Heights. A vertical perspective on cathedrals and basilicas

I’ve spent a good bit of time touring various cathedrals and basilicas in the United States, Spain, France, Italy, and even Macau. Often when I drive to and from places here in Texas, I wonder why the faithful here don’t build as beautiful places of worship as those in other places do. While I was driving to work yesterday I realized that it’s not just the corrugated aluminum/tin roof style construction I find visually unappealing about the churches I see in my locale, but the complete and utter lack of verticality. It’s not like building churches taller is a new thing, or even a trend that requires a new technology. People have been doing it since Constantine had the first Hagia Sophia built in Byzantium/Istanbul/Constantinople as civilization was ripping apart at the seams. In fact, one of the coolest cathedral experiences I have was when we took the “vertical tour” at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York. The tour guide pointed out that the part of the cathedral we were visiting wasn’t built for us, and that the beauty was there for god and the angels. I mean, I’m not exactly a religious person, but that’s a freaking great and admirable sentiment. If you’re worshipping an omnipotent, almighty being, I’d imagine that the almighty would appreciate you putting a little more work into your surroundings than slapping together something uglier than a big-box store’s regional distribution center. Okay enough of my opinion on modern religious architecture. Here are some stunning views of verticality at work in various cathedrals and basilicas…and mosques.

http://instagram.com/p/dQFhqBH988/

http://instagram.com/p/c44rEwH91A/

http://instagram.com/p/c4WHlmn9_9/

http://instagram.com/p/cxsPIpH9-N/

http://instagram.com/p/ciFWNPn9-E/

http://instagram.com/p/cfiaUYH953/

http://instagram.com/p/cKYb0EH9_4/

http://instagram.com/p/aRP91MH98V/

http://instagram.com/p/aRQi69n99R/

 

Adulthood Brings Crap to Daylight, marking the first four days of the A-Z challenge.

I hate that I’ve missed the first four days of the A-Z challenge, but this really hasn’t been the best set of circumstances in which to write. I’ve been coming up with content and recipes and images, and all of the stuff that a nerd blogger dork like myself likes to present to the world, but that’s kind of all been washed away for now by a tsunami of adulthood.

Seven years ago I abandoned adulthood and went on a great adventure. I wanted to move to Hawaii, so I quit my then-promising career, became a scuba instructor, moved to Hawaii, then Florida, then met a girl. We moved to Korea for two years when diving became a j-o-b and had a great time exploring Asia and making money as English teachers. We moved back last spring (when I actually completed the A-Z challenge) and got married, then spent six weeks in Europe, traveling from Spain to Turkey by land and sea. It was bliss. For seven years I avoided adulthood, but I grew seven years older, so did my family, and you know what happens as we get old right?

Last week was a scary week, and involved a few trips up to the hospital where my dad was putting up what I’d say is the most valiant and determined fight for life I’ve ever seen anyone put up. My sister who also lives locally and I spent a lot of hours on the road checking on him, being there to give him support and a smile, and the old man pulled through what was pretty much the most horrifying thing I’ve ever seen. I guess I can #firstworldproblems the fact that this was the most horrifying thing I’ve ever seen and move on from that. Anyhow, when Monday morning rolled around it was time to head to work, which I did, and had probably the most successful week at work I’ve had since starting my job, but not much time to write. I think I’m all caught up now, though.

So adulthood has its pluses as well as its minuses. Sure, as you get older you see that life really is kind of fleeting and that everyone really does get old and frail, or sick, and sometimes healthy again. Another thing you get to see though is the kind of life you’ve created for yourself. Before I rejected the idea of a career, family, home, retirement, and all of that outright seven years ago I think I just wasn’t ready for life in general. I was a kid without a plan who wanted to get out and see the world and maybe meet a girl. That all worked out pretty well. Now I’ve got a beautiful, amazing wife, a nice home, some great animals, and someone who shares interests, dreams and aspirations. This part of adulthood I totally embrace. It makes up for the parts that suck and more.

To be honest, I’m not really sure what to do with the blog at this point. I’m not an expert chef, but I love to eat and cook. That’s pretty interesting, right? I don’t really have the flexibility or finances at this juncture to go back to travel blogging like I used to do. I think there must be some sort of happy medium. I’m hoping that the A-Z challenge will help me find a new focus for my efforts, and a way to put a small bit of bliss into my daily existence by having something to think about that is in essence, absolutely inconsequential.

That’s what I’ve got for today, I’ll jump in with an E topic on Monday. Perhaps “Excuses, excuses, excuses.” Heh!

