Friday, December 31, 2010

Ba Bao Fan

The name of this dessert was baffling to me when I was little. In a typically oriental piece of transliteration, dad used to call it "eight precious pudding". I thought he was saying "a precious pudding", which made more sense than ba bao fan. I mean, I got that the 'fan' part meant rice, but the rest- bobble fan?- ba bowl fan? Huh. Beat the hell out of me. I think I was in high school when I finally figured out that the name means something like '8 things in rice'. There's some kind on chinese numerology business going on here. 8 is an auspicious number, so I think the implication is that if you have eight things in the rice, that must make it fancy. If you look up recipes online, a lot of them will call it Eight Treasures Pudding. 

But never mind! It is delicious, and takes virtually no effort to make, especially if you buy the sweet bean filling in a can. Here's what you need:

3 cups sushi rice. It will say 'short grain sweet rice' if you aren't in the habit of buying it.
2 or 3 tablespoons canola oil, or lard of you're feeling particularly authentic. Duck fat would be even fancier!

1 1/2 cans sweet bean filling- there were 2 kinds at the store, and I recommend the one in the green & yellow can. The one in the blue package isn't as good, which I might have known at the outset. The sketchy outdated label design on the L&W brand made me suspect that the contents would be more authentic in much the same way that having a frightening washroom in a chinese restaurant augurs well for the quality of the food. It's a cultural thing.

toasted, unsalted cashew nuts
ginko nuts
candied orange peel or pieces of candied orange
dates- regular, or chinese red ones if you can find them.
golden raisins
maraschino cherries!

This will make enough for 13 adults and 5 children ages 4-7ish.

The only ingredients that are really critical are the rice and the sweet bean filling. The important thing is that you end up with 8 fruits, nuts, etc to decorate the rice with. Maraschino cherries had a decidedly exotic and luxurious mystique to me as a child, and they remain my favorite no matter how horrible I know they are. Other traditional things are lotus seeds, chinese red dates, dried apricots, and maybe dried pineapple or candied chinese plums. I also used a few blanched almonds, but that was because I was really leery of the ginko nuts. See note below.

Rinse the rice 3 or 4 times, until most of the excess starch has been washed off. You could skip this step, if you wanted, but the rice is much easier to handle later if it's been well rinsed. Drain the rice, put it in a rice cooker with 4 cups of water, and cook as usual. When the rice is done, gently toss the oil or fat into the rice with a fork. Let the rice cool a bit while you assemble the rest of the stuff.

You will need a large metal or glass mixing bowl for a mold. Round is traditional, but there is nothing I can think of that should stop you from using a ring mold, a loaf pan, or any other fancy shape you like. The limiting factor is the fact that you have to steam the mold for an hour or two, so whatever you use has got to fit inside another, larger, pot with a lid. I had to borrow my brother-in-law's 5 gallon pressure cooker for this one.

Oil the mold. Arrange the rest of the ingredients in fancy designs in the bowl. Cover them with a layer of rice. I scooped up handfuls and patted it into flat pieces then laid them on top of the decorations. Keep your hands wet while handling the rice, it will stick to you less. Scoop the bean filling into the middle, smooth it out, and cover it with a layer of rice. Gently press the whole thing down and cover it with foil.

I don't have 3 arms. My niece Agatha was helping me with the almonds.

If you mean to eat it more or less immediately, steam it for about an hour- all it needs is to be hot through. If you're making it ahead of time, like I did, refrigerate it until about 2 hours before you want to eat it, then steam it for about 1 1/2 -1 3/4 hours. That much mass will take a while to warm up. About 15 minutes before serving, remove it from the steamer and run a knife around the edge to loosen it up, then invert it onto a serving dish. If it doesn't immediately fall onto the plate, just go away and leave it alone for a few minutes. Presently, the steam trapped in the mold will un-stick the rice, and it will come out. Pick off any little bits of decorations that are still in the mold, and put them back on the pudding. Serve with a little honey drizzled over each person's portion.

Note: Ginko nuts (or seeds) can be found in little vacuum packs in the refrigerated produce section of Fubonn. To prepare them, mix 1/4 cup sugar with 1/4 cup water in a small sauce pan and simmer until the sugar has dissolved. Put in the seeds and simmer them for about half an hour befor using them. They are very strange. They are slightly astringent tasting, sort of like pine nuts, and once cooked in the syrup, they have a texture like gumdrops.

Ginko nuts figure largely in the early lore of my family. Some time while I was in grade school, Dad took Pete to help gather ginko nuts. If you've ever walked under a ginko tree in the fall, you will have noticed that fallen ginko fruits smell like poo. That's because, like actual excrement (and body odor, and rancid butter), ginko fruit contains butyric acid, which is known as one of the stinkiest chemicals in the world. So of course, chinese people love to eat ginko nuts. They are even slightly poisonous! Besides, why would anybody be put off by the idea of coming home smelling like a pigsty, leaving your (only) pair of sneakers and the inside of the car scented like a cesspool from the contents of a 5 gallon bucket of decaying fruit? All you have to do is wash the foul-smelling glop off the outside of the seeds... which involves plunging your arm into the bucket and sloshing them around.

No, thank you. I will buy little vacuum packs in the grocery store.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Brussels Sprouts Breakfast

Sometimes, the idea of a good breakfast is the only thing that gets me out of bed in the winter. I've discussed the peculiar virtue of breakfast many times already, so I'll just say that this iteration did it's magic especially well. For those of you who do not feel that brassicas at breakfast have any appeal, I encourage you to have eggs and grilled sprouts for dinner.

