25 February, 2009

last night's dinner: Baked macaroni and cheese

Like every good American macaroni and cheese is one of my favorite meals. My mom's baked macaroni and cheese was one of our semi-regular dinners growing up. I also loved boxed macaroni and cheese with tuna and peas. My dad's neighbor growing up was a guy named Gus and there are many a story about him. One summer he convinced my dad to do construction work with him in 29 Palms, California. They worked in the desert building some kind of concrete drainage system in 100+ degree temperatures. This generally involved waking up absurdly early to get as much work done before it got too hot and then resting in the afternoon. Every night Gus would want to have macaroni and cheese with tuna and peas for dinner and my dad passed that along to me. Now that I'm a vegetarian I only eat boxed macaroni with peas which just isn't the same. I generally save that as a last resort meal for when I've run out of groceries. This is my mom's recipe for baked macaroni and cheese.

1 to 1 1/2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni
1/4 cup butter
1/2 small onion, chopped
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 cup flout
2 cups milk
8 oz processed cheese (Velveeta or something similar)
1 cup grated cheddar

Cook macaroni according to package directions.
Cook and stir butter, onion, salt, and pepper over medium heat until onion is tender.
Blend in flour. Cook over low heat stirring constantly until mixture is smooth and bubbly; remove from heat.
Stir in milk. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly.
Boil and stir 1 min.; remove from heat.
Stir in cheese until melted.

Place macaroni in ungreased casserole dish. Stir cheese sauce into mac.
Cook uncovered in 375 degree oven 30 min or until golden on top

Note: For best results, use colored macaroni noodles. That's what my mom used to use and I swear it makes it taste better. Also, the "last night's dinner" series is not really what I had for dinner the previous night. I actually made this last week but I'm just now getting around to writing about it.

23 February, 2009

I am smarter than the MBTA

In my ongoing battle against the T I encountered this note at Hynes Convention Center. Some kind soul decided to correct the egregious grammatical error that the idiots who work for the MBTA committed.

More job search updates

Last week Northeastern hosted a "Careers in Government Information Forum" which I thought would be worth attending. I put my suit on for the first time since being in Geneva and walked across Huntington to the student center. This wasn't a job fair but more of a speed-dating type of thing with different government agencies. When the doors first opened everyone rushed the State Department, Health and Human Services, Defense, CIA, etc. I got stuck choosing between the Transportation Security Administration and the Massachusetts Parole Board. I chose TSA and for 20 minutes got to hear about the wonderful career opportunities at Boston's Logan International Airport where I could work as a TSA screener for $14.34/hr. No thanks. After 20 minutes someone rang a bell and everyone scrambled for another table. I pushed my way over towards the State Department but it was already full. I managed to grab a seat at Health and Human Services which I thought would be interesting at least. It was not.

The people from HHS were only from the Office of Inspector General within the department. They were federal agents who do personal protection for the Secretary of the department as well as investigations. It had absolutely nothing to do with health care or policy. Another 20 minutes wasted. I was right next to the State Department table though and grabbed a seat after the next bell. The woman from State was a former Foreign Service Officer but the only thing she had to say was "take the Foreign Service test!" which was something I had already planned on doing. I did find out that she'll give a practice oral exam sometime before the next test which should be useful. I planned on bailing after State but when the bell rang there was an open seat at the CIA table so I sat down there. The three recruiters were all women who kept alluding to the fact that they had all done really awesome and secretive James Bond style things. The underclassmen at the table were fascinated.

The whole event was pretty worthless. It was mostly for younger students who wanted to know what the different options were for government careers. If you didn't already know that the Foreign Services test existed or that the CIA does a very in depth background check then it was probably worthwhile. Tomorrow there is a non-profit job fair over at BU that I'll be attending. It's an actual job fair as opposed to an 'information forum' so I'll bring copies of my resume and if nothing else I should get some ideas for places to apply.

The search for a second part-time job has been fruitless and discouraging. I had hoped to be self-sufficient by this point but $156 per week doesn't exactly cover my rent. Most of my job search activities had been focused on part-time jobs in Boston instead of a real job. My mom graciously suggested that I give up on that and use my time to search for and apply to real jobs. She'll continue to pay my rent in the meantime while I pay for all other expenses (thanks mom!). I have promised to be more vigilant in my searching since I've been slacking for the last few weeks.

19 February, 2009

I hate the T. Always.