All of this said, I’ve still been updating my instagram feed as I cook things, because hell, I’ve still gotta eat even if I’m not loaded up with freetime, so be sure and check me out there @thetreatsieats

Ramen + Sushi = Bliss

I feel like I’ve gotten my bliss back in the past week or so. After we left Korea last February and made our last stop (for a while) in Japan, we kinda let our foodie adventure track around the other side of the globe. I’ve always been partial to the foods of Asia, though, and Japanese food has, for the most part, been what I’ve considered the most refined cuisine on the planet. Aside from a <strong>great </strong> ramen shop in New York (Yasha Ramen, Columbus between 107 &amp; 108th Streets) I have made very little effort to eat Japanese. Since moving to San Antonio I’ve been even more reluctant because <em>how good could it really be in a sleepy backwater of only 2,000,000 people?</em>

The answer is…<strong>pretty good.</strong>  We’ve visited a Japanese restaurant across the highway from our house a couple of times now. It’s a “chain” with another location in one of the nicer areas of town, and they do the whole teppanyaki thing. I have a sneaking suspicion that it might be owned by a Korean family, but I can’t put my finger on it. Anyway, last Friday we decided to live it up, so we went over and I decided I’d try the ramen.

<strong>The noodles were curly.</strong> I’m pretty sure that’s a telltale sign of an instant noodle, but seriously not that many ramen shops make their own noodles in house anyway. The broth was a spicy, fish-based mix that was really rather rich. I mean, it wasn’t tonkatsu ramen, but it wasn’t pretending to be, either. The tempura shrimp sticking out of the bowl was delicious. Not overcooked, not soggy, wonderful. All in all, I’d say it was worth the price I paid. I find it amazing that just a little taste of a country I’ve been (and remain) in love with can immediately transport my brain far away, but I guess the hot sake probably helped with that, too.

<strong>Not only did I order ramen,</strong> but I also ordered one serving of my absolute favorite piece of sushi, ikura. Ikura are the large, beautiful eggs of a salmon. Often you’ll find these set atop rice in sortof a maki/nigiri hybrid thing (I think it’s nigiri, but the nori is there to hold it all together.) Ikura pop in your mouth like little bubbles and wash your taste buds in the taste of the most beautiful ocean you could picture in your mind’s eye. Were I to become a salmon farmer, I think I’d just use my salmon for their eggs and let them live as long as possible…after all, why kill the fish that produce such tasty <del>children</del> little eggs?

This whole thing has me inspired. Inspired to make ramen. Good ramen. Instant ramen. Bad ramen. I’m planning on sharing the whole process with you, good or bad, but for now, know why it’s on my mind.

This blog is moving to a new location! http://everevolvingprimate.wordpress.com I won’t be renewing my hosting service, so everything is moving over there. Update your bookmarks! (LOL…like anyone reads my blog anymore!)

My life as an amateur fromagier

Cheese kit

This is the little cheese-making kit Carolyn gave to me for Christmas. Pretty cool, eh?

For Christmas this year, my wife surprised me by fulfilling one of my deepest wishes when we moved back to the United States from Korea. You see, there was this one thing that I really, really wanted to try now that all of the necessary supplies and ingredients could be easily had, and I just hadn’t gotten around to it due to the rather hectic year we had in 2013. I mean seriously, moving halfway around the world, getting married, traveling across an entire continent, coming back, moving, looking for work and trying to settle down in NYC, not finding work and moving halfway across the country, then finding work and settling down in Texas made for kind of a busy few months, ya know? So anyway, when I unwrapped a fancy Italian Cheese Making Kit by MadMilie’s™, I squeed a bit and got all kinds of excited because I was finally all set up to make cheese in my own kitchen.

So, now you’re a cheesemaker. How’d that go?

My first attempt was at ricotta. Why ricotta? Because the instruction book implied it would be the easiest. It certainly was not difficult, and with the right equipment (e.g. the ricotta basket and little bag of citric acid) it was super easy. I even managed to screw up a bit by not dissolving the citric acid in water first, and got a great yield. I think next time I’ll add more than the recommended amount of salt, because you know I like my food well seasoned.

The process was simple:

So heating milk up to 95C means constantly checking the thermometer and stirring. Kinda hard to break for a picture.

So heating milk up to 95C means constantly checking the thermometer and stirring. Kinda hard to break for a picture.

1. Heat the milk to 95C

 

The curds are separating!

The curds are separating!

2. Add the citric acid and let the curds precipitate for about an hour whilst enjoying a coffee

The hot curds sit in this basket and drain. You might have to dump the water a few times.

The hot curds sit in this basket and drain. You might have to dump the water a few times.

