Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Once More Caught In the Twilight Zone......

From the moment we decided to return to Las Vegas we could hear the "Twilight Zone" background music playing (can you hear it?), letting us know that once again we would be navigating through the many layers known to exist in this multi parallel universe town. After all, any city that prides itself by a logo of "what happens in Vegas- stays in Vegas".... must be comprised of something for everyone - be that what it might be (a scary thought if you really think about it). But as well all know by now, life is what you make it and so this also applies regardless of what CSI: Las Vegas tells you.

Of course, staying out of the dark side, if you're the type that's tempted by the shadier elements, can be a tricky dance for some; while for other stronger types, those more focused on attaining their goals, it doesn't even enter into the whole enchilada.... just like everywhere else in these United States, churches are plentiful and in this area, Mormons number more than most. I've always said: "if you have gambling, alcohol or drug problems... you shouldn't live here. Period." We've all had friends who thought they could handle the ever present temptations posed by this 24 hour behemoth, only to see them go down in flames when they gave into their vice of choice. Ricardo's co-workers in many of the casino properties he worked at made this clear, time and again, showing us by living out of their cars, mooching off girlfriend's who had an apartment because their fondness for drink or games and drugs made them loose their tips and salary to the ever present temptations all over town. There's also a scarier side to this, referring to the 24 hour labor force specifically, (not all, not most but a great majority), need to "de-stress" after work and stay "on property", have more than a couple of drinks (or whatever) and gamble (there go today's tips....) before heading home- just think of all the people out on the streets, driving under the influence at all hours adding to the regular folks that drink as well.... Las Vegas was once reported to have over 200 car wrecks a day and accounts for our high insurance rates....

Naturally once you live here and have a "regular" life (whatever that is...), you'd think that the temptations would be reduced just by going along "taking care of business"- yet, this is Las Vegas where most rules don't apply and where you'll find slot machines and gambling in most places you go to from the grocery store, your neighborhood gas station, the pharmacy, smoke shop, the airport and every place in between; there is no curfew for the sale of alcohol like in Merida where you need to wait until after 11 am to be able to buy a bottle of wine for dinner... Nooooo, anytime is a good time here. Happy hour still exists here and is alive and well. The ever present 24 hour shifts create the need for services for the late-night or graveyard workers which translates into being able to go to the store at 3am with the other vampires and assorted denizens of the night (VERY colorful, believe me but no long lines either); you can even do your banking, pick up your dry cleaning or have a snack.... everything's open. Look at the picture on the left: a grocery store with voting machines AND slot machines, how about that for full service, lol..... only in Vegas. Government offices and places that keep regular office hours are fun, when night crawlers need their services you'll see people in pajamas and slippers standing in line at the DMV, Social Security Office, County building, etc. Takes a while to get used to (hey, wake up! it's your turn!)..... Live in an apartment or condominium complex? You might have showgirls or exotic dancers as residents and you get to see them strut around in various shades of undress around the pool or common areas....

From the front balcony I can see the Stratosphere Tower, to the West giving us a shining beacon (although I must confess to this place never having been one of our favorite places and I can't recall the last time I was there; there's no way I'm riding the roller coaster or whip rides up on the top!) of a reminder that the Strip is close by with all it's glittery goodness, where everything is right there, ready and waiting to be enjoyed. Been back over a month already and I haven't cruised the Strip yet, but I really should as a slow drive with either the top down or the moon roof and windows open down this street of dreams is "de rigeur" on a late summer night and the sights that greet you are their own reward. (Plus the fact that traffic is almost always bumper-to-bumper so you have to cruise it anyway), plus I do like the Strip, truly, being a one-of-a-kind avenue filled with incredible sights: from the fountains of the Bellagio to the erupting volcano at the Mirage, the great examples of the art of neon all over, to getting transported to Venice by the Venetian. There's a new property opening up soon (early Dec. 2009) called "City Center" and it's touted as THE entertainment destination of the world with over 7 resorts, a designer mall, parks, gardens, pools, a world art complex, it's own people mover system, a theater complex and more of everything you could think of between the Excalibur and the Bellagio- 76 acres of ultra-luxury designed by 8 of the world's top architects! All you could need to live, work and play on the Strip and all using sustainable resources, they are even pursuing a LEED certification! Google and see all the incredible information on this place! Yes, bigger, showier and better the Las Vegas way.....

