, and parsley) with 2 cloves of peeled garlic (or if you’re lazy like me, 2 teaspoons of chopped garlic out of a jar) and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. HerbsI didn’t feel like pulling out my big food processor for this little bit of seasoning, so I actually used the baby-food processor someone gave us a while back. It worked just fine, and it was so damn cheerful!Baby Bullet
  2. Spoon or brush this over both sides of your lamb chops and let them rest for about an hour. The recipe calls for four 1-inch thick chops, but as I said, all I had were these little dudes. You take what you can get when you live in a small town.Herbed Chops
  3. Set oven to broil and allow it to heat.
  4. Heat a cast-iron or other heavy, large skillet over high heat and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
  5. Sear the chops for 2-3 minutes per side until they’re nice and brown. The seasoning paste will definitely look dark brown.
  6. With an oven mitt (this is very important! Don’t burn your fingers off!), remove pan from the heat and place it in the oven. Broil your chops for about 7 minutes or until medium rare. Like I said, my dinky chops ended up pretty well done, which was okay but not ideal. Tweak the time based on the size of your chops.Cooking Chops
  7. Let the meat rest for about 10 minutes before serving.

 

Creamy Mashed Potatoes and Fresh Green Salad

Yeah, the recipes for these are pretty much exactly what you’d expect them to be, so I didn’t follow the recipes or take pictures. In fact, I used (gasp!) instant potatoes, since I was going to be the only one eating them (the husband is off starchy carbs). And the recipe for the “Fresh Green Salad” was literally just mixed greens and bottled balsamic vinaigrette. Very exciting. If you need recipes for these items, pull something off of just about any recipe site on the internet, and you’ll do just fine.

Peeta’s Hot Chocolate Pudding

Serves 10

Pudding CookedThis was only okay. I mean, it is a gooey chocolatey dessert, so it’s not a bad thing. But it’s just not really worth the calories (this is according to the philosophy handed down from my mother and the women before her, all conscientious chocolate connoisseurs: if you’re going to blow calories on it, make sure it’s damn good). I think there just isn’t enough chocolate in the under-layer, because it doesn’t taste nearly rich enough. In fact, I don’t even need this hanging around my house looking all chocolatey. It is a liar and a tease, and I’m getting rid of it.

  1. Preheat your oven to 375°.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine 1 cup of flour, ¾ cup of white sugar, 2 tablespoons of cocoa, 2 teaspoons of baking powder, and ¼ teaspoon of salt. Stir in ½ cup of milk, 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil, and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and blend until smooth.Dessert Batter.jpg
  3. Pour the batter into an ungreased 9-inch square baking pan. (Oops, I greased mine. Whatever.)
  4. In a small bowl, mix together 1 cup of packed brown sugar and 4 tablespoons of cocoa with a whisk or fork. Sprinkle this mixture evenly over the batter.Pudding Topping
  5. Pour ¾ cup of hot water over the top. Do not stir it, just let it hang out on top.
  6. Bake for 30 minutes. The cake is supposed to be very gooey and moist, so don’t overbake it.
  7. Portion into deep bowls and serve warm. It would be better with ice cream, but then, isn’t everything?Pudding Final

 

This was a very good dinner with a mediocre dessert. And we didn’t even have to face death in the Hunger Games to get it.

Amusing side note: This is an excellent meal to make if you want to find out if your child is frightened of a noisy food processor or blender. Turns out mine definitely is.

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The Never Been Feta Burger, aka the Foot Feta-ish Burger

In episode 2 of Bob’s Burgers, Bob dreads the arrival of his in-laws so much that while trying to half-assedly repair a leak, he pretends to get stuck in the apartment’s crawl space, and eventually figures out that he really is stuck. As he slowly goes a bit nuts from the isolation—he begins to talk to the nightlight he has with him, imagining that he’s in an old prohibition speakeasy—Linda entertains her parents, and the kids get into trouble at school.

This episode really highlights the way that Bob’s portrays family: you may hate them sometimes, and they may be really weird, but you still put up with each other and help out when there’s a crisis. Louise, being Louise, gets the school counselor’s attention when she pretends her dad is dead and haunting the walls of the restaurant, and when Gene and Tina also get in trouble that same day, the overly sincere and rather inept counselor makes a home visit, which obviously goes really badly with the whole Bob situation happening. Linda’s mom, whom Bob hates because she is annoying and nagging, steps up and saves the family from getting social services called on them.

