Thursday, January 30, 2014

Chinese Takeout at Home - Easy Stir Fried Green Beans and Pork

Chinese takeout is one of those foods that evokes lazy nights in college, sitting on the floor and watching movies. It's a happy memory. Unfortunately, it's a (usually) pretty unhealthy dinner choice. Deep fried sesame chicken, egg rolls, salty oily's not an indulgence I allow myself often.

Luckily, it's easy to replicate plenty of these dishes at home using minimal oil and far less salt. One of my favorite dishes is green bean and pork stir fry, and after seeing a recipe in Cook's Magazine, I decided to give it a go (and seriously simplify it along the way).

Feel free to eat it sitting on the floor and watching a movie. It'll taste even better, I promise!

Easy Stir Fried Green Beans and Pork

  • 1/2 lb green string beans, trimmed
  • 3/4 lb ground pork, 80% lean
  • 1/4 cup mirin (sweetened rice wine)
  • 2 tbsp. EVOO
  • 3 tbsp. tamari
  • 1/2 tsp. white pepper (adds a distinct flavor, very different from black pepper)
  1. Brown the pork over medium high heat until no longer pink; the end result should be crumbly, like taco meat.
  2. Transfer the pork to a colander and let it drain. 
  3. On high, heat the olive oil until shimmering. Sauté the green beans. Be patient, and don't stir them often - let them get browned and wrinkly on one surface before stirring. I like my veggies al dente, but if you like them well done, cover the pan. 
  4. Once beans are cooked, add the drained pork, mirin, white pepper, and soy sauce. Stir to mix and make sure everything is coated. 
-Makes 4 servings if plated with rice.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Three Months is Not a Relationship; or, Why We Need to Redefine the Word "Dating"

Despite my generally independent nature, I've been in "serious relationships" for much of my young adulthood. Once I turned 25, however, something changed. I know that's still young, but it was the first time I had really felt like an adult, and it felt....fabulous. Things started coming together in my life, I was no longer so lost as to what the (short term) future might hold, and a career I really loved and could imagine lasting longterm began to materialize. I was climbing Maslow's heirarchy of needs toward self-actualization. Now, I'm 26 and have spent almost 8 months as a single person and an adult. I've learned more about people and relationships than I would have thought possible in such a relatively short amount of time.

Over the past 8 months, I've been astonished to discover how immature a vast number of people are when it comes to relationships. I'm talking ADULTS - people at least ten years older than me. They're just as confused and insecure as many of my peers! My peers are busy worrying about what they'll do with their lives or if they'll meet "the one," while the next generation and beyond is busy worrying about their unreasonable ex wives and whether their kids will ever be happy/get into the right schools/stay out of trouble. It's been quite fascinating to study the human animal.

The primary thing I've discovered, about both 20 somethings and 30 somethings, and 40 somethings, and even 50 somethings, is that they're totally off-base with what I believe a "relationship" is. To illustrate my point, I'll share three recent conversations that totally astonished me:

1 - A 21 year old female:
Her: Tom and I broke up.
Me: Oh, I'm so sorry. Good thing it only went on for a couple months!
Her: Actually, I'm really struggling. I'm just so hurt and confused.
Me: Um.....::awkward silence::
Her: Well, at least we never slept together.
Me: I have to go.

THAT WAS NOT A RELATIONSHIP. THREE MONTHS, NO SEX? That was hanging out, getting to know each other, enjoying each others company. Why would you ever call yourself "boyfriend and girlfriend" when you could just have fun and not be so worried about labels?

2 - A 43 year old male:
Him: My ex girlfriend is at the other end of the bar. It's awkward; she's still really upset.
Me: Oh, wow, that's hard! How long did you date?
Him: Ehh, about three months.
Me: Um...::awkward silence::

THAT WAS NOT A RELATIONSHIP. She could not POSSIBLY have gotten to know him so well that she was EVER in love with him, let alone STILL in love with him. These people are too old to be so shallow. 

3 - A 50 year old male:
Him: (about a mutual acquaintance I had mentioned) Oh, yeah, I actually dated her for a while!
Me: (teasingly) Oh, she's hot! Bet she looks great naked....
Him: I actually never saw her naked.
Me: Um....::awkward silence::

THAT WAS NOT A RELATIONSHIP. Why would you say you dated? You just went out a few times, and that was that. It's not even worth mentioning. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with hanging out for three months and not having sex, if anything I'm pretty conservative about that, but don't label it as anything. It's way too casual for that. 

My conclusion? It's time to stop labeling things. Just go out, get some drinks, laugh, and stop worrying about labels and attachments. If something serious is meant to happen, it will.

