Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Hot dogs are generally pretty far down the list of "natural" and "healthy" foods, and they certainly aren't something that is usually homemade, although they do give me ideas of making my own ketchup and relish, but sometimes happiness trumps healthiness, so off I went to the grocery store last night for hot dogs, buns, relish, and shredded cheddar cheese. (Ketchup and mustard supplies were already adequate.) Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your point of view), since hot dogs and buns both come in packages of eight, there is no longer a need for me to do my George Banks impersonation.
While I was there, I decided to pick up some of the new frozen Greek yogurt from Ben & Jerry's. I didn't even look at the ingredient list or nutritional information. Just plunked two pints -- one vanilla-honey-caramel and one raspberry-fudge-chunk -- into my basket and walked to the register without a backward glance.
The hot dogs were a thing of unnatural beauty. While two heated up in the microwave, I lined two buns with a sprinkling of shredded triple cheddar cheese. Once the hot dogs were nestled into their buns, I added a stripe each of dill relish, ketchup, and pub style Dijon mustard and chowed down while listening to the baseball game on the radio (one which had not been postponed due to snow).
I only tried the vanilla-honey-caramel flavor of the frozen yogurt. It was okay -- a little tangy, a little sweet and not too much of either. It certainly won't languish indefinitely in the freezer, but I continue to not understand the addicting attraction to Ben & Jerry's products.
It may still be chilly and gray outside, but last night I had a tasty moment of summer.
Sunday, April 21, 2013
I need to make another donation to the local classical music station because during the recent episode in Boston, the morning host promised to provide news updates when there was actual news but said that it was okay if we didn't want to listen to the constant barrage of coverage and offered a safe haven where we could listen to beautiful music.
Yesterday was Record Store Day, so I went to a local music store to see what collectible treasures there were to be had. Mostly I was hoping for a copy of the Grateful Dead release to give to the other music listener in the house, but they were all claimed before I could find one. (Hopefully, none of them are included in the hundred or so eBay listings which have since shown up.) Luckily, the release will be available to the general public on cd at some point, and I find plenty of other fun things such as a Newport Jazz Festival recording and previously unreleased demos by Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan.
The classical cd section in the store isn't very big, and the last few times I have looked there hasn't been much of interest, so I wasn't expecting much yesterday either. Turns out I was in for a surprise. There was a far better selection than usual, including numerous recordings and artists on my wish list. And used CDs were buy two, get one free. Not surprisingly, I came home with a bag full and, after the baseball game was over, spent most of the rest of my day in headphones.
The variety and intricacy and history of classical music never ceases to amaze me, not to mention the fact that a lot of it has survived hundreds of years, as have some of the instruments.
Did you know that Scarlatti composed 555 keyboard sonatas? He didn't get started until he had turned forty, and he wrote them in twenty years.
Did you know that J.S. Bach, so famous for religious choral music, played in coffee houses?
Mistlav Rostropovich played the Duport Stradivarius cello made in 1711 and scarred by Napoleon Bonaparte when it was a mere century old. Jacqueline Du Pre's Davidov Stradivarius, made a year after the Duport, is now played by Yo-Yo Ma.
And so on and so forth. So many stories; so many pieces; so many performances and recordings. Which to choose?
The digital age has done wonders for classical music, preserving aging recordings which only exist in libraries of one sort or another. Sometimes the preservation is faithful to the original, and sometimes a remastering process is applied, with varying degrees of success. The result is a list of choices which can be overwhelming.
While I am a huge fan of reading as research, in this case, I don't think that a book is really going to do it. Sure, an expert can tell you which are the most famous or most loved or "best" pieces and performances, but everyone's musical palette is different. You have to get in there and listen. Find a good classical music station. If you don't have one locally, there are many which stream live online (99.5 WCRB out of Boston is my favorite -- see above reference to the fabulous morning host) and make programs available after the fact. If you hear something you like, chances are there is a schedule online which will tell you the exact name of the piece, composer and performer. There might even be a link to a recording you can download or purchase on cd (or even the treasured vinyl).
If you choose to go wandering through the online offerings, many at astonishingly low prices (for example, the voluminous "box sets" put out by http://www.thebachguild.com/), I don't recommend reading too many reviews. Classical music enthusiasts tend to be vehemently opinionated and can get carried away harping on details which may not be apparent to a more casual listener.