Along with the main plotline, there are several moments of pure delight in this episode. Tina suffers from night terrors that get a little weird. Because of her budding sexuality she ends up dreaming about zombies that she wants to make out with. Gene records the audio of his grandparents having sex and plays it as his history report, which he thinks is totally legit because they were alive when prohibition was going on, which makes them all historical and stuff. And Louise eggs on the school counselor, which, as Linda says directly to him with a little bit of pride in her voice, is because she enjoys messing with people that she thinks are stupid. Oh, and the ever-present wordplay, of course. Bob calls Linda (and her mom) Nagatha Christie, Naggedy Ann, and the Secretary of Nagriculture. And when he tells Louise to write the burger special on the board as the “Never Been Feta” burger, she obviously feels that there is room for improvement and changes it to the “Foot Feta-ish” burger.

So that’s what we’re cooking up today, whichever way you want to refer to it. I decided to go with a feta-stuffed burger with red peppers and onions and a basil mayonnaise.

Here’s all the stuff I put into the meat mixture. A pound of 93% ground beef, a tablespoon each of Worcestershire and parsley, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper (but go easy on the salt because the cheese is pretty salty).Ingredients

I popped strips of pepper and onion into the broiler to roast them a bit.Peppers and Onions

And here’s how I stuffed the burgers by making eight very thin patties of meat (for four burgers) and wrapping two of them around about a quarter cup of feta, making sure to really seal the edges as best as I could.Feta Stuffing

Then I cooked the patties over medium heat until they were cooked through. And no, I didn’t pay attention to how long they cooked, because I can really only do so much at once, and I freakin’ forgot, okay! In any case, if you’re not sure how long to cook a burger, just make sure a meat thermometer hits around 160° when inserted into the thickest part to be safe.

Let’s see, where was I? Oh, yes. I toasted my buns a bit. Whole wheat because of health and stuff. And I spread a bit of mayo on each side and sprinkled basil on the mayo. Very fucking fancy, y’all. Then I put the cooked burger, the roasted peppers and onions, and a bit of lettuce and tomato on the buns.Building Burger

And here’s what the final burger looked like.Final Burger

It was really damn good. You should go make one for yourself.

The Hunger Games: Dinner in District 12

MockingjayToday we find ourselves in the world of The Hunger Games. Panem is a slightly futuristic post-American society with an authoritarian dictator that likes to remind the people not to rebel by killing children on live TV every year. Sounds like a blast.

I’ve always found the name interesting. “Panem” is derived from the Latin phrase panem et circenses, which translates to “bread and circuses,” indicating the idea that if you give the people enough food and entertainment, they’ll be distracted from the terrible stuff you’re doing as a government. In this case, though, it is more a threat of starvation and a very macabre form of entertainment that the Capitol uses to keep its people in line.

The wealth of the districts is severely unbalanced, with the Capitol enjoying great luxury while the outer districts suffer from severe poverty. District 12 is the poorest in all of Panem, and Katniss lives in the Seam, the poorest community within the district.

I imagine Katniss not as the rugged-but-beautiful, well-groomed, well-spoken Jennifer Lawrence depiction of her, but rather more as a real poor kid from Appalachia. She’d probably have bad teeth, a worse hairdo (not always the pretty braid her mother did for her), and a back-woods Southern-ish accent riddled with local slang. But the book makes her more relatable to the majority of readers, and the magic of Hollywood dictates that no woman can look less than perfect unless she goes full-on Charlize-Theron-in-Monster and still star in a movie. So we get the glorious J-Law and her perfect braid. Eh, whatever.

In any case, I’ve put together a rather ambitious meal for myself, using four different recipes from the Hunger Games cookbook. I may not do quite so many recipes all at once in the future, but I liked this one as a first try to see how much I could handle. A meal from District 12 would consist largely of whatever Katniss could scrounge up, like game and wild greens, or if one was very lucky, some treats from the bakery in town. I’m combining the two here with a menu of “Real Bakery Bread,” “Prim’s Birthday ‘Venison’ Steaks,” “Bitter Greens with Pea-Sized Tomatoes,” and “Mellark Bakery’s Goat Cheese and Apple Tarts.” All of these recipes come from The Unofficial Recipes of The Hunger Games by Rockridge University Press, but I’ve changed certain parts because of availability, personal preference, or simply forgetting steps. And since I was doing a full menu for this post, I baked the bread and dessert the night before because doing it all at one time while the rest of my family was home would be madness.

