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March 06, 2009

Pear, eucalyptus, olive oil, black pepper

When I started this blog, I created a spreadsheet of all the dishes and their specialty ingredients so I could more efficiently plan my ingredient purchases and cooking timeline.  When I looked ahead to this dish, I didn't see anything that needed to be special-ordered or sourced online.  I already have a stash of gelatin sheets, and pears and lemons are easy to find at the grocery store.  I knew I'd be using fresh mint leaves instead of zuta levana leaves, and I'd planned to dry my own eucalyptus leaves because I was absolutely, positively certain there was a eucalyptus tree in a someone's yard back in my hometown where I'd been planning to visit anyway.  This is the point at which you should know my hometown is not in California, nor is it in Australia -- the two places in the world where eucalyptus trees are prevalent. I grew up Amish-adjacent in Pennsylvania.

About a week before making this dish, I called my mom about something else, and while I was on the phone with her I asked her to help me figure out who it was that we knew who had a eucalyptus tree in their yard:

Me: So, I thought the next time I came up, I'd just get some eucalyptus leaves from one of the trees up there and dry them myself.  That might be cool.  Who do we know that has a eucalyptus tree in their yard? 

My mom: What are you talking about?

Me: Eucalyptus.  You know, that tall and round tree with the big, dark green leaves... that tree that I think Aunt Phyl and Uncle Doc used to have in their side yard at the old house?

My mom: :::: silence :::::

Me: Um, how do you not know what I'm talking about?  (yes, I sometimes act like I'm 13)  Eucalyptus!!! They're everywhere.  Dark green leaves, beautiful white flowers, and I think there's one in the front yard of that Tudor-looking house on Chestnut Street, and...

My mom: I think you might be thinking about a mag...

Me: ...nolia tree. 

My mom:  :::: stifling a laugh ::::

Me: Oh, man.  Oh, shi... Crap... crappity-crap-crap. 

My mom:  :::: not exactly stifling that laugh anymore :::::

So, I had to find dried eucalyptus leaves online, which was really easy and they arrived quickly, so I guess the story has a happy ending, despite my winning the Duh Award for momentarily confusing magnolia for eucalyptus.

I will say this upfront: I had reservations and hesitations about making this dish.  I associate the smell of eucalyptus with camphor oil, and of being sick as a little kid and having Vicks VapoRub on my chest.  So, as I was preparing the ingredients for this dish, I was thinking this might smell and taste like a sinus infection or bronchitis, and wouldn't that be the opposite of awesome...

The first thing I did was prepare the pear balls.  I peeled the first Anjou pear and scooped out eight little balls using my #12 melon baller (about 1/4").  The Alinea cookbook suggests using two pears, but I was able to make it work with one, and my balls ended up being bigger (*snerk*) than the ones the book recommends doing, because of the melon ballers I already owned.

So, after scooping out the little balls with the 1/4" scoop, I then scooped around those with a 1" melon baller, creating a semi-ball with a hollowed-out top:


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As I scooped each one, I stored them in a bowl of water, into which I'd squeezed some fresh lemon juice, so they wouldn't turn brown as I worked.

The next step is to put the pear balls (the big ones, not the little guys I hollowed out first - I ate those) in a small saucepan with some wine, sugar, and water and bring it to a boil.  Once that happened, I turned off the flame and poured the contents of the saucepan into an empty bowl nestled in a larger bowl of ice water.


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While those cooled, I made the eucalyptus (that's a hard word to type, and I keep typing it as eucatlypus, argh!!!) gelatin.  I combined water, sugar, salt, and eucalyptus in a small saucepan.   Let me just say here how much I love using a scale to measure things for cooking.  It is so damn easy to just plonk the pot or whatever vessel I'm using onto the scale, press tare to zero-out the readout, and add each ingredient, pressing the tare button in between each one. 


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I brought the liquid to a boil, turned off the flame, then let it steep for 45 minutes, covered.


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p.s. -- it didn't smell like cold medicine at all, so my expectations got a wee bit sunnier.

After the 45-minute steeping, I strained it through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl and then added the gelatin sheets (which I'd soaked for about five minutes before straining the eucalyptus liquid).  If you are going to attempt this or any other dish that calls for gelatin sheets, please don't try to substitute powdered gelatin.  It doesn't work in the same way, and you will be disappointed with your outcome, trust me.  I love that so many of you are adventurous enough to want to do these dishes -- I would just hate for you to feel like it was a waste of all the other ingredients when it doesn't turn out the way it should... because it won't.  Using powdered gelatin can sometimes add a weird mouth feel, and it just doesn't set as nicely or as cleanly as sheet gelatin.  Not sure why (and if anyone reading this wants to explain it better in the comments, be my guest), but take my word for it.