The last time I bought brussels sprouts, I got a huge branch of them at TJ's and it was more than I needed at the time. So I cooked them and froze them. I've had bad luck with frozen sprouts before, and I was a bit anxious about doing that, but they defrosted just fine. The key difference I think, is that before I had used sprouts that had been frozen fresh, which caused their cooking behavior to be a trifle unsatisfactory. This time I fully prepared my sprouts and then froze them, and they thawed out perfectly. Here's what I did:

Rinse and halve 2 pounds of brussels sprouts and put them in a microwaveable dish with a lid. Put 3 or 4 tablespoons of water in the dish to create steam, add a fair amount of butter, salt and pepper, and microwave in 3 minute increments until they're done. After about 6 minutes, stir in about 1/2 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice, which is mostly nutmeg, ginger, gloves and maybe cinnamon. 'Done' is a matter of taste. Early in the season when sprouts tend to be very tender and mild tasting, I only cook them until they're bright green and slightly translucent. Later on, they tend to be tougher and more bitter, and I like to cook them until they are very soft and are a more olive green color. These were some of the latter. If you freeze them, they may take a few days to thaw in the fridge.

This morning I remembered that I had cremini mushrooms. I grilled some of those in butter, then browned the sprouts in the pan. When the sprouts looked good, I scrambled up some eggs to go with- a few of my sprouts and shrooms got into the eggs, but that's fine. The trick with mushrooms is not to stir them around when they're browning, or they'll get sorta squishy. Just put plenty of butter in the pan, get it medium hot, put in the shrooms, and leave them alone. Once you can see them curling up, flip them over once and do the other side.

Does anybody but me feel that it's totally fancier to have two different kinds of jam for your toast?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Green Beans

Green beans are really only appealing when they are cooked in one of 2 ways: either barely blanched enough to make them go bright green and then shocked in cold water to stop the cooking, or really, REALLY cooked. This is one option for the latter. Interesting cultural side note: hillbillies in Floyd County, Virginia, and hillbillies in Shandong Province, China, cook their green beans in exactly the same way. Here's how they do it-

Get a mess of green beans, an onion, and a good sized bit of bacon. Cut up the bacon and onions, put them in a pot with the beans and enough water to about half-cover the lot. Bring the pot to a boil. Cover it, reduce it to a simmer and add a few pinches of salt. If you want, you can put in a little bit of pepper. Stir it every once in a while, but mostly just leave the pot to simmer until the beans have nearly dried out, and you can almost hear them sizzling on the bottom of the pot. Take them off the heat, leave them to cool for a minute then stir them once to get the flavors well mixed and to take up any brown bits from the pan.

Practical notes: Use really good bacon. I used 2 slices of TJ's to about a pound of beans. Also, taste for salt after about half an hour, they take a good bit. It encourages Maillard reactions. They should take around an hour to cook.

Beans cooked this long develop nutty, roasty flavors that go really well with the smoky and meaty flavor of the bacon, but they retain their characteristic 'beany' taste as well. Also, long cooking makes them very tender, which is enhanced by the bacon fat. They are quite buttery, a satisfying thing to eat in the winter.

If you live in Floyd, you can eat them with biscuits, or rolls, cornbread, mashed potatoes, homemade pickles, and pork chops or chicken if you are at all reasonably prosperous. If you live in Shandong,  you can eat them with rolls, possibly  boiled potatoes, homemade pickles, and pork chops if you can afford it. But if you haven't got any of those things on hand, don't let that stop you from eating green beans. Really, there isn't anything they don't go with. I get creeped out by cooking raw meat in my own apartment, (the packaging is nasty) so I ate mine with a cup of tea and some gingerbread.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Special Dethklok episode

I made a gingerbread house. Most of youse have already seen it. But I am really pretty geeked about the thing, or maybe it's just sugar overload. I hadn't planned on eating it, but the gingerbread is actually so scrumptious that I think it won't last until Christmas. Thanks again to Susan, for hosting a Most Excellent get-together, and the rest of the ladies present, Alaina and Jess and Natalie, for conviviality and silly-ass shit. For the record, whichever recipe made the light-colored, rather soft gingerbread is my favorite, and I want to know what it was. I can hear the roof of my spooky little cookie shack caving in as I type, but who cares? I can't eat it whole.

I took lots of pictures when I got home, and they're up on my flickr photostream, along with a bunch of other things, including a couple extra pictures of Thanksgiving.

If anybody else out there is considering hosting a similar event, my advice is twofold: 1) Dollar Tree, 2) Bacon.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Eldoris Dyer's Pineapple Casserole

The handwritten instructions I received for this are somewhat imprecise.

But then, so was the man who wrote them out for me. A dear fellow, but...

At any rate, this shit's good. Here's a slightly altered ingredient list & procedure:

3/4 cup butter- I used salted, since the recipe does not call for added salt.
6 eggs
1 cup sugar (!)
a 20 oz can of crushed pineapple- see below
8 slices white bread

Pre-heat  the oven to 375.

Melt the butter. Hold the 8 slices of white bread together in a brick, and generously butter the crusts. Then carefully saw the crusts off with a bread knife. Tear the bread middles into 1-inch chunks or so and put them in an 11" casserole dish. Reserve the crusts for the top.

Thoroughly combine the eggs & sugar in a large-ish mixing bowl. I put in a dash of vanilla, even though it isn't in the recipe. Can't leave well enough alone. Mix in the pineapple and melted butter and carefully pour over the bread chunks. Push everything down until it's in an even layer in the pan, then lay the crust bits over it. Sprinkle a fair amount if sugar over the crusts. Bake at 375 for about 45 minutes.


1. I think actually following the recipe regarding the pineapple is probably best. I didn't have crushed pineapple in my cupboard, I just wanted to use up the can of pineapple rings I had bought on impulse a few months ago. So I stuck the rings in the mini-prep, and used about 3/4 of the juice remaining in the can. A can of crushed would have both been easier and netted more actual pineapple in the dish.

