Ladies Beer Circle: Beer Notes from Sharp Edge

Last week at the Sharp Edge, we got some bad news. Alas, but the popular Half Off Craft Drafts, the virtues of which we have much extolled, has been reduced to a single draft at half off on Wednesdays. Apparently, the PLCB has determined that having all the craft drafts on sale at one time is simply too much cheap beer available to the public, and so Sharp Edge is only allowed to offer ONE beer at half off on Wednesdays.

Watch out, PLCB… home-brewing may be on the horizon.

But in the meantime, the Ladies Beer Circle has been contemplating its brews with a little more depth. I have been soliciting the opinions and observations of our members as they sip their beers in effort to develop a more concrete narrative of our experience.

Oh, and so we remember what beers we liked and didn’t.

Last week, when the half-priced drafts were still flowing freely, we tried a variety of brews. For the first round, Dayle had the Abita Satsuma Harvest. She said that it had a nice wheatiness and a light body, but that the orange flavor made it a bit sour. I had the Duck Rabbit Milk Stout, which is one of my favorites at Sharp Edge. I like that it has body that is somehow at once full and light, it is crisp and yet smooth… full of contradictions, I suppose. Sabrina had the Weyerbacher Merry Monks, which she finds to be a great approximation of a “Belgian-style” golden ale (i.e. because it’s not actually made in Beligium) with a good kick and mouth-feel, and she enjoyed the foaminess.

Then I asked Ted about his beer… and my hand got tired writing.

Ted is Sabrina’s husband, and President of our Men’s Auxiliary to the Ladies Beer Circle. He is also very verbose and thorough in describing his beers, and so I think he forced us all to step up our game in beer description thenceforward.

Ted’s first beer was the Stone Imperial Stout. He decreed that it has a nice head, it’s malty with hints of chocolate and smoke. It has more carbonation that you might ordinarily expect from a stout. It had a chalky finish and Ted found it bitter at the back of the tongue. All in all, a little too sweet for his taste.

Next up, Ted had the Dogfish Head Chicory Stout. Ted found it to be a pleasant but not great stout. To its credit, it had a nice balance between the typical stout heaviness and a spiciness. Overall it was not too heavy, and had a somewhat clean, predominantly coffee flavor, but was ultimately not very complex. If given the opportunity to drink this one again, Ted would pass.

Phew… I guess the next round came while I was still jotting down Ted’s observations. No wonder he’s president of the Men’s Auxiliary.

Next up, Dayle got a Horny Goat Belgian Wheat. She observed that it didn’t have much head, tasting very light, clean and crisp. She detected hints of ginger underlying the traditional wheat flavor and said it hits the spot if you’re looking for something light.

So that Dayle would not be alone in the lasciviousness of her brew, I ordered the Smuttynose Finest Kind IPA. It had a medium head, and the flavor balanced bitterness with a crisp citrus quality. Typically I enjoy a softer IPA, and this one wasn’t especially soft, but I also did not find it abrasive in the way that I sometimes do when I dislike an IPA.

Sabrina continued drinking her Merry Monks, while Ted moved on to a 21st Amendment Saison (anyone else notice that Ted’s getting ahead of us, here?). He found it to be a light saison, a little watery in terms of mouth feel, and the taste “kinda pleasant.” He also observed that a touch of ginger works well in the front end of this beer (perhaps a trend, the ginger?), and that finally it had an aggressive carbonation… not sure if that was a good thing?

Finally Ted had a Troeg’s Sunshine Pils (it should be noted that while it seems like Ted is drinking more than the Ladies, Sabrina was matching him round-for-round, but they were all Merry Monks). Perhaps his observational skills were petering out by this point, because the best I could get out of him work a while was that he fond the flavor “sunshiney,” but finally he said it was medium bodied and citrusy with more lemon than orange flavor. He liked the sharpness in its finish, and he would give it a thumbs up in any circumstance where you could get it at $3 or less.

We returned to Sharp Edge the following week, but to our dismay, discovered that the half priced craft special had been reduced to one beer! Luckily the mystery beer was also on special, so we had more than one option. In some ways, for the sake of beer notes it turned out to be boon, because I could collect everyone’s observations on two beers.

The craft draft was Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale. Sabrina, in general, is a fan of Bell’s, in part from the time she spent in Michigan. She calls the Two Hearted her go-to-IPA. It has all the hoppy bitterness you’d expect from an IPA, but without being over-powering. She described it by saying you don’t get a “sucked-in face” from drinking it. To boot, she says it’s one of the most beautiful beer labels around. It was a little on the hoppy side for my preference, but palatable and drinkable.

More folks weighed-in on the mystery beer. Nik, another member of our Men’s Auxiliary, found it to be a wonderful, slightly light porter with a little bit of a nutty flavor. Overall he said that it made his “stomach happy.” Ted called it a more carbonated than typical porter, watery at first with a good mouth feel, and confirmed a flavor of nuttiness in the finish.

