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My name is Liz. I need direction. I overuse commas. My house is a mess, my hair needs a trim, and I have no marketable skills: It's fun here, you'll see!

Got a question, comment, proposal of marriage? Great! Email me at liz@theproductivecough.com

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September 21st, 2011

Chicken Wing Adventure Time

Hey, have you guys ever had chicken wings? Chicken Wings 1Because, here’s something: I’d never really had them until Friday. Well, I mean I’d had a chicken wing here or there. But they were either amateurish and gross or so spicy I wanted to hurl them into the road and scream. Friday was the first time I’d ever been properly schooled in the fine art of Chicken Wingery.

I went with a friend of mine who, if it was legal, would probably marry a chicken wing. I thought it best such a person accompany me on this kind of outing, since I’m always intimidated by any food that has bones in it. This is because one time, years ago, my mom bought and cooked some “discount fish” for our dinner one night. She put the platter of white, flaky fish meat on the table and said cheerfully, “Now, this wasn’t the most expensive fish, so there might be some bones.” Boy, she wasn’t kidding. It was like biting into a pin cushion. At one point I looked up at Louie, who was trying so hard not to gag that his eyes were watering. “Help,” he said softly. (Although, because he had to form the word around the bony fish bolus seated on his tongue, it sounded like “hehwp.”) I gurgled a little, because that was all I could do and pulled some bones out of my mouth. Finally, Louie gave up altogether. “Abort,” he moaned, and let the ball of half-chewed fish roll out of his mouth onto his plate. It was the first time we’d ever been fully unable to eat something that my brilliant cook of a mother had made for us.

And it changed us.

So, I wasn’t about to go blindly into a meal that was so obviously bone-centric. I needed a guide. I needed a Wing Man. (I’m so, so sorry… but I think we all knew that joke was inevitable.)

The first thing I learned is that you have to eat your wings with blue cheese, “none of that ranch shit.” Apparently it’s for losers.

Chicken Wings 1- edit 2

There was also a lesson in anatomy. A wing is composed of two parts: The drumstick and the “flat.” You can eat both. Flats are more awesome, though, because you can bust them apart and have Duel Meat Time. (That is not an industry term.) I got a plate containing eight chicken units. This means that my dinner represented the death of two chickens, which is not the best thing to tell yourself as you’re rending delicious, delicious flesh from bone. My plate also featured curly fries which I was told were there to “help soak up the grease.” When you’re using fried potatoes to soak up grease from something else, you’re in for an enormous treat.

What you do at this point is dunk the wing into the blue cheese and shove it into the side of your mouth and begin frantically dismantling chicken flesh with your bicuspids while carrying on a conversation. Or, if you’re me, you hold the chicken wing daintily in both hands and nibble at it with your front teeth like a rat while dodging eye contact. Then you ask your dining companion, “Am I doing it right?” Which is the stupidest thing that has ever come out of my mouth, bar none.

Then you have a bunch more chicken wings.

By this time, the spiciness of the sauce starts to build up on your tongue (and face and hands and pants) and you need this:

Chickens Wings 4

Carrots and celery. They’re the palate cleansers, I was told. It’s very refined, like “a sorbet of sorts.” A sorbet that you dunk into sauce. And, should you wish to avoid looking like a complete orange-faced lunatic,  those pre-moistened towelettes are critical.

I guess, if Friday is any indication, the rest of a proper chicken wing meal should be a complete whirlwind. I don’t really remember much, except for that I used WAY more napkins than anyone else in the restaurant and that, at some point during the madness, I hit my head.

Chicken Wings 3

The feedback on my meat pickin’ skills was positive. The only things I left on the bones were those bits of weird chicken sinew, which I guess is points off, but whatever.

Bones close

Turns out, I freaking love chicken wings, as I haven’t been able to get the entire experience out of my mind since. Although, I do feel I would have enjoyed the meal more if I wasn’t doing Dead Chicken Math the whole time.

June 22nd, 2011

Chef Liz In: It’s a Gol-Dang Mystery!

Do this: Rate how much you love pudding – any pudding – on a scale from 1-10. If your answer ranked 8 or above, commence weeping! Here comes Noodle Pudding!

Noodle Pudding- Front

This brings up a lot of questions, the first being, “Those white things floating around… are they maybe moths?” and the second being, “Okay, well are they bones then?”