Don't get me wrong, there's a lot of things my black little heart loves about Las Vegas, (don't count the food which will always be number ONE and we won't even consider the dangerous elements that thrive in certain areas of the North or Northeast: the gangs, prostitution, violence and the stuff that you do see on CSI: Las Vegas) you still have fabulous shopping, the international neighborhoods (Chinatown, Korea Town, Japanese City, the Barrio, etc.), great entertainment venues including some of the best concerts and most of New York's theater productions, the bigger and better aspect to it all which makes Halloween and Xmas great, the month during Spring and the month of October when the weather is perfect (not too hot and not too cold), and being an international destination gives you great travel connections and brings the world to your door so nothing is hard to get and the big casinos (I like them, there's something about being able to walk in there at 3 or 4 in the AM and be able to get a great late-night special, be it food, drink or shopping, with other night-owls that really appeals to me. No tourists for the most part, just heavy duty locals).

Moral to this story is: Life is what you make it. Want a good ride? Plan and expect it, work towards it. I wouldn't recommend this place if you're a depressive or a self-destructive type, there's too many things that would suck the life out of you if you are, but if you're a positive person- not a bad place. Sure, I miss lots of trees and greenery, the beach, the outdoors- sometimes it's hard to live "under glass", but all in all it could be worse, right?

I'm trying to submit a proposal to the local community college so they will expand (they hardly have anything at all...) their culinary offerings and so I'm creating some "unusual" pay-for-fee course offerings to create interest and keep me out of trouble. I'm still "tweeking" some titles (if you have any ideas, do let me know): "Warped Midwestern Food: Jazzing Up Mom" - "One Dish Wonders" - "Cheap Healthy Food" - "Slow Food Done Fast" - "Kicked Up Vegetarian" - "Binging on a Budget", etc.

Here's a little something to get you going. A new take on an old classic: Chicken and waffles (for those of you that haven't tried these two together, all I can say is "don't knock it until you've tried it", here goes:

Leeks, Sage Fried Chicken and Bacon Waffles.- Lovely fried chicken paired with the smoky flavor of bacon, a touch of maple goodness and fried leeks add just the right finishing touch (there's also many variations to this you can try, if you want a quicker / easier / not fried version, drop me a note and I'll send it along):

2 chicken breasts (boneless, skin-on breast with the first wing joint attached)
1 egg, beaten
2 cups cornflakes
2 tsp freshly minced sage (mixed with cornflakes)
Oil for frying

Nonstick cooking spray
5 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tbl baking powder
2 tsp salt
3 eggs
2 cups buttermilk (or 2 cups milk with 1 tbl white vinegar)
2 cups milk
2 tbl vanilla extract
1/2 cup melted butter
4 slices bacon, cooked
2 pieces Sage Fried Chicken
Maple Syrup, optional
Fried leeks, for garnish, optional
Rosemary sprigs, for garnish, optional

Fried Leeks:
2 cups vegetable oil
1 large leek
1 cup cornstarch
1 cup all-purpose flour
Fine sea salt

To make Sage Fried Chicken:

Place cornflakes in blender, run until you have them well crushed but not powdery. Add the minced sage and mix well. Dip and coat chicken breast in egg then cornflake mixture. Deep-fry for 5 to 6 min until golden brown and crispy.

To make Bacon Waffles:

Preheat waffle iron and coat well with nonstick spray. In a large mixing bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients and set aside. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and mix in the buttermilk, milk, vanilla and butter. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, stirring together lightly, leaving the batter slightly lumpy. Using a 6-oz ladle, pour the batter in the center of the hot waffle iron. Place 2 slices of cooked bacon diagonally over each other and the waffle, making an X shape. Close the waffle iron lid. Cook until golden brown and slightly crispy. Remove to cutting board and cut into 4 squares. Place 2 waffle squares side by side on a plate then stack remaining 2 in the center on top of the first 2. Place the chicken breasts on top of this and secure in the center of each chicken breast with a wooden skewer. Top with warm maple syrup. Garnish with fried leeks and a 12-inch rosemary sprig.

Fried Leeks:

In a medium sauce pot heat oil to 350 degrees F. Clean and julienne leeks. Sift cornstarch and flour together. Dust leeks in flour/cornstarch and fry until golden brown, about 30 sec. Drain on a paper towel, season with salt. Note: Be sure to stay close when frying leeks because they will burn quickly.


There you have it, a little report on our alternate reality and some of our latest adventures in lalaland, be assured that I am scouting out more destinations and will keep everyone informed as to the development of my new cooking courses. Naturally I shall send along recipes as they become available and will look for new and interesting ways of presenting old favorites that will deliver everything we want from great food. Be well and let me know your ideas... talk soon (picture at left is a very early morning shot from the Vegas "burbs" onto the Strip).

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