2.The crust thing is not half as OCD as it looks. Once you butter the bread brick, the crusts will have a tendency to come off all stuck together.

3. My eggs were cold. If they were room temperature, I bet it would cook lots faster.

4. Yup, that's a lot of sugar. Put it in anyway.

5. This may be important- I didn't actually assemble the thing as stated above- I mixed the bread in with the liquids in the bowl, then dumped it into the casserole dish. I think the procedure I've written out would be better because I had forgotten that genuine, store-bought, white bread will instantly disintegrate on contact with moisture. There would be a greater semblance of texture to the finished product, I think, if the liquid were just poured over the bread.

Man, it was hard not to dink around with this recipe. I wanted to put in bits of candied ginger, I wanted to top it with grated palm sugar, I wanted to make it with bacon drippings, all kinds of kooky notions went through my head. And then I decided not to. I figured that its authentic, 50's-era, white-people-food quality should stand on its own. If it was good enough for Eldoris Dyer to pass down to her grandson, then damnit, it oughtta be good enough for anybody. But I do wish I'd gone back over to Pete's to swipe a can of maraschino cherries out of his fridge. It'd look fancy.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


They need that many o's because they are extra long. Also because I had extra fun making them. Pete got the pre-turkeyday video he shot edited up, and it is now on youtube. Unfortunately, I don't have any still shots of this yet, but I'll link to any Pete puts up, they're all on his camera.

Dec 15th- Now with more pictures! Yay!

The recipe for this is very approximate. It goes something like this: Take about a cup and a half of water, and a half teaspoon of salt, and a tablespoon of oil, and put them in a mixing bowl, or do what I did and use your bread machine. Start mixing in bread flour. Keep adding flour gradually until the dough pretty much doesn't want to accept any more flour. Knead it until it's smooth, then put it in tupperware and leave it to sit on the counter overnight. In the morning, poke the dough. If it feels pretty sticky, turn it out and knead in about another 1/4 cup of flour. Knead it as smooth as you can get it, then put it back in its airtight box for at least 8 hours. You don't have to use bread flour, Dad never did. That's just what I always have most of.

Here's the video. It shows what to do with the dough. I have some things to say about it: WOW do I sound dorky...please ignore the audio, it is entirely irrelevant. Also, it has been edited down a great deal, because rolling a glob of dough 25 times or something is very boring to watch. Dad had a 5 or 6 foot piece of plywood set up on legs in the basement for doing this; we wrapped the dining room table with cling film. The thing I'm using to roll it out with is a dowel pete got at Fred Meyer. For true authenticity, you should saw the handle off a shop broom, sand most of the paint away and use it. Yes, Dad did do that.

On a more practical note-

1. Sprinkle on lots of flour in between rollings, or the dough will stick to itself. The expansion of the dough is caused primarily by pushing the dough out towards the ends of the dowel as you roll, rather than by squashing downwards.

2. It would be better to leave the dough for longer than 8 hours in the second resting period if at all possible. You can't see it well in the video, but my dough had a strong desire to shrink back up. If you leave it longer than overnight, refrigerate it so it doesn't ferment. I seem to remember there being noodle and potsticker dough resting for days at a time in the fridge when I was a kid.

3. The dough is slightly less than 1/16th" thick when it's done. Try to cut them no wider than 1/4".

4. That oil is HOT! Be careful of the steam! Don't drop the noodles in from a great height, or you will splash boiling oil on you! Get close to the oil surface, release the noodles, and get your hand out of the way. Yes it is rather dangerous, that's why I made my brother do it.

5. They will cook in less than 15 seconds. The wire strainer thing is for corralling the noodles into a disk as they crisp up, as well as for getting them out at the end.

Incidentally, chow mein was not the primary use for these noodles when we were kids, or at least, not how they were eaten by just our family. Dad did his crazy illegal catering thing, and people had him make chow mein for that, but usually the reason he made noodles for us was birthdays. Instead of frying them, he boiled them like any other fresh pasta, and put on a very salty sauce made with soy sauce, hoisin, ham bits, green onions, sesame, and garlic. These were 'chang sho mein', that is, long life noodles. The length of the noodles is supposed to be auspicious, and the correct protocol is to slurp them up without biting them to pieces.

Addendum: We had breakfast with my chinese cousins this weekend. Henry said that I roll noodles just like my grandmother. This was astonishing to me, since I have no memory of her ever doing it, except maybe one time when she rolled the dough around the pin about one time to show that she still remembered how. I'm not sure that's a true memory, since I would have been very small. It seems that she taught my dad how to do it. And all this time, I just figured dad learned from some disreputable roadside noodle vendor in Shandong back in the dark ages.

 Ah, there had been *ahem* some drinking involved...

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Food is Love

And I am very thankful for both this year. I just have some quick, unedited pics of Chinese Turkey Day. Pete and Cynthia hosted, he cooked, I played a supporting prep-and-consult role. The menu was:

1. Potstickers
2. Salad- I think dad called this 'four happiness', it only has 4 things in it. I forgot to get pictures of these things.

3. Lion's head soup, which is just very big meatballs

4. Fried rice- Josh's contribution, and mighty tasty. Missed the photo op.

5. Steamed turkey & chestnuts

6. Sweet and sour turkey- Edwin's hands-down favorite; he was jumping up and down. That's a compliment for you.

7. Authentic chow mein. I'll post a link to the noodle videos, whenever Pete gets them up.

8. Lots Of Desserts! Which I wish I'd taken pictures of, especially the almond curd which is traditional. Next time.

I am going to bed early so I can fetch my mommy from the airport tomorrow. Why is mom flying during the holiday? Because my niece Beatrice is here. Bea is one week old, and looks like an ice cream cone. This is the sound of me dissolving into goosh. *blub blub blub blub*

Happy holidays and good wishes to you all!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Warm Spinach And Grilled Apple Salad

...with goat cheese and hazelnuts.