WRONG.

Because guess what? I don’t know WHAT they are. And neither do the good folks at Curtin Publications in New York, I’d wager. Look at the ingredients. Nothing fits!

Noodle Pudding- Back

 

They aren’t golden raisins or cornflakes and they look too rigid to be softened butter particles.

It remains a mystery.

As does the suggested menu. Romaine Salad AND Broccoli? WHAT? That seems like cellulose overkill. Although, to be fair, it might be a preemptive fiber strike, a way to “unstick” the Noodle Pudding before it takes up a permanent residence along your intestinal walls. Also: Why on earth would you ever make anything with a name that even remotely resembled “Prune Whip?” It conjures up images of jars of Miracle Whip (eek) and old women telling their weight loss support groups about the time they ate a whole bag of dried plums without realizing what they were and boy was that a long night.

Another mystery is how it’s only 195 calories a serving with all that butter and sugar. Actually, I think I’ve figured it out. Of the 1,045 calories in a serving, only 195 (on average) are retained by humans. The other 850 either go into the trash compactor or the family dog.

So what do we know about Noodle Pudding? We know that after one hour and twenty minutes, you can serve TWENTY FOUR PEOPLE your heinous creation. (Thoughtful cooks will recognize the need to obtain 24 moths or vole skeletons to prevent fighting among diners.)

And you bet it’s in the “Cook to Freeze” category. Cook it in July, put it out in October! For your son’s Halloween party! “And thiiiiis is the braaaaaain of Old Man Seaaaaamus!” you will be saying, while little Bennett Sherman lifts up his blind fold and ruins it for everyone by saying, “Ew, SICK, it’s Noodle Pudding.” Way to go, Bennett. Thanks.

So maybe Bennett Sherman doesn’t find it mysterious. But I do. That’s probably due in part to my absolute unwillingness to try making it. If you feel like playing Sherlock, though, will you send me a picture? Oh! And let me know how those moths come out.

May 12th, 2011

Mom’s Birthday

Louis and I are adults (sort of) now. This comes with a lot of responsibility. Aside from making our own dentist appointments and washing our own pants, this means that we now make exciting birthday cakes for our parents. They’ve done it for us every year, so it’s time for us to repay them.

Of course, my brother and I are much more deranged than they are. As you can see from the 3D Kitty Cake we made for my mom this week:
3D Kitty Cake 4

April 1st, 2011

April Nutrition!

In honor of the new month, I thought it would be nice to take a look at what the kids in the Anne Arundel County public school system in Maryland will be eating for the next few weeks. Now keep in mind, the Anne Arundel County public school system cares deeply about the well being of their children, and wish to provide them with a healthy, tasty and affordable meal option each day. Let’s take a look:

April Menu

Bravo, first off. In addition to such classics as “Crispy Chicken on Roll” and “Macaroni & Cheese,” they have also decided to branch out into more adventurous flavors like “BBQ Pork Sub” and “Fish Nuggets.” The nuggets of the fish are some of the most tender bits!

Look, we all know that I could go on and on about the questionable concept of a Pizza Burrito served withPizza Burrito “California Blend,”  or about their decision to include “roast turkey with gravy” and Tasting of the Rainbow“corn dog,” two foods that fit snugly into the “brown” category, in their “Tasting of the Rainbow” theme.

But I’m not going to do that. Because there are much more important things to discuss.

Things like, for instance, WHAT IN THE HELL IS A CHEESE FISH?

 

Cheese FishKids, I’m no expert, but I’d recommend getting to the cafeteria early, before they run out of pizza. Otherwise, just enjoy your side dishes.

And speaking of that, the folks of Anne Arundel County are fiber crazy! Check out those sides!

So Much Fiber

These people are hellbent on having their children pooping uncontrollably! Broccoli AND cold veggies AND salad. Fresh fruit AND peaches. And, with the cheese fish sandwiches, they’ve got mixed vegetables, cold vegetables, salad, fresh AND mixed fruit, and vegetarian beans.

As opposed to meat-beans?

I don’t understand.Breakfast

Oh, and in case you didn’t notice, they also serve breakfast for the kids who are up with the dawn!
Breakfast CU

Standard breakfast fare, except for THE ULTIMATE BREAKFAST ROUND, which they do not explain further. Can we all agree that it’s an English muffin with a lot of cream chipped beef, some bacon, a whole turkey leg, salsa, sour cream, cheddar cheese, and beluga caviar on it? Because I don’t know what else “ultimate” could mean.

