A Brazilian Meat Orgy

We’ve postponed my birthday dinner twice now. The first reservation, I was sick. The second reservation, Scott was sick. Now, finally, the third time was the charm. We both felt hale and hearty and ready to eat as much meat as we could at Texas de Brazil, our favorite Brazilian steakhouse.

For those unfamiliar with the Brazilian steakhouse (also called a churrascaria), it’s a grand affair. You’re seated, you meet one of your servers (there are a bunch of them around, all bringing things to your table and clearing other things away). Then you’re invited to visit the salad bar.

I used to think of “salad bar” as the wilted greens and sliced veggies at the grocery store. But this is so much more than your average salad bar. Here was my salad bar loot:

Asparagus, marinated artichoke hearts, shrimp, smoked salmon, crispy thick bacon, fried provelone cheese, potatoes au gratin, and a dash of cucumber salad. Plus the lobster bisque, which is the best darned bisque I’ve ever had. You can go there and eat only the salad bar, and you’d leave full and happy and satisfied. But you’d be missing out on the amazing meats.

One of your thousand waiters brings a fresh plate, along with garlic mashed potatoes and fried cinnamon & sugar bananas (to cleanse your palate between meats). These are tasty in and of themselves, but I went very light on them. Why waste stomach space on carbs? Every place setting has a little coaster, one side red and one side green. Flip it from red to green, and the servers know you’re ready to go.

The meat started coming, and we started really, really eating. I didn’t want to stop and wait to build up a plate full of meat, but I managed to find a moment where I had three meats at once:

There’s bacon-wrapped chicken, filet mignon (medium rare), and a spicy sausage. The filet melts in your mouth, and the sausage is amazing. We also had flank steak, garlic sirloin, bacon-wrapped filet, and a host of others, all beautifully seasoned. The meats are brought to your table by magnificent men in flamboyant trousers, wielding swords covered with chunks of deliciousness. I said no to a lot of things — pork loin and lamb chops aren’t my bag.

If we’re planning on being naughty, we split their coconut cream pie for dessert. Because it’s not light and fluffy like most coconut cream pies — it’s thick and rich like a coconut cheesecake. Tonight, however, we just didn’t have the room.

There are other Brazilian steakhouses around — maybe you have a Texas de Brazil in your area. Maybe you have a Fogo de Chão. Google “churrascaria” and your town; you may find a new place for those celebratory meals, or any time you’re in the mood for heaps of amazing meats. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be over on the couch in a meat coma.

SqueegeeCat

We recently got rid of an old, crappy, beat-down couch. We replaced it with a matching chair and footstool, and it now lives right next to some loaded bookshelves in a sort of reading nook.

One of the cats has claimed this setup as his own. He’ll spend some time on the chair, then loll a bit on the footstool, then it’s back to the chair. And if you want to sit on the chair, sometimes he’ll try to squeeze in there with you. Of our two cats, one who sheds mountains and has no hairballs and one who barely sheds but is a hairball queen, it’s the shedder who’s claimed this chair.

As you can see, he finds the chair terribly uncomfortable. And also as you may be able to see, he’s coated the chair with a fine layer of hair. Orange, brown, and the off-white of his fluffy undercoat. I’ve tried a giant lint roller to get the hair up, but it takes a long time and a LOT of sticky sheets to get even close to all the hair.

In looking around the internets, however, I discovered the Pet Hair Magnet. Which appeared to be nothing more than a common rubber squeegee. So on our grocery trip today, we spent less than half the price of the Pet Hair Magnet on a common rubber squeegee. And my friends, it totally works!

Look at the difference! The right side of the footstool is nice and clean. Of course, I had a small, furry supervisor watching over the entire project. After squeeging, I did a quick once-over with the lint roller to get rid of some stray hairs, and the chair and footstool look shiny and new again.

Of course, now the cat is agitated and mewing at me. Because I took away his protective coating of hair. He was building a nest there, I guess.

Family Restaurant Greek Salad Dressing

In my magical youth, I worked for a family Greek/Italian restaurant. There were a ton of different restaurants owned by various siblings, cousins and other offshoots of this particular family, and they all seemed to share recipes. If you’re in Seattle, you may know one or more of the restaurants: Spiro’s, Pegasus, Olympia, Olympia II. The one where I worked was called Stavro’s Pizza, because that’s the Greek version of Steve, the name of the guy who owned the joint.