Real Bakery Loaf Bread

Makes 2 loaves

This bread is better than the rough bread that would be made from tesserae grain rations, and Katniss and Gale indulge in a loaf on the morning of the reaping. I really wanted to bake bread with this first post because of its importance throughout the books. Not only is the country named Panem, but Katniss first notices Peeta when she is starving and he intentionally burns bread that he has to throw out despite earning a beating from his mother. This recipe isn’t for the kind of bread that Peeta burns—that bread is a sweet raisin and nut bread—but rather a more basic everyday recipe that is more suited for dinner. Also, I don’t really do nuts; you’ll begin to see how picky I am by the way I choose and alter recipes on this blog.

  1. In a large bowl, dump 2 ½ cups whole wheat flour and ¾ cup barley flour (if you can get your hands on it. I couldn’t find any barley flour at the various grocery stores here or over the mountain, so I just used all wheat flour). Whisk or sift this with 2 teaspoons 1 teaspoon salt and 2 teaspoons active dry yeast. (Okay, so I really like salt, and even I was like, damn, that’s pretty salty, and this isn’t even District 4 bread. Adjust amount according to your preferences, but I’d probably cut the original amount in half).
  2. Get 1 ½ cups of water and warm it up to about 110°. (If you’re anything like me, you’ll overheat it and have to wait around for it to cool off so you don’t kill your yeast.) Mix this into the flour mixture until you’ve got a smooth dough.
  3. Rub a bit of olive oil over the surface to prevent the dough from drying out, then cover the bowl with a clean, damp towel and set it in a warm place for at least 2 hours to rise.
  4. After the dough has risen to about double its size, sprinkle it with a bit of flour, then divide it into 2 equal-sized balls. Start forming the first ball into a loaf, kneading it fairly gently for 5 minutes, folding it over and turning as you go. Use both hands to form the dough into an oval or round shape, set it on a piece of oiled parchment paper or foil, and cover it with a mixing bowl. Repeat with the second loaf.
  5. Let the dough rise for 1 hour, or until roughly doubled again.
  6. Preheat the oven to 450°. If you have a fancy pizza/bread baking stone, let that heat up in the oven for a while. (I don’t have one of these, so I just used a cast-iron pan that wasn’t preheated.)
  7. Dust the tops of your loaves with a bit of all-purpose flour and use a wet knife to lightly score the dough diagonally along the tops. (I don’t think my knife was terribly sharp, so my cuts are a bit wonky.)Bread Dough
  8. Place the dough and parchment or foil directly onto the pizza stone or pan. Fill an oven-safe casserole dish with 1 cup of water and place it carefully on bottom rack of the oven.
  9. Bake the loaves until golden brown and crusty, about 25-30 minutes. Place on a cooling rack and let cool to room temperature or a bit warmer before slicing. (I think 25-30 minutes probably wasn’t quite long enough for my loaves. As they cooled they developed a bit of a ring around the middle like they were still a bit too moist inside.)Baked Bread
  10. When cool, cut in and enjoy with butter or cheese or just on its own.Cut Bread

Prim’s Birthday “Venison” Steaks

Serves 4

In the arena, when Katniss and Peeta are telling each other stories, Katniss tells him about how she got Prim’s goat. She edits the story for safety, but we also hear the real version. It involves a lucky day of hunting, trading with the butcher, getting some venison steaks to take home, and ultimately buying Prim an injured goat.

Okay, so I don’t actually use venison here. I had every intention of doing so, but nobody—and I mean NOBODY—sells venison commercially around here, and I’m not doing a back-woods deal with a hunter when it’s not even deer season. In fact, my husband did some research and found out that you can’t legally sell game commercially in New York. Buying it online is way more expensive than I’m willing to pay for. I could have switched recipes and cooked fish, but I don’t eat seafood at all. And a lot of the other recipes in this book involve other game (rabbit, squirrel, beaver, and the fictional groosling), which aren’t available. So we’re substituting beef and pretending it’s deer. Let’s all just close our eyes and make believe together.

