Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Autumnal Nerd: Trader Joe's Butternut Squash and Creamed Spinach Gratin

Hello LilyOnTheLam.Com Readers!

For the record, I am a nerd.  A nerd for all seasons, in fact.  For today, I am an autumnal nerd.  I just returned home from a wonderful family reunion in honor of my father's birthday in Chicago, Illinois.  

Upon returning home, my refrigerator and cupboards were bare.  A trip to my beloved Trader Joe's was required!  This is my favorite time of year at Trader Joe's - PUMPKIN SEASON.  When Trader Joe's brings out everything and anything in PUMPKIN FLAVOR.  

I decided that everything I would buy at Trader Joe's would need to have a pumpkin or autumnal theme.  I am such a nerd!  But I have been having a blast trying all these new pumpkin products!  So stay tuned to because I will be posting several Trader Joe's product reviews in the next couple weeks!

My first Trader Joe's product reviews is one of my absolute favorite autumnal products:  The Butternut Squash and Creamed Spinach Gratin.  The package describes it as a spinach lasagna but with butternut squash instead of noodles.

The refrigerated food item does not look as pretty as the picture on the box, but the taste is delicious.  Al dente, fresh tasting butternut squash cut into long ribbons with a tasty, creamy spinach filling inbetween with a hint of nutmeg.  It is perfect hearty food for cold weather (or in my case 70 degree weather in Florida).  Like the packaging says, it is good for both a vegetarian entree or a side dish.  I could eat pans and pans of this delicious, hearty stuff!  

Well done, Trader Joe's!  You've made this autumnal nerd's stomach very happy!  This product may get a C for looks but an A+ for flavor!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Teachable Moments

Hello LilyOnTheLam.Com Readers:

I hope you have been enjoying the plethora of blog posts I have been writing lately.  After avoiding my blog for a good part of 2015, I am trying to make up for it before the holiday season begins.  

Now if you're a regular reader, you may know that I tend to be cynical, sarcastic, tongue in cheek, self-deprecating and yet egomaniacally egocentric at the same time ... and basically a bit whacky with a side of goofy and a dollop of nerd with a sprinkle of elderly, crazy cat lady.  I might also be somewhat delusional, but the medical community has not issued an official diagnosis at this time.  (By the way, when I am sitting in my Senate confirmation hearing for US Supreme Court Justice, I am going to regret writing the above.)  

Also, if you're a viewer of my LilyOnTheLam Instagram account (or a reader of my blog); you will know that I love RuPaul's Drag Race - the reality television competition show on Logo TV.  

Well one day I was listening to RuPaul's podcast on my iPhone.  I was very excited because RuPaul's Drag Race Season 6 winner, Bianca Del Rio was on the podcast.  I have seen Bianca Del Rio twice - once in the touring show "RuPaul's Battle of the Stars" at the Ritz Ybor in Ybor City (Tampa), Florida.  The other time I saw Bianca in his one-drag queen show "Rolodex of Hate" in Provincetown, Massachusetts.  Bianca Del Rio is a bit of an insult comic drag queen, but the "secret" is that Bianca Del Rio also has a heart of gold.  

I was very excited to see Bianca Del Rio (a.k.a. Roy Haylock) and he did not disappoint!  It was a FANTASTIC show!

Now as I was listening to the RuPaul podcast, a person who I will not name asked me what I was listening to.  This particular person is a business person who provides services and I was her client.  Now I should have been given a heads up when the person (who is 4 years younger than me) didn't know what a podcast was.  (Clue #1 that this person is clueless).

Next, this person didn't know RuPaul had done anything with his life past his 1993 song "Supermodel of the World."  (OK so you're not into drag queens, many are not.)

Needless to say this person had never heard of Bianca Del Rio.  (No shade to Bianca but if RuPaul's not on your personal radar, Bianca probably is not either.)  So I whipped out my Instagram account and showed this person the following picture ...

Bianca Del Rio and Yours Truly

The person looked at this picture of a drag queen with me and sputtered "Wait, are you a drag queen too?"  

OK SERIOUSLY?  This is an educated professional with an advanced degree and she is asking me - IN ALL SERIOUSNESS AND SINCERITY- if I am a drag queen.

A million smart ass remarks went flying through my head.

I like convertibles.  It doesn't mean I am a car.

I thought about RuPaul's quote: "We're all born naked and the rest is drag."  But I thought this particular person would not understand the quote and would then take it as an affirmation that I am a drag queen.

Finally, I decided that this was a teachable moment.  And instead of insulting or shaming the person, I should educate.

OK and maybe shame her just a little.

I adopted a curt tone and said "No, I am not a drag queen. I am a biological female.  So I can't be a drag queen.  If I was a drag performer, I'd be a drag king."