 

4. Place the curds in the ricotta basket

 

The finished product, about a pound of ricotta!

The finished product, about a pound of ricotta!

5. Drain a couple times

 

Yeah, but what did you do with the cheese?

Now, ricotta isn’t just something that we keep around the house for the hell of it, and I didn’t want my expertly made FROMAGE going to waste in the fridge, so we kinda planned our week’s meals around it. First up was a lasagna with turkey, ricotta, and spinach. It was pretty delicious, but not super photogenic I guess, because I didn’t take a photo.

Delicious stuffed pasta shells from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook Recipe.

Delicious stuffed pasta shells from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook Recipe.

The next (and final) use for the ricotta was this stuffed shell recipe from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. Okay, get ready for an aside here. This cookbook straight up explains thing in a straightforward and easy to understand manner, and somehow manages to avoid all of the downfalls that I regularly find in recipes. In essence, you can read through the recipe once, get your stuff in order, and go, and not find out that as all of your burners are going and grease is popping and the cat is panicking because it sees the house beginning to burn down that you have to dice an onion or something. I can really appreciate the organizational quality therein. Now, that said, the finished product from every recipe we’ve made out of this book has been superb. Completely, totally superb. Not one bit has gone to waste. This is one of those cookbooks that you should certainly have and use if you’re serious about dining in and you’re not a chef or something.

So, as you might expect, cheese-making isn’t so difficult. I’d recommend having a plan for the cheese so that it doesn’t just rot in your fridge, but that’s not really that hard, now is it? You can expect to see some more adventures in fromagerie in the near future.

Chicken Tagine: A taste of Morocco

I’ve never been to Morocco, so clearly I’m an expert on Moroccan cuisine, right? Uh, right. Anyhow, I do love spices, and the spice trade was (and still is) huge in North Africa, so a classic Moroccan chicken tagine is a dish that lurks right up in my wheelhouse. Here are some questions that I’m certain are lurking in your brain:

  • What’s this all about?
  • Why Moroccan?
  • Where on earth did you ever get the idea that THIS would be a fun thing to do in your kitchen?

The quick answer is simple. I love Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, and Marrakech Express is often stuck in my head. Plus after dining in Greece and Turkey, I’m pretty sure that Middle Eastern and North African cuisines are the bees-knees. Combine these two important contributors to the fact that my mother gave me a beautiful Tunisian-made tagine for Christmas and POW!, it’s dinner time.

Just what the heck is a tagine, anyway?

Tagine

A tagine is a traditional North African clay cooking vessel used to make delicious and tasty stews.

A tagine is basically a clay pot with a clay hat. You have to do some work to season it before use, and you gotta be real careful not to heat it up or cool it down too fast so you don’t crack it. Mine came from Williams-Sonoma, and a quick look at their prices shows that they sell for around $50ish. Not a bad price for an evening getaway to the Sahara, right? Right.

The cooking part

Ah. I knew you’d wonder about this part. Cooking in a tagine is much like cooking in any other pot, just slower. First you’re going to need a recipe. I used this one:

Michael Ruhlman’s Chicken Tagine

That meant that I needed to buy and prep all of this stuff:

The mise-en-place for my chicken tagine.

The mise-en-place for my chicken tagine.

Instead of his suggested list of spices I used a couple tablespoons of Ras-el-hanout, the typical spice blend of Morocco. I really, really love this spice blend. Mainly because saying ras-el-hanout in my best North African French dialect makes me feel worldly.

Another substitution I made was the use of chicken breasts instead of thighs. While I would prefer chicken thighs any day, Mrs. Primate would prefer breast meat, and I like for her to have what she wants.

Here’s where things got frustrating. You should warm up a tagine slowly, but you have to put enough heat on the burner to warm the damn thing up. I’m sure I’ll figure out how to heat it up fast enough to be practical but slowly enough to not crack the thing at some point. I think i waited an hour for it to heat up. Literally. An hour. By this time it was like 9pm. Oh well says I, people in Spain and France eat late and stuff. If it’s good enough for them it’s good enough for us. Thank god for frozen appetizers.

A TAGINE IS NOT A BOTTOMLESS PIT

Overfilled tagine

So I thought this mountain of stuff would cook down. It did. And out the sides of the tagine!

So, like most cooking implements, a tagine has finite space available. I thought that perhaps stacking all of the ingredients into a pyramid might make the best use of the space, after all, its hat is shaped like a cone, right? As it turns out, things cook down, lose their consistency, and tend to gather in the bottom of the pan. When it runs out of room, it overfills. When it overfills it burns on the burner. When the crud burning on the burner burns, it makes smoke. I guess this is all predictable. PRO TIP: If it’s your first time cooking with a tagine, maybe it’s best not to jump in the shower once the thing comes to a boil. Then your wife might not start screaming in terror as the house fills with smoke.