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I lined a small baking dish with plastic wrap and poured a little bit of the gelatin (about 1/16" to 1/8" inch) to cover the bottom, and put it in the refrigerator to set.


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The book suggests it might take an hour or so.  Mine took 15 minutes.

Just before taking the baking dish of gelatin out of the fridge, I leveled the bottoms of the pear balls just a smidge so they'd be able to sit properly on this layer of gelatin.  I also evened out the tops of the balls, too, so that they'd be a little more uniform.  It wasn't perfect but it sufficed, even if some of them look a little raggedy in the close-up.

I then placed the pear balls onto the thin layer of set gelatin, and gently poured the rest of the liquid gelatin into the dish so the pear balls would be surrounded in it -- like a silken eucalyptus hug -- careful to not let any of the liquid go into the divots in the center of the pear balls, because that's where the olive oil needed to go in the final plating.


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I put them in the refrigerator again, and while the book suggests it might take an hour to set, mine took about 40 minutes.  Again, yours may take more or less time -- it's all in the temperature and humidity, I suppose.

When they'd set, I lifted the gelatin-surrounded pears out of the baking dish (the reason why using plastic wrap in that step is important) and used a 1" round cutter to cut around and remove the pear balls, leaving a thin coating of gelatin around the sides, as well.


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They sort of look like milk-soaked, bloated Apple Jacks, don't they?

I placed each one on a spoon, filled each center with olive oil, then added a little bit of freshly ground black pepper and a small mint leaf.  Whaddya think?

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I kind of wish I'd thought to strain the strained eucalyptus liquid through a cheesecloth before adding the gelatin sheets because there was microscopic sediment which didn't allow the gel to be as clear as I know it could have been.

So, how'd they taste?  Well, not at all weird.  Texture-wise, they were a little on the mealy side.  I think, maybe, I should've done the steeping part of the gelatin first, and done the pear balls while the liquid was steeping.  Of course, my pear was really pretty ripe, so maybe that contributed to the soft graininess.  It didn't gross me out, and it didn't detract from the taste; it was just something I noticed.

Taste-wise, it was pleasant and a nice contrast of flavors. I wish I'd used a sharper olive oil, because I think that might've enhanced it a bit.  The combination of eucalyptus and pear was very nice and quite fragrant, and the mint added a nice touch.  I think I want to get new or at least different black peppercorns, because these tasted a little off; maybe they're stale.  I would like for them to have added a bit more depth of contrast than they did for me.

In all, this was a really nice bite.  Will it end up in my Alinea at Home Top Ten of All Time when the blog is done?  Probably not.  Will it end up on the list of Ten Dishes I Will Never Do Again Because Holy Crap That Was Not Worth It?  No way.  In fact, they were so easy to make, I'll probably do them again, or a variation thereof.  And if you want to try them at home, you should.  They wouldn't be that hard to do it you only had one size of melon baller.  I imagine you could do the smaller scoop-out part with a twist of the tip of a grapefruit spoon, right?

This bite was calm and nice and lovely.  And, it certainly changed my mind about cooking with eucalyptus, that's for sure.  Or magnolia.  Whatever.

Speaking of which, in honor of The Great Eucalyptus-Magnolia Confusion of 2009, I'm going to do another giveaway.  Use the comments to tell me about a time when you were so sure you were right about something (doesn't have to be about food), but so easily got schooled by someone else, and you instantly knew you were wrong and, thus, felt like a giant dork for the rest of the day.  I'll randomly select a winner, and he or she will receive a bag of 2.5 oz. of dried eucalyptus leaves to experiment with.  Good luck!  And have fun sharing the shame.  We've all been there.

Oh, and congrats to Liz, Amanda, and Andreas, who won the dried hibiscus flowers!

Up Next: Verjus, lemon thyme, beets, olive oil

Resources: Pear, lemon, and mint from HMart; Domino sugar, Mâcon-Villages Louis Jadot Chardonnay (2007); David's kosher salt; King Arthur Flour gelatin sheets; eucalyptus leaves from organzabagg.com; Monini D.O.P. Umbia olive oil.

Music to Cook By: Metallica; Metallica (The Black Album).  I'm a fan of all things Metallica, but there's something about this album that I particularly like.  I think it's because I associate it with a time in my life when, to relieve the stress of my job, I played the drums to this album on my steering wheel in the car on the way home from work.  I like it even more now because it's always fun to see people's reactions when a girl (me) opts to bang out "Enter Sandman" at karaoke.  It's quite the crowd pleaser.

