|Cheers to you in the New Year! - Photo by Wasabi Prime|
We were greeted with one of the most colorful tables of food seen in a long time. The winter of soups, stews and roasts, while hearty, yield a subdued palette compared to the array of bright, fresh hues like the feast set out before us. Mrs. J is a fantastic cook and baker. She laid out a wide array of fresh vegetables, savory dips like a roasted pepper white bean dip and a rich tapenade, fresh-baked breads, garlic roasted to candy-sweetness, and her sister and brother-in-law brought some delicious and gloriously spreadable cheeses. Visiting their home is always a reminder to gain a familiarity with the food we prepare, check labels, buy local, and keep things marvelously simple so as to ensure the purity of flavor.
|Happy New OM NOM NOM NOM - Photos by Wasabi Prime|
We brought some wine as well as some spice-roasted almonds and cashews (recipe below). We had a head's up that this night would pack a 1-2 punch of board games and cheesealicious Mystery Science Theater 3000 viewing, which ensured a hearty, Hell-to-the-Yeah on our attendance that night. Snacking on pistachios and the spicy nuts, as well as wine and potent Manhattans mixed by Mr. R, we set about world domination and the amassing of profit by playing Rio Grande Games' Dominion. It's a fun and easy to learn card-based game that relies on strategy, and every round is different as the rules of the game changes with a shuffle of a deck of player actions. You will probably hear this game mentioned a few times, as it's been present at a lot of social gatherings over the holidays, and Mr. Wasabi and I have been doing regular board game nights with friends to stave off the winter cabin fever.
|Savory snacks and a visit from the Mustachio Pistachio! - Photos by Mr + Ms Wasabi Prime|
Once the Sharpie came out and faces were being drawn on empty pistachio shells (Mustachio Pistachio!), we knew we were getting punchy enough to be ready to absorb the humorous wisdom of Mike, Joel and the Bots of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K). I'm sure you've at least heard of this series, which began back in 1988: a sleepy-faced guy named Joel gets trapped on the Satellite of Love (SOL, yes), forced to watch horrible movies with his companion robots, Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot, adding their own witty commentary as they sit silhouetted in the lower right corner of the screen. The sets were as cardboard low-budget as the movies they were screening, but the humor was pun-laden, literary, pop culture-arcane, and as witty as it gets. The series ran for over ten years, swapping host Joel for new guy Mike towards the end, which is usually the Mason-Dixon line for this series over whether you're a Joel fan or a Mike fan. Team Joel all the way, but Mike was a cutie, too.
|From the Satellite of Love to the Space Needle... to angry action hero face - Photos by Wasabi Prime|
We started on a 1958 English-dubbed movie called The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy , which looked to be one of the earlier MST3K episodes. Dr. Forrester's evil sidekick Frank was not there yet, the sets looked extra-rickety, and even Tom and Crow's voices sounded different. The movie was of course terrible, but it was the worst kind of terrible in that it was agonizingly long and boring -- who would have thought robots and Aztec mummies would be so bland? Before the clock struck midnight, we switched to watch the midnight countdown at the Space Needle, took buzzed photos of the TV to pretend we were there, and switched gears to the action-packed adventure, Future War, which inexplicably featured futuristic dinosaurs. Don't ask, as I still have no idea what this was about other than it had a hooker turned nun, a Swiss-born Jean Claude Van Damme lookalike, and yes... rubbery dinosaurs. As the Bots would say: Van Dammit, this was bad. The fact that this was made in 1997, a relatively recent release compared to other squalid gems MST3K unearths, makes it that much more of a stinker, knowing it had the benefit of better resources. But I guess that's what makes MST3K such a blessing -- it finds the things Hollywoodland would prefer to stay buried and forgotten, and then attacks with merciless teasing.
|Make mine a Manhattan, with a side of chocolate cookies - Photos by Wasabi Prime|
And so this night ended with rubber dinosaurs and delicious no-bake chocolate oatmeal cookies made by Mrs. J, along with glasses of New Year's bubbly. More and more, I find that the best dining experiences are often ones in our own homes, with the hospitality of friends. This officially concluded the holiday season, but certainly not the gathering of loved ones for good times. If this ensures that 2010 will be full of happy times shared with friends, then I think that is a good sign of things to come.
Chili Spiced Sweet and Sour Mixed Nuts
(for a crowd of 6-8 people)
13.5 oz unsalted almonds
13.5 oz unsalted cashews
(or any mixture of nuts of your choice; unsalted preferable)
2 tblsp canola oil
1 tblsp chili powder
1 tblsp dark brown sugar
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp kosher salt (leave out if nuts are already salted)
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine nuts in a large bowl. Add dry spices, lemon zest, lemon juice and oil -- toss to mix and coat all the nuts. Spread mixture on two baking sheets. Spread evenly. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, keeping an eye on the nuts so that they don't burn. Remove from oven, toss and flip contents of each baking sheet and put back into the oven for another 5-10 minutes. Sugar should be caramelized and nuts should be slightly browned but not burned. Cooking time may vary on different types of nuts, depending on their oil content. Let the finished nuts cool and serve.