I worked there for my last couple of years of high school. I started as a waitress, but soon moved up to cook. And I really should have written down some of the recipes — their pizza sauce was great, as was the meat sauce for the pasta dishes. Over 20 years later, I’m still madly in love with the “house dressing”. In fact, I think one of our last meals in Seattle before we moved was pizza and salad down at the Olympia II at Stone/45th. And I wondered after moving here: would I ever find a salad dressing I loved that way again?

We visited the north Seattle Spiro’s when we visited last year, and I asked if I could get the recipe. No ma’am, was the answer. Closely-guarded family secret, and all that. So as I ate my salad, I analyzed. Then I went home, and browsed Greek dressing recipes on the internet. And finally I put together my own list of ingredients, and prayed that they would taste good.

Nailed it, on the first try!

Honestly, it may not be exact. I haven’t been back to Seattle since making this recipe, and it’s been a year since I’ve eaten the real thing. But it tastes oh so right to me. I make the mix in a Good Seasons cruet, but you can make it in any container that has a good, solid lid.

1/3 cup red wine vinegar (I love the Pompeian brand)
2/3 cup light olive oil*
2 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp dry basil
2 tsp dry oregano
1 tsp ground oregano
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 packet of Splenda (or 1 tsp sugar)

* The original recipe is not olive oil, but probably some other vegetable oil (canola/soy/corn/etc.) or possibly a mix of olive oil and vegetable oil. But the only liquid oil I consume is olive oil, so that’s what I use here. It’s delicious, and I can leave the dressing out on the kitchen counter without worrying about it going off.

My salads are simple: lots of lettuce, pepperoni, salami, sometimes Canadian bacon, and heaps of shredded mozzarella. Sure, you could add onions or cucumbers or tomatoes or whatever other salad fixings you like. But most nights, like tonight, I just want to get my meat & cheese on.

Thoughts on Improv as a Workplace

I’m going through old posts on an old blog, and posting some of them over here. This post is originally from 2005, but I feel exactly the same now as I did then.

People join improv groups for a variety of reasons, from honing their improv skills to just plain having fun. Depending on their experience level, these people have vastly different expectations of how an improv group runs. But one thing seems to be clear — the less an improv group is run in a businesslike fashion, the less successful it will be.

Directors: Every workplace needs a boss. The boss of the show, the director, is one of the most important parts of any show or group. The director knows how the show should look and sound, and can guide the players so that their performances match up with the goals of the show. A group without a clear director is also one without clear direction. A prime example is a group that forms from a group of friends who took an improv class together (which happens more frequently than you’d think). All they know is that they enjoy improv, and they enjoy improvising together. But without someone specific set as director, eventually people set their sights on different goals. A group I used to be in finally reached a stalemate when there were three different ideas about which way the group should grow, and roughly even numbers of people in each camp. Without a director to choose the way, the group fell apart.

A director, like any boss, has a huge level of responsibility and at times is spinning many figurative plates. They try to strike a balance between keeping everyone happy and keeping the show as good as they possibly can. Sometimes those two things fall out of balance — many times a boss has to make an unpopular decision because it’s what is best for the company. But it can be so much harder if the employees of that company don’t consider themselves as such.

Notes: The main way a director can guide his players is through notes, whether those notes come during/after rehearsals or after performances. It’s like getting tiny workplace performance reviews throughout the year, instead of one big yearly review (though a full yearly review can happen as well). But notes can be a huge source of contention for the performers who don’t view their show or group as a proper workplace, but merely an outlet for them to have fun.

There was once a player who didn’t do very much in the way of teamwork or scene building, instead preferring to interrupt scenes with puns and jokes in order to make himself look funny to the audience. When he would be given notes on the subject, he would blatantly ignore them, wave them off, or even argue them with the director. Fortunately, he’s moved on to other things, but his attitude is one seen more frequently than a director would like. The performer doesn’t see these notes as an effort to improve the quality of the show; instead, they see it as a “jealous” director trying to stop them from getting so many laughs. The thought that they’re making the job harder for everyone else doesn’t cross their mind — they’re only concerned with having fun. But how is that acceptable in a workplace? Picture this guy in an office, spending his time making paper airplanes instead of working on a group project. Yes, he’s having a great time, but he’s hurting everyone else working on that group project, and without his fair contribution, the quality of the project just isn’t as good.

