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

Contact Me, Folks!

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

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October 20th, 2009

Chef Liz in: A Sweet Disaster

Sunday, two of my best friends, Chris and Sarah, married each other. The beautiful outdoor ceremony was followed by a delicious dinner and a lively reception. There was a little Hava Nagila, a bouquet toss and quite a lot of awesome dancing by the bride’s father. But most importantly to me, there was cake. It was a three layer affair, filled with lemon curd. If I could have eaten four pieces, I would have (although, after the buffet, my bridesmaid dress may not have allowed it). The cake also pleased Paul, who has been craving citrus flavor since August when he requested a strawberry cake with lemon curd and “regular” frosting and instead got white cake with buttercream frosting.

You may be asking why I didn’t deliver for the poor guy on his birthday. “What kind of a terrible person are you that you ignored his one simple birthday wish?” you are saying. Well, “Shut up” is my reply to you. I didn’t ignore it. I just… failed. In fact, the birthday cake Paul did get was served the day after his birthday. It’s a tragic story of dashed hopes, culinary disaster and germophobia. And I’ve been sitting on it since August because I was so embarrassed about the whole thing. I am finally ready to share.

First of all, Paul, if you’re reading this, your cake idea was insane and vague. Strawberry flavored cake with lemon curd? And when I asked you what you meant by “regular” frosting, you paused the baseball game, shrugged and said, “I dunno. My mom used to make it.” Thanks, man.

But that’s all the blame I’m going to place on Paul. Because the reality is, this was my fault. I said yes to his request, gave it my all, and it was hideous.

I began by baking two layers of white cake, which I intended to flavor with strawberry extract. Naturally, though, I forgot to add it. The cake itself was fantastic, but to make up for the lack of fruity essence, I decided to flavor the “regular” frosting with the extract. When I searched all of my cookbooks for a frosting recipe that suited the requirements, all I could come up with were soupy icings. So, I cheated and reached for a can of vanilla frosting that I was saving for a fondant experiment. I plopped a few drops of strawberry extract in and stirred it up.

Meanwhile, back in the refrigerator, my “lemon curd” was cooling. It smelled delicious, and looked alright, too. But, during the cooking process, the mixture at the bottom of the pan had heated too quickly and little bits of scrambled egg began floating around. I pulled it off the heat to try and save it, but worried that I hadn’t cooked the rest of the eggs all the way through. So, to me, the bowl of lemon curd sitting my fridge was a salmonella time bomb. “It’s fine!” said Paul, who, on the anniversary of his birth, was asked to test a potentially fatal dessert. I wasn’t convinced. But, I slathered it in between the cake layers anyway and went for the frosting to finish what was quickly becoming the least appealing baked good ever.

What I neglected to take into account was that the apartment in August is over 90 degrees some afternoons. Add to that a poorly insulated oven that’s been at 350º for over an hour and you’ve got yourself a frosting meltin’ good time. Though the cake had fully cooled, the disgusting strawberry concoction was near liquid and hardly stuck to the cake. And yet, somehow, my spatula broke in the process. I spooned the rest of the frosting on.

What I wound up with was a slightly warm, possibly poisonous, dripping mess of questionably flavored cake-

From above, it doesn’t look too bad, I guess. I mean, there’s an errant drop of lemon curd on the top, and the edges are a little messy, but it doesn’t look that horrible. I refused to serve it though. I wouldn’t even bring it out to the living room to show the Birthday Boy. I made him come into the kitchen and promise not to touch it. I even cried a little bit. (Okay. I cried a lot.) Here is why:

There was no birthday cake that night. Just a lot of sniffling and apologizing- first for the cake and then for ruining a perfectly good birthday with my sobbing. But I took a Mulligan and the next night baked up something resembling edible. Thankfully, Paul got his lemon curd fix Sunday night- even if it was two months late.

September 18th, 2009

Most Ridiculous Order

Recently my family and I met for dinner at a little place called the Claim Jumper. We Coles love comically huge portions of various meats and cakes, so it’s a natural fit for us. We each took our time to carefully select dishes that would both satisfy our personal tastes AND impress the hell out of everyone else.

Mother came in last place with her order of beef stew. Hearty and delicious, yes. But the wow factor is close to zero. I was in fourth place with the Sliders: Four tiny burgers that were indeed satisfying, but lacked the ridiculous size element that the judges look for. Louis and his fish n’ chips took 3rd place. He narrowly escaped taking fifth place by adding an unexpected side of frozen grapes at the last moment.

Paul placed second by a mile, ordering a cheeseburger called “the Widowmaker.” A plain cheeseburger wouldn’t have gotten him a silver medal, but this one had avocado, fried onion rings, and bacon and was a good 5 inches tall. (Side note: This order took first prize in the Overall Caloric Content category.)

