Another Reason Why You Can’t Take Me Anywhere: Dim Sum Broccoli

So beautiful. So delicious. So slippery.

I have a love-hate relationship with dim sum broccoli. It’s sauteed, but not too much, so it’s crunchy and sweet, crisp and fresh. It looks gorgeous, sitting there on the plate, a vibrant, shiny green that almost shimmers in the light. And I love the idea of it — I can tell myself that yes, I just ate three days’ worth of calories and five days’ worth of sodium and fat, but I also had some broccoli, so it all balances out.

There’s only one problem: I am unable to eat this dish and maintain any semblance of dignity. That gorgeous sheen is really a thin layer of oil that, combined with the smooth texture of the stalks, creates a slippery surface that makes them difficult to pick up with chopsticks. But I manage, and then I’m faced with a new challenge: taking that first bite. But from where? On one end, there’s a single, solid stalk, which branches out into three or so thinner, leafy stalks. The leafy end seems like the natural place to start, but the leafy stalks fan out just enough to make it difficult to take a bite of all of them at once, but not enough to allow me to take a bite of one without having the others hit my cheeks. And the leafy stalks are sometimes a little stringy and difficult to bite through cleanly. So that leaves the solid end. Taking a bite of that is easy enough, but it causes the leafy stalks to wave back and forth in front of my face like the arms of an overly-eager schoolgirl trying to attract the teacher’s attention.

Know your vegetables! Broccoli and rapini images via Wikipedia.

I wouldn’t have this problem (and, to be fair, it wouldn’t taste as good) if I were actually eating broccoli. Broccoli stalks are thick enough that they’d have to be sliced and not served whole. But instead, they use some other vegetable that’s more like broccoli rabe, which always sounds like it should be a character in a western (“There’s a new sheriff in town. They call him Broccoli Rob”) or maybe a crime story (“Robert ‘Broccoli Rob’ Tortellini stared across the table at Vinnie ‘Soft Serve’ Zamboni. By the end of the night, their two families would be embroiled in a war that would last for decades”). I keep hoping that someday, a real Broccoli Rob will emerge and teach me and others like me how to eat this stuff.

December is Sugar Plum Awareness Month

It was brought to my attention this week that many people have no idea what a sugar plum is. In an attempt to combat the global problem of sugar plum ignorance, I hereby declare December to be Sugar Plum Awareness Month.

Q: You’re making this announcement on December 29th? Wouldn’t it make more sense to choose a different month?

A: I chose December because it’s the month in which the sugar plum awareness theme song is heard most frequently. The timing of this announcement is less than ideal, but I think we can make it work — there are still a couple days left this December, and next December should last at least 21 days.

Q: Have you ever seen a sugar plum?

A: No.

Q: Do you know anyone who’s ever seen one?

A: Not to my knowledge, no.

Q: How do you know they exist?

A: Wikipedia has an article about them.

Q: Wikipedia also has an article about Santa Claus. Does that mean he exists?

A: Sugar Plum Awareness Month is a time of discovery, during which we will separate the truth about sugar plums from the myths.

Q: You really should have led with that.

A: Yeah, I know. Too bad I never edit these things.

Q: What do you think will be the high point of Sugar Plum Awareness Month?

A: The highlight will be Sugar Plum Tasting Day, when participants will attempt to taste sugar plums for the first time and then report back on them. This will enable us to resolve the question of whether sugar plums exist and, if they do, to track regional variations. Unfortunately, there wasn’t time to organize a tasting day this year, but we expect to have one in 2012.

Q: What exactly is a sugar plum?

A: Wikipedia says it’s a kind of candy made from chopped dried fruit, almonds, honey, and spices.

Q: So a sugar plum doesn’t necessarily contain either sugar or plums?

A: Right.

Q: Have you learned anything else interesting about sugar plums so far?

A: Apparently they grow on trees.

Q: How can I, a member of the public with no specialized training, help to make Sugar Plum Awareness Month a success?

A: I’m so glad you asked! You can add any sugar-plum-related information or questions you might have to the comments here. You can suggest sugar plum activities. And next year, you can participate in Sugar Plum Tasting Day.

You can find more sugar plum facts (and, eventually, more information about Sugar Plum Awareness Month) on the Sugar Plum Awareness page.

Confessions of a Water-Spiller

I can’t deny it any longer: I am a water-spiller. I spill water. Not all the time, but more than most people. Not intentionally — but does that matter? If you’re sitting near me, and I have a glass of water, be afraid. Be very afraid.

Here’s what to expect, if you ever find yourself sitting across the table from me at a restaurant. One minute, we’ll be eating and chatting like normal people, and then, without warning, I’ll lose situational awareness* and make some random hand gesture that sends my water glass flying across the table, drenching you in the process. The entire restaurant staff will flock to the table with napkins and towels, and in a moment, the table will be dry, you’ll be somewhat damp, and I’ll be trying desperately to convince myself that no one noticed. Next comes the truly crazy thing: someone will bring me another glass of water, in what I assume is a wildly misguided demonstration of trust. Or a dare. Or some kind of test. Or maybe it’s an attempt at first aid — perhaps they assume that the water-spilling was the result of a loss of motor skills caused by severe dehydration**.