This is one of those dishes that gets better the longer it cooks. That means you should start prepping everything well in advance of when you want to eat, probably not at 8pm. I only let it stew for about an hour or so and it came out looking like this:

Finished Tagine

Tada!

After the adventures and capers involved with cooking this thing, it turned out surprisingly DELICIOUS. I served it over a mixture of bulgur wheat, wild rice, and some other grains that were a bit more “healthy” looking than perhaps your standard couscous, and we nommed it up like a couple of chubby kids in a cupcake shop.

The Takeaway

Cooking can be nearly as fun as traveling to places with interesting foods. On the plus side there’s no airport security or airplane lavatories. On the minus side, you’re still at home. On the plus side, that means you can watch TV in your own language while you dine. It kinda all evens out. Making this tagine made the house smell good for days, and I must say, the smell of Ras-el-Hanout in the air took me right back to the spice bazaar in Istanbul, and also the fake little spice bazaar in Chelsea Market in NYC. I’m not quite sure anything but food can transport your mind somewhere else faster. ALSO, you can have a great adventure following someone else’s recipe that you printed from the internet. When combined with poor reading and a lack of common sense, it makes for a TRUE CULINARY ADVENTURE!

It’s all about the food in 2014

The transition from the adventurous lifestyle of an expat English teacher with the freedom, time, and proximity to travel frequently to exotic destinations back to the career ladder took a bit longer and was a bit more disruptive to regular blogging than I expected it would be at the outset, but now, at the very beginning of 2014 I find myself in a position to be able to sit down and tap out a few thoughts about where the blog is going to go in the future, what kind of adventures I can even conceive of in the near future, and perhaps fall into the beginning of the year “these are my goals for this year” trope that is required of anyone who maintains a blog.

It’s all about the food this year

After months and months of seeking jobs and a place of our own, we’ve finally settled down in San Antonio, Texas. It’s not exactly the apartment we wanted in New York, but we’ll trade that for the usable kitchen space and write our own story, ya know? The good news is that San Antonio is still big enough for us to find just about anything we might want, but we’ll certainly have to work a bit harder at it. As for the aforementioned kitchen space, the most affordable and therefore possible way for us to get a taste of the world for the next year or so is going to be by cooking up whatever cuisine we might desire in our own kitchen. I think I’ll blog about that. See what just happened? The blog evolved before your very eyes. If I were a creationist I’d have to take the whole thing down and start over, I guess. Good thing I’m not. Other topics I might touch on in the future (regularly) might include fitness, current events, and adult beverages.

I’m planning to get the first look at this crap I made in my very own kitchen themed post up in the next couple of days. The name of the segment is still under construction in my head, so don’t be surprised if something other than look at this crap I made in my very own kitchen isn’t what shows up in your inbox, mkay?

Sign up for email notifications because the facebook page is doomed!

Speaking of inboxes, sign up to receive the blog by email if you’re planning to continue reading. I’m downsizing my social media presence a bit, and the blog’s facebook page is going away soon. I’m not setting a firm date, but before the end of January for sure. Time management dictates that I barely have the time to maintain the blog and a free channel to write my thoughts down, and no time for the facebook/googleplus/etc. There will probably be a change of URL for the blog this summer as well, as iPower seems to find their services to be worth quite a bit more than I find them to be and I might just migrate the whole shebang over to wordpress.com.

Images images images

I might like to post some images here and there in a really short-form way of adding content to the blog. You see, wordpress makes a fireworks show out of your posts at the close of each year, so the more posts I make the more fireworks I get at the end of the year, and that provides me with a tiny bit of gratification. It’s all about me.

Goals for the year

  1. Fitness: keep it up and turn up the intensity.
  2. Career growth: keep it up and turn up the intensity.
  3. Eat fish more often.
  4. Get all necessary dental work done.
  5. Establish a relationship with a family practitioner and feel comfortable enough to just call for refills.
  6. Create a financial position that will allow us to buy a small Greek island in 2015 (yeah, right!)
  7. Have an adventure each and every day…or at least a caper.

Okay, that felt really obligatory. Remember, subscribe to the email updates because the facebook page is going away. I’m looking forward to a new year and lots of adventures in the kitchen, and I hope you’ll stick with me while I change this from a blog about interesting places I’ve been more into a blog about interesting stuff to make and eat at home.

Good talk. See you out there.