This is a good means for eating spinach and under ripe apples in nasty weather when you are afraid that if you succumb to the call of comfort food one more time you will come down with scurvy.

1 apple, kinda tart and green, of a variety that holds its shape well when cooked. I'm sorry I have no idea what this was. It sat in the kitchen for over a month and was nearly as hard and green today as it was when I got it at the apple festival back in October.

a sliver of butter

2 handfuls of spinach
some hazelnuts, toasted, no salt
a sprinkle of herbed goat cheese, this was from TJ's
splash of sherry vinegar, balsamic vinegar, and good olive oil

Core the apple, slice it about 1/4" thick, and put them in a single layer in a frying pan. You want the pan to be just above medium-hot so the apples get nice and brown but you don't scorch the butter. Don't poke them around, they'll get all mushy. When the apples are brown on one side, turn them over and do the other side, then shove them to the side of the pan and put in one handful of spinach. Stir it around a couple times, then stir in the apples, and as soon as the spinach is starting to look wilted, dump it onto a plate. Toss it with another handful of spinach and fling in the nuts and cheese. Shake a few drops of vinegar and oil over it and eat it before the fried bits get clammy or the fresh bits go limp.

I have lots of reasons to like this salad. I used up that damned apple. It is not cold, which is very appealing when it gets full dark before 5 pm. It has fat and protein in it, which makes it satisfying to eat, and it has all that leafy stuff you are supposed to eat, which allows me to feel virtuous doing it. And the nuts were the leftovers from another recipe I am Plotting, which calls for hazelnut butter...of which more later. It tastes way more complicated than it is, which I attribute to the 2 kinds of vinegar and the magic of caramelization. And it was fast- cooking, styling, photography, photo editing, eating and writing has all taken me less than 90 minutes.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Bacon is Indeed the Answer

I was in a very serious funk of uninspired-by-food, and then this recipe appeared in the paper. I went right out and bought cornmeal and bacon. Here's my version:

Bacon Bread!

1 large red onion- I think it was about a pound
3 (or 4) slices of trader joe's applewood smoked bacon
pinch of salt

1 cup cornmeal
1 cup AP flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

1 cup greek yogurt
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons molasses
2 eggs

Pre-heat the oven to 350. Use a heavy, oven-safe skillet about 9" across. Fry the bacon until it's crispy, and remove from the pan. Slice the onion no more than 1/4 inch thick. Fry the onions in the bacon fat until the are very soft and have lost about 90% of their volume. A pinch of salt in the pan helps with this, besides keeping the onions from being one dimensionally sweet from the caramelization. When the onions are about done, Chop up the bacon. Mix all the dry ingredients and the bacon bits in a large bowl, put all the wet ingredients in a small bowl and whisk them together, then pour the wet into the dry and stir to combine. It doesn't need a lot of mixing. Pour the batter over the onions in the pan, and bake for about 35-40 minutes. Let the bread cool for 5 or 10 minutes and invert onto a plate.

My thoughts: NOM NOM!

Other than that, I got the batter a bit too moist. This is probably because I both under-measured the flour a trifle, and because I subbed molasses for the sugar in the original recipe. Next time (and there will be one, never fear!) I'll make the batter a little more stiff. This may cut my cooking time down some. I am starting to think, though, that my oven thermostat is a little cool. Every time I try a new recipe, the cooking time is way longer than recommended. Lastly, be aware that this bread has the same atomic weight as plutonium. Eat it with lots of fresh greens dressed with a splash of good vinegar.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Wears Like Iron

Among many other family artifacts my Mom sent out to Portland were a couple cast iron pans. I got 'em, cuz my sibs are already fixed for that kind of stuff.

These weren't the first ones I've owned- in the last year or so I picked up 2 excellent ones at goodwill. Of course, the ones Mom sent have personal value due to their being the ones Dad used since Idunnowhen, but there are things I like about the goodwill finds too. They came from goodwill, duh, so they're awesome. I think I paid about 8 bucks a piece for them, which is about what they would have cost new. In another class of item (hellllooo!?! IKEA svalka wineglasses retail at $4.99 a 6-pack-don't think I'm gonna pay 99 cents each for a bunch of dinged up ones!), paying the same as for a new one would be foolish. In a cast-iron pan, years of hard use are a material advantage. The skillet on the right rear burner also has the inscription "D. Baldyy" scratched into the oxidized material of the handle. At least, I think that's what it says. I couldn't say why I like that so much. The pan in front of it I got a couple weeks ago. It's smaller, and weighs a lot less. Also, it's ambidextrously cast, that is, it has pouring "ears" on both sides. Baldyy has a spout only on the left side, which means it assumes that you'll pick it up with your right hand. Since it weighs a ton, and I'm right handed, that makes a certain amount of sense until I go to scrape the pan out and realize that I'm clumsy with a spatula in my left hand. I'd rather lift left-handed and scoop right. Dweebity, whatever. The little pan works well either way and is a pound or more lighter.

On the left are the pans mom sent. In front is a skillet that, while it is the same diameter as the larger of my goodwill scores, still weighs less. This runs with what I've heard about vintage cast iron: that one of the desirable features of some really old pieces is that it was cast in thinner molds. They have the same dimensions and durability as newer items, but are easier to sling around. This one was coated with dust & polymerized grease, and had a couple mouse turds adhered to it for lagniappe. Oh yeah. Plus, it's also got the two spouts. The thing in the back is larger and deeper than I think I'm ever likely to need, but I might try making bread in it. The seasoning on it had degraded pretty badly and it was showing a lot of rust when Jej pulled it out of the box. Does anybody remember if Dad used that thing to cook his picnic hams? Or bake bread in? Anyway, it's a no-foolin' piece of ironmongery.