She gasped and started to speak - I quickly cut her off and said "I AM NOT A DRAG KING!"  She quickly snapped her mouth shut, understanding that the Question and Answer portion of the day was now over.  

Seriously, how is this person a professional?  

I know many of my friends may find my love of RuPaul's Drag Race to be bizarre - but I also have friends who obsess over "American Idol" or "The Voice" or cults dedicated to worshipping escargot (OK I may have made that last one up).  I may not see the value or have any interest but I respect their passion.  

This particular person then went on to talk for 20 minutes about how she believes Caitlyn Jenner is not transgender and is only adopting a female persona (and plastic surgery) to make money.  I found it particularly amusing as she made some narrow-minded comments about transgendered people that I was wearing a Human Rights Campaign t-shirt (which advocates for equal rights) that says "Love Conquers Hate."  She was talking very loudly and there were other clients in ear shot.  I wondered if any of her clients had friends or family members who were transgendered.

I am heterosexual but this person did not know that.  I found it curious that she was spewing so many awkward, potentially offensive statements.  But then she started talking about how she wished she didn't get married.  So I figured she had much bigger issues than not knowing about RuPaul's Drag Race.

At times like this, I actually think the biggest teachable moment is what I personally take away from the interaction.  I felt awkward and uncomfortable with her tone and attitudes.  But I also saw it as an opportunity to practice tolerance and compassion.  Not everyone is going to share my views.  Better to approach such situations with compassion versus judgment.

(Oh but it is SO EASY for me to be snippy and judgmental!  It takes stamina to NOT be judgmental!)  

I really want to dismiss this person as an uneducated crack pot but I think that adds to the "us vs. them" mentality that seems to be running center in American politics.  I'd like to think that the world is not so black and white, all or nothing.  And if that is how I want my world to be - tolerant and compassionate - change starts from within.  I need to be more tolerant and compassionate.  Which is NOT easy, but it is a challenge I should embrace.

As always, thank you for reading! 

Friday, October 2, 2015

If It's Good Enough For The President, It's Good Enough For Me

Hello LilyOnTheLam.Com Readers:

I love dim sum - the Chinese mini appetizers brunch - to put an American definition on it.  One of my favorite places for dim sum (or yum cha, as it is also called) is East Ocean Restaurant in Sydney, Australia.  However because I live in Florida, USA - it's not like I can just hop on down to Sydney whenever a dim sum craving hits.  Or at least not until I win a very large lottery!

So when I was traveling in San Francisco, I knew I needed to take advantage of the plethora of Asian residents and the proximity of a quality Chinatown for some authentic dim sum.  I researched all of the restaurants that were located in the city center.  (I was without a car and didn't want to Lyft or Uber my way to the far suburbs where some very notable dim sum restaurants are located.)  

I finally decided to try Great Eastern Restaurant.

When President Obama was in town, he had dim sum at Great Eastern.

And if a dim sum restaurant is good enough for President Obama, it is definitely good enough for me!

The restaurant is large with good, fast, efficient service.  The dim sum is ordered via paper menus like you would order sushi.  I like when restaurants have the carts of dim sum and you order off the cart, but as long as the dim sum tastes good I am OK with ordering off the menu.

I am a creature of habit when it comes to dim sum.  I tend to order the same things over and over again.  I choose to think of this as "Classic Lily" versus "Boring Lily."

I like to order hot tea, of course.

Barbecued pork buns - soft and fluffy with a sweet, zesty pork filling.

I ALWAYS order radish cakes - gelatinous slices, studded with radish or turnip or taro bits and tiny shrimp, which are pan-fried.  I also usually order some kind of dumpling or shu mei.  In this case, pork and chive panfried dumplings.

And I prefer soy sauce and red vinegar on my radish cakes.

In tribute to my Grandmother, I love steamed sticky rice wrapped in a leaf.  It usually contains chicken or pork and egg.

On this particular occasion, my eyes were bigger than my stomach.  I ordered pineapple buns - which in 97% of all cases, do NOT contain any pineapple at all.  Sometimes they are custard-filled and sometimes they are plain.  The name "pineapple bun" refers to the crunchy coating on top of the bun which is supposed to resemble the outside of a pineapple.  I know some places actually started serving these buns stuffed with pineapple jelly because they were probably sick of people complaining that the pineapple bun had no pineapple.

In dim sum, most orders contain 2-4 items - so I did not have the option to get just one pineapple bun.  My stomach surrendered and I took these 3 little darlings to go.  I ate them in my hotel room later that night when my stomach was in a happier state!

I very much enjoyed the dim sum at Great Eastern restaurant.  I may not be the President, but the waitstaff treated me very well.  It was affordable, tasty, authentic and delicious in a relaxed, lovely atmosphere.  It was very much a "Chinatown experience."