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I was postive that it was Dermot Mulroney who was in 'Mistress of Spices' (be kind to me spices). My wife, with her quiet confidence assured me it was was instead Dylan McDermott - am I the only one who uses their names interchangably?

I am a world-class know it all. My poor husband has to suffer the brunt of my insufferability. I'm particularly notorious for the slight eye-roll that oft accompanies my assurances that "of course I'm right" about things like:

No way Kim Catrall was in mannequin
Of course the purple line runs on weekends and
I’m sure this was the address

He’s pretty good about not rubbing it in too much when I’m so obviously wrong all the time.

8th Grade.
I was a big fan of Aerosmith's "Dude Looks Like a Lady" but had never seen the lyrics.

I was sitting on the couch with my step-brother when one of those music infomercials came on. You know, the ones that play a 5 second clip of every song on the CD. Anyway, we were singing along to all the songs we knew in the commercial when they started playing Dude Looks Like a Lady. We were having fun and really into it and then I belted out "Do me like a lady, dunna dunna, Do me like a lady" at the top of my lungs.

Yeah... He stopped and looked at me and asked me what I had just said. "Do me like a lady", you know, the song. He gave me a very bewildered, uncomfortable look and told me that those weren't the lyrics. "Whatever", I said.

Took me two years before I realized he was right. And when I did I was sitting amongst a group of people focusing on something that had nothing whatsoever to do with the above. It was an "ah ha!" moment and I can still feel the red hot embarrasment on my face.

Since I was among a group of my friends when that moment came, and it was obvious that I was turning red of embarrasement and trying to hide my laughter I was forced to explain.

Again. Embarrassed. But laughing my ass off.

Wow. No wonder my step-brother was uncomfortable...

This may disqualify me, but the funniest one I have was actually when my friend was in the wrong. We were going to make Gluewein (a swiss version of mulled wine) to take to a parade on a cold day. We went to the store to pick up the required oranges, cinnamon sticks and cloves. After I grabbed an orange, my friend veered off towards the garlic.
"What are you doing?" I asked.
She held up a head of garlic and said "You need cloves, right?"
I paused for a moment then said "Okay let's think about this....do you want to mix orange juice, cinnamon and GARLIC in your wine?"
My friend didn't miss a beat when she realized that I meant actual cloves rather than cloves of garlic.
"Well what did you expect?" She quipped "I'm Italian!"

I was visiting San Francisco with my sister and boyfriend. My sister and I had the map and we were walking from the hotel to a restaurant. She and I were convinced that a road ran north and south when it really ran east-west. We were wrong and couldn't find the intersection.

Eventually we listened to my boyfriend and made it to the restaurant. Being a good person, he rarely brings it up.

Ignoring the food and embarassment comments, I'll post a Metallica comment instead.

Metallica is not only great cooking music, there's no better iPod stuffer for the gym. Mine has nothing but Metallica, from the first album, through the Black album, then just a few select tracks from the next few (nothing from St. Anger, shudder), and then all of Death Magnetic. No letup, and nothing better to pound the treadmills or weights to.

On one of my first dates with my boyfriend, he was telling me about a trip to Costa Rica he had taken recently. I mentioned something about how nice it must have been to be at the beach- he gave me kinda a strange look, and I was all "Costa Rica's an island right?? There must be plenty of beach!" He tried to explain that it was in Central America, while I firmly believed it was an island in the Carribean. Until I realized I was thinking of Puerta Rico.

Thankfully, he decided to date me anyway, rediculous geography skills and all.

A hundred million years ago, a friend was visiting, and I decided to make waffles from scratch for him and my boyfriend. I didn't have the recipe written down, but I'd done it many times, and they were always good. But for some reason, I was absolutely convinced that baking powder and baking soda were interchangeable. Maybe I was drunk? They both TOLD me otherwise, but no, I was right, dammit, and I just grabbed whatever was in front and dumped in a few teaspoons and went on ahead with my waffles. This went about as well as you'd expect. My entire mouth went numb two bites in.

If you haven't, you must MUST go to
http://www.kissthisguy.com/

Not that I would ever make such a mistake. Oh no.

I know I've done similar things myself, but in the interest of humour I'm going to rat out my dad: We had a family discussion one night when I was in Jr. High or early High School, and Ferris Bueller came up.

However, my father referred to the movie as "Ferris Bueller Takes the Day Off." I tried to explain that he was wrong, but since I was, you know, a kid, he wouldn't believe me.

It got more and more heated throughout the meal, with my sister staring at us in confusion and my mother trying to get us to calm down and stop being idiots.