Dayle said it had a light coffee taste, a nice aroma, light-bodied, light flavored and over all a nice porter. Sabrina agreed on the coffee flavor upfront, and ends with maple notes. The taste, she said, changes front to back and declared it to be a good porter for the summer.

Hopefully the keg will kick soon so we can find out what it is!

Sweet Potato Kofta with Mango Raita

Sometimes I set out in search of one particular type of recipe, but sometimes a recipe finds me instead. While on the hunt for something else, I stumbled upon this recipe and said, “Well, heck, I’ve got to book mark this one.” It very quickly thereafter made it onto my shopping list for a lazy Sunday of recipe experimentation:

SWEET POTATO KOFTA

1 (40 oz) can medium sweet potatoes, rinsed thoroughly
1/2 cup dry red lentils, cooked
1/4 cup minced dates
1/4 cup shredded coconut, toasted
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons ground ginger
1 jalapeno pepper, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
2 tablespoons cilantro chutney
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons cornstarch, optional
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
extra water, or an egg

MANGO RAITA (all ingredients to taste)

mango chutney
lime juice and/or zest
plain yogurt or sour cream
salt
black mustard seeds

Unless I need sweet potatoes (which are functionally the same thing as yams) to retain their shape (e.g. as fries or in cubes), I use canned because they are so cheap, easily available, and pretty much ready to use right out of the can. Problem is, they are often stored in syrup. Just make sure you rinse the potatoes very thoroughly to get all the extra sugar off.

Preheat oven to 400. Prepare all ingredients as indicated in the recipe list and then combine in a large bowl. I used electric egg beaters and they worked well for pulverizing the potatoes without pureeing the other ingredients. Add a little water, or an egg, if ingredients seem too dry. Form into roughly golf-ball sized kofta and arrange on a non-stick baking sheet. Bake until golden brown (check after about 20 minutes).

Meanwhile, prepare the mango raita by combining all the ingredients in desired proportions. If you’ve never made raita or don’t know what it is, the yogurt or sour cream is the primary ingredient of this condiment, the fruit or vegetable (in this case, mango chutney is used for ease of preparation), should be a secondary amount, and then more lightly on the seasonings to taste. I like a little runnier raita so that it’s good as a dip, but don’t add so much lime juice it gets too liquid-y.

One additional innovation I made with this recipe… the weekend after I made them, I decided to try some modifications to my pakora recipe, and ended up with a lot of pakora batter, so I battered and fried the leftover koftas. Definitely tasty either way.

Late Night Bites: Sidelines with the Ladies’ Beer Circle

Our second regular haunt for the Ladies’ Beer Circle is Sidelines Bar in Millvale on Monday Nights. Unlike our Wednesday night option, the Sharp Edge Beer Emporium in Friendship, you’ve probably never heard of Sidelines unless you live in Millvale or know somebody who is a regular there. Sidelines notoriety may be on the rise, now that they have added a location in Sewickley, but I have known about Sidelines for years precisely because the Spiher/Robinson household have been such dedicated regulars.

“Regulars” may be understating it.

One of the main features of Sidelines is its beer club. Upon joining the club, one gets a cardstock beer list, which is kept on file at the bar until it is filled out. The list contains various categories, such as domestic beers, European beers, draft beers and beers “from everywhere else.” All beers at Sidelines count for the list, but you can’t drink the same beer twice while working on one particular list (with the exception of using up your five “freebie” slots), and you have to fill up each category entirely for the list to be considered complete. I suspect the beer list choices become more challenging as the list narrows; I only started a list a few months ago, so pretty much everything and anything I want to drink counts.

Sabrina and Ted, however, are beer list veterans. I don’t even remember what list, precisely, Sabrina is on right now. 13? 15? Keep in mind that it takes 50 beers to fill each list. The bar offers a diminishing system of rewards for completing lists. The first list complete earns the patron a t-shirt commemorating the event. The second list garners the beer aficionado a personalized beer mug. This mug is kept at the bar and the patron is served drafts from it. The mug is a little bigger than the standard pint, so beer club accomplishment means heartier drafts. Ten lists in, the Sidelines bar fly gets the all-coveted black mug, which affords all the advantages of the first mug, but with the added status it conveys (and at this point the patron gets to take the first mug home).

Both Sabrina and Ted have black mugs and they are working toward a new reward at 20 lists (that’s 1000 beers, folks) that hasn’t entirely been determined because so few people ever make it that far.

And that is why we go to Sidelines on Monday for Ladies’ Beer Circle, because it’s beer club special night. Every beer we drink that counts for the list is $1 off. Now, this special might not be so great at a lot of bars. In fact, a $1 off beers as Sharp Edge wouldn’t be so impressive a special at all; but Sidelines has a ton of beers in the $3 to $4 range, as well as more expensive beers, and beers for $2.50 and $2.75. A dollar off makes a big difference on those cheap brews. Apparently there are also $2.50 well drinks on Monday nights, but we’ve been so dedicated to our beer lists we haven’t taken advantage, but there is also a 1/2 off appetizer special from 10 to midnight, and we frequently take advantage of that.