If you're looking for quality dim sum in Chinatown, San Francisco - check out Great Eastern!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Use Your Powers Wisely: The Curse of the Monkey's Paw

Hello LilyOnTheLam.Com Readers:

In keeping with my current theme of blogging from coffee and tea houses in the Tampa Bay area, I am at Kaleisia Tea Lounge on East Fletcher Avenue.  

The atmosphere is very Japanese modern.  They even have a Japanese shoji screened area where you sit on cushions on the floor, without shoes.  A little bit of Japan in Tampa Bay!  

Their "large size" tea is called the Teatanic - which makes me hum Celine Dion songs as I slurp lychee flavored boba out of a ginormous mason jar.

In the picture above is a Thai iced tea, medium sweetness (because I am sweet enough!) with "lychee poppin' boba" and Kaleisia's wild tuna pasta salad.  The pasta salad is CRAZY good.  Very light tasting but with a fresh herby punch of flavor.  The menu at Kaleisia has many yummy sounding items, some vegan and some gluten-free.  Check it out here.  

But I'm not here to talk about tea, I am here to talk about THE CURSE OF THE MONKEY'S PAW!

(Insert sinister music here!)  

Years ago, I watched an episode of "The Simpsons" where Homer buys a Monkey's Paw and is granted three wishes.

But like anything that comes too easy in life, there are challenges too.  Each wish that Homer makes does not turn out to be a blessing.  So finally he decides to just wish for a turkey sandwich - not a possessed evil zombie turkey, just a regular turkey sandwich.  

And when he eats it, he at first enjoys it but then realizes it's a little dry.  Once again, even his simple wish does not come true.  The Monkey's Paw couldn't even deliver a good turkey sandwich.

Well somewhere in my hoarder's condo, I must have a Monkey's Paw laying around because my wishes are coming true -- but not in the way I would want them to.  I keep screaming out "Be more specific in your wishes!"

For example, I went out with a 6'4" guy - but either I'm growing or he's shrinking because I swear he wasn't taller than 6'2".  So I said to myself "Hmmm, maybe I need to find a 6'5" guy."  

THE NEXT DAY - I met a 6'5" guy!  The Universe delivered!  But here's the Monkey's Paw in action because the guy was crazy!  (He of the "You  Need to Tighten the Lid on Your Box of Crazy" LilyOnTheLam blog post.)

I chastised myself "You should have specified - 6'5" guy who is NOT crazy when you made your wish to the universe!"  Come on, get it together sister!

So then later in the week, I started work at 6 a.m. and had some tough conference calls.  I had a one hour break in my schedule and I decided to go out for breakfast to clear my head.  Ever since I had the amazingly delicious basil pesto pressed Cuban bread sandwich at DI Coffee Bar (check it out here), I have been craving Cuban toast and Cuban cheese toast.  

(Side note:  Lily's favorite place for Cuban cheese toast in Tampa Bay?  La Teresita Cafeteria - which is open 24 hours a day on the weekends so I can get Tostada con queso any time I want it!)

I asked the universe to please, please, please make sure that the local diner had Cuban toast on their menu.  I hadn't been to this diner in years - it's in walking distance from my home but I always forget it's there.  Which is odd because I love all places that serve breakfast.  I hold them in high esteem, close to my heart!  

I opened the diner's menu and I saw ... wheat, white and rye as their bread selections.  Sigh.  Even English Muffins!  But no Cuban toast.

But then I looked at the side dish menu AND THERE IT WAS!  CUBAN TOAST!  I ordered it with a very giddy tone.  (Carbs make me happy!)

Cuban Toast
It arrived pressed in true Cuban toast fashion.  I took a bite ... and damn that Monkey's Paw!  

It was just ... OK.  

It tasted old, not fresh.  And instead of butter it tasted like it had been pressed with one of those artificial cafeteria margarine-style spreads ... but even worse than margarine - more like the stuff that doubles for WD-40.  SIGH.  

Damn you, Monkey's Paw!  Once again my lack of specificity had screwed me!  I should have wished for GOOD-TASTING Cuban toast versus just Cuban Toast!

Last night, I was looking online at some job listings on a career website where I did not log in or in any way share my personal information.  I was just checking what's out there in the universe.  

Today, in a very odd coincidence - the internal recruiter for the company I was looking at contacted me on LinkedIn.  But the job he is hiring for is about 3 steps backward in my career.  Damn you, Monkey's Paw!  

Once again I screamed at myself:  "BE MORE SPECIFIC IN YOUR WISHES TO THE UNIVERSE!"

Still, I must say that this "Cosmic ATM" where I think of something and it appears quickly is pretty crazy cool.  Yeah, the "blessing" is a bit off the mark but still the fact that it's even materializing at all is pretty awesome in my book.  Homer Simpson may agree that even a dry turkey sandwich is better than no turkey sandwich.

I just need to be MORE specific in my wishes!  I will beat you one day, Monkey's Paw!

As always, thank you for reading!