  1. Season ½-inch venison steaks (if you can’t find venison like me, use ½-inch leanish New York strip steaks) with salt and pepper (and I threw on some steak seasoning because I’m skipping the rosemary in step 4) and let come to room temperature.
  2. Heat a large cast-iron or very heavy skillet over high heat and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Fry for about 4 minutes.Cooking Steak
  3. (Acknowledge the toddler clinging to your knees. Pick him up and explain that you’re busy. Take a selfie with your little helper. Realize you may have let the steaks go a bit long on one side. Sigh and move on with your life.)Tommy Helps
  4. Turn and cook for another 2 minutes. Then, baste the tops with the remaining oil and sprinkle with rosemary (rosemary is one of the herbs I really hate on its own, so no).
  5. Cook for another 3-4 minutes, or until meat thermometer reads 155° for medium doneness and 165°for well-done meat (if you’re eating beef, never cook your steak well done. never).
  6. Remove the cooked steaks to a plate to rest for at least 5 minutes before cutting into them.Resting Steaks

Bitter Greens with Pea-Sized Tomatoes

Serves 6

Greens were among the items that Gale and Katniss gathered the day they shot the deer. This dish is actually served at the Capitol, but I think it would definitely be among the dishes served in District 12 if they could have gotten their hands on a smidge of bacon and some tomatoes. The other options for side items in District 12 are kind of limited to Katniss tubers, which don’t actually exist, and I’d rather skip replacements such as cassava and the like.

  1. Take one small bunch of fresh kale, remove the leaves from their stems, and rinse the leaves well in a bowl of fresh water to allow any sand to settle. Take one bunch of Swiss chard, cut off the toughest parts of the stems, roughly chop the rest of the stems and leaves, and rinse well in a colander. Add the kale to the colander and let sit for 30 minutes to drain, or spin in a salad spinner (salad spinner to the rescue!).Kale
  2. In a heavy skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil on medium-high heat.
  3. Add 1 clove crushed garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add 1 tablespoon 1 large handful bacon crumbles (because you can) and 1 tablespoon butter. Once butter is melted, add the greens and 1 tablespoon of water. Marvel at the towering  mountain of greens and smush the top of your pan on.Greens
  4. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Add ½ pint small (grape or cherry) tomatoes (do pea-sized tomatoes even exist?), stir well, and cover and cook for 5 more minutes until tomatoes burst. Add salt and pepper to taste.Cooked Greens
  6. Spoon onto plates, drizzle with ½ teaspoon apple cider vinegar (I missed this step. Don’t judge, I get frazzled when I’m doing more than one thing at once) and serve.

Mellark Bakery’s Goat Cheese and Apple Tarts

Serves 8

This would have been an utter treat for either Katniss or Peeta. In the arena Peeta tells Katniss that his family bakery makes these goat cheese tarts, but that they can’t afford to eat any themselves. In fact, they only ever eat stale baked goods. This makes Katniss briefly feel sorry him, since all of the food she hunts or gathers is incredibly fresh. But she doesn’t feel too bad, since he never nearly starved to death like she did.

  1. Peel and cut 2 1 pink lady apples into ½-inch -centimeter slices. (I clearly forgot to peel mine. Also, I used thinner slices because I thought they would cook through better, and so I ended up using only 1 apple. More apple wouldn’t have hurt the tarts at all.)Apples
  2. Preheat oven to 350°. Prick bottoms of 8 tart pie shells with a fork and place on a baking sheet. (I couldn’t actually find any premade tart shells at our store, so I opted for these roll-out pie crusts that I cut out with a cup and smushed into a muffin tin. The flavor and texture are different, and I probably left mine just a bit undercooked. Actual tart crust would definitely improve the flavor.) Bake for 8 minutes in the center of the oven.Tart Crusts
  3. In a medium bowl, mix 6 ounces of goat cheese, 6 ounces of mascarpone cheese and ½ cup of sugar with an electric mixer until smooth.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix ½ teaspoon nutmeg and ¼ cup sugar, add the apple slices, and toss to coat well.
  5. Remove tart pie shells from the oven and use a spoon to fill the shells with the cheese mixture, ¾ full. Smooth the surface with a rubber spatula (it’s fairly thick and only smooths so well).
  6. Brush the edges of each tart shell with egg wash of one whole egg whisked with 1 tablespoon water, (I completely forgot this step) and then arrange apple slices on top to cover completely.Uncooked Tarts
  7. Return the pan to the oven and bake for 12-15 minutes, or until apples are golden brown.
  8. Let cool to room temperature before garnishing with fresh mint leaves (yeah, I don’t have fresh mint leaves, and I’m not buying them just for this) and serving.Apple Tart