The appetizers at Sidelines definitely win out over the appetizers at Sharp Edge. For starters, the appetizer prices range from $3 to $6, so getting half off is an attractive special. The appetizers are also just better. The stuffed pretzel is a good one because it is hearty for sopping up beer in the belly, but also relatively cheap ($3.99, regular price); Dayle and I have enjoyed it on a few occasions. The provolone sticks are a favorite all around. I have enjoyed the fried zucchini on many occasions, and it’s always a generous portion (seriously, it may be a whole zucchini, or at least half of a large one). The beer cheese in bread bowl is fun and tasty. The only appetizer I’ve been a little disappointed in was the chicken strips, not because they weren’t tasty, but because it’s only four strips and they aren’t terribly large. I was hungrier at the end of my strips basket than when I walked in. On occasions past, Sabrina and Ted have enjoyed the quesadillas and give good credit to the tastiness of the wings. I’m not a wing person, myself, so I wouldn’t know.

When it comes right down to it, Sidelines is definitely a comparable spot to Sharp Edge in terms of beer value. The beer special on Mondays isn’t quite as good as the Sharp Edge half off drafts on Wednesdays, but the appetizers and wider selection of bargain beers makes up for it. The promise of beer club glory also adds a fun dimension to the bar, as it actively encourages us to try new beers at every turn. Admittedly, Sidelines may be a trek from points south, but for those living in northern areas of the city, Lawrenceville, Bloomfield, East End, it may just be the best bar you’re completely unaware of!

Berbere!

I have recently gone into some depth about my travails in finding a good berbere to use in making Ethiopian cuisine at home. When Amazon jacked up the price of a good and convenient berbere, that was the last straw! I refused to try a different, commercially available berbere spice mix for fear it would once again become commercially unavailable.

The first time I attempted to make a complex berbere (as opposed the the simple berbere I use when cooking for my parents), my efforts were pretty half-assed. My pantry was missing several of the called-for spices, including the all important fenugreek, and so I made some not-too-successful substitutions.

Redoubling my efforts this time around, I consulted at least ten different recipes online to make sure that I could create the most comprehensive and spice-rich recipe possible. I compared recipes to get a rough idea of the proportions of the most common spices in relation to one another. Of course, some recipes were different, and some were larger, and some were smaller, but in those cases I let my own instincts and preferences win out.

Luckily, my renewed efforts toward making my own berbere coincided with the need for a stop at Patel Brothers in Monroeville. Their cilantro chutney is a staple of my pantry, and I find that Indian groceries offer MUCH better prices for ordinary and exotic spices than, say McCormick. It’s also conveniently located across the street from my work, so I brought my list of spices to complete the berbere. I got some ground fenugreek (so I’d have no excuse not to use it), nutmeg, and most exciting, a brand new addition to my spice cabinet, ajwain seeds! Unfortunately, the one spice I didn’t find there was allspice. I hadn’t really thought about it before, but I guess allspice doesn’t come into play in Indian recipes. I turned once again to Amazon and found their best deal… one pound of whole, dried allspice berries for about $10. I believe I now officially have enough allspice to last the rest of my life.

Armed with a new arsenal of spices, I set out to assemble my theoretical berbere. I have been using this berbere with some success, though I am treating it as a working recipe, and so I may change and edit this entry as time goes on:

SARAH’S COMPREHENSIVE BERBERE

5 tablespoons paprika
3 tablespoons fenugreek
2 tablespoons coriander seed
2 tablespoons ground ginger
2 tablespoons hot chili powder (optional)
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 tablespoons cumin
2 teaspoons cardamom
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
2 teaspoons ajwain seeds
2 teaspoons allspice
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon nutmeg

If using any whole spices, grind them in a spice mill or electric coffee grinder. Assemble all ground spices in a plastic container and combine thoroughly. Hot ground pepper can be increased or decreased to taste.

Late Night Bites: Sharp Edge with the Ladies Beer Circle

Earlier this summer, while looking for a place where we could enjoy quality brews after work, our Ladies’ Beer Circle discovered Sharp Edge Wednesdays.

Of course, we all knew about the Sharp Edge previously; anyone who lives in the city and even remotely qualifies as an occasional beer aficionado has heard of the Sharp Edge. Known for its plethora of drafts, augmented by an extensive selection of bottles, the Sharp Edge Beer Emporium in Friendship has a long-standing reputation among beer lovers in the city.

What I didn’t realize was that since the last time I found my way to the Sharp Edge, they have since opened several additional locations throughout our metro area, and have instituted a half priced craft drafts special on Wednesdays.

That’s right, Wednesdays. Not happy hour on Wednesdays, or for some limited number of weird hours on Wednesdays, but all day Wednesdays. And that’s a full half price off every draft on their craft list. That makes it the single best beer special we’ve found.