So what did I want to take on these grotty old things for? It took about half an hour of elbow grease, baking soda, and cooking oil to get those 2 pans back in really decent shape. I'm pretty confident that they'll cook really well when I try them out, but it was kind of an effort.

Because they are simply better than anything else at what they do. There's a reason there are so many teflon pans at goodwill- the damn things wear out. They also aren't safe at high temperatures. You heat up a teflon pan under a broiler and everything you eat is gonna get a nonstick coating. You could invest in fancy enamel LeCreuset or some shit. I mean, I love mine, but again- I thrifted it. Enamel is easy to clean and safe at high temperatures, but once you whang a hole in it, you might as well throw the pan out, and some of that stuff is mighty costive. Or you could buy stainless. You'd pay the same or nearly as much for All-Clad, or something else that would give you equally good heat distribution, and you'd save on weight. Or you could pay a tenth the amount for cast iron. At any rate, unlike either teflon or enamel, the nonstick coating that develops on a cast-iron pan is continuously self-repairing. I think that's the feature that beats the heck out of all other choices for me. Low-tech beats high tech on safety, durability, and effectiveness, plus throws in the magic Accio Reparo! function at the end. I love that.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Oe. Hangover.

I am such a pantywaist. 2 glasses of wine and I was completely done in. Not like oh dear, regrettable, I mean, I was at my own house already, but I fell asleep extra early and woke up thinking I needed comfy breakfast in my bathrobe. Homemade pear crisp & yogurt, plus an egg Sara brought over which was laid my an honest-to-gosh chicken. Like, one she knows, not like a distant anonymous hen.


4 pears, ripe but still pretty hard, different varieties if you have 'em. I had a bosc, a couple green bartletts, and an anjou which was still hard as a rock.

3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup rolled oats
2/3 cup dark brown sugar
1 stick butter
pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon punkin pie spice

Cut the pears into 1/2 inch chunks. I didn't peel 'em. Put them in a 9x9" pan. Bash all the dry ingredients together until they are mostly combined but still have some visible butter lumps. It helps if the butter is still a little cold. Spoon the topping over the pears. I refrigerated mine over night at this point, which made it take a very long time to cook- something over an hour at 375. In retrospect I would either not refrigerate it, or I'd just put it in at 400 and call it good. Also, I'd use about 6 pears, or only about 2/3 as much topping. Probably more pears, they loose a lot of volume. It was very good last night with vanilla ice cream, and it responded well to nuking it for breakfast this morning.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Y'know, October is not such a good month for me

I get grumpier. I tend to do impulsive things. Last year, I went to the grocery store around this time of year and got a fella. This year, it's just an avocado. Hopefully, this is a step in the right direction.

Friday, October 22, 2010


I went to the library. I checked out this book because the page I happened to open it at had this paragraph on it:

"The fondness of the Chinese for all gelatinous substances is well known, and has been described by all those who have visited that country and partaken of their banquets. In addition to employing animals and parts of animals which are rejected in other countries, as articles of diet, they import various substances which can be valuable only as yielding gelatine of different degrees of purity..." Ok, yeah. That hasn't changed noticeably in the last hundred and fifty years.

The original publication date of the book is 1859, and it is interesting to me primarily as a record of a prosperous 19th century European man's worldview. In an early chapter, he says that "...the prejudices of the stomach are, perhaps, more unconquerable than any other that tyrannize over the human mind" and that "there is a great want of courage and enterprise on this head among Englishmen." What follows is nearly 400 pages of trivia regarding what animals and animal products are known (or thought to be) eaten in various parts of the world. Read as a list of facts, it is utterly, repetitively, stultifying. It is the implications of the list which give the book its creepy fascination to me.

The 19th century was the age of Victoria, upon whose Empire the sun never set, of Manifest Destiny, of brazenly self-satisfied colonialism  and the exploitation by the colonizers of everything from timber to human labor to manatees. Yes indeed, manatees- there is a horrifying account of how many manatees were slaughtered by south American fishermen, and how cheap they were to eat. Two things emerge from the incidental information:

First, the total ignorance of human impact on the environment. I really can't claim to think that this is a case of denial. Environmental sciences are, I think, some of the newest sciences and weren't even in their infancy a century and a half ago. It's true that from the moment humans began to live in cities, there have been back-to-nature types, but these were more spiritual or mystic convictions, rather than fields of study recognized for their intellectual rigor, such as mathematics or chemistry, which have hundreds, or thousands of years of history. The prevailing attitude of human beings toward the rest of the world was "if it's there, use it up". (I think dad even said that very thing, on at least one occasion.) This is typified by the description of gathering penguin's eggs:

"It is really amusing sport. I must remind you that kicking them (the penguins) over with our soft moccasins...does not hurt them in the least, and the next day they will have just as many eggs."

I'm not about to get into a sophomoric discussion of whether it is possible to push a penguin down without hurting it, but anyone today who knows a thing about wildfowl knows that unlike domestic poultry, they lay one clutch of eggs a year, and if those don't hatch, that's it until next year, by which time the adult bird may or may not still be alive. The theme of gleefully infantile brutality which runs throughout the book is absolutely hair-raising.