But the ultimate winner was my dad, who ordered a sandwich. We weren’t sure why he thought just a lil’ ol’ sandwich would make him a serious contender, but then he told us the name: “The Motherload.” I wasn’t convinced it would beat out the Widowmaker for Most Ridiculous Order until it arrived:

Yep. That’s the Motherload.  And lest you think there’s any visual trickery going on, allow me to show you this to put it into perspective:

It’s a winner’s sandwich if ever there was one.

Congratulations, dad!

September 9th, 2009

A True Story of a Man and His Eggs

As reported by Jonathan Feldman.

A man and his wife are sitting at Mel’s diner eating breakfast.  Their waiter approaches the table to check up on their meal.  The man speaks, with the accent of a complaining Jewish version of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“Excuse me, these eggs are runny.  And this bread has caroway seeds, I can’t eat caroway seeds.”

“Ok sir, so do you want your eggs over medium?”

“Well these are runny, so they need to be done again.”

“Ok sir, and rye bread.”

1 minute passes.

“They didn’t even ask me what kind of bread I wanted.”

5 minutes pass.  The eggs and bread come back.

Picking up a slice of breads with his fingers, he asks, “Now what kind of bread is this?  The other one had caroway seeds, and I don’t like caroway seeds.”

“This is the rye sir.”

“Well is that the same as before?”


“Then I don’t want it.”

Two minutes pass.

“She took my bacon.”

And scene.

September 2nd, 2009

Chef Liz in: Kill And Eat Your Friends!

I recently purchased several books at a garage sale, because my house wasn’t feeling quite cluttered enough.  One of these books was Sunset magazine’s Barbecue Cook Book from 1979. In it are a variety of meat concoctions designed to impress your 4th of July guests. While flipping through it, I noticed a section on cooking lamb. It offers an eye-catching heading, and a description of the merits of featuring lamb at your next barbecue.

So there are many pros here. It’s tender. It’s juicy. It “has no rival when it comes to barbecuing.” (Sunset magazine’s obviously never had a hot dog, but whatever.) “Chunks” from different parts of the animal can be “threaded on skewers.” It’s excellent for producing an impressive spectacle of a meal, as “whole legs can be boned and butterflied and slow-cooked.”

Hard to believe there could ever be a downside to barbecuing baby sheep parts, right? Well, take a look at the accompanying illustration:

Mehhhhhhhhhhh! Hi, frieeeeend! Can weeeee come to your barbecuuuuuue?

How can you follow a recipe that involves killing something illustrated so adorably on the previous page? Those two little baby lambs, clearly the most tender and juicy of the bunch, are pretty much smiling at you. And the mama sheep stands over her savory and delicious children, head cocked to one side, big, stupid eyes filled with tears, as if to say “Why-y-y-y? Why would you take my baaaaaaabies from meeeee?” Immediately after they were finished sitting for this portrait, Team BBQ from Sunset magazine scooped up the babies and Mama sheep started plotting her violent revenge.

It is now 30 years later. She is prepared to take action. Mama sheep knows what’s up, Sunset magazine. Watch your back.

August 4th, 2009

A No Brainer

While driving through Marysville in Washington, I passed a local restaurant with a sign advertising an excellent dinner value. Steak and prawns for two just $25! Wow!

But hold on a minute. Something about the fine print here is a tad befuddling.

Choice of beer, wine or pie? What?

See, while I find it puzzling that the establishment seems to be forcing the diner to choose between getting drunk or getting dessert, I find it even more puzzling that the establishment seems to think there is even a remote possibility anyone is going to turn down pie. That’s just unheard of where I come from.

July 13th, 2009

New Dinner Selection!

While out to eat this weekend in beautiful Burbank, David Malloy and I saw a new dinner selection being advertised at the Tallyrand. It confused me:

Half Baked Chicken? Is their head chef Jim Breuer, or does this just mean they’ve stopped trying? Whatever the case, I won’t be ordering it because it sounds like either a lousy meal or a health hazard.

June 24th, 2009

Chef Liz in: False Advertising!

In 1966, in apparent response to the war in Vietnam, the Osterizer blender company released its highly unconventional Spin Cookery Blender Cookbook. Inside, among the full colored pictures designed to entice the housewife of the day, is an array of disappointing and, well, yucky recipes for various spreads, sauces and puddings. (Some highlights include “Lobster Spread, Clam Dip, Green Pepper Jelly, and the mysterious Deep Sea Loaf, whose only sea-themed ingredient is one sad cup of flaked tuna fish.)