The craft list features upwards of thirty beers (check out the current beer menu online); in the time since we’ve been going there it appears that some beers (perhaps the most popular) are kept on tap perennially, whereas other beers show up seasonally and/or occasionally and then are replaced by new selections when the keg runs out. The drafts on the craft list at regular price are not cheap, ranging from $4.50 (for Yuengling? That’s extortion) to $6.50 for the bulk of their selections, with some special beers being as much as $8, $9 or even over $10. Thus, one can see why half price nights are such a find. We can enjoy some pretty awesome craft brews at what is fundamentally 2 for 1 (and two is usually all I can drink since they close at midnight during the week)!

When we go to Sharp Edge on Wednesdays, we usually meet up when I get off work, which means around 10 or 10:30pm. This means that our meetings of the Ladies’ Beer Circle typically fall during the Sharp Edge’s nightly half priced food specials, including deals on wings, appetizers and pizzas. And a good thing, too, as many of their munchies are also pretty darn expensive at regular price.

As far as beer specials are concerned, the Sharp Edge wins hands down in terms of quality for the price. The food specials… well, it’s not quite as enthusiastic a recommendation. As I mentioned, the appetizer prices are rather expensive to begin with, so the half price special takes them down to what I consider ordinary prices for bar food.

Some of the appetizers we’ve found enjoyable, if nothing to write home about. The Mediterranean nachos (basically a spinach artichoke dip) and the Double Dipper plate have served us well, especially the later when ordered with the option of avocado salsa (which is fundamentally a tasty guacamole). The fried appetizers haven’t been as great. We’ve had bad experiences with the boneless chicken wings and the fried provolone wedges. Other fried items have been okay; the fried pita wedges that come with dips have never given us trouble, and I recently had an order of sweet potato fries with no ill consequences.. but we are left reluctant to order chicken bites or provolone again.

But our Ladies’ Beer Circle is looking for precisely that: beer, not dinner. We keep going back to enjoy the best beer special in town!

Sharp Edge Beer Emporium on Urbanspoon

The Ladies’ Beer Circle

Earlier this summer, an important cultural institution formed right under my nose. It was a balmy Thursday night in mid-May; accompanied by very little fanfare, I met up with Sabrina, one of my best friends from college, and Dayle, one of my best friends from high school, at Sidelines for a beer. Unbeknownst to any of the three of us, a tradition was born… thenceforward we would look back on that day as the very first meeting of the Ladies’ Beer Circle.

Except that Ted came along, too… and I drank whiskey and diet… but it was the first time the three of us met up for drinks…

And we vowed that night to meet up again at the Sharp Edge, and thus I count it as the snowball’s roll in the venerable tradition that is now the Ladies’ Beer Circle.

The mission of the Ladies’ Beer Circle is to cultivate among the three of us opportunities for the appreciation of good beer… hopefully at cheap prices. The Ladies’ Beer Circle, however, is not an exclusive organization, and we do not discriminate against men (whew! right?). Ted is a frequent attache to the Ladies’ Beer Circle, Nik has shown up on occasion, even Roger came along once (though, mostly against his will because circumstances of transportation required his presence). Other ladies are more than welcome to participate in the circle, and men are always welcome to show up and chime in their opinions on beer… though, they can never truly be part of the Ladies’ Beer Circle by virtue of its very nature and founding principles.

Well, okay… we don’t really have a mission statement, or any founding principles contingent on our being ladies… but we came up with a moderately cool name, right? And we’re not going to change it just because some men want to show up and drink with us sometimes; we’re certainly not going to discourage men from showing up, though, since in most documented cases the presence of men we know does not decrease our enjoyment of beer, and on select occasions has been known to increase our enjoyment of beer.

So far, we have two regular haunts for meetings of the Ladies’ Beer Circle: The Sharp Edge on Wednesdays and Sidelines on Mondays. Each week, a consensus of us three core members determines where we will meet. Why, then, is there a particular day associated with a particular location? Because that’s when the bar has discounts and specials enabling us to enjoy great beer at a reasonable price (we aren’t wealthy Ladies of Leisure, after all). Such things are easy enough to find around happy hour, but all three of us work odd hours and often aren’t able to get to the bar early enough for happy hour specials. Most other beer appreciation societies we’ve found schedule their outings during hours when at least one of us is at work. And so our remedy has been the de facto founding our illustrious Ladies’ Beer Circle.

Stay tuned for more details on our adventures in beer!

Salmon or Seafood Cakes

Crab cakes are wonderful and delicious; problem is that good lump crab meat, even the stuff in a can (not the “crab dust” you get in a tuna-style can) is super expensive, i.e. over $10 for even the smallest usable amount. Salmon and other types of fish fillets, and even other types of shellfish like scallops, are much more reasonably priced.

