Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Office parties.

There were two that were held outside of work; one was held at one of the ballrooms in the InterContinental Hotel and the other at a country club, Signature of Solon. I'm too lazy to go out shopping for new formal evening gowns to be around people with whom I feel I spend way too much time. One was even on a raid night! ZOMGZ! Yeah, I didn't give it a second thought and did not attend.

One of the parties I was invited to and attended was a supervisor's luncheon. The food was catered from Nate's Deli. The director has recommended several times that if I wanted to eat real Lebanese food, go to Nate's Deli.

I have wanted to try the place for some time, but an odd drawback is that it's too close to home. For some reason, we rarely eat at places really close to home. It's awkward to go to a restaurant and park before the car has even had a chance to warm up. The place has limited metered street parking, along a street full of restaurants, and is open on weekdays until 6 p.m. It's about a 7 minute drive, and is adjacent to the West Side Market.

The "basic catering for 20-25 people" was ordered for the 8 of us. It included hummus, baba ganooj, tabulee, fattoush, shish tawook, shawarma and falafel. I love Lebanese food, but this stuff was loaded with garlic, parsley, and raw onions. *SCREAM IN HORROR*

Wait, what? Almost all Lebanese food has one or all of these ingredients. How can I love Lebanese food?

The hummus was soooo thick, it was like rich peanut butter...of course, not as smooth. It had a gritty texture as one would expect, but smoother than I have had in the past. It was a little salty for my palate, but very tasty.

The baba was good. This was the first time I've actually tasted the eggplant in this dip. Compared to the hummus, believe it or not, this was blander. I preferred this over the hummus because it was a little tarter.

I typically avoid the tabulee because I dislike fresh parsley, the main ingredient (chopped parsley, tomatoes, onions, wheat germ, mixed with oil and lemon juice). Certain versions of tabulee I like, and certain ones I hate. It's a crapshoot and I didn't want to make a scene so I scooped a tiny amount at first. I think the lemon juice cut down the offensive parsley and onion flavor so it was more moderate, pleasant, and refreshing. I went for seconds.

The fattoush, which was a mix of lettuce, onions, tomatoes, green peppers, sumoc oil, and vinegar, was great. What? Me eating something with raw onions and vinegar? I wouldn't have enjoyed this as much if it didn't have the pita chips. In fact, I probably wouldn't have gone for heaping returns if it weren't for the pita chips. The roasted flavor mellowed out the raw onions, which must have been mild to begin with. It was cut finely. I mean, ME...eating raw onions?!?!? No wai!

Yeah, so I went back for 4 servings of this.

The shish tawook, shawarma and falafel were rolled pita sandwiches. Shawarma consisted of sliced beef cooked in onions, parsley, and tomatoes. There was a cooked-in herb I couldn't identify that made this more interesting than this sounds. It gave it a mauve flavor. It was meaty and had no fresh vegetables, so the fattoush and tabulee were a nice balance. Shish tawook had grilled chicken. Falafel had uhh well, falafel.

This was a great meal, partly because it was so exclusive. It was a small group amongst people with whom I work closely; no "excuse me's," "sorry, coming through" bumping of bodies. We sat down at the table - director, managers, supervisors, and wee little me.

Some time in mid-November, I was asked to participate in a Secret Santa gift circle at work and a pot luck. The Secret Santa was okay. The pot luck part sucked. I was asked to bring some kind of warm vegetable dish and was urged to make "stir fry teriyaki" because I was Japanese. I explained that if I'm going to bring a Japanese dish, it's going to be authentic. It wasn't going to be a stir fry. WTF.

Fast forward to Thursday. Bug has a pinched nerve in his back from a week ago when he almost slipped on ice while brushing the snow off my car and take me to work.

The dish idea I came up while sitting on the toilet one day at work was untested. *snicker*
3 lb asparagus
2 lb orange peppers
1/2 lb red pepper
2 lb grape tomatoes
3 lb yellow squash
1/4 lb fresh basil
1/4 lb baby spinach
2 lb mushrooms
2 lb eggplant

I was going for a bright, colorful dish. I figured no one else would have anything quite as colorful -- and I was right. Some of the dishes looked like it fell off a truck or was run over.

For me, food has to first be visually appealing. Secondly, has to smell pleasant. Thirdly, the essence of all the ingredients has to either mesh well together or stand alone well together. Otherwise, it's just edible substance.

Bug asked how I wanted the concoction cooked. I gave him the above list of ingredients and explained that I wanted a liberal amount of minced garlic, olive oil, medium course ground black pepper, and a touch of very course ground salt. I also wanted to put shaved Jarlsberg cheese on top while at the party.

He looked at me oddly - garlic? salt?! cheese?!! He felt my forehead to see if I was okay. Then he pointed at me accusingly and shouted, "Pod people!!"

Yeah, yeah.

Bug and I went across town to Miles Farmers Market, instead of the West Side Market, since I got a tip that they had very skinny asparagus. West Side Market did not have skinny asparagus when we were there a week prior. We headed to the cheese, and Bug surmised after looking at the prices that the people at work probably wouldn't know the difference between good cheese and regular cheese. We picked up Sargento shredded mozzerella and provolone.

Bug cooked everything up and took ~2 hours. We made enough for the 25 people I was informed would show up. Of course, that was a gross overestimate and it was only for 15 core people.

I kind of wished we knew how to cook eggplant. It was spongy undercooked. I wanted all the veggies mostly cooked, since I knew I would have to heat it up for several minutes in the microwave oven. I ended up picking out 1/3 of the eggplant because the color wasn't what I expected. The flavor, however, was wonderfully distinct. I nuked my bowl of eggplant with some cheese, and stole some of the vegetables. It felt good in my tummy.

It's Friday, the day of the pot luck, 11:30, and I'm wondering when the lunch is. I walk by and people are setting up. I thought "WTF, thanks for telling me." When I returned from nuking my 2 containers, the organizer tells me to put my vegetables on the ground near the bread.


Someone overheard this and moved some dishes to the side and placed my dish up front. I put the 2nd container away, since I saw all the other platters that were there. People brought enough for one of my containers. More for us!

I ate my fill. *burp*

The dish was a success. Numerous people came up to me for the recipe. I told them Bug made it. I gave him the list of ingredients and spices, he went to town with it.

I went to the back after a couple hours to grab more cream puffs. :D People were packing stuff up. Someone packed up 5 large containers of food for themselves. I noticed my container filled with deli meat. So I said, "Wow, I guess this is for me. It's in my container."

Organizer: Oh, it's for X.
Me: Well, it's MY container.
Organizer: We didn't know whose container it was.


Me: Well, let her know she has to return the container to me by Monday.

A few minutes later, I am at the desk with 3 other people, and she receives 4 containers of food.

X: All this for me?
Me: Yeah, you're lucky. I got NOTHING. Oh, and make sure you return the container to me by Monday.
X: I like this, I think I am going to keep this.

o.O (yeah it's petty, but WTF)

X: I'm just kidding.
Me: You better be.

Organizer: There's more food in the back.
Me: No, I don't want any of that. Everyone took the good stuff.

Bug suggested that the next time it happens, to have someone give a deposit for the cost of the container; in this case, $5. I told him there wouldn't be a next time, at least with her as the organizer.

- Cassaendra

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