Leftovers: Odds & Ends

I think our neighbor thinks we’re freaks.

Okay, so she’s actually the one who should worry, because she talks over me like she’s practically deaf, so our circuitous conversations always seem to have the comedic element of “What?” and “Oh, I just said that” added to them. Too, she somehow always manages to talk and talk and TALK to one about banalities like the weather, the birds in her dryer vent (poor things) and what she’s having done to her house whilst one is digging for one’s keys and concurrently has to pee, but can’t find a way to politely hurry her along. AND, she is … erm… NOSY. Okay, she is awfully curious about some of the things that come into our house. A box from SFHerb.com. was left on the porch. Boxes of produce from our CSA, which prompts her to bring us baskets of strawberries and tell us that she bought them at a farm. We shared fresh-baked bread with her, and she utterly fails to be able to acknowledge that D. made it, not me. Lots of stuttering as she goes on, and on, and ON on the telephone. Poor thing. We totally rock her little world. A man that COOKS!? If only she knew. The knitting. The cans of jam. The (sob!) sewing on of one’s own buttons and ripped pillow case seams! This whole blog would blow her tiny, little mind…

Somewhere, Rick Bayless is screaming.

Lest I come off as too much of a foodie in this blog (friends express astonishment that we attempt tofu, grow a large garden and can our produce. They remark that they wish they had a.] time, b.] patience, c.] creativity to do what we do in the kitchen: mostly they’re thin, and don’t know what a mess our house is, please note), celebrating the joys of eating fungus in Quorn and going on and on about what is generally back-breaking and odd work like baking bread from scratch every week and experimenting with drying things, I wanted to tell you something: there is something I couldn’t bring myself to eat.

It was from the CSA. It was organic. It was fresh — so fresh, it still had a lively inhabitant. It was ethnic and valued by chefs of fresh flavors and new experiences. Even the handsome Ming Tsai has fixed it. It was …corn smut. Huitlacoche, Latin Americans call it, and praise it for its woodsy, earthy, delicate mushroomy flavor. The Beard Foundation, apparently in an effort to get Americans to pay more attention to it, renamed it the Mexican truffle. Nice try, people, but no dice this time. And it had nothing to do with the snob appeal of having something called a truffle, okay? I have to admit… it was mostly… well, the occupant which turned me off. I’m usually pretty game, but… I have a thing. With worms. And spiders. But today: the worms.

(No, I will never know the joy of tequila. So what? And yes, I, too, rescued drowning earthworms in the rain as a child. That was different, leagues different from enduring the blind, hornéd stares of the tomato worms that infested our yard one year. I have never recovered from being required to blend them with cayenne and garlic and spray them on the plants… thank-you, Mama, for your green-sense to save the earth, but GROSS!!! GROSS!! GROSS!! GROSS!!!!!!)

It was just… alive and all, it felt like a pulpy tumor when I touched the corn cob. I peeled back the husk with dread, and saw the familiar puff of blackness, the …worm… and then the spore-filled horror.

Oh, the horror!

Couldn’t it eat. Couldn’t look at it (notice the blurred photographs – shaking hands?) Couldn’t really even think about it.

And, glad I didn’t try. It’s only spore-filled when it’s too old to eat. And really, if you are allergy prone like I am, it’s probably not too great an idea to play with spores, and I don’t know, but I think I need a guide before picking mushrooms, so I’m not going to claim some kind of fungus hipness with stuff that grows on corn. But someday, I’d like to try this — properly prepared, (not sold in a can, like I’ve seen it!) and not by me — and see what it’s all about.

As long as there are no worms.

Sorry, Rick, sorry Ming. Dudes. I tried.

I have been whinging away about the amount of baking going on around me… and I’ve come to a conclusion: self-control is less expensive than diet foods. I don’t believe in de-greening the planet with packaging. I refuse to pay other people to make me do what I’m supposed to do anyway, which is to stop eating sometimes. (Okay, I’ll pay my gym dues, but that’s about it.) I am going to have to find a balance between the comfort of winter baking and the comfort of having a body that I don’t have to roll down inclines. I am going to have to make friends with my freaky neighbor, and keep giving her food. Really, it’s the only way…

When you bake without eggs, AND without oil, you need to take precautions to be sure that you’re not making a brick that is going to be perma-welded to your pan. Why, you ask yourself, did we make this brode without eggs or oil!? It was not in any attempt to be über health conscious in any way. We were weighing and measuring and tootling away on engineering this bread recipe, and we … erm… forgot.