My trick for making a tasty “crab cake” without the crab is to use salmon, instead. This feat can be accomplished, of course, with canned salmon; I still consider that an upgrade because tuna-style canned salmon tends to be of much better quality than the canned crab sitting on the shelf next to it. But if moderate poverty (and not extreme poverty) is driving you toward a cheaper crab alternative, frozen or fresh salmon fillets work swimmingly. I can imagine that tilapia or other types of fish fillets would work just as well.

When I cooked these the other day, I used what my parents had leftover around the house. There were three individually packaged salmon fillets as well as a handful of bay scallops.

SARAH’S AWESOME SEAFOOD CAKES

2 large eggs, lightly beaten
15 oz or so of seafood, salmon fillets, tilapia, scallops, etc.
1 small apple, peeled and shredded
1/3-1/2 cup fine dry breadcrumb
2 green onions, finely chopped
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon curry powder (I use Badia)
1 teaspoon paprika
(optional) 1/4 cup shredded cheddar
salt and black pepper

Cilantro Sauce

mayo
dijon mustard
lime juice
cilantro, chopped

Lightly grill, bake or pan fry any fish fillets. If you’re feeling ambitious you can marinate the fillets ahead of time in citrus juice and ginger. The fillets don’t necessarily need to be baked through (the cakes themselves will be baked, after all), just enough to be able to fork flake the fillet. Shellfish can simply be thawed. Larger pieces can be chopped up.

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. If the mixture is too wet, add more breadcrumbs. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Shape into cakes and arrange on a non-stick baking sheet. Bake until golden brown. Serve with cilantro sauce.

Sarah’s New Secret Recipe Chicken Parmesan

I don’t think I’ve ever even been tempted to order chicken parmesan at a restaurant. There are tons of dishes I like better at any Italian restaurant, including eggplant parm, and so I have always ordered those without having been tempted by the chicken parm.

My mother, on the other hand, is nuts for chicken parm. Perhaps it started as an affinity for veal parm… but as veal grew to have a dubious reputation she switched over to chicken. Maybe I’ve just never been enough of a meat enthusiast to see the appeal of a breaded cutlet on spaghetti, but chicken parm has always been Saundra’s thing, not mine… until recently when Saundra made a statement so bold and so shocking that I just had to respond…

She says that the best Chicken Parm she’s ever had is from the Olive Garden.

Dorito CrumbsSurely the mass produced, MSG-filled, big chain restaurant chicken parm couldn’t possibly be better than fresh, hand-made dishes from local Italian restaurants? Minutellos? Alexanders? Pleasure Bar? Nope, said Saundra, the Olive Garden chicken parm is better than all of those. I refused to stand for such a notion, and so I set out to make a chicken parm that Saundra would find better than the Olive Garden. I researched recipes, I consulted Italian home chefs, I assembled my ingredients and I was ready to go. I cooked up a batch of chicken parm, served it up to Saundra and….

It was good, she said, but Olive Garden was still better.

What!? How was it possible that my from-scratch, fresh-ingredients, straight-from-the-oven chicken parm could still be eclipsed by Olive Garden?

“I don’t know what the difference is,” said Saundra. “There’s something about it… you just can’t stop eating it. It’s addictive… like Doritos!”

And that was when I got the idea to make chicken parm with Doritos in the breading! Saundra declares this recipe to be a contender against Olive Garden; I suspect she may never concede Olive Garden completely, but in the meantime:

SARAH’S DORITO CHICKEN PARMESAN

Chicken ParmesanBreading

equal parts
– plain bread crumbs
– grated parmesan cheese
– Dorito crumbs

eggs
milk
flour
salt

The Rest of it

1 to 2 lbs. chicken breast, cut and pounded thin
vegetable oil
pasta and red sauce
additional cheese, shredded parm or provolone (optional)

If you have particularly large chicken breasts you may have to cut them cross-wise through the middle (like slicing a bagel) as well as cutting them in half. You want to pound the breast thin, and pounding the entire thickness of the breast is not only a lot of work, but it’s going to leave the breast meat too pulverized to work with. Chicken breast falls apart more easily when pounded than does pork or beef, so I thin it out first with a cut and then with a light pounding.

Lightly salt the pounded breasts and set aside.

Prepare the breading first by crumbing the Doritos. Place them in a large freezer bag and use a rolling pin to crush them into as fine a crumb as you can. Transfer them to a new bag (the one you used for crumbing will inevitably incur damage and holes in the process) and add an equal amount of plain breadcrumbs and grated parmesan cheese. I used a cup each of Dorito crumbs, bread crumbs and parmesan the last time I made it.

Beat a couple eggs with a splash of milk and pour it into a wide bowl or plate.

Put some flour in another freezer bag. I like to use gram flour (i.e. garbanzo bean flour) in order to keep the glycemic index low for Saundra, but any flour should work okay. Add a little salt and/or pepper to the flour if you like.

Toss a few cutlets at a time with the flour. When they are thoroughly coated, dip them in the eggs and then in the crumbs. You may find it easier to do the crumb layer on a plate, rather than in the bag.