Notes can be very a very touchy subject, because a note can be very close to a personal affront. It’s criticism of the choices we make and the things we say on the spur of the moment. But good notes can help us build a foundation of knowledge so that we make better choices in the future. This is also why notes should be given by one or two experienced observers or directors — group notes sessions are almost always a bad idea. Most players don’t like being given notes by other players, especially if there is an experience gap. A young, new player’s note may be perfectly valid, but it still won’t be taken well by a seasoned player with many more years of experience. This is again where a good director comes in — so you can discuss any notes you may want to give with them, and find out where they stand. If that note is about another player, talking to the director about it privately and having the director address the note will give it much more impact and validity. Notes are best if they simply lay out exactly what the show’s direction is, from the mouth of a director.

Ideas: Every improviser has, at one point, come up with a great idea for their group. Maybe it’s a new show, or a new angle on an existing show. There’s nothing wrong with having great ideas — the problem is when those great ideas aren’t accepted the way the improviser would like. Too many times, I’ve seen someone propose an idea to a director. After some thought, the director has to decline the idea, because it doesn’t fit with the direction of the group/show. The improviser who understands that the group is a functioning workplace can understand that their boss has the final say, and while it’s disappointing to have their idea struck down, the director knows what is best for their show. But the improviser who’s in it for the fun, and who thinks that everyone should be on an equal footing, is crushed. They’ll openly criticize the director for not “getting” the idea, or for being jealous of the performer’s talent, or for any number of other reasons. I’ve also seen examples of these people trying to work their ideas into a show anyway, because they think they know what’s best for the show. Who would do that in a workplace?

Imagine a Blockbuster Video employee suggesting to their manager that BBV should start serving hot popcorn to the customers. The manager considers it, then lets the employee know that it would be too much mess and expense to implement the idea. Now, picture the employee complaining to all the other employees about what an asshole the boss is, and how the boss wouldn’t know a great idea if it dropped on their head, and that the boss is clearly just jealous that they didn’t come up with the great idea. Picture that employee bringing in a popcorn machine and starting in on their idea anyway. Sounds like a good way to be fired, right? So what makes it OK in an improv group?

When someone has their idea turned down and complains about it, there’s a common response: “Then why don’t you start your own group?” Almost always, the complainer will hem and/or haw, and say something along the lines of, “Well, it’s not that big a deal,” even though from their level of complaining, you can tell it is indeed a big deal to them. They don’t want to answer honestly, because deep down they understand how much work goes into leading and running a group or show, and they don’t want to put in that much work. It’d be like telling that video store employee to go ahead and start up his own place, Popcorn Video, where all customers are given popcorn. Naturally, he doesn’t want to start at the bottom with no customers and no inventory, and work his way up — it’s so much easier to try and change the established business.

Friends: Because the work itself is fun, and the atmosphere in which the work is performed is fun, a lot of performers fall into the mistaken idea that the other performers are not coworkers so much as friends. Some people seem to be absolutely convinced that every single other player is their friend. Yes, some friendships may form among players. But there is nothing magical about being in an improv group that automatically makes everyone good buddies. You wouldn’t expect to be friends with everyone at an office job or a retail job — in fact, you’d probably expect to dislike at least one or two people. It’s an assumption that can cause a lot of hurt feelings. If you’re having a gathering of some sort and only want to invite your actual friends, you have to be prepared for the fact that other improvisers will be upset that they weren’t invited. Never mind that you have nothing in common with them, have never spent time outside of rehearsals or shows with them, or don’t even know anything about them other than their name. Many moons ago, when I was in a different group, my roommate and I held a housewarming party. I invited probably half the improv group — the ones who I considered friends. One of them brought another improviser with them — a man whom I couldn’t stand. They rationalized that if one group member was invited, all group members were invited, and that this guy’s invitation was lost in the mail. It’s unfair to all parties involved.

Yes, some friendly people will invite everyone to everything. But you wouldn’t expect someone working in the same office, whom you’ve never done anything social with and who might not know anything about you, to invite you to their wedding/garden party/birthday.

Bottom Line: If you make the mistake of thinking of an improv group as just being a fun gathering of friends, and not as the money-making workplace that it is, you’re just setting yourself up for unhappiness. The group/show has a goal. That goal is not to let you have fun, or give you an outlet from your boring workaday life, or instantly give you an awesome circle of friends . . . even though all of those things most certainly can happen. No, the main goal of the group/show is to make money, so they can continue producing more shows. The director is not there to be your friend, though they certainly may be such. The director’s main goal is to do what’s best for the show, even if it means making decisions that are unpopular with some of the players. Their job is not to offer you the fulfillment you seek — it’s to give a paying audience the best possible show they can. And performers should have the same goal.