Finally, he got so mad he told me to get in the car. We drove to the nearest video store (Wherehouse Movies and Music), stalked in lock step to the back where the comedies were kept. I grabbed the tape, and with my chubby little finger poked out the words on the title. "Ferris. Bueller's. Day. Off."

My father looked dumbstruck for about a minute, and then calmly said "well they have the wrong box."

At that point, I threw it at him.

I often think about how much easier it would've been to resolve that argument had it happened after the arrival of the interwebs.

There's my name!!! SO exciting to see my name in one of your posts :)

Anyways, once I made this asian chicken soup and it called for 3 tsp of Sriracha (for a relatively small amount of soup) and I added 3 TABLESPOONS of Sriracha...

oops.

Let's just say my lips, ears and eyes were all burning. It was hilarious :)

About a year ago while watching one of the scenes in "No Country for Old Men" that Tommy Lee Jones is in, I commented that I couldn't believe he was with Pamela Anderson for so long.

My fiancee turned to me--"Excuse me?"

My reply: "Yeah, Tommy Lee Jones and Pamela Anderson dated for like a long time and had this crazy relationship. And they even made a porno."

He (not so kindly, I might add) informed me that that was Tommy Lee, not Tommy Lee Jones.

Still haven't lived that one down. Now I hate watching any movie with Tommy Lee Jones in it!

My parents say that the biggest fight of their marriage occurred in the grocery store, when they had what quickly escalated into a screaming match over the main ingredient of hummous. One swore it was chickpeas, while the other insisted it was garbanzo beans.

I'm going to go the "rat out someone else" route, too, since A) they're food-related, kinda-sorta and 2) I block out my own embarassing moments (which causes me to forget large chunks of my life, quite frankly).

My youngest daughter... brilliant, gifted and famous for...

- "Look at the pecans!" (pointing to peacocks)
- Insisting that Death caries a "chive".

I love her with all my heart, but to this day cannot look at chives without laughing.

I am going to rat out my husband because he is one of those people who simply has to be correct. He will not tolerate anything else.

We were listening to something that had part of "Midnight at the Oasis" as background music and he said something about something being too bad.

What was too bad I ask?

That she is dead he says.

Who is dead I ask.

Phoebe Snow he says - you know the one who sings this song.

You mean Maria Muldaur I ask? She is the one who sings this song and she isn't dead and I am pretty sure neither is Phoebe Snow, I said.

He was unconvinced and I had to go online and show him the evidence of the double screw up before he would believe me.

Even then he wouldn't own up. He just said he must have meant somebody else....

The first time I cooked the tomato confit from the French Laundry book I misread the oven temperature. It called for the oven to be 250F. I looked at my dial and it only went to 225, so i set it to that, thought it seemed a bit hot, but who was I to argue with Thomas Keller, so carried on anyway. I put my beautiful tomato petals into the oven. 30 minutes later I went to have a look... and had charcoal! It was only then I realised my mistake. 225C is the same as 450F. I had totally cremated them! I had to go back to the grocery store and buy more tomatoes and start again!

You made me laugh with the excitement about the kitchen scales! We don't really understand cups in England! The different measurements still catch me out...

There's was a commercial on TV recently that used the song "Catch the Wind." I was sure that was a Bob Dylan song. I mean...listen to it--that's Dylan singing, right?

Nope. It's Donovan.

A spreadsheet?! You are clearly more organized than I will EVER be...

I was 13 and in the family car's backseat between my brother and sister-both significantly younger-on a road trip with my parents in front. We passed by a freight train and I exclaimed "Mom, a choo-choo train!" having gotten 2/3's of the statement out before realizing how dumb I sounded. To which she replied, "Yes, honey and when you get a littler older we'll teach you how to say locomotive." It's been 31 years and she still delights in gently embarrassing me with the memory.

Hmm...I have not noticed any odd mouthfeel when I use powdered gelatin, it works fine. Maybe it does not produce as "clear" a product, but that's all. Then again, maybe I should try both versions on the same dish and see what I get before shooting my mouth off :-).

It had to do with tactonic plates. And now the husband and I are arguing about it again and I'm still super confused. lol

The pears sound good. I'm curious about the eucalyptus.

Not embarrassing, because no one ever knew, but...

when I was really young, say 4-5, I first heard the term "shooting baskets". But being that I was that young, and that my parents didn't watch sports, the only thing I could think of was someone shooting Easter baskets with a gun.

I also thought, until I was about 8 or so, that an autopsy meant that you had to get your stomach pumped.