Repeat with each cutlet. Stack them with parchment or wax paper in between to avoid sticking. Refrigerate while getting the other items assembled. If you are making red sauce from scratch, you might want to start it now; if using a jar, just put it over a low fire to warm.

Heat about an inch or so or oil in a wide skillet. Have a few baking sheets and an old kitchen towel standing by. Fry the breaded chicken cutlets in the hot oil. There should be enough oil to cover the cutlets when a few are in the pan. Turn the cutlets to make sure they are getting done evenly on both sides. When cutlets are golden brown, place them first on the old kitchen towel (just to absorb some of the excess oil) and then on the baking sheet. Once you get enough cutlets to fill the baking sheet, you can put some additional cheese on top before putting them in the oven to keep warm. Keep them at 200 or 250 degrees, again, just to keep them warm while finishing the meal.

When all cutlets are fried and in the oven, finish dinner preparations, i.e. the pasta and red sauce and/or other side dishes. Check on the cutlets often and turn down the temperature if you have to leave them in awhile, as you don’t want them to get dried out.

Serve with pasta and plenty of sauce on the side.

Invisalign: The Home Stretch

I’m currently wearing my 31st set of aligners, and it’s been just over a year since I started the Invisalign process. I couldn’t be happier with my result so far, it’s been a much easier process than I ever imagined when I started, and while I’m excited for the final results, I find I’m in no rush for the treatment to end, as Invisalign has become such a way of life for me that I don’t imagine my day-to-day existence being appreciably different without it.

Am I the exception to the rule?

I went to my orthodontist earlier this week, and he praised me for wearing my aligners with dedication, said that my teeth are moving great, filed my bottom canines a bit and sent me on my way, intoning with encouragement, “We’re in the home stretch!”

The appointment left me wondering, though, why this process is apparently so much different for so many other people. My orthodontist said that he could tell by looking at my teeth that I was wearing my aligners fastidiously; other of his patients apparently experience frustration and disappointment when the Invisalign doesn’t move their teeth effectively. According to my doctor, they aren’t wearing their aligners according to the schedule.

Problem is, I don’t think I’m that great about wearing my aligners either. Now, I’ve never gone a whole day without them, I’ve never lost an aligner (though I came close once when I pulled them out of my mouth and tossed them into a corner while sleepwalking), I’ve never gone on a trip and forgot to take them along (seriously, people walk out of the house for vacation without realizing they aren’t in?)… but I’m supposed to wear them a minimum of 20 hours a day, and I don’t really think I’m doing that. Honestly, I just don’t keep track, and if they end up being out for more than four hours, I don’t sweat it. There was at least one time when fell asleep when they were surely out for 12 hours straight. Whenever they’ve been out for an extended period of time, the aligners are tight going back in, they even hurt a bit, but I just use my chewies, chew them back in place, and move on.

On the other hand, I guess I’m pretty good about wearing them during the week; it’s only on weekends that I find myself in situations where they might be out for hours at a time. I frequently leave them out for as much as 6 hours at a time, usually because I eat watching TV and then fall asleep on the couch (I’m somewhat narcoleptic). During the week, though, my routine is pretty set, and so I suppose they stay in the minimum 20 hours.

It’s partly because I do A LOT of stuff with them in that other people wouldn’t. When I first got my aligners, the orthodontist’s assistant told me that I could take them out if I needed to do any public speaking. I teach dance for a living, often to large groups of people, and if I took my aligners out whenever I did public speaking, it would be absurd. I recently taught a lesson to a large crowd, probably fifty people, and the idea of taking out my aligners never crossed my mind.

I recently read an article on the Invisalign Facebook page about a teen undergoing Invisalign treatment who essentially “saved up” hours by wearing her aligners around the clock so that she could go to prom without them. My reaction was pure bafflement. I think that my teeth actually look better with the aligners in! I often say that I “feel naked” without them. If I attend an event with food or a meal, it’s the easiest thing in the world to pop into the ladies’ room to take them out… and we women usually retreat back to the restroom anyway after dinner to touch up our make-up, right? That’s the perfect excuse to clean your teeth and put them back in. Sometimes I even like having the excuse to leave a boring conversation at the table.

I have also come to drink most anything with the aligners in. When I first started, I was conscientious about drinking only clear liquids when I was wearing the aligners… but then I got over it. The only time I ever take my aligners out to drink something is when I have hot coffee in the morning. Otherwise, I drink caffeinated soda on car trips, whiskey & coke at the bar, beer after work with the girls, iced coffee when I’m sleep deprived at work, wine at studio parties… all with my aligners in. Unless I’m going to eat something, I don’t take them out. Are my aligners stained at the end of two weeks? Of course. Are they so stained you can tell it when I’m wearing them? Nope. The only way I know they’re stained is when I see them side-by-side with the new aligners at the end of two weeks.