If you do find yourself sitting across from me at a restaurant, you may want to try one of these strategies:

  1. Switch seats with someone else (but not me, because that would defeat the purpose).
  2. Help me maintain water glass awareness by subtly working water-spilling into the conversation (“I love your blog. My favorite post was the one about how you’re always spilling glasses of water on people in restaurants. Oh, look! We’re in a restaurant! Ha ha. What a coincidence. Hey, did I mention that my spouse and I are considering having a baby at some as-yet-undetermined point in the future, and that if we do, we’ll buy several sippy cups for said baby? You know what’s great about sippy cups? If you knock one over, nothing spills out of it, which distinguishes it from a regular water glass — you know, like that one right there, just inches from your hand.”).
  3. Glare silently at me throughout the entire meal. This will make me so uncomfortable that I’ll refrain from making the sort of gestures that lead to water glass catastrophes.
  4. Preemptively spill your glass of water on me.

The vast majority of my water spills occur in restaurants, although I have spilled water onto laptop computers at home twice. And once, on an airplane, I forgot that I’d taken the lid off the water bottle I was holding and accidentally poured water onto the man sitting next to me. He was surprisingly nice about it.

*I first encountered the phrase situational awareness months ago, and I’ve been trying to work it into conversation ever since.

**According to the Internet, loss of motor skills is not a symptom of severe dehydration. But I don’t think you need to know that to work in a restaurant.

This Is Not a Book Review (Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking)

Recently, I’ve been hearing a lot about Modernist Cuisine by Nathan Myhrvold, Chris Young, and Maxime Bilet. It sounds like a really interesting book, combining food science, photography, and recipes. In a radio interview, Myhrvold described new techniques for cooking classic dishes, like hamburgers (sous vide to cook the meat, then a liquid nitrogen dip to freeze the outer layer, then a final deep fry to form a crust without overcooking the chilled burger) and brisket (smoke, sous vide, liquid nitrogen, then deep fry). I began to wonder — why hadn’t I heard of deep-fried burgers before? Doesn’t that seem like something that would be popular at county fairs? And how would the sous vide + liquid nitrogen + deep fry technique work on other classics, like chocolate cake or Caesar salad?
Continue reading “This Is Not a Book Review (Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking)”

Feline Kinetic Gastronomy

The Feline Kinetic Gastronomy movement, while growing in popularity, is still relatively unknown. Its objective is to nourish the cat’s body and spirit by combining food and art. A Feline Kinetic Gastronomy dish can be considered both a meal and a kinetic art installation, providing something to eat and something to do. Note: it’s important not to confuse Feline Kinetic Gastronomy with Canine Kinetic Gastronomy. The role of the cat is very different in the two cuisines.
Continue reading “Feline Kinetic Gastronomy”

Challenge Recipe #1: Chicken With Gravy

A raw chicken and some raw vegetables and herbs

Chicken with gravy is a favorite meal in my household. It’s also fairly easy to prepare, which makes it the perfect recipe with which to start this series (in case you missed the announcement earlier today, I’ll be posting recipes here from my upcoming book, To Serve Cats: Yes, It’s a Cookbook, But It’s Not Like the One in That Twilight Zone Episode and challenging my readers to try them).

Let’s start with the basics. The first step to attempting this — or any — recipe is to prepare your mise en place, or workspace. It’s really quite simple: find a suitable work surface, clear away any excess clutter, and gather the ingredients and tools you’ll need. The next three pictures were taken as I prepared my mise en place for this recipe.
Continue reading “Challenge Recipe #1: Chicken With Gravy”

A Change of Focus

Book cover for "To Serve Cats: Yes, It's a Cookbook, But It's Not Like the One In That Twilight Zone Episode

When I started this blog, I honestly wasn’t sure whether it would last beyond the first few weeks. How many random humor posts did I have inside me? Ten? A thousand? Ten thousand?

The answer turned out to be 41. This is post 42. I’ve run out of funny things to say, and I can’t in good conscience continue trying to write a humor blog — it wouldn’t be fair to me, and it certainly wouldn’t be fair to you. But that doesn’t mean this blog is going away! I’m just taking it in a new direction, and I hope you’ll stick around.

I toyed with the idea of turning Unlikely Explanations into a “mommy blog”, because I’ve heard they’re popular, but I was concerned that the fact that I don’t have any children might have a negative effect on my credibility in that genre. Then I thought about making it a cat blog, or a food blog, or maybe a cat food blog. Finally, it hit me — this blog should be a companion piece to the cookbook I’ve been writing. For anyone who’s not already familiar with my cookbook, here’s the cover design:

Book cover for "To Serve Cats: Yes, It's a Cookbook, But It's Not Like the One In that Twilight Zone Episode
My book cover. I designed it myself.

Every Friday (starting later today!), I’ll post a recipe from the book, with a description of my experience preparing it and my cats’ reactions to it. And I invite you to do the same — join the Unlikely Explanations Recipe-a-Week Challenge! Here’s how to participate:

  1. If you don’t already have a cat, adopt one (or preferably two) from your local animal shelter or rescue organization.
  2. Check this blog each week for new recipes.
  3. Prepare a meal using a recipe from this blog every week (or as often as you can).
  4. Resist the temptation to eat the delicious meal yourself — feed it to your cat(s) instead.
  5. Blog about your experiences preparing the recipe and your cat’s reaction, and add a comment here pointing to your blog post. Or just describe your experiences in a comment here.

That’s it! What could be simpler? Please join in — the more, the merrier.

P.S. I should mention one more change: although Unlikely Explanations has previously been ad-free, I’ve decided to accept advertising from a few select sponsors. Please take a moment to check out these fine products from our first two sponsors: the CatSofa and the Squeaker 3000 Robotic Toy Mouse.

Update: Recipe #1 is now available!