The most important thing is to enjoy yourself. Keep listening and trying new (to you) composers and performers, and you will learn what you like.
Sunday, April 14, 2013
I finally cooked some of the fabulous bacon I bought at the farmers' market from the guy who sold me my Thanksgiving turkey.
I like my bacon well done but not overly crispy (and then there is my perennial fear of high heat), so I start it out on medium high heat for not very long (maybe thirty seconds or a minute) and then turn down the flame to cook it, relatively speaking, low and slow. More of the fat renders before the meat is cooked all the way through.
While the bacon drained on paper towels, I spooned out most of the fat before cracking in two organic eggs -- smaller than the others in the dozen, so probably not as good for recipes. Yes, eggs fried in bacon fat. Say it with me ... Mmmmmmm.
Bacon and eggs like hash browns, but I am not so good at making hash browns, at least not quickly, so I tend to stick with mashed potatoes, which I find to be more versatile anyway (and which can always be fried a bit after the fact if you must have crunch). I boiled up some red potatoes, tossed in a bunch of butter -- go big or go home, right? -- and herbed soft French cheese, and mashed with a fork.
It was worth every calorie and every gram of fat.
You can't eat like this every day and be healthy, but I think that part of what makes a meal like this taste so fantastically good is that it is an occasional indulgence. I chose to indulge today and will compensate accordingly for the next several days with lots of steamed vegetables.
Tuesday, April 9, 2013
The problem is that the only kind of magic that Poppy likes is the magic of baking. She doesn't want to be a witch. She doesn't want to go to the exclusive magical academy for young witches. All she wants to do is bake and share her creations.
Conflict and struggle, adventures and mishaps, anger and sorrow, bravery and resourcefulness ensue. With recipes!! Almost all of which I want to bake.
Highly recommended for imaginative little girls (or not so little girls) who eschew the EasyBake oven for the real thing ... or who have an uncertain relationship with the baking of tasty treats.
As mentioned on at least one previous occasion in this blog, baking and I do not get along terribly well, although as evidenced by the oatmeal cookie success, there is hope for the relationship. Before I made the oatmeal cookies, however, I made lemon bars -- Charlie's Favorite Lemon Bars as made by Poppy Pendle to be exact.
I know that she is an imaginary character, but this little girl's enthusiasm about baking (and sharing) and confidence in the kitchen are contagious. The recipes are broken down into easy steps with clear instructions and plenty of encouragement. She recommends the use of conveniences such as food processors and stand mixers (with the help of an adult), but if such appliances are not available, or you simply prefer to do things by hand, there are details instructions for that method as well. She even explains measurements and calculations for making half batches of recipes. As I read them, I found myself thinking, "If a twelve year-old can do it, then surely I can too, as long as I pay attention to the details of what I am doing."
Now, I won't say that the lemon bars turned out perfectly -- I probably should have mixed the crust a bit longer in the food processor and baked it a bit longer before adding the filling, which was a bit too lemony for my taste -- but they were most certainly edible, especially with a generous dusting of confectioners' sugar over the top. Hence I was sufficiently encouraged to try April Bloomfield's recipe for oatmeal cookies.
Since the lemon bar recipe is several pages long, I don't know that I can reproduce it here without infringing on copyright, and summarizing would lose some of the, ahem, flavor, but the author's website is here: http://www.natashalowe.com/index.html.
Monday, April 8, 2013
Sunday, April 7, 2013
With its glorious, feel-good trifecta of fat, salt and carbs, macaroni and cheese is something of a sacred institution, but it is one of those dishes which everyone else seems to love and I just find gross, even though I do love both pasta and cheese, even together.
Saturday, April 6, 2013
The selection is still a bit limited, but I still came home with a nice bag full, of green things -- spinach and mesclun and something called Tokyo Bekana -- a dozen eggs, aged farmhouse cheddar made from raw goat's milk, and a pound of bacon.