In all, I’m fairly pleased with the results. I prefer a steak that’s been marinated, but I refrained in the spirit of the exercise and may have ended up over-seasoning the steaks as a result. Meh, steak is good. I do wish I could have gotten venison, since I’ve never tried it. The greens were delicious. As I said, the bread was too salty, but it turned out pretty well otherwise. As for the tarts, I like cheese tarts, but I think the pie crust substitution was a bad move, and for some reason, I just wasn’t feeling goat cheese in such large proportions, which is odd for me. Chalk it up to pregnancy.Finished Meal

I’m really glad I did the bread and dessert ahead of time, otherwise I would have had a disaster on my hands. As it was, doing the steaks and greens all at once was even a bit much, even though I regularly cook multiple things for dinner, because I’m really not used to following a new recipe, cooking, taking pictures, and occasionally appeasing a small child at the same time. I’ll either get used to the process as time goes on, or I’ll cut down on the amount of blog recipes that I do at one time.

Next up, a Bob’s Burgers daily special followed by dinner on the train to the Capitol.

The New Baconings Burger

Here we go! The Pop Culture Kitchen is officially launched, and I believe this burger is the perfect way to start off. Remember, in addition to weekly recipes from pop culture cookbooks, I’ll also be cooking a burger from the Bob’s Burgers daily specials board. I’ll be going through the show chronologically, picking one burger from each episode to re-create. Quite fittingly, the first burger special is the “New Baconings Burger.” Perfect.

Let’s start out with the series as a whole.

I adore Bob’s Burgers. Yes, it’s a simply drawn cartoon, but it’s a fantastic cartoon. The long-suffering Bob Belcher, voiced by H. Jon Benjamin (also the voice of Archer), tries his best to take care of his family and his burger restaurant, neither of which ever calmly goes according to his plans. His restaurant is continually teetering between profit and loss (and utter destruction), and his employees (his family) are never a great deal of help.Bob's Burgers Family

The wife kids are weird in the most endearing and annoying ways, and I hope my family ends up just like them. I kind of want to be Linda. Well, I kind of want to be Louise, too. One is an eternal optimist who is grounded in reality. The other boldly lives her life according to her own unique plans, and she can’t be bothered by naysayers. Tina is so awkwardly pubescent in a very real way that the whole family seems to cringe at and celebrate at the same time. And Gene, prepubescent and enamored with fart sounds, is just as annoying as boys his age are supposed to be.

Season 1, Episode 1, “Human Flesh,” depicts the grand re-re-opening of Bob’s Burgers. What caused the place to close predates the series, but we can gather from the opening credits that Bob’s has suffered from both fire and infestation in the past. (This is not at all surprising after a few episodes.) In any case, in honor of the occasion, Bob dubs the daily special the “New Baconings Burger—comes with Bacon.” Louise deems this to be lame, and sneakily changes the special to “The Child Molester—Comes with Candy.” She has also further complicated things for Bob by telling her class at school that their burgers are made with human flesh from the mortuary next door. Gene drops and re-trays the samples he’s handing out, which causes the health inspectors to pay a visit, and the cannibalism story is subsequently made known. One of the inspectors, coincidentally, is the former fiancé of Linda, and because he is still jealous of Bob, he makes the inspection process as painful as possible. To top things off, Bob has forgotten his and Linda’s anniversary. A grand re-re-opening, indeed.

Specials Board

Note the Burger of the Day sign in the background.

This episode clearly establishes each character. Bob encounters trouble, which is exacerbated by his family, and does his best to keep things going. Louise tries to spice up life a bit with cannibalism and child molester jokes. Gene uses his megaphone to interrupt his father with fart noises and inappropriately solicits his free samples to mourners at the mortuary. Tina overshares about her itchy crotch. And Linda perpetually believes that Bob has a special anniversary surprise for her, but takes it fairly well when the best he can do is take her on the Ferris Wheel and demonstrate his improved kissing skills. When I first saw this episode I felt a little anxious because of how much the characters talk over each other and ignore what Bob is saying. Like, how does he deal with all of that? But I eventually just learned to enjoy the chaos because this is how the family works. And I’m sort of learning that you have to embrace chaos when you have kids. Granted I’ve only got one who is only a year old, but I’m learning.

Now for the burger of the day.

As with most daily specials at Bob’s Burgers, there is very little description of the burger, just a punny name and sometimes a very brief indication of what the burger comes with. In this one, all we get is “comes with bacon,” so I’m winging it from there.