The second theme has a marginally more subtle presentation, but is just as pervasive- prejudices of the stomach are not the only ones exhibited in this lexicon of carnivory. The writing style of the book first struck me as quaint, in the way many documents of that age will. It is written with a kind of exuberance which can be very entertaining, as in the first quote above. Also, the author's chauvinism in favor of English beef takes up nearly a chapter in itself, and is pretty damn funny. What disturbs me is that, while reading through this list of factoids and anecdotes, the encompassing ideological hegemony of the time becomes glaringly obvious. The author's sources are those which he would have thought reliable, i.e., information published by other men who were the products of the same socioeconomic strata as himself, and occasional historical sources written by Frenchmen. These include nineteenth century arctic explorers, naturalists, and colonial honchos. All a bunch of guys born rich enough to expend the astronomical quantities of resources then required to get their butts halfway around the world and back, and raised to think that just because they had been born rich and well connected, then they must be inherently better than everyone else, and naturally if they were better than everyone else, they must have a moral right, even an obligation to use everything in the world however they saw fit. Leaving aside the question of whether these sources could have been factually accurate (I have no way of knowing how to assess that), and as amusing as they sometimes are, each vignette is presented in a self-congratulatory tone of "Look at all the savage little brown people! Aren't you glad that God made you White?"  The very existence of the book presupposes an audience composed of wealthy, white christian westerners.

I don't imagine that prejudice, of the stomach or of the mind, is the sole provenance of rich dead white dudes. My dad had an amazing degree of  chauvinism about many things, and I distinctly remember him telling me as a child that when he was about my age, he and his friends used to catch garden snakes and set their tails on fire for fun. They hadn't invented sparklers yet, you see. I used to think these were things peculiar to him, but he was as much a product of his time and place as Peter Lund Simmons, or the woman on the max earlier this week declaring loudly that she had no hate for homosexuals, but that she just thought "it was wrong, and she wishes they would change their ways" (between desultory attempts to turn a trick for a group of cons on their way back to their halfway house).

Hindsight ought to tell us that ignorance is inherently to be deplored, which has nothing to do with food, specifically. But it does tell you something about why I find the subject of food fascinating. Food, like clothing, is a universal need among humans. The study of food is illuminating as much for the fact that the subject leads into other things as for its own merits. Here's this book- like anything you read, it is what it is. No doubt the author never imagined that I would take it as an amusing, gruesome cautionary tale of cultural hubris and environmental degradation, but I too am a product of my time and place.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Once again, I think I'll change the name of this blog

"Supercilious Otter."

I am positive that the beast on the right is close kin to me.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Hip-hip Halloween!

Mrs. Darling, originally uploaded by Chinkypin.
Here's the Mrs. Darling outfit I came up with for Cynthia. I was not too thrilled when she said her office theme was Peter Pan this year. Nothing against it, just kinda 'meh'. Especially the part about being Wendy's mom. I looked up a picture of the Disney version of that character and the stupid thing is wearing this utterly wretched lilac gown with a giant white flounce around the neck. Aside from being inappropriately juvenile looking, there is no way I would put a redhead in that color. So I did the best I could. I figure, if you have to be a meh kind of character, at least you can get to look smashing while you do it. Which I think she does, even if i did make the costume myself.

I'm especially proud of the fact that, except for the lace, the main ingredients for this came from goodwill. The top is one of a pair of sheer panels I've been toting around for years, and the skirt is a set of silk blend (!) curtains I paid ten bucks for last week, and ran through the washer & dryer before I read the care label. Good thing I was being uncharacteristically cautious, and set the machine for low heat. The curtains were even lined already, so i didn't have to buy any extra fabric for that!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Bread again

Sometimes the bread turns out extra fancy lookin. I've made some procedural improvements since I last  posted my recipe- I now wait for the dough to rise about an inch above the top of the pan, then preheat the oven to 475 degrees. The bread goes in for 15 min at high heat, then I turn the loaf around, reduce the heat to 350 for half an hour, and then turn off the oven and let it coast for about 10 minutes. It seems to make a pretty good loaf. I don't have a convection oven, if you do, take that into account when calculating times & temps. Also, I quit putting cracked wheat in it. It just made it extra bumpy, and swapping in an equal amount of additional oatmeal does just fine.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Egg Buns!!!

I've been thinking about this for months. Brioche rolls with an egg baked inside, plus bacon cheese & chives. The concept is good, but my egg installation technique is a little faulty. I think I need to use a slightly less delicate dough, to offset the added moisture of the egg in the roll. Also, as you can see from the picture,the amount of roll to egg and cheese is pretty disproportionate.

I used the same recipe for the bread as I used back in February to make king cake, minus the spices & vanilla. Once the dough was made, I cut it up into 8 or 9 pieces, flattened out the portions and put them in small bowls so that when I put in the eggs, they wouldn't just run off. Then I sprinkled on some bacon, cheese, and chives, and pinched them closed. I had the oven pre-heated to 400, and the baking sheet heating in there with it. When I'd got about buns assembled, I carefully rolled them out of their bowls onto the hot cookie sheet and baked them for 19 minutes. Which was just about enough time to knead down the other half of the dough and assemble the second batch of rolls.

I was hoping that the dough would insulate the eggs and keep them from overcooking, but as it turns out, the bready part kind of took over. I couldn't get a whole egg to go in there properly, so in the second batch, I just put in the yolks and cheese with about a spoonful of white, but maybe if I used small eggs, the things would turn out a little better. Fortunately, the brioche is a nice tasty recipe, and the roll part was very good with jam.

So, why today? I blame it on IKEA and bad knees. I work all day on Sundays, and lately it seems like every time I do that, I end up wide awake at 4 o'clock in the morning with aching joints. Maybe I just need to buy new shoes, those concrete floors are mighty unyielding.

On the other hand, there is a world of difference between setting the alarm to go off before sunrise, and getting up at 4:15 just because you can. I got to see the crescent moon at five this morning, and had my egg bun for breakfast before 9. Of course, none of it would have happened if I hadn't rolled over and thought "Well, shoot, I forgot to go buy eggs at QFC while they're 99 cents a dozen...I could just go get them now...they are open 24 hours..."