Despite my recent post on the accidental merits of the MBTA, I have recanted my previous opinion that the T is occasionally worthy of my love. Last week I once again found myself without enough money on my card for a round-trip. I had $1.70 and added another $1.70 at the Symphony stop. A person walked through the T gates and I tapped my card after him and proceeded to walk through. When you tap your card the gates make one of two noises. If it reads your card and deducts the fare you hear a pleasant chime sound as the gates open. If it is unable to read your card or you don't have enough money it makes a loud and obnoxious beeping sound at you. On this particular occasion it made both noises simultaneously. I paused for a second, confused by hearing both sounds at once, before walking through the gates which had remained open from the last guy to walk through.

Once through the gates I looked straight into the face of an old and very angry looking MBTA officer. He was sitting in the enclosed booth on the other side and without speaking a word he made it abundantly clear that I should walk back through the gate. I hadn't looked at the screen on the gate to see if money had been taken from me but the man continued to twirl his stubby finger in the air while glaring at me so I walked back out. The gates closed and I tapped my card a second time to hear the familiar chime, only my balance appeared on the screen appeared as $0.00. I walked up to the angry man and told him that the gate took my money twice. He simply stared back at me, although his gaze had softened somewhat from the harsh stare I had received earlier. "The gate took my money twice. You made me walk back through and it took my money both times." The man neither spoke nor moved to show that he had even heard me. I could hear the T as it ducked under Huntington Avenue and slowed down to approach the station. "Are you going to do something?" I asked him.

At hearing this he finally stood up and opened the door to the booth. I was then lectured for walking too close to the person in front of me. The T had arrived and the doors were opening which cut his lecture short. He took a folded piece of paper from his pocket and thrust it into my hand. I jogged over to the T and got on before the doors closed. As the train started to move I unfolded the paper, expecting to find a Charlie ticket loaded with $2. That would be giving far too much credit to the MBTA for customer service. The paper was a customer service form which I am supposed to fill out and mail in along with my Charlie card. It's not worth the effort or the 42 cent stamp. While some might utter the cliché of "you win some, you lose some," I refuse to submit so easily. I will keep this blog updated as my battle against the MBTA continues. Viva la revolucion!

18 February, 2009

President's Day outing

On Monday I went with a few friends to Flour Bakery and Cafe in the afternoon. It was a really tiny place and all the tables were taken up but we opted to wait for one to open up anyway. I ordered an espresso and an orange and chocolate muffin. The espresso was great until I got a mouthful of coffee grounds with the last sip. The muffin was decent but nothing special. We all tried each other's food and I really liked the berry cake. This week is "February break" for Boston and Brookline schools meaning that I have an unneeded break from work. There will probably be at least one more 'outing' post before work resumes next week.

12 February, 2009

Sometimes I love the T. Only sometimes.

On the three days each week that I work I walk to the Hynes Convention Center stop and take the T to Coolidge Corner. For those who don't know, the T costs $1.70 if you have a plastic Charlie card. Without the Charlie card you have to buy a paper ticket which costs $2. Occasionally I'll buy a weekly pass if I know that I'll be taking the T again later in the week. This week I opted to pay as I used it. I wasn't sure today how much money was left on my card so I checked at a machine when I arrived at Hynes. The screen flashed that I had $3.30 left. There is no way to purchase a ticket or add money to your card at Coolidge Corner and I would need an extra 10 cents to get back home.

I sat there staring at the machine for a few seconds trying to figure out what to do. I had no change in my pockets. I searched my messenger bag for change; all I found were old train tickets from Belgium and Switzerland. I had a single dollar bill in my wallet so I reluctantly walked up to one of the machines that takes cash, tapped my Charlie card, hit "add money" on the screen and watched as the machine ate up my last dollar. It was then that I finally learned the secret of why the MBTA keeps losing money.

'What a pointless fucking transaction,' I thought to myself. I'm going to get 90 cents in change back and now I'm completely out of cash. I also lost my ATM card for the second time in 5 months last week so I have to actually go to the bank to get money. My one consolation was that at least I'd have some change to keep in my bag if this ever happened again. The machine registered the dollar I had given it and began spitting out my change with the familiar "clink-clink-clink!" sound coming from the slot towards the bottom. I stuck my hand in, swiped up the change and withdrew it to find $1.50 in change. There were five quarters, two dimes and a nickel. I had gained money in the process of paying 10 cents to the MBTA.

Obviously the reason that the MBTA keeps raising the fares is because their machines aren't making anyone pay for Charlie tickets and instead are dispensing change to any and all customers. I'm never paying with a credit card again. Now before you reply with, "wait, isn't it possible that somebody forgot to take their change and it was already sitting there," let me go ahead and put those thoughts to rest. No, it was not possible. I have a sixth sense about these things. The Charlie ticket machines are broken and dispensing too much change. The MBTA should really hire me as a consultant for uncovering this serious problem.