So, maybe I am being good about wearing my aligners? Maybe I’m not? I just take them out when I need to, put them back in when I get a chance, chew them back into place when I leave them out too long. Shrug? It’s just not a big deal for me.

But maybe my experience isn’t typical? I have remarked in previous blogs about how so many people complained and whined and bemoaned the process in my online research, but my experience was no big deal. When I went to my orthodontist earlier this week, he recommended doing a little more filing between my bottom teeth. He prefers to do it progressively, as he sees the teeth move, rather than all at once, like Invisalign recommends. He contends that Invisalign usually over-estimates the amount of filing needed. After recommending a bit of filing on each of my canines, he asked if it would be okay with me, with enough uncertainty in his voice that I felt like he honestly expected I might say “no.” I know people online cry trauma at their experiences of having their teeth filed, but it’s been an utterly neutral experience for me. This all makes me wonder, are most people just really big babies about their treatments, or am I having an easier than average time?

A few weeks ago I was at an electrolysis appointment (now, getting your hair follicles individually burned off one-by-one… that’s something to whine and complain about!) and I happened to mention to my electrolysist that I had Invisalign. It was at least the third or fourth appointment I’d had with her, and she was more than a bit surprised at my revelation, saying that she’d had patients in the past with Invisalign, and that she could very clearly see the aligners, and their speech was very cleared affected. I couldn’t imagine why or how. I’ve only ever had two people notice my Invisalign without previous knowledge; one was a mother looking into getting Invisalign for her kids, the second was a new student taking lessons with me as a single (i.e. I was dancing with him) who caught a glimpse of a small shadow created by one of my attachments and asked if maybe I had lipstick on my teeth. Most of the time, even when I point out my aligners to somebody, that person squints and strains and has a hard time even discerning them from my teeth until I point directly to one of my attachments, and even then, sometimes give up and say they can’t tell. What Invisalign was my electrolysist seeing? Was this some earlier version of the Invisalign treatment from the 90’s? Did these people have some sort of shoddy orthodontist planning their progress? Am I just an exception to the rule?

The mystery of how my Invisalign experience differs from others may never have an answer. I feel like I’m a misbehaved Invisalign patient, but maybe other people are infinitely worse than me. Based on my experience, I cannot imagine how any Invisalign patient who is earnestly motivated to fix his/her teeth (reluctant teens, on the other hand, probably would have trouble) and contracts with an experienced orthodontist, could possibly have less than good results. Seriously, what’s going on here?

Mesir Wat, or Ethiopian Red Lentils

For all of my zeal over curry cookery, it is perhaps strange that I had never attempted a lentil dish. Indian cuisine has no shortage of dals (i.e. curry-like amalgams of pulses cooked with spices), but I have never found myself especially excited when I’ve tried them on the buffet. It is surprising, when I consider how much I love black beans and hummus and other such legume-centric foods. Sabrina mentioned recently that whenever she eats a dal on the India Buffet, she thinks that she ought to try making lentils, and I recently had some lentils at Abay that I enjoyed… though, to be fair, I enjoy pretty much everything I eat at Abay.

Two Sundays ago, I was making a rehash of the African Peanut Curry I posted recently, and with all this talk of lentils fresh in my mind, I couldn’t help thinking that a lentil dish would make a good compliment, being easy and cheap, and it would give me an opportunity to attempt making a more complex berbere (see previous link for more discussion of berbere and its complications).

I had to do a bit of grocery shopping to get started, and so a brief excursion to the Giant Eagle ensued. I seemed to recall a sector of one aisle in the Giant Eagle with bags upon bags of different dried beans and lentils; I had never really shopped there myself, as I prefer to get my garbanzos and other beans canned, yet surely, I thought, many varieties of lentil would await me there. Well, it turned out they had only two varieties of lentil, regular brown and split green. But all the recipes I’d found for Mesir Wat called for red lentils? Surely such a thing must be had at the Giant Eagle? Looking further in the imported foods aisle, I was also surprised not to find red lentils among the Goya products, but lo and behold, there was a bag of red lentils further down the aisle among the Middle Eastern imports. $3.75. That price might not seem terrible on its own, but considering that the same amount of brown lentils (a 1 pound bag) was only a dollar and change, paying upwards of four bucks for red lentils seemed like overkill. Surely, using brown lentils wouldn’t make that much difference, right?

I went home, looked up some berbere recipes and got to work. I will readily admit that my efforts toward a more complex berbere were not as conscientious as they could have been that day. Nearly every recipe I found for berbere that included more than four or five ingredients (I believe a simpler berbere also has its utility in my spice cabinet) listed fenugreek among the seasonings. I am not a huge fan of fenugreek seed; I do have it in my vast spice collection, but I find it a little too pungent and it does not seem to me to add much in terms of pleasant flavor to dishes where I’ve used it. Methi leaves (the product of a sprouted fenugreek seed) on the other hand, I am more than willing to use and keep a stock of it specifically for my oft-made saag recipe, but I fail to see redeeming qualities in fenugreek seed. Still, I was willing to use it in my berbere for the sake of authenticity, but I couldn’t find it easily (my spice collection is vast and usually in an advanced state of disorganization), and so in a “screw it” moment decided to move forward through the recipe without it. Further down the list of berbere spices, I ran into another roadblock when I also couldn’t find my nutmeg and realized that I don’t have allspice and never did. I substituted mace and a big of pumpkin pie spice. Shrug? There was always a chance it might turn out to be the best berbere ever, right?