My dad had a long-time secretary who was a huge homemade crafts kind of woman. She had a horrendous looking spray of eucalyptus hanging on the wall next to her desk. I once accidentally (okay, on purpose...she was not nice to little kids) knocked it off of the wall, and the damn thing smacked me right in the face. Not only did I get a face full of eucalyptus, I got the ten years of dust that went with it. To this day, eucalyptus makes me sneeze.

Have I told you how much I like your Lining Up Of The Spoons? Simple, dramatic and effective.

And I have too many "I'm so totally wrong" stories to choose from....

"Plating"? Should be "spooning" in this case, don't you think? :-)

And I agree that they look like Apple Jacks. I am embarrassed to remember that I used to love those, bug my mom to buy them, which she of course would not because they were Bad for you.

Carole, I'm curious what happened to all the left-over eucalyptus gelatin? Seems like there was enough gelatin to have doubled the amount of pear balls. I have this idea of you rummaging through the fridge looking for left-overs for a snack. Oh,eucalyptus jello, nom...nom!

Veranda

This probably doesn't count because it's about my mom, not me, but it's too perfect of a story for the topic not to share.

My mother raised and showed goats when I was young, and her birthday happened to always fall near the weekend of the Waller Road Fair, a little fair below the county level that was a highlight of the year for me for many years because of the grab bags and the snow cones. She let it slip that she was turning forty one year, and so all of her goat friends (the owners, not the goats themselves, although they certainly were invited) threw her a fortieth birthday party. There were black balloons, black candles, and purple tongues from the black frosting on the cake.

My mom got home after the big bash and got a birthday call from her mother. She told her all about the wonderful party her friends threw for her, the black balloons and black candles and purple tongues.

This went on for awhile before my grandmother finally said, "But Kris, you're not forty, you're thirty-nine!"

Apparently what had happened was that as the big day neared, my mom kept thinking to herself, "I'm going to be thirty-nine...that's almost forty...I'm going to be thirty-nine...that's almost forty..." and at some point she dropped a few words and it became, "I'm going to be forty!"

The best part was that the goat people threw her another party the next year, complete with another round of black balloons, black candles, and purple tongues. The moral of the story? You can't escape your fortieth birthday, even if you try to have it early.

I personally think it is a hallmark of both graciousness & intelligence to both admit you're wrong & not ever act above correction. HOWEVER.... In a conversation with a companion foodite discussing chipotle peppers, she commented that they are roasted jalapenos. When I said, "wow, I did not know that.", she commented, "fascinating.". I have wondered ever since why she said that. It had been a thorn in my paw ever since. I write a food blog, but it is far more focused on eating & travel than cooking or ingredients (although our current economic times are changing this).

Imagine if you will...the home phone rings in the wee hours of the morning. From a deep sleep in my warm bed, I pick up the receiver and hear the voice of my sister asking, "Where are you?"

I glance at the clock. My alarm is set to go off in 2 more hours and I really want my 2 more hours! "Huh, I'm in bed. Where are you?" I reply.

Trying to control her hysteria, she answers, "I am in Ireland at the Shannon airport waiting for you to get off the plane." Her voice is sounding a little panicky and she begins to practice deep breathing so as not to faint. She is rambling, "I have watched the entire plane deboard and you did not get off. I was wondering if you needed additional assistance or if you had fallen asleep in your seat. Are you really still in Washington state? I can't believe you answered the phone. You are supposed to be in Ireland..."

My mind begins to race. "How can this be? I have a list. A schedule. Let me look at it..."

27) Finish packing 8 PM to 10 PM.
28) Sleep 10 PM to 4 AM.
29) Shower 4 AM to 5 AM
30) Head to airport 5:15 AM

"I don't know what happened. Oh my God, did I get the day wrong? Where are my tickets? Did I not look at the date? Oh my God was I supposed to leave yesterday?"

Yes indeed, I had written the wrong day for departure to beautiful Shannon, Ireland to meet up with my sister who had gone the week before me.

What followed was a long talk with the airlines, followed by a rush to the airport, much talk on cell phones trying to reschedule hotel reservations and situate my abandoned sister, then hours and hours of waiting in lines and begging to get from Seattle to Chicago to Shannon.

My sister as long since forgiven me for my planning snafu. The story has become more like a haunting tale to be shared around the campfire on a dark and stormy night, "Who wants to hear the story of...That Ireland Trip?"

Oh good lord sorry about such a long comment. I really want those Eucalyptus leaves so I won't have to use my Camellia bush.

Can peppercorns go bad? That might explain why mine currently smell like an unclean horse stable, which is awesome and everything, but not really what I'm going for.