 

Mighty Meals Minds WTF

Let’s talk graphics for a moment, shall we? Above is their logo, the first thing that people see when they look at this menu. It’s what they want everyone to know about their meal program. What I’m getting from that is “If a hyper-stimulated robot eats mighty meals, it will shit out minds.” Right? That’s what they’re saying with this?

It could be, because this is the group that came up with the idea to have a school meals mascot! His/Her/It’s name is SNAPPY!

Snappy Says

It is a crab! (?)

Snappy is fully of useful and fun information like how to continue preventing your offspring from starving during the school year.
Snappy the School Meals Mascot

Snappy is also frightening as all hell.

Happy April, Everyone!

February 9th, 2011

Chef Liz In: Spruce It Up!

So you’ve got the gals coming over for sewing club, or whatever the hell it is you use as an excuse for drinking, and you’re a little concerned. The last couple of times you hosted it at your place, it didn’t seem like your guests were terribly interested in the food. So what to do?

You need to up the wow factor, Drinky! Plating your food attractively is nice, but it doesn’t pack enough of a punch. What would really help is if you could surround your food with little details that say, “Come on, try me. I’m fun.”

And that can be easily accomplished with faux-food sculptures!

Like what if you put this gentleman with his red pepper hat and carrot mittens, in front of your platter of cheeses?

Veggie Chef

“Hello! Welcome!”

How could anyone say no to that green face that is supposed to be made of cucumber I guess?

The answer to that is, of course, the same people that would be unable to resist the tasty treats being endorsed by this mutated squash swan.

Squash Goose

“I have pea arms!”

What a brilliant idea! And you know, I think this would make a lovely wedding centerpiece.

Hey! For the kid’s table (since I know your boozey pals like bring their kids to these things), how about this nice egg penguin thing?

Penguin Egg

“Mama, I have to go bubble.”

Actually, his eye-spacing might traumatize the kids. It would be best to leave them at home.

And finally, for dessert, the highlight of any food spread, you really need something splashy. It is critical your guests realize that THIS is IT. This is freaking DESSERT, dammit. And it’s going to blow your mind. What better way to express that than with:

Yam Seal

“Herrrrrrrrnk!”

A yam seal. With a radish ball.

I’m telling you, your drinking parties will not be complete until you invest in some of these bad boys.

February 7th, 2011

Detoxin’

Hey everyone!

Did you all have a nice Super Bowl? Did you enjoy your crock pot full of chili? Would you like to see what I did?

Onion rings

I ate a crap-ton of fried foods at Fry Bowl, the annual deep-fried Super Bowl party!

I don’t even know what sport was played yesterday, really, if we’re being honest. I was more concerned with getting goodness in me.

Goodness like this bacon-wrapped fried hot dog:

Bacon wrapped hot dog

Goodness like this bacon-wrapped fried tater tot:

Bacon wrapped tater tot

In order to participate in Fry Bowl on Super Bowl Sunday, you must also being willing to participate in Super Bowel Monday. (Sorry.)

February 1st, 2011

Disappointment on a Stick

This weekend, Paul, Louie, David, Adam and I went to the Food Truck Festival at Santa Anita Racetrack. Food trucks, a craze that’s sweeping the nation, rarely make many stops in my neck of the woods. Any time you’re looking for late-night mobile Korean barbecue, you have to drive out to West Hollywood (no thanks) or regular Hollywood (AKA Barfsville) or some other lousy place. It sends the message that the San Gabriel Valley is chopped liver. Now, suddenly, all the trucks would be here, just for us SGV folk! Even though it was hot and quite sunny, the idea of a few dozen of these trucks, parked in the middle of the race track, all serving quirky food (Bacon maple ice cream? Asian tacos? Wow!) seemed like a grand way to spend a Saturday.

We got out of the car, after a battling a little traffic on the way in, and flung ourselves toward the entrance, where we were immediately greeted by the most enormous cluster frick of a “line” I have ever seen. It was like one of those mob scenes you see in old black and white films where there’s like one loaf of rustic crusty bread left in the whole town and about 800 starving immigrants are trying to get at it.