On the flip side, it seems like marriage is NOT taken seriously enough. Casual dating shouldn't be so serious, but if you decide to marry, it's time to be committed. To illustrate the lack of commitment I've observed, I have another couple conversations to share:

1 - A 39 year old MARRIED male: 
Him: When I sleep with women, especially young ones, they immediately get attached.
('nuff said)

2 - A 38 year old single male: 
Him: Most of the women I meet are either crazy or married. But they all tell me their husband doesn't care what they do.
('nuff said)

My conclusion? Relationships are confusing, and hard, and people get married when they shouldn't. Can't we all have a little more fun dating and not take ourselves so seriously?

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Acqua of Westport - A Shining Star in the Westport Dining Scene

I had the recent pleasure of enjoying a lunch with my mother at Acqua of Westport. We had noted how nice it looked many times in the past, but had never stopped in; after our meal there is no doubt we will return! 

We had trouble deciding what to order, as there truly wasn't a single unappealing dish on the menu. Everything had a nice balance of unique preparations and ingredients without sounding overdone. It's an approachable menu but not at all run of the mill. In addition to the regular menu, there is an "express lunch" menu with more limited choices for $15.

After debating our options, we chose two appetizers and two entrees, and shared everything. First, Yellowfin tuna crudo with avocado, sliced radish, ginger-lime juice, & micro onions. Not only was the dish beautifully presented, but the combination of flavors was spot-on. The tuna was fresh and sweet, the avocado perfectly ripe, and the vinaigrette added a tanginess that didn't detract from the brightness of the tuna. 

For our second appetizer, we chose the Prince Edward Island mussels with red curry, cream, fava beans, & cilantro. I love mussels, and these were sweet and tender. I was particularly impressed by the broth; it was completely different from the lemony white wine broth one often encounters with a dish like this. It wasn't heavy at all, but the splash of cream added a sweetness to the slight bite of red curry. We gobbled up all the mussels and proceeded to soak up the broth with focaccia. Yum!

We were already feeling full and happy, but there were entrees on the way, and we were more than happy to make room. I chose the pan roasted bronzini with crisp spaetzle, brussels sprouts, wild mushrooms, and tart apple mustard. I was surprised by the combination of flavors. I love bronzini because the skin is so deliciously flavorful and crispy. I'm used to it being served with savory accompaniments, and the sweet applesauce-like dressing wasn't to my liking. Of course, that's just an issue of personal taste - it wasn't bad at all. The wild mushrooms were a nice touch. 

My mother definitely picked a winner: seared dry sea scallops with fennel - orange salad, pomegranate vinaigrette, & crisp prosciutto. I had to resist stealing all of her scallops, which were cooked perfectly. They were completely tender, with just the right amount of char. Absolutely excellent. 

Acqua was a pleasant spot for lunch, and would be perfect for a date night. The bar area is just the right size to be intimate without seeming so small that everyone can hear your conversation, and they have a nice wine list. I look forward to my next visit! 

Acqua is located at 43 MAIN STREET, WESTPORT, CT 06880 . (203) 222-8899

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation... - Henry David Thoreau

As the media coverage of the recent movie theater shooting continues, I can't help but reflect on the many issues that the event raises. On the surface, it appears to be a non-sensical and cold-blooded act of violence. The knee jerk reaction seems to be "That guy is crazy! What a psycho!" But as the story unfolds, it's clear to me that it's not that simple. The man who got shot was apparently not just quietly texting, but being combative. The shooter asked him to stop, but he didn't.

Of course, being rude, and even being physically aggressive, is no cause for being shot and killed. I am particularly struck, however, by the fact that the shooter actually left the theater and then returned to kill the offensive movie-goer. This removes the argument that this was a crime committed in the heat of the moment, and it's this piece of information that is the crux of my pondering.

The phrase on everyone's lips, it seems, is "gun control." Yes, gun control is a major issue with many different arguments, both logical and emotional, surrounding it. But I don't think this recent shooting is necessarily about gun violence, nor do I think it would have been prevented if guns were illegal.

It's not the actions of the shooter that lead me to wonder about human behavior or violence, it's the man who died. He didn't deserve to die, but he wasn't an innocent bystander. What is it about our society that makes people so obnoxious? Why do people need to be angry and combative? Why can't we all just be polite to each other?

There's something wrong with a society full of people who are unable to treat each other with common decency. Don't use your phone in a movie theater. Don't pick fights. Don't be rude. I picture the victim's life (accurate picture or not, I think it describes many people's): He's probably beat down and frustrated. Has a job that doesn't pay enough, and a boss who makes him feel small.  He comes home to a demanding toddler, a bundle of responsibilities he may not even have been ready to take on. His wife doesn't look at him the way she used to, they're both tired and frustrated all the time, they're rarely intimate anymore.

Of course people are all wound up and angry! What a tough world we live in!

The issue isn't gun control, it's quality of life improvement. We need to remember that we're all just striving for happiness. We're all lonely on some level, and all of us are seeking fulfillment in the best way we can.