We’re just coming off the holidays and the terrible, terrible eating habits that we fully embraced while hanging out with family, so I’m trying to lighten this meal up a bit. Hence, this burger is going on a salad rather than a bun. But the key is still bacon, so, you know, balance in all things.Ingredients

I started by making a bacon weave, which the internet tells me is the prime way to eat bacon on a burger. You interlock the slices, then bake it at 400°, and when you cut it into quarters, you get a perfect layer of bacon that won’t slip off of your burger.Bacon Weaving

Now, this is perfect evidence of my brain not always working on top speed. The bacon weave is ideal for a burger on a bun; what I was making was definitely not on a bun. Bacon is infinitely easier to eat on a salad when it is chopped into large chunks and sprinkled around. But I somehow conflated the bun and salad methods and ended up with a fairly pretty little bacon nest, but one that I had to cut up before I could eat.

In any case, while the bacon weave was cooking, I shaped quarter-pound patties out of 85% ground chuck (making sure to put a dimple in the middle because of plumping while cooking), sprinkled each with salt and pepper, and tossed those bad boys on the grill pan over medium heat.Burger Patties

After one side was sufficiently browned (I definitely didn’t time this, sorry), I flipped ‘em and cheesed ‘em, using half a slice of sharp cheddar-jack, torn to size, on each.Cheese

When I assumed they were cooked through (again, I didn’t time it, but I’ll do better in the future), I pulled them off the heat and set them aside to rest while I cut the cooked and drained bacon weave into quarters.Bacon Weave

Finally, I assembled the salads. They’re really very simple: bagged 50/50 spinach and spring mix, topped with bacon, then the burger, cheese, and a dollop of Head Country barbecue sauce (nectar of the gods), then all topped off with a bit of light ranch dressing. I could have added some more veggies, but why complicate things?Bacon Burger Salad

It was delicious. As I said, the bacon and beef both had to be cut, but that’s not such a big deal, right? In all, a success. And I did it all with a rather cranky baby wandering around. Great success!

So begins my cooking/blogging adventure. It’s a bit awkward so far, trying to take decent pictures while I’m cooking, but I’m going to assume this gets easier with practice, right? I mean, lots of people do it, so I’ll eventually get it figured out. As I said, I hope to produce two posts per week, but god knows life will sneak in and throw me off from time to time, so let’s just roll with it. Let me know what you think.

Introducing the Pop Culture Kitchen

So I haven’t blogged much in the past few months. I realize this, and there are a few reasons for my inactivity. The beginning of this pregnancy was intense, to say the least, and I fell into a bit of a depression. I got my medications pretty well straightened out almost immediately, but I had some lingering icky feelings for quite a while. I essentially quit feeling like I had anything worth writing about, or if I came up with an idea, I just didn’t feel like sitting down and writing about it because where in the hell was I supposed to get any extra energy or brain power from?

As I gradually came out of this slump, I found myself busier and busier with work (teaching at a nearby community college) and simultaneously chasing around an increasingly mobile toddler who no longer naps all day. Added to this was the pleasant surprise that a book that I had written a chapter for a while ago, which had subsequently been shelved for various reasons, was suddenly going to be published again, and I needed to update my chapter before the end of the year. It was a busy, busy time, and I loved having so much to do. I think this really helped get me back to my happy place where I feel almost confident about stuff like, ya know, having a skill set. Oh, and my new therapist is probably helping a bit, too (that is, a LOT).

In any case, I finished teaching the fall semester and won’t be able to take on a class in the spring (because there’s essentially no provision for maternity leave when you’re an adjunct instructor), so I’m on a leave of sorts until next fall. And I finished revising that book chapter. And I can’t really take on copyediting work since I’ve got two months before I’ll have a newborn and my life is thrown into chaos. So I looked around one day over the holidays and realized I needed something to do when the holidays were over. Also, my therapist told me to find a new project, since I’m happiest when I’m busy with something that engages my brain. Go figure.

I knew I had this blog hanging around in the background, but I just couldn’t keep it going with the disorganized I’ll-post-when-I-think-of-a-topic manner that I started with. I needed a specific theme that I could base a publishing calendar on so that I can give myself specific assignments and deadlines. Otherwise I’ll never get anything done, except maybe beat a shitload of levels on Candy Crush, which I’m awesome at, but it isn’t really all that satisfying.