The Infamous Muffin-in-a-Minute

For quite some time, I’ve read on the low-carb forums about the “muffin in a minute” or “one minute muffin”. And now, even the Atkins site itself has a page for the muffin in a minute. So despite my hesitation due to the large egg-to-otherstuff ratio (I’m not a fan of egginess), I gave it a whirl.

First off, I don’t have flax meal. But I do have coconut flour. Since the CoCoFlo is really, really thirsty stuff, I’m using less of it than the recipe calls for flax. Quite a bit less — all of the recipes I’ve seen call for 1/4-cup flax meal, and I went with a tablespoon (a quarter of a quarter-cup) coconut flour. Still … it works.

The ingredients I used:

1 Tbsp coconut flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon (I usually mix cinnamon and allspice)
1 packet Splenda (or 2 tsp equivalent sweetener)
1 tsp butter
1/2 tsp heavy cream
1/8 tsp vanilla extract (just a splash)
1 large egg

Toss all of the ingredients into the cooking vessel. I’ve tried this in a coffee mug (successfully), but I’m really digging this big 5-inch souffle cup/ramekin I got at Target. Mix everything up until it’s a thick, batter-like consistency. Scrape the sides of your bowl/cup/dish down.

Throw it in the microwave and cook it for approximately one minute. Although for our microwave, I like what we get from 1:15 in there.

And the result is a spongy, cakey, light and fluffy disc of deliciousness. We haven’t had any problems with these guys sticking to the container; just flip over your mug or bowl, and it should pop right out. With sweet flavorings like the cinnamon and Splenda, it’s not eggy! Although I tried a savory variation with Parmesan cheese and garlic powder, and THAT was a little too eggy for me.

To get a cinnamon bun flavor, I let the muffin cool a bit then put a tablespoon or so of spreadable cream cheese on top and sprinkled with an additional packet of Splenda. It hits the sweet spot, and tastes delicous, but there’s nothing naughty about it! And the ingredients are all fresh.

Nutrition facts (cream cheese included):
180 calories / 12 g fat / 9 g carb / 4 g fiber (for 5 g net carbs) / 8 g protein

Let’s compare it to a store-bought microwave cake: the Warm Delights Cinnamon Swirl Cake. That thing has 72 grams of carbohydrate (50 of which are sugar), and a majestic list of industrial processed food ingredients. And over twice the calories as this homemade cakey, muffiny, bready treat.

Gluten-Free, Low-Carb Coconut Flour Muffins

Who doesn’t love a good muffin? I certainly love one. In fact, I happen to think the ginormous muffins from Costco are just about one of the most wonderful baked goods out there. So when I got my hands on some coconut flour, I knew I had to try one of the many muffin recipes out there on the internets.

Coconut flour, Kerrygold, and eggs.

The base recipe isn’t too hard; it can then be customized in tons of ways.

3 eggs
2 Tbsp melted butter (I used Kerrygold unsalted)
2 Tbsp cream/milk/coconut milk (I used cream)
3 Tbsp sweetener (I used powdered Splenda)
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup coconut flour*
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 Tbsp water

I melted my butter first, by microwaving it for 10 seconds in the mixing bowl. Add the eggs, cream/milk/cocomilk**, sweetener, salt, and vanilla. Whisk it all up until it’s nice and smooth. Add the coconut flour*** and baking powder, whisk until smooth again. Add the water if the batter is too thick.

* Only 1/4 cup? Yes. Seems like not enough, but this flour is thirsty. As soon as I put it in, it got really thick, really fast.

** The original recipe called for milk. I only had cream, so that’s what I used. And coconut milk can be used as a dairy-free third alternative.

*** Every recipe I found called for sifting the flour. I didn’t, because I don’t have a single thing I can use to sift flour. They didn’t come out grainy, so I think not sifting is fine.

Now, the add-ins. I split the batch into two so I could try two different flavors. For each flavor, I added a teaspoon or so of dry ingredients, and two teaspoons of liquid.

Lemon-poppy: 2 tsp lemon juice, 1 tsp poppy seeds

Cinnamon spice: 2 tsp. chai tea concentrate, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp cloves, 1/4 tsp allspice.