When I was about eight or ten, I tried to make my mom's best chocolate chip cookies for a bake sale or potluck or something of the sort that my gymnastics team was holding. My mom was supposed to bake them, but unexpectedly had to work late and I became terrified of showing up empty handed, or worse - with store bought cookies. So I started mixing the ingredients and was so proud of myself for baking my own cookies. I knew they were going to be great.

But when I got to the end, the dough was... runny. Like pancake batter, but with dried coconut and chocolate chips and oats. And unlike the lovely batter my mom made, it tasted disgusting.

Turns out I used whole wheat instead of all-purpose flour (and probably made a couple of other mistakes). I was totally crushed and we ended up having to throw the entire bowl of batter (and the one batch of failed cookies I actually tried to bake) away.

And I had to bring Oreos to the bake sale.

I was actually talking to my father today and had a similar conversation. He said he was making an "orange and brown butter tart." So I said, I've always wondered where you find brown butter, where'd you get it? Silence... Um, no, he said, you just brown the butter...like you cook it.

Ohhhh riiight.

As I am NEVER wrong, I could not POSSIBLY come up with my own story, but I DO have a handy story thanks to my mother-in-law. She's a very learned writer/attorney/perfectionist professional woman and her THING is words. She loves words, and times herself doing the NYT puzzle. She was talking with me about food and mentioned (phoenetically, here): pome-gra-NA-te. I said, so you mean, POM-egranate? She was shamed. It was hysterical, made even funnier by the fact that she knows more words than any human being should know. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

My friend proudly told me that her mother always called her "a serendipitous event", and was kind enough to clarify that it meant "something happy". I still feel mean for telling her what it actually means, and even meaner for insisting that we go and look it up when she said she didn't believe me. There was no way she was going to get away with not admitting I was right!

You were cool before, but now you are super cool for liking metallica. And yes ST. Anger sucked.
Teenage embarassment is the worst i think. I was staying the night at a friends house, she was the oldest of 5 i think. I wanted to help in the kitchen like my friend was doing. I was a only child and had not much experience in cooking. They told me to grease a baking dish. I slathered so much crisco on that dish it was like a inch thick frosting. The horrified looks i got from her mom and her were enough to make me want to learn to cook. Now i love knowing the obscure cooking utensils and techniques even if i dont use them.

My worst mistaken ingredient was with the first thing I ever tried to "cook". I was probably six and had seen my mother make chocolate milk by adding chocolate milk mix to milk a million times and I thought "How hard can it be?"

So I decided to strike out on my own and make it one day before my mother got home from work. Well, it turns out she had purchased buttermilk in a quart size carton for some recipe and when I opened the fridge I thought "Oh, look at that cute little carton of milk!" First try - two teaspoons of chocolate milk mix to normal size glass of milk - tasted awful. Being the ever persistent young child I tried it again - same proportions - still tasted like a$$.

So I waited until my mom got home and asked her what I could have possibly done wrong. She explained that buttermilk was different than regular milk, but to this day I don't really understand what the hell buttermilk is beyond a really poorly named dairy product. I mean, with a name like buttermilk you would think it would taste extra-rich or something, particularly when combined with chocolate milk mix. Oh well, I guess I learned my first lesson of cooking that day - always follow the directions, to the letter.

PS: Re Metallica, everything after the Black Album sucks butt and everything before it totally rules the universe. If you really want to explore their oeuvre you should get a copy of "Kill Em All". Hell I'll even violate federal regulations and make you a copy if you like. It has a bass solo by Cliff Burton, the original bass player who died in a bus accident while they were on tour in Scandinavia. I listen to it whenever I'm feeling down and it perks me right up.

The time I was totally schooled by my mother involved a bet over Ebony and Ivory and who sang alongside Paul McCartney. I claimed it was Michael Jackson and she claimed it was Stevie wonder, and of course I was the one to check up on the internet for the results. When I realized my error, I quickly made up a website unbeknown to my mom that proved my end of the bet. She handed me five dollars and scowled a little bit.

A few weeks passed and Dateline featured a segment on the year that the song was produced. She found out that I had tricked her by making a fake website and forced me to fork the money back.

From that day forward, I never tried to fake the results of a bet, especially if they could be proved by Dateline.

When I was 2 - 3 years old my mother and I would meet my father at the subway stop every evening and proceed to spend some time at a nearby park prior to going home. At the park were swings, various aparatus AND a wading pool. I knew we lived in NYC which was by the water. (I knew geography at a young age - the things one learns as an only child) Since I wasn't very tall as far as my eyes could see was water and more water I naturally (HA) believed it was the ocean. It took years for me to be convinced that it wasn't the ocean but only a small pool. Needless to say I was devasted.