The bacon came from the farmer who sold me my fabulous Thanksgiving turkey last year. I saw the bacon at the last market, but I was good and bought chicken breasts instead. This week, however, I decided not to resist and bought a pound when I signed up for this year's Thanksgiving turkey. It's too bad that I am not more of a fan of meat because he sells all cuts of beef and pork, including whole and half animals butchered and wrapped to the customer's specifications. It just sounds like such a good idea ... if you have a large family to feed and/or eat a significant amount of meat.
I haven't decided what I am going to do with all of the greens yet, although I think that some of them could be wraps for salad made from the eggs, but I have already eaten a good chunk of the goat's milk cheese. It tastes like a smooth but tangy blend of cheddar and feta. Yum.
So start looking around for farmers with spring greens to sell and let your palette know that it is spring!
Friday, April 5, 2013
I have a couple of guide bags from Eddie Bauer (although I may have given the smaller one away), the larger of which was dubbed the "spy bag" by a friend of mine because of how much the relatively small bag could hold.
A regular purse doesn't work for me because I don't really carry regular purse things. I don't even carry a wallet. My travel necessities include my journal, at least one book, at least one pen, probably my phone and my iPod, keys if they don't fit in a pocket, and whatever identification and funds I might need to get where I am going. When I had a netbook, it was nice to be able to carry that as well, along with accessories such as a mouse, flash drive and power cord. Now I have a nook hd+, which takes up a bit less space, especially if I don't pack the keyboard. About the only girly things I am likely to have are ChapStick lip balm and some sort of hair restraint. I carry no make-up, comb/brush or hair products. Not being a mom, I don't carry child-related and appropriate items.
Around the last holiday shopping extravaganza, I discovered a company called (*)speck. I discovered them online but have since seen their products in stores. This bag was right up my alley, and I got a great deal on it. There is a slot for the tablet, a pocket for the iPod and headphones and other miscellaneous cords, another pocket for money and identification, and another slot for books and the journal. The strap isn't long enough to wear crosswise, but it fits pretty well all the same.
Today I learned about a company that sells bags and organizers through the party/event plan or model or whatever it is called. It seems like you can buy (or sell if you are a hostess, er, consultant) just about anything this way. There have been Tupperware food storage parties and jewelry parties and cookware parties and candle parties, and of course we can't forget those marvelous mavens of make-up, the Mary Kay ladies selling their way to a pink Cadillac. The company which facilitates the selling of bags is called Thirty-One, and I stopped by a table where the local consultant had samples and catalogs and was not only selling the wares but doing so as part of a fundraiser to benefit the local YMCA.
The company offers many shapes and sizes of duffle bags and tote bags, as well as the sorts of bags which catch my eye, such as the Organizing Shoulder Bag and the Organista Crossbody, but the ones which really intrigued me with the thermal bags. There were lunchbag shaped and cooler sized bags, including a drawstring pouch which would be perfect for knitting projects, but there were also much smaller options which could hold just a few snacks or heat/cold sensitive medications and easily fit inside a larger, non-insulated bag, purse or tote. There is even an organizing pack with dividers set in it to keep camera equipment safe and protected from temperatures outside the comfort zone.
The general web site is http://www.thirtyonegifts.com/Catalog/ and the link to the specific event and consultant I met today is https://www.mythirtyone.com/shop/catalog.aspx.
There are, of course, lots of bags and organizing options out there to be had, but I thought these were neat and a little different than anything else I have seen.
Thursday, April 4, 2013
My mother sent it to me, along with the accompanying NPR story.
I know that it is kind of cheating, but I think that is going to be my post for the day. If I get motivated and/or inspired, I may be back.
In the meantime, enjoy. (And look for the vegetarian haggis.)
Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Baked goods are, shall we say, not my forte. I usually can't even successfully bake cookies that come right out of a package. Lately, however, I have had a craving for oatmeal cookies, and I just wasn't willing to buy some from the store. Long ingredients lists become less appealing all the time.
I searched my library via EatYourBooks.com and was rewarded with an extensive list of possibilities. I didn't want anything too fancy or complicated, and I was looking for soft and chewy rather than crispy. The recipe of choice became Soft Oatmeal Cookies from A Girl and Her Pig by April Bloomfield.
The whole cookbook is amazing. Yes, there is a lot of meat, and there are a lot of dishes I wouldn't be inclined to cook myself, but the author makes them sound so good that I would be willing to try them in her restaurant if the opportunity presented itself. This unassuming cookie recipe is tucked into the dessert section near the end.
