Party: Iowa sushi

I was invited to a beach party, and yesterday, I unleashed the summer potluck snack of my childhood on an unsuspecting group of acquaintances: pickle roll-ups. My mom used to make these when I was a kid for just about every single potluck-style family gathering, and I loved them. Mostly, I loved the flavor of the cream cheese and the corned beef and only tolerated the pickle, so I tried to get all of the end pieces as she rolled and chopped these.

My parents cooked quite a bit when I was little, but other than a few family recipes, it wasn’t gourmet stuff. I was a meat-and-potatoes, Lunchables, Kraft mac-and-cheese, Spaghettio’s-lovin’, hot-dog-eatin’ true Midwestern child. Save for thick homemade chicken noodle soup, pickle roll-ups, “Spanish” rice (it just had tomato soup in it), deviled eggs, no-bake cookies, and a few other family treasures, my parents just didn’t have many specialties. But these gems, these pickle roll-ups, were special to me growing up. When they were made, I knew that there was something special coming up, like a family picnic or a holiday, and that I’d get to see my extended family.

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So when I was invited to this party, I tried to figure out what to bring. It occurred to me at the last second that pickle roll-ups would be fast to prepare and require only cheap ingredients, and I needed groceries, anyway. But as I made these, I started to remember. She let the real cream cheese warm up on the counter instead of using Philadelphia’s “whipped-style” and the glue it became held together much better. The cheap Buddig packets of corned beef used to be slightly thicker, and square-shaped, which meant the pickle roll-ups of my childhood didn’t tear quite as easily. She spread the cream cheese on the meat, rolled the pickle, and then let the uncut rolls chill in the fridge, helping the whole thing stick together before she cut them the next morning. I begged her to cut one or two the night before any potluck, and I’d forgotten all about that until I started cutting these rolls and they just started falling apart in my hands.

Needless to say, it was a pickle disaster. I actually gave up on the last half dozen pickles and just threw the unsheathed suckers on the plate because I was ready to be done with the mess! I made two trays of these suckers, and only used up almost two large jars of pickles, one cream cheese tub, and five Buddig packets. I still have to figure out how I’ll use two more tubs of “whipped” cream cheese, one large jar of pickles, and three packets of cheap corned beef sometime in the next hundred years.

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I made the rolls sitting in front of the television for something to do, and forgot to put them up high before I jumped in the shower for a quick rinse. I jumped out of the shower, and it hit me…shit. Sure enough, this little piggy had eaten the cream cheese and corned beef off of about 30-40 pickle slices. My eight-pound dog was so bloated and apologetic after I caught her binge-eating the skins of the finger food, just like when I was a kid. I think I actually hurt her dog feelings when I yelled at her and she crinkled her little forehead.

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The second pan was left untouched, and subsequently made it to the party. I also took three pounds of bacon and spent about an hour cooking it in the hosts’ kitchen — so we could “roast a pig” at the beach party. I had a total blast and danced the night away, drinking and making out with strangers, wearing tiny sunglasses and kicking around tiny beach balls, flipping through a book of pictures gay men drew of vaginas. I learned a new phrase for the potluck dish of my childhood last night from the host: Iowa sushi. It’s perfect.

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Party: bison meatballs and beer cheese soup

I only wish I’d taken better photos of the food my friends and I worked for so long to make! This stuff really tasted like a gourmet, fancy-fancy meal. It took us nearly an hour and a half to make, but it was worth every bit of time spent drinking wine in the kitchen. We laughed and made joke after handjob joke about our pal’s ability to grate a huge block of cheese like a champ.

I was so nervous to have these ladies over to my house, as I am with letting anyone in my space, but moreso because I’m just getting to know these coworkers a little bit more outside of work. I have a hard time letting people into my space and wondering what they’ll think of my house. Will they like it? Will they notice that the trim along the baseboards isn’t yet the same paint color as the baseboards? Are my floors too dirty? Will they like my dogs, or think I’m utterly feral? What if I overcook the food, or it just sucks, or I forget something integral to the meal? My anxiety kicks into high gear when I let people into my very private space. It’s an intimacy with other people that I have a hard time creating.

I didn’t do any shoving-stuff-into-the-closet-at-the-last-minute maneuvers, but I do still get the tail-end of the “I just moved three months ago” excuse. I made my bed…what more could anyone hope for?

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I found the recipe for these meatballs and the Greek yogurt-based sauce at the last second, thirty minutes before my pals were supposed to be at my house and I was still at the grocery store. I’m forever running late because I’m at the grocery store, now. We only made a few modifications to the recipe, as follows:

  • Instead of using cumin seeds and coriander seeds, I used the ground spices and whole fennel seeds without grinding them. It didn’t matter and the flavors blended nicely.
  • In the sauce, I used about a cup of cilantro instead of a cup and a half. I just didn’t have any more than that.
  • I used shredded-up gluten-free bread. It worked fine, but I wish I’d used a little more bread to hold the meatballs together a little better. I also used almond milk instead of cow milk, per the usual.
  • Instead of a jalapeno, I used a portion of an anaheim chile, because that’s what I had on hand.
  • I didn’t use extra cilantro or allspice in the meatballs, because there just wasn’t any.

And, of course, everything came out perfect. I’d highly recommend doubling or tripling the sauce recipe — I couldn’t get enough of it — and using it on salads, or as a dipping sauce for veggies. It was a cool, creamy, herby sauce and I can’t wait to make it again.

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Remember when I said I accidentally learned to make beer cheese soup from Martha Stewart? Yeah, I just made a bigger pot of the stuff. It was just so rich, creamy, and beer-y. I barely made it through my bowl, and was happy that one of my pals took the rest home to her boyfriend. There was no way I could handle that dense of a soup twice within a few days.

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Even my dog, Tiger Tail, got a meatball to celebrate her graduation from Pre-Agility and Performance Prep at her dog school. Isn’t she adorable? No more pinch collars for us! I feed my dogs high-quality dog food and give them mostly vegetable scraps as treats, but this time she deserved a little something special. 🙂

Leftovers: steak salad

This is my dog, patiently waiting for her chance at a trimmed piece of steak while working on her down-stay command for five minutes. “Down-stay” is the toughest for this double-chin Miniature Pinscher. My dogs often help me eat the more healthful leftovers and vegetable scraps as a supplement to their high-quality, high-end dog food. I sometimes wonder why humans can’t get their children to eat certain vegetables; I just told my dogs that every vegetable they encountered was delicious, and in an attempt to please me, the little garbage disposals ate anything I put in front of them as puppies, especially teething carrots. As adult dogs, they stare me down for raw broccoli stems and wolf down the tougher parts of apples.

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Salads are…kind of boring to talk about, huh? Still, I had a leftover strip steak from the night before, and tossed it in a pan for a few minutes on each side to warm. Chopped it, tossed in some greens, added raw mushrooms and pickled onions, and dressed it in blue cheese from a local shop. Bam. Done. Three minutes. Lazy, leftovers cooking, ahoy!

I mostly just wanted to write about my dogs.

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