Monday, June 23, 2014

Mixed Plate: Keeping It Real (and Craptacular)

There's about as much truth in advertising as there is honesty in blogging. That gorgeous turkey dinner with all the trimmings you posted in time for the holiday season was probably made months in advance, just to make sure the timing was right for the post to go live, and catch the fervor of the celebratory meal hive-mind. And all those perfectly-lit cocktails were likely mixed around 9am, when the natural light was just right, to shine through the martini glass with a translucent glow. You either threw out the drink once the photos were taken, or were buzzed before lunchtime.There's certainly nothing wrong with it -- I've done this, and I know others who do the same; it's just part of the content game to stay on-trend and put food's best foot forward. But what about when something goes awry? What happens when some personal holiday or celebration just goes all kinds of craptacular wrong? Do you share it, or keep the dark secret buried like a body under the floorboards??

Craptacular Day = Receive Pasta - Photo by Wasabi Prime
I'm the last person to put a blogworthy, perfect-life shine on anything. We can all admit to a degree that life is disastrously, wonderfully imperfect, and that blogging is just a form of escapism. Blogs rarely depict Real Life and I'd argue most narratives in the Blogiverse are "aspirational living," trying to make sure the piles of dirty laundry, screaming children, and stacks of clutter are carefully cropped out of the Martha Stewart-esque pastorals. Which is fair -- we have our own share of hot messes, why would we want to see someone else's??

I was organizing my backlog of photos and came across occasions that should have been blogworthy: besotted, heart-shaped Valentine's Day and super-duper Birthday Funtime. Two celebratory times where you lavish yourself and others with favorite food and drink. Except this year. Valentine's Day was a sickly disaster, and the whole birthday weekend turned into a sleepless, drug-addled disappointment.

Valentine's Day - Party of One (who doesn't have the flu) - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I had it all planned out for Valentine's Day -- make a spicy tuna tartare, to be served on savory toasts, and some buttery seared scallops with a side of vegetables. Not that earth-shattering, but I never cook seafood, much to Brock's chagrin. While I like eating it, the fishy smell lingers like a rude houseguest, which was why the raw tuna was perfect, and scallops aren't strong-smelling. A seafood feast for my Sweetheart! Plus a nice bottle of wine from Fidelitas I'd been saving for an occasion dinner. I had everything planned out, from Valentine's Day dinner to fancy homemade hamburgers over the weekend, since that's a favorite of Brock's. We could happily avoid the busy restaurant crowds while enjoying good food at home, in our jammies. That is.... until my Valentine got sick. A flu-like bug swept through his office, unfortunately knocking out several sweethearts that weekend, including Brock. He could barely eat, he was miserable.

My moment of Painful Blog-Honesty: I plated one well-intended appetizer plate of tuna tartare with truffled toasts for the sake of Instagram, and then sat on the couch and ate it all like a forlorn Cookie Monster. Actually, that was all I had on Valentine's Day -- the tuna was sushi-grade and not meant for leftovers. It was eat or throw away, and no way was I wasting that. I cooked the scallops a couple of days later, but used them in a corn chowder, which was far less pretty than the intended dinner, but something easier for Brock to eat, and at least he got to have something after feeling so awful.

The Sadhorns Sweetheart weekend suffered from a failure to launch, but it was a reminder that special meals don't have to be on Hallmark holidays, and try not to put too many emotional eggs in one basket. Valentine's Day is kind of stressful, even for a stay-at-home dinner. Even if the special meal turned into a party of one, our personal traditions of homemade notes didn't falter. I still got a badass Buffy the Vampire Slayer Giles-themed card, Brock got a Bob's Burgers Tina-gram and hey, there were cookies!

A flu-stricken Valentine's Day made better with funny cards and COOKIES - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Sickly Valentine's Day was followed up by Double Birthday Disappointment in April. Brock's birthday and mine are within days of one another, and it had the rare timing of being near a weekend, which had the potential for great festiveness. Our dear Indy's health has been up and down, but took a dip that week, requiring immediate chemo-action, and us basically dropping everything (including sleep) to mind her treatment, round the clock, for days. A special birthday dinner was cancelled, I was supposed to attend this year's Voracious Awards, but had to back out at the last second. Discouraged and sad didn't even begin to describe things. My birthday really kind of totally horribly sucked, and I'm ashamed/not ashamed of admitting it still bums me out how bad this was.

Ugly handmade pasta and ice cream are the Birthday Band-Aid - Photos by Wasabi Prime
But that's when food can save the day. It doesn't do any good to dwell on sad times, so I used that anxious energy to make pasta. I don't have a pasta machine, just a rolling pin and the personal Gun Show. It's not even great pasta when you do this -- the finished dough is thick, often times over-worked, and it's a lot of effort for what seems like very little yield, but sometimes food can be about the process more than the result. You have to stay focused when you're cooking, your mind isn't allowed to wander, and mine needed to find purpose for these noodles. I had leftover slow-cooked beef picked from soup bones (you can get a surprising amount of meat from those, by the way), which was made into a hearty tomato and garlic ragu. The thick sauce was tossed with the even thicker noodles, but after being stung with so much disappointment, this wonky-looking pile of food was a great comfort.

I had this pasta, microwaved as leftovers on my birthday. It was fuel for staying awake until 4am the following morning, keeping watch over our sick dog, before tagging Brock in for his shift and I finally got some sleep. It was like this for most of our fabulous Double Birthday Weekend - sleepless and grumpy, but I was thankful to have a lot of homemade meals handy, especially vanilla-orange ice cream in the freezer, since we couldn't leave the house much.

Food can be made camera-ready for the perfect meal. It can be a signpost for fabulous places you're at. Food can also be an escape from the day's stresses, and it's okay if everything isn't picture perfect. I also think when it comes to blogs, it's totally okay to say when life isn't as perfect as the interwebs would like us to be. 

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