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Oriental Field Trip, Episode 2

This week was Mooncake festival. I think officially, it is the Mid-Autumn festival according to the asian lunar calendar, but I usually think of chinese holidays in relation to the particular food associated with them. So, off I went to Fubonn, and naturally, it would be a shame to pass up the chance to try something really weird. So I got the other two things: sun cakes, and a box of mochi choco cheese pies. I'll get to those in a minute.

Mooncakes were something my dad made when I was in junior high school. Some of his crazy restaurant friends got this idea that selling mooncakes would be a good idea, so around this time of year, our house became a mooncake manufacturing sweatshop. Totally illegal, total madness. Completely unsanitary. The things are filled with red or mung bean paste, typically, the making of which is a multi- day process. Basically, it's refried beans made with sugar and lard, cooked down until there's almost no water left in it. Dad made hundreds of pounds of this stuff. As time went on, he got progressively more fed up with it, and kept trying things to make the process more efficient. He tried leaving the beans, in 2 or 3 gallon batches, simmering on the stove overnight one time. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough water in the pots to make it work. During the night, the bottom half of the beans turned into charcoal, filling the first floor of the house with smoke. My mom woke up, ran downstairs, whipped my door open in the wee hours, and barked "ARE YOU ALL RIGHT?!?" I woke up and said "of course!" and mom slammed the door again. I'm cracking up really hard right now, but at the time it was very exasperating. I was fine (obviously), since my door had been shut all night, and being dead asleep, I hadn't noticed a thing until mom burst in, fearing quite reasonably that I had died of smoke inhalation. As a surly tween, this didn't really make sense to me until I got up and peeked out into the dining room. I saw nothing. Not as in, nothing worth remarking on; I mean the atmosphere was as white and opaque as milk. I have rarely been so utterly confounded. Also, it is no good thing to have to show up at middle school smelling like burnt beans.

Errata: Jej disremembers "the bean cloud". This would indicate that she was away at college, which would date the incident to my sophomore or junior year in high school. I think she is correct, since furthermore, I seem to think that dad's restaurant was already defunct at the time it occurred. I was reading something very interesting the other day about false memory- but naturally I can't remember where it was!

Mooncakes aren't particularly tasty, in my opinion, personal associations aside. They're really heavy, and rather bland, and they traditionally have a salted egg yolk in the middle to represent the full moon. While I no longer abominate the egg yolk as I did when I was a child, I can't say I like them either. They do give a salty-sweet balance to the desert, but the texture is grainy and I don't care for it. Mom loves 'em. Still, I do get all nostalgic every once in a while- once a year is often enough to eat these things, I guess.

I always preferred flaky cakes, which is what I was hoping the package of sun cakes was going to be like. When I was in pre-school and kindergarten, dad's mad scientist cooking hadn't yet spun out of control the way it did later, and he would make the flaky pastry on the dining room table, carefully fill each one with bean or date paste, and deep fry them. The proportion of pastry to filling was better, and the pastry itself was a satisfying thing to eat. It was crispy and rich, and the layers would go from feathery and loose on the outside to chewy and dense near the filling. In taiwan, I ate a similar thing that was filled with honey. These packaged things are only distantly realated to either confection. The outside is flaky all right, but there seems to be no filling as such, there is rather a layer of hard crunchy stuff that is not much different in flavor from the rest of the thing. But they are not inedible.

The last thing I picked up is something I may have read about somewhere. I probably dismissed the idea from my mind, thinking I'd never lay eyes on them in reality. But there they were: mochi with chocolate and cheese filling. I am enamored of the packaging, which is highly reminiscent of Nabisco products. They are exactly what they say they are. It had a very helpful diagram on the box explaining their composition: there is a layer of chocolate. It is actually pretty good chocolate, too, kind of like the outside of a york patty, but tastier. There is a layer of mochi. It is what it is. And there is a layer of cheese stuff. Which is a lot like the stuff inside ritz bits, with a certain essence of marshmallow quality added.

Want one? I dare you.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Once upon a time...

Beer Wench, originally uploaded by Chinkypin.
I worked in a costume shop. I think I made this about 6 or 7 years ago, in one of the first years we carried leg avenue brand costumes. As is usually the case, for the first year or so they made halloween costumes, they put some effort into the quality control and manufacturing. The stuff they came out with was pretty much rental quality, and it was stinkin' cute. They made about the first sexy snow white on the market, and they never really lived up to the standard after that. They lost their creative edge, and the products themselves got really chintzy. I wish I'd kept more of their catalogs, because as time went on the wholesale ad photos were about the only thing about that company that were worthwhile.

This is a knockoff of one of the last things they came up with that hit the balance between sexy and tawdry. The first run of these costumes was well made, nobody else had a similar thing in that color combination, and the packaging looked great, as I recall. We sold dozens. I made this up because I wanted one of those darn things, but I didn't want it quite as short as the ones you buy. It's in really poor shape right now, the pleather belt is disintegrating in the way things made out of plastic frequently do, but I can't bring myself to get rid of it. The trim with little hearts is just so adorable. Sigh.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Wearable muslin up for grabs

That is, a throw-away which is made up in a potentially usable material, just in case it turns out ok. Interior finishing is ugh-leee (it's brown, and pretty raggedy) it has no fastenings (it's pinned together in the front) and it doesn't come with the apron because that isn't really an apron- it's my ironing cloth tied on to give me an idea of what it would look like if it did have an apron. But, it's still sorta cute. Really, if anybody wants to be alice in zombieland or something, it's yours. Dimensions: bust, very low cut and about 32"; waist, about 27"; length of back about 15 or 16", length of skirt, 26". And it has really small armholes- I got treefrog arms. If nobody cares for it, I'm gonna tear it up by the end of the week, cuz there's other stuff I could use the material for.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Honey Glazed Orange-Creamsicle Peach Tart

This is kinda cheating, but I liked the way this turned out even better than the original pastry cream recipe I posted last month. I actually made this some time ago, but I got wound up in some projects, and never got the pictures off my camera. I uploaded some shots of what I've been doing for the last few weeks to my Flickr photostream, if you want to see them.