Cluster Eff – Then

Cluster Eff 2

Cluster Eff- Now

Families with babies in strollers, a lot of be-zitted teenagers in Invader Zim t-shirts, and quite a few people with no spatial awareness, all trying to muscle their way through a handful of turnstiles. Because we had bought our tickets online months in advance, our group decided that there was no way we had to wait in this line. So we set about trying to find out how to really get in.

But we weren’t rewarded for our early purchase at all. In fact, we were punished. Rather than filtering into the event through the ticket counter, like the at-the-door purchasers, we were sent to a group of four lines (which were extremely hard to tell apart, since the ropes separating them only extended about three feet from the registers) to exchange our receipts for actual tickets. THEN we were sent to the line with the turnstiles. So, heat, crowds, disorganization. Right off the bat, I wasn’t having a great time.

Upon entering the park, we were greeted with further disenchantment when it became clear that there had not been a cap on how many tickets to the festival had been made available. Lines as far as the eye could see. Every truck had a line. A LONG line. It looked like if you took all of the most popular rides at Disneyland (i.e. everything except the Tea Cups) and smashed their lines into one football field. Plus, everyone was sweating. Get Dante on the phone. I want to double check that this was indeed the Third Circle of Hell.

I had left my sunscreen in the car, and Louis and I were starting to worry about our skin. He shoved his souvenir festival brochure into the back of his hat to create shade for his neck. All I could do was face away from the sun and try to cover up as much of my neck and arms with my hair as possible. Louis bought us waters, which I immediately put on my face. “Fuuuuuuuuuuuck,” I said, happy for some relief. One nice gentleman with a giant band-aid on his face, aware of my heat- and hunger-induced rage, turned to me, snorted with discontent and dropped this nice little bomb: “My daughter waited in line for over an hour to order a hamburger. That was an hour ago. She still doesn’t have her food.” It was at that point that we decided we’d just find the shortest line, see if we could get at least ONE thing, and then go to the mall for actual guaranteed food. Because, I like quirky food served from a vehicle as much as the next guy. But I don’t like it enough to get sunburned.

Fortunately, it was early in the day and the gluttonous masses weren’t yet ready for dessert (they still had to wait for their burgers), so the sweets-centric establishments had much more manageable lines. We stopped at Coolhaus, a delightful cookie ice cream sandwich situation. (Digression: I ordered the chocolate chip cookie with Earl Gray ice cream- WINNER.) Pleased to have been able to eat something, we scarfed our sandwiches in a tiny patch of shade. As we ate, Paul went to guest services to complain. He’s always been a social activist. I like that about him.

Cranky, roasted, and starving, we wound up at a California Pizza Kitchen, and enjoyed being seated in an airconditioned room. No trucks, no lines. Just free bread and a lot of pizza. But my craving for truckfood was left unsatisfied. I’m definitely NOT going to the next mass gathering, so I guess my only other option to cruise down to Barfsville some Saturday night and pretend not to notice how much I hate my surroundings.

I tell ya. The things I’ll do for a taco…

December 17th, 2010

I Think I Got Allspice In My Eyes: A Science Thing

Abstract

Last night I made home made mulling spices because I felt many of my coworkers deserved a gift. Mulled cider is my favorite winter beverage, but I’ve never made the blend from scratch before. And of course, because I didn’t get my crap together in time, I didn’t get a chance to test it out. So it really was mostly an experiment. But I feel confident enough that none of you will ever try any of my recipes in my abilities, that I’m going to post how I arrived at my final gift product here.

Introduction

The purpose of this gift experiment was to come across as a thoughtful, well-organized person with many talents that included, but were not limited to, vast knowledge of spices, clever packaging skills, and the ability to draw holly berries free hand. Also, because I wanted to be nice and give people something for Christmas. (Yeah, I said it– Christmas. Not “The Holidays.”)

Materials/Methods

Materials Used:

2 oz. whole allspice
dried orange peel
1 1/2 Cups whole cloves
24 Cinnamon Sticks
Ice cream scoop (or other blunt instrument)
Cheese Cloth
Twine
Ribbon
Glass mug

Methods Used:

Cool metal tins and 99¢ ribbon were purchased at a craft store the day before the experiment. Laziness prevented a trip to Whole Foods for spices and whatnot that evening, so they were purchased at 9pm the night of the experiment.