Until I was about 7 I would voice the catholic mass response "Thanks SPEEDY God." One day my mother must have been listening intently to my replies and kindly alerted me that although God might be very SPEEDY indeed, the correct response was "Thanks Be to God." I remember thinking that made a whole lot more sense.

-J

my husband likes to remind me of this story at least once a month, so here goes:

we were at disneyland a few years ago, right around the time they had changed the parking structure and the trams around. on our way back to the car that night, we came out of the park and could either go left or right, depending on which lot we had left our car. jim said that he thought our car was to the right, but nope. i was absolutely indignant that it was to the left, insisting "we've always gone this way. look, the sign right here says so." [jim later said that the implication was "or can't you read?!"]

well, we went left, got on the tram to head to our car... and then i realized i was totally and completely wrong. i mumbled this quickly right before the tram left the station and we were able to sneak off and head to the right parking structure.

so embarassing. and something he still reminds me of when he wants to tease me to this day. :/

So one day my roommate and I went for a run around a quaint little lake in Columbia. Large, dark, forebording clouds were hanging over head, and apparently everyone else had gotten the message, because when we arrived at the parking lot, not a car was to be found. We laughed at our stupidity and glee that there would not be a soul on the path. The fresh, pre-storm air cooled and cleared our minds as we ran through the forested trek. As we came around a bend in the woods, a bend I had passed many times before, I saw something I had never seen before...a rabbit as tall as my waist.

"That's a big rabbit," I mumbled in a que-the-b-horror-movie-music-because-something-is-wrong-with-this tone. My roommate was dumbstruck silent beside me as our pounding feet conveyed us irreversible towards the energizer bunny incarnate. Our feet had not take more than 4 steps, and our eyes had just managed to strech from mouth to forehead when a soul appeared behind the rabbit and said,

"That's not a rabbit it's a dog."

"Thank God," blurted my roommate, "I thought it was a goat."

Suddenly it was as clear as a blue sky that in front of us was a cute, friendly black lab hoping to get home before she got soaked. We had convinced ourselves so throughly that no one else would be dumb enough to be out, that even our unconcious brain's pattern recognition software went Microsoft on us, and unchecked any human related objects including dogs. We, laughed at this mental revelation, probably a too little psychiotically, because I think the woman, who had been walking, started running with her rabbit-dog-goat in the other direction...though it could have been because of the rain.

I'll be impressed if you get this far down in your comments, but it was fun remembering this.

When I was little I was convinced the Pulitzer Prize was actually the "Pull-it Surprise" It was mentioned in a Rocky and Bullwinkle episode so of course I thought they were talking about a surprise of some sort. I forget how it came out but when I explained it to my parents they died laughing.

The summer before my senior year of college I landed a great internship. The company flew us all out to Washington D.C. for a week of training and roomed us with each other. On the last night of our training, they were going to take all 100 of us out for dinner and drinks. My roommate for the week didn't want to go. He was certain someone would end up getting way too drunk and make an ass out of themselves and create drama. I told him he was crazy, that we're all adults and this is a work-related function and even bet him $10 nothing crazy would happen.

So we get to the restaurant and enjoy some quality tapas. My buddy from school and I saunter over to the bar and take a look at the wine menu, unhappy with the selection of wines the program was providing us with. We noticed a bottle of Cava was only $30, and we both loved sparkling wine. We had just gotten our first paychecks, and decided what the hell, we'll buy a bottle and share them with people. Needless to say, one bottle turned to two, and two turned to three, and eventually three turned into 12 -- I kid you not.

Now, at this point the organizers had already left but most of us kids were still there. I must have downed at least 15 glasses of the Cava (ah, to be young again...). Right before I came to D.C. my girlfriend had broken up with me. So right now my head's spinning, I'm sitting on the ground, and crying into the phone talking to her. I hear my roommate yell "Jai, come on man, you gotta get up..." I tell him "Don't worry, I'm fine, I'm just sitting here talking on the phone..." and he responds "DUDE, you've locked yourself in a stall of the WOMEN'S BATHROOM!" Lo and behold, I was sitting on the floor of the women's room, right by the toilet... the next morning after waking up with one hell of a hangover, I walk over to him, and without saying a word, give him $10.

I just discovered your blog about 10 minutes ago, and I have to say I love the way you write. :) Its very entertaining, and I'm sure I will be visiting you here often.

My embarrassing cooking story is something as simple as chocolate milk. I know, how on earth does someone screw up chocolate milk?