The official ingredient list:
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup dark sultanas or golden raisins
1/4 cup dried currants
10 Tbsp butter, at room temperature
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
large pinch of salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups rolled oats
I didn't have sultanas or currants, but I did have golden raisins. I also had chopped hazelnuts left over from making a green bean, quinoa, hazelnut salad. So I used half of a cup of raisins and a quarter cup of hazelnuts.
Two notes: The only "complicated" part about this recipe is that the raisins need to be soaked for several hours and the butter needs to be at room temperature. I would recommend taking the butter out of the fridge or freezer and setting the raisins up to soak the night before. Secondly, I highly recommend making a double batch. Unlike so many cookie recipes, this one only makes about 16 cookies, even if they are substantial. Since they are chewy/cakey rather than crispy, a little bigger is definitely better.
I put my fabulous stand mixer to work, complete with birthday present paddle attachment with a sort of spatula edge to it so that there is less scraping down the sides of the bowl. Take the eggs out of the fridge. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. I am reasonably sure that I know what light and fluffy looks like now. The author says about four minutes. I let mine run a bit longer, just to be sure. If you can leave your mixer unattended while the creaming is happening, sift the dry ingredients into a bowl and mix together. (I used a fork.) Once the butter and sugar are creamed, add the eggs one at a time, beating about thirty seconds in between. Add the vanilla and the dry ingredients. Mix until flour is incorporated. Add raisins, nuts, and oats. Mix again. Put the dough in the refrigerator for at least an hour. I would recommend two.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. (I suppose that you could just grease the pan, but really, parchment paper is the way to go. The cookies just slide right off, and cleanup is so much easier. If you have ever had to sandblast cookies off a pan, try the parchment paper. You won't be sorry.) Divide the dough in half (if making one batch). Take one half and divide it into 8 balls. Put the balls on the paper lined pan. Bake for ten minutes. Rotate the pan. Bake for another ten minutes. Remove from oven and transfer to a wire rack to cook. Repeat with remaining dough.
The result should be yummy, not too dense, almost breakfast/granola bar textured cookies. Enjoy with a tall glass of well chilled milk or a cup of coffee. Yum!
Tuesday, April 2, 2013
Anyway, with new crops of vegetables on their way, I have been working my way through the last of the frozen vegetables, trying to make sure that nothing gets shifted to the back, hidden and forgotten.
On Sunday, I decided that I should use up the last bits of the Thanksgiving turkey, which I thought were hiding in a corner somewhere, freezer burned and forgotten, and given their state, slow cooked turkey soup sounded like a good plan. I even considered using the crock pot, but in the end decided I wanted to play a more active roll in the preparation.
When I went searching for said turkey, however, it was nowhere to be found, so someone must have beaten me to it. Luckily, I had two rather large, locally and organically grown chicken breasts from the same farmer, so turkey soup became chicken soup.
Step one: defrost the chicken. I was a little concerned about using chicken because raw chicken has a certain squish factor which kind of grosses me out. Solution: cut up the chicken with a nice sharp nice before it has completely defrosted and then pop the pieces into the microwave for a few minutes to finish the defrosting process.
Step two: start defrosting cubes of turkey stock (made from the carcass of the aforementioned Thanksgiving turkey).
Step three: brown the chicken. I am not very good a browning meat. Unless I can do it in one big chunk (like a roast), I don't have the patience to make sure that the small bits are spread out properly so that they brown instead of steam and then turn them in a timely and coordinated manner so that they brown evenly without burning or cooking too much. I know that everything tastes better if I do it right, but true to form, after two batches, I just dumped the rest in and sauteed until I didn't see any more pink showing on the outside and then piled it all on a plate.
Step four: the fabulous mirepoix -- onion (sweet this time), carrots, celery and garlic. Sauteed in the little bit of fat from the chicken and a bit of olive oil, adding white wine to deglaze as needed. Sauteed might not be the correct term as I use lower heat and longer time. Added a few grinds of salt and pepper somewhere along the line.
Step five: seasonings. Look in the pantry or on the spice rack. Shake in a bit of whatever strikes your fancy. I used a couple of different herb mixtures I like to keep on hand.