The metal tins were turned over and it was discovered that they were “not intended to hold consumables.”* A small swear-fest was held in the kitchen until the lab assistant discovered that Bed Bath and Beyond would open the next morning at 8am and that they had many containers in stock.

Preparations continued by placing the cinnamon sticks and allspice into a bowl and bashing them repeatedly with the end of an ice cream scoop until they were cracked and more capable of releasing fragrance. This was done in the living room while the lab assistant was trying to watch Raising Hope.

Cloves and dried orange peel were added and mixed around while I fretted about whether or not people would actually like this, and when, if ever, I’d be able to assemble them.

Pile O' Spice

The mixture (pictured above) was put into a tupperware and put, along with the twine, the cheese cloth and the ribbon into a large shopping bag.

At 7:50 am the next day, I arrived at Bed Bath and Beyond and waited, along with 4 old ladies, for the store to open. When it did, I ran inside, and immediately noticed that all of the tins were either too small or ten dollars.

To combat this set back, I located six two dollar mugs and placed them into my cart and then raced off to work.

The gifts were assembled between phone calls and meetings at my desk over a paper napkin (my hands were washed). I placed two spoonfuls of the mixture into a square of cheese cloth, and tied it closed with the twine, placing a whole cinnamon stick into the knot for aesthetic benefit. I placed three of these little bags into each mug, and tied some ribbon to the base. A card instructing the receiver to add the bag to four cups of cider and heat in a saucepan was attached to the handle of the mug. The cards were adorned with free hand drawings of holly berries.

Results

Sack O' Spice
Mug O' Spice
Freehand Holly Berry

Discussion

Over all, I think people really liked them. They were a neat little package, and everyone is about done with buttery, sugary treats, so they seem refreshing. Plus the whole office smells like Christmas now. I really liked how the little sachets turned out. And my freehand holly berries aren’t too bad, if I do say so myself.

However, the question still remains: Will people use them? Will people like them? Will they take one sip and spit their cider across the room? Did I put in too many cloves? Why did I touch my eyes after I mixed those things around?

Only time will tell.

Literature Cited

“*” Crafts, Michaels; “Not For Consumable Products”; Bullshit On The Back Of The Tins I Bought;  2010

November 30th, 2010

Freebird

My Thanksgiving started out like every other Thanksgiving: The Saturday before.

As crazy as my living room may have looked in the past, I actually have highly developed organizational skills. I have a system for my finances. I stick to time tables. Mostly, I make lists for every occasion. And Thanksgiving is the listiest of all days. There are menus, daily schedules and hourly schedules, and shopping lists for foods both perishable and un.

This is my fourth year doing a full Thanksgiving meal for five people, and I’ve got it down to a science. And nothing stands in the way of science.

Except, I learned, for faulty appliances.

Wednesday, Thanksgiving Eve, my dishwasher broke. Now, I’ve never had the luxury of owning a dishwasher while preparing a Thanksgiving dinner, and dammit was I looking forward to this. Do you have any idea how much FASTER I could execute my feast with this new machine in my arsenal?

A lot faster.

Unfortunately, that night I opened the dishwasher to find three inches of water sitting in the bottom. Our landlady sent a repair guy out that evening, which was really nice and efficient of her. Sadly, the only guy working at that hour was an air conditioning specialist.

Okay, a minor annoyance. I’d made do without a dishwasher for years. I could handle this. But Thursday morning, things got even worse.

Thursday morning is where my obsessive-compulsive hourly schedule comes into play. I set my alarm for a precise time, and I’m in the kitchen by 9:30 am, baking pies. The pies have to be in the oven by 11:00, which is when I take the turkey out of the fridge to let it come to room temperature. I have to be finished with the pies by 12:30 pm so that I can heat the oven to the right temperature and get the the turkey in by 1:00.

The turkey itself represents enormous amounts of stress. It’s giant and unwieldy, and my sink is tiny, making rinsing that stupid thing off a slippery adventure. Plus, I believe that all raw poultry is a bacterial time bomb, capable of turning my kitchen into a massive bio-hazard area. Any errant bird juices must be neutralized immediately and thricely. The entire process can broken down as follows: 18 minutes to stare at the bird and prepare myself. 10 minutes to rinse, dry, and place the turkey into the roasting pan. 45 minutes to clean the sink and counters and floor afterward. (This is all reflected in the hourly schedule, in case you were wondering.)