We realized our error about the time we were going to pan the bread, and we thought… “Ah, what the heck,” and lined the pan with oiled parchment. It worked! It came out, it held up, it rose, thanks to the experimental flaxseed and water blend we used. It was quite exciting to look at something attractive, something that someone might actually want to buy one day, and think, “Hey! We did it!”

Okay, now, so much for being good, I need to go and get a piece.

Happy Baking!

Aran-esque Sweater Project

Thought I’d give you some decent shots of my aran-esque sweater project, as I finally got the film developed. Yes, film. Believe it or not, I get far better shots with 35mm than with digital … but that’s a whole ‘nother blog.

Detail of Honeycomb Stitch, which runs right up the front panel, starting about 10 inches from the hem.
Now, I don’t have any idea if Honeycomb is supposed to be like this? This is the first I’ve ever done it, so it’s a new one to me, but … should you be able to run your fingers up beneath the cables like this?

Horseshoe Cable – not such a great detail shot. There’re two cables, each running alongside the Honeycomb panel, about 4 inches away.

Some details of the back panel. These cables were initially just part of a kind of “sampler” thing I was doing – nothing organized, just playing with stitches.
The back panel is the foundation for the whole sweater, and I’m now working on knitting into the edges – without selvages… which is what gives me this edge…
and this edge. Don’t know where I’m going wrong, nor why things look so odd. I figure it’ll be a “house sweater” in any event, but still. I’d like for it to look good, too!

It’s the Time of the Season for Acorn

Today, the fog lasted until almost eleven. For awhile, the wind was just whipping through my clothes, and I could briefly see the fog of my breath. I was cold enough to wear a sweater, and drank a gallon of hot tea in perfect, gray-fog bliss. Briefly this morning I could pretend that September in California means that there will be cold arriving shortly, a crisp rime of frost on the sidewalk, ruddy hued leaves and sharp winds under cerulean skies.

Unfortunately? September in California means maybe an extension on summer’s “short lease.” It gets hot. Hotter, sometimes, than it’s been in August. The leaves don’t start doing anything noteworthy until almost November, and by then, rain is threatening, and you’re feeling rushed. The fine weather lasts so long that the slow transition doesn’t seem to exist here. It’s funny… I’ve lived here my entire life, and I still somehow expect it — a gradual decline into a colder time. However, that’s not going to happen, because it’s just not time for all of that yet.

Still, I can feel it coming. It doesn’t help that the stores have squash out, there are gourds in my garden, Halloween sales start Labor Day Weekend, and the cornfield near the church has scarecrows. It’s a bit crazy-making, trying to resist the lure of cooler nights and dim, foggy mornings. So, I don’t. I am officially beginning autumn today. I’ve started with squash.

Wait. I hate squash.

However, I belive in the power of acorn, and roasted acorn is perfection in being. Next year, I am going to grow a large patch of acorn. Please note that I am now dismissing the word ‘squash’ from my vocabulary. Watery and tasteless, summer squashes don’t have the punch of flavor or …anything, really, to make me want to be bothered with them. I have to add so much to them — basil, shallots — breadcrumbs, perhaps? for them to have any taste. And after all that, they’re really not so much vegetables as they are… uh, I don’t know, the main course? Veggie latkes? At any rate, I have found a friend in acorn, and I so enjoyed it this weekend that I combed through my old recipes today to dredge out a likely spice rub with which to pair it. Now, there are charmoulas, and then there are charmoulas. The ingredients are wildly variant, as seems to be the case with all rubs, but there are some base ingredients that remain the same. One is garlic. The other is cumin. I’d never made a charmoula before, but I’ve tasted them, and figured that one rub was pretty much like another, in the world of rubs. I hoped this would be a winner, since it was veggie specific. This recipe found awhile (a year?) ago in the newspaper, in their Thanksgiving food section, and it meant to highlight vegetarian tastes especially. It includes:

  • Garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp. Paprika
  • 1 tsp. Cayenne
  • 1 tsp. Kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. Ground coriander
  • 1 tsp. Ground cumin
  • 2 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • Schmear of olive oil

Please note the lack of direction for the garlic and the oil — two things I think ought to be left to the tastes of the individual.

So, I used my handy marble mortar and pestle, and ground up my ingredients (because you never want to reuse a coffee grinder that has had cumin ground in it. Ptui!) and made my acorn rub. The verdict? Not so good. I used molasses instead of brown sugar, which may have made a difference in that there was too much liquid. The flavor was fine, but it was too spicy, and not rich enough, or something, to go with the acorn. But as a barbecue sauce? Amazing, and I must admit a deep hatred and distrust of all things barbecued. D. liked it, but I’m an acorn purist, I’m afraid. Just a little olive oil, salt, and pepper for me. Or, butter and maple syrup… but mostly, I like acorn best roasted dry and served up whipped like mashed potatoes with a teensy bit of garlic and basil. Tasty!