Inspiration struck when I read the book A Life from Scratch by blogger Sasha Martin. She set out to cook a meal from every country in the world, which gave her a specific goal and laid out a lot of assignments for her to fulfill. I decided that I needed that kind of structure and long-term planning. (By the way, Martin’s book is very good, but definitely not the light food-blogger book I expected it to be. She lived through some serious shit, y’all.)

I decided a cooking challenge was my best bet, since I really enjoy cooking and do it pretty much every day. Although I’m no pro, I can generally find my way around a saucepan. And my only other ideas were for projects that I’m just not in any way willing to commit to on a long-term schedule: DIY projects or a diet/exercise program. I mean, come on. I’ve had a half-painted armoire sitting in the middle of our guest room for about a year, and I’m seven-ish months pregnant, which is a fabulous excuse to avoid working out and eating healthy.

The pop culture cooking idea came to me as I was digging through my cookbook shelf. I noticed that I own several cookbooks based on books or authors. Pop culture and popular literature are absolutely my chosen areas of study (That book chapter I wrote? Yeah, that’s about The Walking Dead), so friends and family have given me these cookbooks as gifts over the years. That’s right, I personally own cookbooks based on the Song of Ice and Fire series and Jane Austen’s books, as well as a book by author Marian Keyes. And I’ve also read through several Harry Potter, Hunger Games, and Fifty Shades of Gray cookbooks at the book store (from what I can tell, the Fifty Shades cookbook is much better than the novels). Why do these things exist? Because of nerds like me. That’s why.

But I’m not into recipe development; I’m just a humble recipe follower. I like to watch cooking shows and pretend I have more skills than I actually possess and try out new things that I read about on other blogs. So I’m going to take this opportunity to work my way through these recipes and write about my experiences. This isn’t an ambitious quest; it’s merely a project to keep me from going crazy while I’m staying home with my kid(s). I’m sure I’ll still work in some life updates and gif posts along the way, but the cooking format gives me a basic outline to stick to.

So here’s the plan. I’m going to start with The Hunger Games, making one meal per week from recipes in The Unofficial Recipes of the Hunger Games (Rockridge University Press, 2012). After that, I’ll move into A Feast of Ice and Fire (Monroe-Cassel and Lehrer, Bantam, 2012) and so on, until I run out of steam or cookbooks. Interspersed with these, I’m going to have a burger night every week based on the Bob’s Burgers specials board (if you haven’t watched Bob’s Burgers, go do it now). I’ll document my successes and failures and talk about how each meal turns out, and I’ll probably also do a bit of discussion of the book/show as well. I may also develop the blog further along the way (perhaps switching to private hosting and changing the domain name), but that is yet to be seen because I have just oh so much to learn.

And, of course, if you have any recommendations on cookbooks or want to discuss books and TV shows, by all means, comment away. I look forward to seeing how this goes.

Stasis

This is just a quick note to say that I realize I’m not posting on this blog very regularly. I just need to let myself take some time here.

I’m still dealing with that whole pregnant and hormonal deal, and although I wouldn’t really call myself depressed, I’m not at my best. I want to be real in my writing, but I don’t want to be whiny and boring, and I think that’s about all I’ve got in me right now.

So let’s all take a moment and just be.

Much love.

The Semi-Working Mom: You Pay for the Luxury, but It’s So Worth It

The past few weeks I’ve gotten a taste of the working-mom life. And it is sweet. But I get the feeling that it’s one of those treats that is most appreciated in small bites.

This is literally my first pumpkin spice latte ever. I grabbed it on my way to work on the first day of autumn while wearing a cozy sweater and felt compelled to shoot a sassy selfie to show my husband what a basic bitch I was being. I rocked it.

This is literally my first pumpkin spice latte ever. I grabbed it on my way to work on the first day of autumn while wearing a cozy sweater and felt compelled to shoot a sassy selfie to show my husband what a basic bitch I was being. I rocked it.

I can easily see how many moms would get overwhelmed by everything it takes to get to work while someone else keeps your kid alive. This is no small feat. And it’s not something you can really understand until you try it. I was freelance editing for most of Tommy’s life before I started teaching again, but I had no idea what all was involved in actually going somewhere else to work.

Using a sitter or daycare is an interesting experience. At first you sort of freak out because you’ve got your kid’s napping schedule and feeding methods down to a science that nobody else could possibly replicate. But after typing up schedules and instruction sheets and having long conversations with the caregiver, you realize that you’re totally being a control freak, and your kid will survive if his nap or meal experience isn’t exactly perfect. Because every experience at home was perfect, right? Yeah.