It is usually at this point that I can begin to relax. I’ll vacuum a little, run some crap upstairs, set the table, watch a little football with Paul. I only have to wait for the bird to roast. Then (from 4:30 to 5:45) I can heat my sides and serve!

But this year, after jabbing the thermometer into the thigh area and shoving the thing in the oven, I, in the interest of preventing heat leakage, slid the lock on the oven to the right. The oven turned itself off. The lock, it turns out, is only for the self cleaning feature, and the oven will not cook food while it is in that mode. “How stupid of me!” I said, looking at the fancy, self-cleaning oven, thinking about how thankful I was to have access to such a high-end appliance. I punched the “OFF” button and went to unlock the oven. It wouldn’t budge.

What. The. Hell.

I tried it again.

Nothing.

[Insert full blown meltdown sequence (which Paul has been ordered to never speak of again) here. ]

Shaking with rage and disappointment and betrayal and shame, I called my parents to tell them about the situation. “Hello, Family. Our turkey, today’s featured food item, is locked in the oven and is still raw. I hope you like potatoes.” (That was the gist of it anyway; there were a lot more swear words.) (Also I was crying.)

My mom suggested I set the timer for ten seconds to try to trick the oven into thinking it was unlocking after a self-cleaning cycle. And it worked! But, given the age of the mechanism, the lock handle just detached from the actual latch, leaving the door firmly stuck in place, without any possible method of release.

[More freaking out, not to be discussed, here.]

The theory was that maybe it would automatically unlock after it cooled down a little. “I’m giving this piece of shit oven until 4:30 and then I’m drilling it,” said Louis. Then he added, “GOD! What a piece of shit.” He ultimately didn’t take any power tools to it (since it’s not mine to break), but as soon as I heard my brother say that, I started feeling much better about the holiday. Thanksgiving isn’t about showing everyone what I can do with a dead bird and some yams. It’s about getting together with the people you like the best and sharing a common experience. For many families this year, that shared experience was a home-roasted turkey. For us, it was a deviant oven and some emergency poultry purchased from Whole Foods and then microwaved.

Isn’t that nice? I could probably end there and we’d all leave my website feeling warm and fuzzy and craving turkey. But I can’t stop there.

Despite the rotting turkey indefinitely stuck in our oven, we managed to maintain a positive outlook. “We’ll just call someone tomorrow, have them free the turkey,” I said, becoming sleepy. “Great idea,” replied Paul. “GREHHHHHHHHHHH,” added the fridge.

“Um, what?” Paul and I both said.”GREHHHHHHHHHHHHHNnnn,” the fridge insisted. We jumped up to see what was wrong with our only remaining functional appliance.

It was making horrible noises, trying to convince us it was hard at work. But when we opened the freezer we found that all of our Otter Pops were melted. The fridge was WARM. Then, after several minutes, the motor stopped all together.

I called a 24 hour appliance repair place, left a message (because “midnight” isn’t one of the 24 hours, I guess) and went to bed. The next morning at 8:00am, the appliance guy called back to inform me that, despite what it said on their website, they didn’t service the Pasadena area. As I was finishing the conversation, I noticed my cruel bastard of a fridge was humming away merrily, as though nothing had ever happened.

The happy ending came a couple of hours later, when I was able to reach a nice man who came out and in one quick swipe, freed the turkey. Paul rushed the thing out to the trash like it was about to explode, and I suppressed the urge to throw away the roasting pan. And also the urge to hug the repairman. Instead, I had a giant piece of fridge-chilled chocolate pie.

None of my carefully crafted lists could have prepared me for this. But you can be sure that next year’s lists will allow ample time for disasters.

November 4th, 2010

Fancy Feast

On Friday night, the Boss Men invited me and a coworker to join their group for dinner. Without hesitation I accepted. Because, food.

So there I sat, in one of the swankiest steak restaurants I’d ever been in. This place has private wine lockers for important clientele and fancy hand towels in the restroom. At this restaurant the waiters bring out a tray of the various steaks and lobsters and vegetables they have and explain what each of them is and why each one is the ultimate in meaty luxury. I’d made countless reservations at this place, but they were always for other people. Never before had I been invited into the dimly lit beef sanctuary. It was an event I should have been thrilled about.