Meanwhile, I have found a scary sort of perfection elsewhere. Just in time for the season, a fulfilling use for your every seed need: pumpkin seed brittle!!! Ohhhh, you know you want to try this at least once. If you look at the picture, you’ll be hooked like I was … or a little alarmed at the state of anyone’s teeth in attempting to bite that hunk of sugary goodness. Pumpkin seeds support the function of the immune system, assist prostate health and help lower cholesterol levels. They are also a useful source of omega 3 fatty acids and zinc. Now that you’ve had your health minute? Add sugar and enjoy!

Dried Vegan

Just a quick note to say that our idea of drying zucchini (about twenty of the monstrous things shown to the left) for use later has paid off already. We’ve been wanting to engineer a vegan quick-bread, and have succeeded! We used the dried zucchini, cut up into strips using scissors, and it’s turned out to be a wonderfully coarse loaf. Alton was going to be in for a scolding with his measurements for getting a bread starter going (from I’m Just Here for More Food: Food X Mixing + Heat = Baking), as our whole wheat starter tried to climb out of the jar even in the fridge … but we just incorporated some starter into the loaf, and are quite pleased at the results.

We wrote down all of the measurements along the way, too, so that WHEN the bakery opens we’ll have this recipe as well as all the yeast breads.

Fish DO Fly

My salmon will arrive tomorrow. 10 pounds, flash-frozen at sea, in individually vacuum-sealed portions (8 oz or 16 oz, assorted). Flown in from port, in Washington, packed in dry ice so they stay totally rock-solid frozen. As fresh as it gets without going to Alaska.

Perspective: I’m a vegetarian except for fish, and that’s only very rarely. I was raised as a vegetarian, and only came to eating meat when it was either that or live on salad / bread every bloody night (boarding school). So, this will be Adventures In Cooking, for certain, as I attempt to figure out how to cook salmon. I’ve seen Jacques Pepin do it any number of ways … but I’m thinking that I’m going to opt to start with the “sous vide” method of poaching at low temperature in a plastic bag. Slate, of course, has something snarky to say about this cooking method … or, rather, cooking methods in general. We’ll see what happens.

Tomorrow, before 3 pm, it’ll be at the door.

I ordered like three months ago.

I can’t wait.

Bread and Stitches

Just a quick post, to give you an idea of the current project. This one’s the one I blogged about a while ago, and the one which is consuming most of my time … at least, when I’m knitting.

  1. s1, k1, *k*, k2
  2. s1, k1, *k2tog*, k2
  3. s1, k1, *k into front and back of each stitch*, k2
  4. s1, k1, *p*, k2

So, the stitch (again) is to K | K2TOG | KTF&B | P across whole rows (see the previous post to get a nicer description). It ends up looking quite pretty, but it’d help if I could actually remember where I was in the pattern (note the several rows of plain old K | P in towards the top – I was in a meeting & kind of paying attention to people talking, instead of keeping track of where I was). I figure I’ve just got to remember to do this again, every 5 repeats or so … yeah right! It’s just going to end up being random, I guess.

We have given in to the temptation to bake … and eat … and are in the process of experimenting with sourdough combined with fiber. We’re trying to hide as much fiber in sourdough as possible, while disguising it as “regular” sourdough. So far, oat bran seems to be the winner. It’s quite light in color, so it hides in there very well, and we’ll know about the texture tomorrow when we try it out on a friend of ours.

Of course, we found the “plain” bread a bit difficult, as we’re used to adding more along the lines of the following (which is my “basic” recipe, in descending order of quantity):

  • Whole Wheat Flour
  • Water
  • Unbleached Flour
  • Flax Seeds
  • Oat Bran
  • Molasses
  • Honey
  • Wheat Germ
  • Quinoa Flour
  • Yeast
  • Salt

However, it’s much more fun to play with this stuff, that’s for sure. There’s not a chance in the world that you can do “bread art” with anything which is nearly 1/3 fiber … so, this is a nice change, and if it means we can add another bread to our repertoire … it’s only a good thing. Except, of course, that we’ve made four small loaves in the past two days, and all we’ve left is one small one … and that’s to share. Sigh. It’s vacation, right?