Bake at 400° F for 15-18 minutes (mine took 18). Makes 6 muffins.

Lemons to the left, spice to the right.

Ah, but how are they? My friends, this first batch was surprisingly good. I was concerned that they’d turn out too eggy, as I’m a person who doesn’t like the taste or texture of straight eggs. But they were fine — no egg flavor, and though the texture was a bit lighter and fluffier than a normal muffin, they didn’t have any of that rubbery egg texture. In fact, it’s almost more like a light cake texture than a muffin, which opens up a whole new world of coconut-flour cupcakes.

For both varieties, next time I’ll put in more flavoring. They both tasted good, but maybe another teaspoon of cinnamon spice, or a half-teaspoon more lemon juice will really make them shine. But overall these were quick, easy, and tasty. I’m making a note here: moderate success!

Future flavor thoughts: definitely, I need to try chocolate. Probably also a coconut flavored one with coconut flakes. And one with just cinnamon and some cream cheese icing. Hmm!

Nutrition facts, approximate:
Whole batch: 730 calories/56 g fat/29 g carb/14 g fiber/26 g protein
Per muffin (6): 120 calories/9 g fat/5 g carb/2 g fiber/4 g protein

Project Jeopardy

Next month, we’re going on a little road trip down to Miami. I’ve been invited to the callback audition for Jeopardy!*, which is very exciting for me — I’ve tried out for it several times, and this is the first time I’ve made it to the second round.

The callback will last from 2 to 2.5 hours, and will consist of playing a mock game and taking an additional trivia test, as well as some light interviewing. I don’t actually expect to make it into the contestant pool (I’m a fairly terrible auditioner) but I’m definitely doing it for the experience.

I just booked our hotel room this morning, and here’s what tickles me. We were looking at booking a room at the Crowne Plaza hotel — it was the cheapest of the nice hotels. Which still means that rooms were going for $160 per night. The other options were the ultra-fancy resort where the callbacks are taking place ($280/night) or the little mom-and-pop questionable-quality beach resorts ($40/night). We’re not fans of questionable quality, so we were going to splurge.

Enter Hotwire, which is one of my former boss’s favorite travel booking sites. They give you an ultra-cheap price, but they don’t show you the name of the hotel until you book it. In this instance, Hotwire offered a $75 room in a 4-star resort. Since we were already going to pay $160 for a 4-star resort, we decided to be bold and booked it.

Turns out the room is at the Crowne Plaza, exactly where we were planning on staying. But for 60% less. Man, I love the internets! And living in the future!

* You may be wondering if a Disney employee can appear on Jeopardy!, since the show airs on ABC. Turns out, the show is produced by Sony/CBS, so it’s those employees who are ineligible. Sadly, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? blocks out all Disney employees, so I won’t be able to be on that show. And merely mentioning it makes me miss the Millionaire attraction here at WDW.

Buca di Low-Carb-o

In my apparent ongoing attempt to try the salad and meatballs at every Italian chain restaurant in town, we visited Buca di Beppo the other day for lunch. Now normally, Buca is known for family-style dining. But for lunch, they do single-serving dishes.

1/2-pound meatball and side salad

Buca di Beppo offers their half-pound meatballs at $5.95 each, or three for $14.95. We opted for the three and split them. The side salad (either a mixed greens or a Caesar) is $2.99. I got the mixed greens, Scott got the Caesar. They’re pretty small side salads — if you like your greenery, you might be better off getting the big splittable Caesar ($10.45) which will get you each two good plates-full.

I signed up for their e-club, so I get frequent coupons in the email. They also advertise heavly in the Val-Pak coupon mailing here in Orlando. And the last two times I’ve visited, they’ve given me a fresh coupon with the check. The coupons are for $10 off of $20 or more, which can make lunch a pretty good deal for two. I personally prefer the Macaroni Grill meatballs a little bit more, but these are still tasty, and if we’re at the mall, it’s a convenient choice.

Located near where? Never heard of it.

Now for something I take a huge issue with. Buca has signs up all over the mall, because they’re in kind of a hard-to-find corner. By Nordstrom. Every single one of their signs has given Nordstrom an extra “S” at the end, which (being from the Nordy hometown) has always irked me. Although at least they didn’t make it an apostrophe-S. That would have made it clobberin’ time.