I don’t want to seem ungrateful. I am flattered to have been invited. But, given my relationship to my dining companions, I was on high alert. Dining with a new group of people, especially the people who sign your paycheck, is daunting. You need to behave as though you’re entirely comfortable eating a twenty-eight dollar side salad and choosing your own wine, all the while worrying that you have parsley in your teeth and you might laugh so hard at the waiter’s Meat Tray Presentation that a little snot will fly out of your nose.

It’s like being on a first date with four people.

The first hurdle was booze. Do I order a vodka with lemon like the rest of the gentlemen? Or do I tackle the wine list? Not wanting to create a situation for myself wherein I tried to slam down a hard liquor and wind up gagging and wheezing for the rest of the meal, I opted for the wine. As I’m sure I’ve mentioned, I know nothing about wine. I glanced at the list casually, but must have accidentally furrowed my brow, because my boss leaned over and said, “You know about this shit, or you want me to pick somethin’ for you?” “Oh, no thanks, I’ve got it,” I smiled.

When the waiter came by, I pointed at something called a “Malbec,” which, until that moment, I had assumed was just an Argentinean place on Green street that tricked unsuspecting diners into ordering blood sausage. (It had a fancy name and came with other meats. How the hell was I supposed to know it was going to be a submucosal sac filled with some animal’s platelets?) Turns out, it’s a delightful beverage that comes from grapes.

I gained some points there, after my supervisors all took a whiff of my glass and each ordered their own.

When the waiter came back, I confidently announced that I would have the single cut filet mignon. Bang. I was on it. I may not know wine, but I sure as hell know meat. “And did you choose a side dish?”

Dammit. At this restaurant, the side dishes are designed for the table to share. I can’t think of anything I’d like less than choosing what kind of food my bosses will be eating.

“Uhhh… creamed spinach?” Correct answer, thank god. But Smugly von Waiterson had another one for me: “And what will you be starting with this evening?”

Let me get this straight: A fifty dollar steak, several side dishes, fancy adult grape juice AND a starter? Until this last-minute dinner invite, my Friday night plans were to slog home, put my yoga pants on, and eat a handful of smoked almonds while watching Detroit 1-8-7. I did not have a salad order ready. So the waiter had to get everyone’s order and then come back to me. Brilliant.

The good news is, I managed to eat that Caesar salad without flipping any lettuce into someone’s cocktail, or choking on a crouton.

And then our steaks came. They were delicious, don’t get me wrong, but, let me tell you a little something about me. During routine dining experiences, my eating style is anything but dainty. The only thing I can accurately be compared to is a nuclear powered vacuum with rage issues. I ATTACK my food. “Nibbling” is something that river fish do. So here I had to calculate each movement. “Take a little bit off the side here, dip it ever so slightly in Bearnaise, laugh at a joke, ingest.” It was going quite well until I took a bite that was almost entirely fat. It was too large to swallow whole, and I couldn’t actually chew it. I stuck it under my tongue and tried to act nonchalant.

“Whaddya need?” my boss asked me, when he caught me staring into the distance, contemplating the best way to get rid of the fat chunk. “Oh, nothing. I’m great!” I shoveled a bit of creamed spinach into my mouth as proof, and spent the next three minutes trying to blindly sort plant matter from cow lipids with my tongue.

I wanted to run to the bathroom and spit it into the trash can, but the third grade conformist mentality I had adopted for the evening prevented me from going to the restroom until at least one of my other companions went first, which was not going to happen. “Curse your giant camel bladders!” I thought, as it dawned on me I would have to hide the thing in my napkin. But when? And how? This group was polite, made eye contact, asked your opinions on things. Any move I made would be noticed by someone.

By this point, I’d had a mouthful of bovine insulation for well over five minutes. My judgment was becoming clouded. I thought the best way to do it, short of creating a distraction by hurling one of the model lobsters from the presentation tray at the bus boy was to pretend, all of a sudden, that I found everything said at the table so funny, I had to cover my mouth with my napkin so as to avoid embarrassing myself.

When it was time to make my move, I positioned the napkin so that a bit of it draped over my lap. Then I covered my mouth, guffawed, and let the thing drop. It worked perfectly! I didn’t even get a grease stain on my jeans. Operation: Falling Meat was a success!

The down side was that I had to spend the rest of the meal with a piece of warm meat sitting on my lap. Even so, I think I managed to maintain a level of dignity I very rarely achieve.

Thanks for dinner, Bosses!