And so the great excercise in denial begins. The yeast – innocent, foamy, yet so sinister. It calls out from its infancy, saying, “eat me!” We also can’t manage to take the in-between pictures of the baking process, because we’re really not all that experienced at food blogging, and, frankly, are really into baking. So look at the yeast … and imagine it being combined with various flours (some wheat, some not), various fibers, some sweet stuff, and a wee bit of salt. Then imagine it all being kneaded, allowed to rise, kneaded again, formed, rising again and being baked.

And, as you can see, we listen to the cries of the yeast; we bake lovely loaves, and can’t resist eating them prior to any art shots.

It’s quite theraputic to look at the kitchenaid paddle going ’round and ’round. It’s also quite relaxing to have one’s spouse sitting amidst a pile of newspapers (a week’s worth, if I’m estimating properly), catching up on all of the neglected information.

What’s even more theraputic is to have waited all night long for the loaves to have really set, and then making that first cut with the slicer, after estimating (by weight of the loaves) how thick the slices should be … and then tucking each loaf into its own zip-top bag for sharing, refrigerating, and generally flinging away … to tempt someone else.

Yes. To know that a) the stick of butter you’ve had sitting in the fridge has long since gone rancid, b) you have exactly 1 teaspoon of peanut butter left, c) you have no cream cheese, d) you used all of the non-crystallized honey in making the bread, and e) it is not really a good thing to make a trip to the market just to indulge in bread, unless you plan on really indulging in bread … these things are not theraputic.

The Romans used Ostritch Feathers, I’m told. Sigh. Spin Class will have to do.

Lead Us Not Into Temptation

When I was in college in the good old undergrad days, the lady I worked for had a garage full of what I’ll just call Slim(e)fast. Costco had just morphed out of Price Club (remember that?) and people were reveling in that bulk buying thing, so there were just acres of cans in this woman’s garage. It was scary. Miles of dusty, metallic cans housing miles of metallic tasting, dubiously supportive diet drinks. I remember thinking a.) that the drink obviously wasn’t working (you had to see this lady – she drank it with food, okay?) and b.) that the cans took up so much space that I would NEVER do something so dumb. Besides, I thought, we live in California. There’s so much fresh stuff. Can’t she just eat salad and lose weight?

Okay. Flash forward to my post-collegiate life. I’ve kept my vow. I’ve never done that particular dumb thing, but I do have my soy protein shakes, in powder form, and they’re so convenient for when I’m working… and they’ve allowed me to drop a bit of weight in the bargain, so that’s nice, but they, too, I buy in bulk, and they take up a stupid amount of space in our pre-remodel, postage-sized kitchen (which will STILL be postage-sized post-remodel, but that’s another long and ranting post). The thing is, I’m struggling with the idea of convenience in packaged foods as a weight loss support. We do live in California. We do have all this great local produce, farmer’s markets, CSA’s, our own garden. It seems pointless and counter-green to rely on packaged products, when I could “just eat salad.” Oh, the hubris of seventeen.

Shall I get to the point of my rant? D.M. no longer wishes to bake, but IS BAKING. And dear Lord help us, but I could inhale a whole loaf…

Snakes Can’t Count

Just in case you wondered: Snakes can’t count. How do I know this, pray tell? Well, let’s just say that in feeding one’s snakes, one drops live mice into the cage. They soon become dead mice, sometimes several in rapid sequence, after which they are eaten. They may or may not join their brethren in the snake, is the problem, although they will certainly be just as dead.

The other thing I’m sure you didn’t want to know (unless you plan on keeping snakes)? They don’t necessarily leave those dead mice where you can see them … but you can sure smell them in a couple of days, and will have to go digging around, sifting through their cage, looking … for the mouse which oh-so-delightfully ended up buried beneath an architectural feature of the cage, and ended up waiting just for you!

Secret Fiber…

The new trick will be to incorporate fiber into our breads in a … secretive way, so that certain relatives (who should be downright ashamed of themselves) will be able to actually taste things, and then, maybe someday, eat the things baked for them.

Yes, the zucchini bread was vegan; yes, it had flax-seeds in it, and nuts, and oat bran, and wheat germ, and whole wheat flour. But come on, he could’ve actually tasted it! Bah! A nice little lady at work actually STOLE the loaf I brought in for everybody – she just wrapped it up & took it to her desk instead of leaving it in the communal area! Now, would a little taste have hurt him?

Apparently we’re going to have to refine our fiber a bit more, maybe run it through the blender or the cuisinart before we incorporate it into the breads. Maybe get a “white” whole-wheat flour, too, and peel the zucchini, so there’re no little green bits. And oat bran is already light.

And he wonders why his wife’s always going behind him sprinkling BeneFiber in things!

It was the First Bake and everything! Woe!