Well, it wasn’t the best ever. It wasn’t the worst either. My first attempt at Mesir Wat, using the brown lentils and the cobbled-together berbere was okay. I didn’t mind eating it, but it wasn’t a flavor combination I found myself anxious to make again. And yet, I did not want to give up on lentils; I knew that I had done a half-assed job of the recipe to begin with, so I took to the internet in search of greater authenticity.

One of the better resources I’ve found, oddly enough, for obtaining harder-to-find culinary items at lower prices is Amazon. My first aim was to find red lentils. There were quite a number of good choices, including one that works out to $1.73 a pound (i.e. the size of a standard grocery package), but I opted for a deal that had eight 1 lb. packages for about $18 (i.e. $2.25 a pound), as I didn’t want to commit to an enormous supply of red lentils until I saw if I would actually use them.

Secondly, I did a search for berbere. If Sabrina couldn’t come up with a good berbere on her own, and I couldn’t come up with a good berbere on my own, maybe it was time to use a pre-packaged mix. I have come to favor making my own spice mixes for a variety of reasons. It ensures consistency within my kitchen. I know exactly what’s in my recipes and I know it will come out the same every time. I don’t have to worry that the spice mix I’m using becomes discontinued or is dropped by available vendors, then I’m forced to find a different mix, and inevitably my recipes come out differently. This is why I make my own garam masala; every time I try to use a different version of this spice mix, it seems like there’s always something in it I don’t like or expect. One I tried had way too much hing, another was much too heavy on cloves and anise.

Berbere seemed a promising exception, however, as we were suffering from the opposite problem. The berbere mixes we managed to come up with seemed to be lacking important flavors that we could not uncover. For all its mystery, a pre-packaged mix might be just what we needed. In looking for a berbere online, I wanted something relatively inexpensive, but also something in a smaller package; just in case the berbere had a large proportion of some spice I found particularly offensive, I didn’t want to have to commit to buying it in bulk. I was lucky enough to find a 2 oz shaker of Ajika Berbere for $2.72 (unfortunately, it has since jumped in price, only a week later, which is the great downside of Amazon, and one of the reasons I was hesitant to use a pre-packaged spice mix in the first place).

Armed with two remedies to my last attempt at Mesir Wat, I was ready to try again. Here is the recipe I used:

MESIR WAT

Mesir Wat1 medium onion, chopped
2-3 teaspoons garlic, minced
3 tablespoons vegetable oil or bacon fat
3 tablespoons bebere seasoning
2 cups red lentils
2 cups beef stock, or veggie stock
1 (6oz) can tomato paste
extra water, as needed

Saute the onions and garlic in the fat until onions are softened. If you don’t save bacon fat to keep on hand, simply cut up some bacon into small pieces and fry it up and leave the bacon in pan. The presence of bacon only makes things taste better, right? Add berbere and simmer on low heat for 20 minutes, adding about 1/4 cup water as needed to keep contents of skillet or pan from getting too dried out and burning. Add lentils, stock and tomato paste. Simmer covered on low until the lentils are cooked and liquid is absorbed. Additional water can be added if lentils need to cook longer to desired doneness. Serve with rice and/or flat bread.

Twenty minutes for simmering the spices did seem a little long to me; usually I abbreviate such instructions, but since my first attempt at this dish turned out underwhelming, I decided to follow the base recipe I was using more to the letter than I had before. Frying spices does change their flavor, usually by increasing intensity, so I was game to try it, and the recipe turned out very well, so I’m sticking with the 20 minute instruction.

The unfortunate thing is that I cannot stick with the berbere I found and bought on Amazon. I thought I had finally found a good, cheap, convenient spice mix for Ethiopian… but when I went online to find the link so I could include it in this blog, I found that the price of the 2 oz. bottle of berbere had jumped to $9.62. Really? Almost ten dollars for a spice they offered at three dollars only a week before? I understand that markets change and food prices increase or decrease depending on a number of factors, but the mystery of Amazon’s fast and dramatic price fluctuations eludes me. The spice mix might have been tasty, but it isn’t worth the absurdity of paying ten dollars for a tiny amount.

I am now back to my initial conundrum: Where to find a good berbere? Do I hazard to purchase another pre-packaged mix and risk either hating it… or liking it only to have the price or availability change? Do I go back to my own spice cabinet and try to assemble a worthy berbere on my own? Either way, it’s back to the drawing board with berbere!