Now, I ask you this: Aren’t cookbook photos supposed to represent what you, the home chef, will be able to create with the recipes in the book?

Then what’s with this picnic on page 74? I see the good folks who packed this up brought their Osterizer! And they’ve filled it with the ingredients for a Parsley-Radish Butter of some kind, my personal spread of choice for outdoor dining. I see a tuna salad sandwich, an obvious Blender delicacy, but perhaps not my preference for a sun-drenched day in the park. And then there’s the entire turkey, an item not exactly known for its portability. Am I to believe that this whole-roasted foul was not only carted along to the park for the family’s Sunday outing, but was ALSO created in an Osterizer?

Of course not. What we have here is a blatant lie to the housewives of 1966, who must’ve all turned to page 74 and then raced down to Sears to buy the shiny new Giant Osterizer Blender and Oven.

So, in case the concept of blender cuisine wasn’t disgusting enough, before you open up this cookbook, think of the poor women of 1966 who kept giving their families salmonella while trying to recreate the page 74 picnic spread.

June 22nd, 2009

Father’s Day at OUR House

To celebrate my father and all he does for us, my brother and I made pizzas:

They looked delicious, but dull. We couldn’t decide what to do to spice them up, until I remembered that, because I hadn’t finished moving things out of my car when I first leased my current apartment in 2006, I still had a giant box of legos in my back seat. So, we dragged them inside, and rinsed them off (an important step).

When we were all finished, our pizzas looked like this:

We’re thinking about trying out for Top Chef.

ANYWAY. We brought the pizzas out, they were enjoyed, and then finally, my brother realized that our decorations had another purpose:

Dad loved it! But he also believed that the photos could be improved upon if we were to eliminate the need for having a giant, pale arm in the frame. So he went out to the garage, grabbed some string, and climbed onto the table to hang them from an overhead light fixture.

When he was finished, we were able to take some excellent pictures.

When I left around 10:30pm, this creepy white head was still hanging from the porch ceiling. What did YOU do for fathers day?

May 4th, 2009

Chef Liz in: Try Something Else

So, Wilma, it’s your turn to whip something up for your Ladies’ Book Club this Thursday, is it? I understand how that could be stress-inducing, what with Gertrude being such a picky eater, and Carol having issues with tree nuts. Not to mention how you’ve always thought your friends were huge, fat pigs and shouldn’t be eating Steak Diane every night. So, now the trick will be finding a dish they’ll be willing to shovel into their giant faces that won’t add to their overall girth. What’s that? You’ve selected a dish? Oh, do share it with us!

Weight Control Chicken Salad!? Well, Wilma, I see a few problems with this.

First, many of these ingredients sound harmless on their own. But how about the combination of low-fat cottage cheese and powdered instant chicken broth?  Buttermilk and radishes? I don’t know if that kind of potential dyspepsia is worth the mere 200 calories per serving.

Also, you may notice that the only piece of kitchen equipment you need is a blender, a frightening prospect, since most things that are made in a blender end up looking like vomit. This is no exception:

And your choice of garnish seems to say “Are you really going to eat all that, Porko?” Seriously, any dish tied up with a tape measure virtually guarantees you a spot on your friends’ shit list.

Weight Control Chicken Salad? No thank you. I’d rather be confined to a wheel chair in my old age than eat this crap.

April 20th, 2009


Know what’s disappointing? When you go to Quizno’s and order what you think is going to be a light menu choice, and then get home and find out it has almost 800 calories in it.

Oven-roasted Turkey & Cheddar sounds reasonable. Firstly, it’s turkey, so the fat content and cholesterol level should be fairly low. Also it’s roasted in an oven, not fried in a pan, not batter-dipped, not injected with Crisco. Yes, there is cheddar cheese, and some mayonnaise- but how is it 800 calories!? (This is the point where my dad would chime in with, “It’s probably the bread. That’s pretty high-calorie.” Hush, father. No one likes a show off.)

The man at the Quizno’s counter was so friendly. He even remembered what kind of cheese Paul had ordered when we were in on Saturday. How could such a nice man be selling these horrible calorie bombs? It feels like the time I found out that the grilled chicken salad I’d been ordering at Corner Bakery had over 900 calories in it. NINE HUNDRED. And I’d been eating it twice a week for like six months. Part of me wants all restaurants to disclose which items on the menu are healthy, and which are just healthy-sounding. But the other part of me knows what it feels like to order a “Weight Management” salad from The Cheesecake Factory.

According to my calorie calculator, to reverse the damage I just did, I would need to spend almost two hours in the pool. And I’ve got to sing tonight- I don’t have that kind of time.