Step six: more wine. I poured in what was left in a couple of open bottle which had been in the fridge for a while, probably about a cup and a half.
Step seven: everything else -- a saucepan full of turkey stock (four to six cups), the browned chicken, chopped up green beans (local, organic, frozen at the end of the summer), red potatoes, probably two cups of water to make sure everything was covered and a tablespoon or two or my favorite homemade vegetable bouillon.
Step eight: bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about an hour, tasting for seasoning and doneness along the way.
Step nine: enjoy a hearty meal and store the leftovers. (This recipe makes roughly a vat of soup. There will be leftovers unless you are feeding many and/or large appetites.)
You could server it over rice or noodles. You could throw in tiny pasta (or not so tiny pasta, as you like). Beans would probably work, too. I am hoping that it freezes well, and I can vouch that it improves as leftovers.
Monday, April 1, 2013
I am not much of a fan of New Year's Resolutions because such a specific label is restrictive, as if there is only one day a year when you can resolve to make changes and improvements in your life. Then, if you don't follow through for some reason, do you have to wait until the next January 1st to start again?
I think not.
Every day is an opportunity to take stock of what you have (or have not) accomplished in previous days and then decide what to do going forward.
I have discovered that goals are more helpful, motivating, and achievable, if they are a combination of general and specific. For example, I find "get some exercise at least five days a week" to be a more realistic achievement than "run five miles a day." Sometimes goals evolve from being vague to specific. After I finished one knitting project which had been lingering for quite some time, "knit more" evolved into "finish these three projects by the end of the year." I didn't specify an order or hierarchy for the projects, and I am not going to worry about actually having more than three unfinished projects (not to mention other projects I want to start). Instead, I am going to stick with these three. I think it helps that they are a bit of a mixed bag. The largest project is the simplest (no fancy pattern). The smallest project is the most complicated, and the one in between is, well, in between. The current order seems to be to finish the middle project first and then alternate between the large, simple project and the small, complicated project, but that may change. The point is that I keep making progress and even if I don't do any knitting for several days, it is easy to pick up where I left off because I have a plan.
As a contradiction, the specific reading goal of fifty-two books a year is finally working out. Last year I managed fifty-three, so this year, the goal is to read fifty-five books. So far, so good, and hopefully it is a long-term trend which I can continue.
Cooking goals remain nebulous beyond "read cookbooks, try new recipes, be mindful of ingredients and where they come from, support local farmers and businesses," but that's okay because I think that it is working well so far. I eat less processed food, and while my brain occasionally craves a fast food hamburger, my taste buds remember that the food I cook tastes so much better. I do have a subscription to an online cooking school which I need to work into the schedule somewhere somehow, but I haven't figured out how to make that work just yet.
My favorite accomplishment so far this year is the successful baking of oatmeal cookies, but they deserve their own post, which fits in nicely with the goal I really wanted to discuss in this post: writing.
Writing used to be a necessary cathartic process to quiet the clamoring voices in my head. As I have made progress on various projects and goals and have generally found a better balance between work and life, the voices have quieted significantly on their own, so that while I still enjoy writing, it is not quite the necessary survival skill that it has been in the past, which means that I often find myself thinking, "I should write about that at some point," but I don't make it to "some point," especially if I am going through a "stay away from the computer while not at work" phase. (Now *there* is an extreme compound, complex sentence for you. Watch out Marcel Proust!)
In the meantime, I wanted to share the following story which came in one of the e-mail newsletters I received from the NaNoWriMo folks because I just love the positive power possibilities of the written word. Enjoy!
"My daughter Logan is borderline autistic and deals with extreme anxiety. She struggles significantly when things are not "perfect", and just couldn't get her words on the page. Any more than five sentences was a struggle for her. Still, I decided to try and see what would happen if I signed her up for NaNoWriMo.
By midmonth, she had attended her first write-in with my students and after that was writing non-stop. By the end of the month, she had written more than double her 1,000-word goal. What's more, she had become a completely different child.
She was so excited about her writing, she was carrying her manuscript everywhere, had read her story to the whole class, and was writing like mad. It's been inspiring to see the happiness and ease writing now brings her." — Holly B.