Starting Off the New Year… 8 Days Late

Decreasing procrastination is a lost and dusty cause on my list of New Year’s Resolutions, which reveals itself below as an amalgamation of annually recycled vows and a few new ones to freshen things up. I don’t feel bad about being eight days late for a number of reasons, a notable one being that on a recent work trip I survived America’s own autobahn.  Have you ever traversed the roads outside of downtown Detroit?  Along with a rich automobile culture, the residents seem to possess the innate knowledge of how to cross five lanes of traffic cruising at an easy 90 MPH to reach a left lane exit within 4.67 seconds. I thought I’d been exposed to a lot in New York drivers (aggressive, offensive, but reasonable), Boston drivers (aggressive, offensive, reverses down one-ways, entirely unreasonable), and suburbs of Philadelphia drivers (distracted, SUVs, meandering). Everywhere else I’ve been didn’t really seem to have its own breed. But Detroit, you proved me wrong.  Not only can your residents drive, but they can drive well at ridiculously high speeds.  And they aren’t all on cell phones. So hats off, and thanks for your patience when my rented Chevy Aveo could’t push past 60 without shaking.

For the resolutions, the main impetus behind posting them is to be held accountable. Usually they end up scribbled on the back page of an old notebook which I come across in late September of that year, sheepish but unsurprised 1.5 to 2 of them saw accomplishment. But now here they are, in electronic black and white. The pursuit of this year’s resolutions will hopefully spur additional posts that at least one of two of my sisters (are you still reading? Please still be reading!) will find interesting.

2012 New Years Resolutions
More greens, grains, fish oil, yoga (or at least consistent stretching)
Find a charity we really like and learn about/support it
Get through the documentary list on Netflix
Take advantage of the gym’s group classes and also learn how to do a proper squat
Re-grout the tub (this has been needed for so long it definitely makes the list)
Make a suitable sourdough starter
Make sauerkraut
Make and age some cheese
More live music (these gentlemen look promising)
Buy a lemon tree and bring it to fruition (haHA!)
Plan our trip to Italy
Get clothing tailored
Write letters instead of e-mails where applicable
Other stuff
Other stuff
Other stuff
…Decrease procrastination

Of Half-Sour Pickles and Reubens at Sunrise

If you ever find yourself driving on 84 just north of Hartford at the front or tail-end of a hefty road trip, shore up your stomach with a little detour in Vernon, CT to visit Rein’s Deli.  Over the past decade of making multiple annual hauls between Boston and Philadelphia, I’m sure at least sixty friends, strangers, acquaintances, people on the 86 bus, people on the next treadmill, etc., urged a stopover at Rein’s. But somehow we never made it happen.

This year I remembered, just at the crack of dawn as we barreled down the highway trying to beat the inevitable Thanksgiving rush. While visions of matzoh balls danced in my head, Google maps showed that by maintaining our current semi-illegal speed, we’d hit Rein’s just as it opened at 7 a.m.  And arrive we did, to a line of ten inexplicably cheerful people already waiting outside the shuttered building.

The place is by no means a well-kept secret. That the on/off ramp of the highway deposits you into the front entrance probably doesn’t contribute excess anonymity either. But the lights came on, the door was unlatched, and we rushed in with the other ten to see a straight-faced staff three times our number clearly preparing for battle. To their credit, they didn’t blink at an order of 7 a.m. Reuben, potato knish, and breakfast bagel with a huge bucket of half sours to wash it all down.

It might not have been the best thing to start what is already an indulgent holiday, but it was worth it. So worth it that we stopped by again on our way back to Boston to see the midday crush waiting in a DMV-sized line for lunch. Now wily veterans, we skirted the crowd, and instead grabbed some frozen pints of matzoh ball soup and another bucket of pickles to enjoy later in the week.

We’ve since decided to make the Rein’s Deli stop our new family tradition.  So we’ll see you there in December, other 79% of the holiday highway traveling population!

If You Can’t Fry, Roast

Despite her entrenchment in all things healthy, unrefined, and bursting with chia seeds and whole grains, my mom can’t kick her Southern roots. Twenty minutes  in Texas is all it takes for her to chuck the amaranth and embrace the greasy, greasy chicken fried steak.  One of her ultimate favorites, and mine, and all those lovely senior citizens in the cafeteria line, is fried okra.

For years she’s tried to replicate the recipe in her Pennsylvania kitchen, and although the results have always been tasty, and usually crispy, they just don’t match those awesome little crunchy fried balls you can get at Luby’s.  I suppose that’s the point – some dishes have to be enjoyed solely on their home front, and any attempt at replication is just that – an attempt.

Other examples in my life experience: fresh shrimp and hush puppies in North Carolina, Bill Miller Bar-B-Q’s iced tea bucket and po’ boys, the salsa at Tomatillo’s in San Antonio (at least back in 1996), the almost aggressively overcooked but non-paralleled-after-water-rides-at-Cedar-Point cavatelli from Alessi’s (pronounced as if you’re wearing a retainer – “Alesshhi’sh”) in Ohio, Amish meatballs and sauerkraut from Lancaster, Anna’s burritos with refried beans in (really?? yes!) Boston… The list goes on.

Anyway. The point of all this is that if you can’t bring yourself to try to make fried okra unsuccessfully again, just roast it like my mom does.   First buy the smallest okra pieces you can find – they’ll be  tender and less fibrous.  Toss in olive oil and large grained sea salt, perhaps a crack of pepper and some red pepper flakes, or a dusting of cumin and chili powder if you’re feeling spicy, and roast at 400 to 425 for as long as it takes for them to get crispy (approx. 25 minutes).

Eat as-is like popcorn, or serve alongside a starch like sweet potatoes, brown rice, polenta, etc.  Then dream about the Luby’s line and the lemon meringue or chocolate pudding pie that awaits you at the cash register if mom is feeling particularly indulgent.  The neon jello with whipped cream on top?  Only get that if you’re weird like my sister.