I was 15 years old and was craving something sweet and decided that I really wanted some chocolate milk. We usually had the Nesquick powder but when I looked in the cabinet, I discovered we were out. So I go to the spice cabinet and get the powdered 'Hersey's Natural Unsweetened Cocoa'. It says Hershey's, it looks like powdered Nesquick, got to be the same right? As I'm spooning it in to my glass of milk, my mom walks in.

She says "Um, what are you doing?"

Me: I'm making chocolate milk.

Mom: That's not going to work with that kind of cocoa; Its unsweetened. Its more for baking.

Me: (with typical teenager attitude + eyeroll) Mom, you do not know what you're talking about. Its chocolate. Its all the same.

Mom: Fine, you just go ahead and drink it then.

One very bitter drink later, the rest of the milk was going down the drain. Mom was nice enough not to say "I told you so", but you could hear her stifled laughter in the other room!

My friend's husband pointed out to me that I was mispronouncing "stellular" (you know, stellar). Was very embarrassed but haven't made that mistake again.

They look like little lifesavers! How absolutely elegant! So impressive, what you are doing!

I totally agreed with your reservations about the eucalyptus, but it makes so much sense with the pears: The bite of the eucalyptus married to the sweet of the pears.

I haven't even tasted this and I can see that it would work. And now I have the recipe.

What fun!

When my husband and I were living in Berkeley, we went home for Thanksgiving to Arizona. We decided to take the BART train to the San Francisco airport. A few stops in he wondered if I was sure we weren't supposed to be flying out of Oakland. I assured him we were not.

After going through the underground Bay Bridge tunnel - moving now further away from the East Bay and into San Francisco - he asked again. I told him, "No, we are flying out of SFO."

Another two stops went by before he asked yet again. Sheesh! "OMG - no, we're not flying out of Oakland and I'll prove it to you!" I threw open my purse, pulled out the itinerary and point directly to the text that said:

Departs: OAK.

Needless to say, he is now keeper of all our itineraries. The good part was that because we were traveling the Wednesday before Thanksgiving our flight ended up being delayed two hours and we were able to hop to the other side of BART and make our flight.

Contest Entry for ya:

A coworker asked me what the difference between the candy bars Mounds and Almond Joy. Without thinking, I said VERY confidently...

ME: Mounds is the one with nuts on top; Almond Joy is just chocolate covered cocconut.
COWORKER #2 (from over her cubical wall): Uh, I think you've got that backwards.
ME: No, it's like in the commercials. Mounds got nuts, Almond Joy don't.
COWORKER #2: So you are saying that a candy bar called ALMOND Joy doesn't have nuts in them?
ME: [Chagrined Silence] Yeah. Uh, I'm obviously mistaken on that point.

Until about two years ago, I was convinced that the lyrics to "Voices Carry" were:

Hush, hush
Keep it down, down
It's so scary

It did not occur to me that the chorus might have the *title of the song* in it.

But nothing will ever compare to my friend's mishearing, revealed during college, a good ten years after the song had been released:

Everytime you go away
You take a piece of meat with you

She didn't believe us when we told her, nor could she come up with any rational explanation for someone running off with MEAT, or someone else singing a sad song about same. It seemed perfectly reasonable to her!

Uhm, you mean most people have that sort of thing only happen to them once in their life?? Jeez, lucky duckies! That sort of thing happens to me on a near daily basis. Maybe that's why I get called "imperious" from time-to-time at work.

But I think my favorite time was when someone corrected me on the pronunciation of the word "apopleptic". I had been saying it as a-POP-lep-TICK for years. I mean *YEARS* and someone finally called me out for it in a meeting.

It was mortifying, until I told the story at my friends BBQ a few weekends later over few beers and we laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed. I think it might have been one of the best laughs I've ever had in my entire life.

I can't wait for the next dish, it has "ANN!" written all over it. So many of my favorite flavors.

I think Deb's husband was thinking of Minnie Ripperton....

This is gorgeous, I've never seen anything like it. I've only smelled eucalyptus but it has a yummy aroma :). They do kinda look like apple jacks, but with a gourmet make-over!

I know somebody else has already won, but I had to share my best food mix-up. I was 12 and on an airplane with my parents and brother. We somehow started talking about soup. I started going on and on about how much I disliked gestapo soup. My family and everybody else who heard me railing against gestapo soup was on the floor laughing. My mother finally looked at me and said "gazpacho soup?"
Almost 15 years later and it is still one of my family's favorite stories.

If you have enough room, you can grow eucalyptus where you live. We can grow it in England and it gets well-cold here - even our summers aren't up to much.

More to the point. I'm right glad you can use eucalyptus as a herb, now I know that, I'll get one planted like as not.

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