And then there’s the inevitable freak-out when your darling baby realizes you’ll be abandoning him with these strangers. Tommy absolutely loses his shit whenever I’m dropping him off or picking him up, but the caretakers assure me (with photographic evidence) that he is fairly happy in the meantime. I’m fairly sure he’s just putting on a show to prove to me that he needs me, and (fingers crossed) he’ll get over it eventually. I sort of just drop his stuff and run out the door with an “I love you” flung over my shoulder on the way out in an effort to minimize the scene. It’s probably exacerbated by the fact that we only do three days a week, so his routine is changed up damn near every day.

The biggest challenge by far is finding childcare that doesn’t bankrupt you. Infants are the hardest to find care for because they can’t do anything for themselves, the little freeloaders. Compared to older kids, there has to be a greater number of caretakers in a room with fewer kids because all of the little monsters need to be fed and entertained, and all of their little tushies and noses need to be wiped (not in that order). Thank the gods for childcare providers, seriously. I don’t want to do what you do. This is why every daycare has a waiting list. And if you don’t get on the ball really early (like me) you might only get into daycare one day a week when you really need three.

What I’ve had to do is find a babysitter for the other two days a week. And really, the sitter is way cheaper than the daycare. Did I mention that childcare is really fucking expensive? Because it is. I didn’t get to teach as many classes as I’d hoped for this semester (that’s what happens when you’re the new instructor), and adjuncts don’t make very much money to begin with. So I’m literally paying more in childcare than I’m earning this semester. That’s right, I’m actually paying for the privilege to go out into the world and work. It’s like my unpaid internship in Berkeley all over again.

But, people, it is so worth it. I’m using my brain, keeping myself sane, and feeling good about myself. Even though I do have to grade things, I’m absolutely happy with this deal. Not only do I get a legitimate reason to talk about literature and writing for a few hours a week, I have a reason to wear work clothes, and do my makeup, and fix my hair. And, AND, I get to go to the gym once a week! What?!

I know, I know, many of you are all like, what’s the big deal? If you want to go to the gym, just go to the gym. But guys, it isn’t that easy. The gym where we live (on post) doesn’t have daycare, just a co-op where you have to go certain hours and watch other kids every once in a while, which is way too complicated and scary for me (other peoples’ kids? how do I even?). If I wait for Robin to get home so I can fling the baby at him and go to the gym, I won’t be able to hang out with both of them together before bedtime, and I like hanging out with the dudes. And the nearest off-post gym with childcare is still kind of far away and too expensive. But now, on days when I’ve got Tommy in daycare, I can take an extra hour (because I’m paying for it anyways, dammit) and go to the gym near the college. Hooray!

So the working-mom thing is amazing. But in addition to the big childcare question, it comes with so many little challenges, and some of them are weird and small, and you don’t expect them until you are dealing with them head-on. For instance, I can’t just use the baby as my alarm clock anymore. Yes, he tends to wake up around 6 or 6:30 every morning, which ought to be enough time, but he’s not reliable; every so often there’s a glorious morning when he decides to sleep in past 7. And also, if I want to do my hair and makeup without a little monster crawling up my legs and whining the whole time because he MUST BE HELD, I have to do that stuff before he wakes up.

And getting out the door is a bit of an ordeal. I have at least two giant bags (briefcase and diaper bag), sometimes three (gym bag), plus a baby on my hip. And god knows where my wallet is on any given day, because it gets rotated around so often, and I’ve gotten stuck off-post without my ID (horrors!) on at least one occasion so far.

I guess the key is getting organized up front. The people who do this well (not me) get the daycare set up while the baby is still in utero, work enough hours to pay for the childcare but not so many that they never see the kid (I have no idea what the magic formula for this is, does anyone?), and either wake up really freakin’ early or have some ability to get shit done at night that eludes me. I salute you, Wonder-Moms.

I figure I’ve got a pretty sweet deal going, even if it is in my own fumbling fashion. I may spend more money than I’m earning for the privilege, but I get to use my brain for what I trained it to do, I get a few hours to myself, and I still get to spend a ton of time at home with the baby. Of course, I went and screwed up my system, because after this semester I’ll be adding another baby to the mix and probably won’t be able to do this again. Meh, here’s to the present.