11 February, 2009

My excuse for not writing: bagels

I haven't written anything lately and there are a few reasons for the lack of posts. A lot has been going on lately, although unfortunately nothing new with the job search. I've been distracted by recent events and my free time has been spent dealing with issues I'd rather not deal with. I'm being very vague here and I apologize but unfortunately I can't really say anything else at this time. I hope that sometime soon I will be able to share these events with the internet world and move on (inshallah!).

The real reason for the recent drought in writing has been my extreme longing for bagels. Being the good Jew that I am, I love bagels. I grew up eating bagels for breakfast, although in Texas we only bought frozen Lender's bagels which are not exactly a Jew's first choice. Anytime I visited my grandparents in California we would have delicious, fresh bagels in the morning along with cream cheese and lox. I no longer eat lox but it's one of the few foods I still occasionally miss as a vegetarian.

Mid-way through last week I got an intense craving for bagels. My typical breakfast is either oatmeal or Raisin Bran Crunch which suits me just fine but that day I felt something was missing in my life. I was planning on ordering groceries the next day and while trying to think of things to add to my list I remembered my love for bagels. The other significant thing missing in my life right now is of course a job and money, so I settled once again for Lender's frozen bagels. I was ecstatic in anticipation of soon having bagels for breakfast. I called my mom to tell her I would soon have bagels, I emailed Amanda and relayed my excitement and I even posted about the circular baked dough on Twitter. Bagels would soon be mine.

When my groceries were delivered last Saturday morning I was handed a receipt listing all the items I had purchased. At the very top was a section for items that were out of stock. Yes, that's right. The bagels were not to be. I had cream cheese but without bagels what good was it? My dismay sent me into a spiral of depression and conspiracy theories. The delivery driver, obviously a Nazi sympathizer, must have somehow learned of my place of employment. He realized I was but a poor Jew in need of bagels and decided to inflict this terrible pain upon me. Or maybe it was the Holocaust denying Catholic bishop Richard Williamson who has been in the news lately. Yes, surely he was behind this crime. There is good news however: Williamson has agreed to look into whether the holocaust actually occurred. He has even gone so far as to order a book about Auschwitz. I will give him several weeks in which to read the book, at which point I expect a handwritten letter of apology as well as a dozen fresh bagels from one of the finest establishments in New York. Even though he refuses to travel to Auschwitz to see the concentration camps firsthand I am sure that his sincere regret will bring him to New York City in order to procure apology bagels for me. In anticipation of these "I'm sorry I denied the holocaust and prevented your bagels from being delivered" bagels I have begun blogging again. Al-hamdu lillah!

05 February, 2009

Andrew Bird at the Orpheum

As I wrote earlier, Andrew Bird is one of my favorite musicians and I finally got the chance to see him live. He never made it to Boston for the tour after his 2007 album Armchair Apocrypha. In December 2007 he played at Lupo's in Providence which is just a short train ride from the Ruggles station in Boston. Tickets weren't sold out and I really wanted to go but it was a school night and I decided that writing a paper for my philosophy class was probably the wiser choice. On Friday Bird apologized to the Boston crowd for not having played a show here in a few years and told us that it wouldn't happen again.

The night started off for me at TCs Lounge with McKenna, Kevin and Katy. I had wanted to see the opening band Loney, Dear but the four of us hadn't sat down together in a while and we ended up drinking beer through the first set. Shortly after getting a second beer two plain-clothes police officers walked up to the table, showed us their badges and asked for our IDs. Boston has notoriously strict drinking laws but I had never experienced this before. A friend told me that TCs used to be the place to go when you were underage so my guess is that the bar got in trouble before and now gets surprise visits by BPD.

We got to the Orpheum just in time to grab a beer and head to our seats, right as Andrew Bird and his band started warming up on stage. The stage was set up with several enormous gramophones placed in different spots around the stage. As the band began to play the gramophones behind Andrew Bird started spinning. It made for a cool stage prop.

Bird played a lot of songs from his newest album, Noble Beast which had only just been released. I got to hear my two favorite songs from the album that I had mentioned in the last blog post. Surprisingly enough the song that seemed to impact me most was Oh No which he had written about for the New York Times. It was amazing to hear the song live as I thought back to how it evolved from a tune he whistled into the full band piece in front of us. I had a smile on my face for most of the song even though it's not one of my favorite tunes.

There were quite a few mistakes and technical snafus throughout the show. Bird uses looping pedals for certain songs, similar to what Howie Day uses. He'll tap the pedal to start recording, play a small piece on violin or guitar that can be looped and tap the pedal again to stop recording and play the loop. Bird messed up the piece he was supposed to loop once and had to stop and re-record it. At another point I think he failed to tap the pedal at the right moment and again had to stop the song and begin anew. His use of several different instruments throughout the show is really cool and shows how talented he is but also lead to problems. During one song he didn't switch from guitar to violin fast enough, leading to a momentary lull in the music. His band kept playing the same few bars until he got the violin out and began the solo. Bird apologized for these but seemed at ease with himself and the crowd cheered him on. If that had happened to me I would have been mortified but I guess that's why he's a famous musician and I am not. That and the fact that I can't really play any instruments other than trombone, which I haven't touched in years.

Bird talked to the crowd occasionally during the set and one thing he said stuck out in my mind so I quickly jotted it down. He had just made one of the mistakes I just mentioned and he began talking about the new album. "It's nice, kind, bubbly and refrained, because that's what it has to be. But when we play it live it's total mayhem." It wasn't mayhem but I liked his description of the new album in comparison to the last. He played a couple of songs from the older album including Plasticities. The first encore song was a really old song called Why which went back to the days before his solo career. I had predicted he would play Measuring Cups as an encore, which was one of the first songs that got me hooked on Andrew Bird but he didn't come through.

The show was a lot of fun although I was surprised that everyone remained seated through the performance. I realize that Andrew Bird isn't as rockin' as Vampire Weekend but I can't help but bob my head and tap my foot to the music. Even doing that I felt out of place as everyone around me was sitting still in their seats. Towards the end of the show two girls in the very front row stood up and started dancing and a few other people did the same but most remained seated until the encore. The only other show I've been to where everyone sat through the performance was Joanna Newsom. That made sense though; as beautiful as her music is, dancing to a harp might be a little weird.

04 February, 2009

Rahm Emanuel

President Obama's Chief of Staff is a certified bad ass. It is rumored that the character of Josh Lyman from the West Wing was loosely based off of Rahm Emanuel and it's no secret that Ari Gold from Entourage is based on his brother. Obama spoke briefly about Rahm during his speech at the Alfalfa Dinner several nights ago.

"Now, this hasn't been reported yet, but it was actually Rahm's idea to do the swearing-in ceremony again. Of course, for Rahm, every day is a swearing-in ceremony. But don't believe what you read. Rahm Emanuel is a real sweetheart. No, it's true. Every week the guy takes a little time away to give back to the community. Just last week he was at a local school, teaching profanity to poor children."

Now that's dedication. Our children need to be taught that they too can yell at British Prime Ministers not to "fuck this up!"

01 February, 2009

last night's dinner: Tossed spinach lasagne and goat cheese gratin

The only cookbook I own is Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison. It's a great cookbook even if you aren't a vegetarian. My mom used it pretty frequently at home so she wouldn't let me steal it from her. I bought it in the fall when I moved into my apartment, for a bit more than the $26 price Amazon currently sells it for. I've tried out a few recipes from it and the tossed spinach lasagne is one I've made several times over.

1 pound spinach pasta
2 cups herb béchamel sauce
1/2 cup cream
8 ounces crumbled goat cheese
1 tablespoon chopped thyme

Make the béchamel sauce and then add the cream and goat cheese.
Preheat the oven to 375. Lightly butter a gratin dish.
Parbroil the spinach pasta for 1-2 minutes in salted water, then drain.
Toss the pasta with the sauce and put in the gratin dish. Bake until bubbling and browned here and there on top, 30-40 minutes.

I used this recipe, also from the same cookbook for the béchamel sauce.

2 cups milk
1/4 cup finely diced onion
Aromatics: 1 bay leaf, 3 parsley sprigs, 2 thyme sprigs
3 1/2 tablespoons butter
3 1/2 tablespoons flour

Heat the milk with the onion and aromatics in a saucepan over medium heat. Turn off just before it boils and set aside to steep for 15 minutes.
In another saucepan make a roux by melting the butter, adding flour and stirring constantly over medium heat for 2 minutes. Add the milk and whisk until thickened.
Stir until the sauce comes to a boil. Set the pan over very low heat and cook for 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add 1/3 cup chopped herbs: chervil, thyme and tarragon, or chopped parsley mixed with other herbs of your choice.

I do a few things differently than the recipe. First of all, since Shaw's doesn't seem to carry spinach lasagne noodles I use spinach fettucine. I also use dry, chopped parsley and thyme rather than sprigs. I wish I had an herb garden. To finish it I use thyme, chopped parsley and basil.