This will make one 6" tart.

You will need: the leftover pie crust and half a cup of cream filling from the recipe posted on August 24. Also, a very ripe peach and about 1/2 cup of greek yogurt. And about a tablespoon of honey. Roll out the pie crust scrap and bake a miniature tart shell with it. Be aware that most crust recipes will shrink substantially during baking. A friend of mine at the office sent me this link to a shrinkless pastry crust, if i ever try it, I'll tell you how it goes. BUT! I didn't have that recipe when I made this, so nevermind for now. Bake your tart shell. When it's cool, mix the yogurt and pastry cream together and spread it in the shell. At this point, you could chill it until you're ready to serve it, but I don't think that it'll set up- it will probably stay a bit sloppy. Just before you want to eat it, heat the honey in a little sauce pan. Slice some peaches onto the pie, and when the honey has boiled gently for about 20 seconds, spoon it over the peaches.

Why do I like this better? Lots of things. While I do love figs, peaches are a better choice here. The yogurt adds a subtle tartness that goes with the fruit better, for one thing. I think the fact that I used orange flavoring in the cream sorta requires a little acidity to taste right- citrus flavor should have some tartness to it, and it didn't without the yogurt. Boiling the honey for a few seconds causes it to form a chewy, caramely coating when it touches the cold pie. The whole business just adds up to a more interesting flavor and texture profile.

Coming soon: Halloween. I got some things to show you. Eventually.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Tea and Goodwill

How often do I drink tea? Every damn day. How often do I use a teapot? Like, never. My fascination with teapots is this sort of guilty obsession, because I own three or four, and don't ever use them. But seriously, they're adorable!

I've wanted one like this for quite a while. Until this set turned up at Goodwill, I figured I'd have to wait until somebody gave me a gift certificate to some Shmantzy Tea Shoppe or something, because a pot alone will usually retail for over 25 bucks, which I think is way too much to ask for a thing that I don't need, and has absolutely nothing  unique about it. I paid $3.99 for the teapot and 99 cents for the teacup.

So what did I get for my five bucks? The teapot is heat resistant. I could actually heat it on the stove, if I wanted to. It even has the little squiggly piece of wire with it to put between the pot and the burner so it doesn't shatter. It has a glass diffuser insert. This is way cool, because even high-end brands like Bodum come with plastic ones which will stain over time. I've actually passed up one or two Bodum brand pots at Goodwill, for that reason- they look pretty gnarly with the diffuser thing all gunked up. The spout is surprisingly well designed. I thought it looked really ungraceful, as though it had been cut off at the wrong angle and they'd just said the hell with it, and packed it up anyway, but in fact it is about the only teapot I've ever used that is perfectly dripless. It doesn't drool on itself! How neato is that?! The teacup wasn't born with the pot, but I'm pretty sure it's made of pyrex. It has a little anchor mark in the bottom that I think is a trademark for the Anchor Hocking company.

I  also got another handful of vintage sewing patterns, which I should really really quit buying, but the envelope illustrations are so hard not love.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

What goes with carrot sticks?

Even I wouldn't want to live on pastrycream alone. I'd miss out on too many other things. Here's a plate of bits an pieces. I had carrots, I wanted something else after I'd polished off the ranch dip. Hummus goes with carrots! And whaddaya know, the sesame paste I'd been using for my chinese noodle salad workd just dandy for making hummus. But you need something texturally as well as visually interesting to eat with hummus, carrots or no carrots. So I made taboulli. I know you're supposed to make it with bulghur, but I didn't have any of that, so I used a little quinoa. Homemade wheat toast triangles is pretty pretty good with hummus too, if you don't have any pita. Plus olives and yogurt of course, while you got the whole mediterranean thing going.


half a can of garbanzo beans, with the bean water
juice of one lemon
a dash of cayenne
2 tablespoons of tahini aka sesame paste
a small clove of garlic
a couple tablespoons of olive oil
salt to taste

Put everything in a food processor and puree it. Washing the processor is the hardest part of the recipe; it is, to be perfectly honest, the reason I don't make hummus very often. Now you know just how lazy I am.


1/4 cup quinoa

1/2 cup parsley before chopping
a dozen small mint leaves
1 small tomato
olive oil
juice of 1/2 lemon
dash of cumin
dash of cayenne
pinch of ground coriander

Bring the quinoa to a boil in about a cup of water. After it has boiled for about a minute, drain the water off, put in fresh water and cook as you would pasta. Drain the quinoa and let it cool completely. It helps to have a pretty fine sieve. Once the grains are cool, mince the parsley and mint, dice the tomato and toss all the ingredients together.

Now that I think about it, that's a lot of fuss just to eat my carrot sticks.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The ill-fated dress

The ill-fated dress, originally uploaded by Chinkypin.

I made this dress from a pattern dating from, at a guess, the late fifties. For such a simple looking thing, it took me forever to make, and then the fabric was some cheap stuff that I think one of my parents pulled out of the trash back in the early nineties and the red dye bleeds out of those flowers every time I wash it. I swear this thing has bad luck, something happens to it every time I wear it that makes it look worse. I figured I better get a picture of it before it self-destructs.

Originally, I wanted to make a self-fabric belt with a little rhinestone buckle, but now I'm so irritated with the thing I don't think I'll bother. If I ever use this pattern again, I'm going to make it up in some nice, modern fabric, something that wont bleed, sag or stain. Something with a little stretch, too. That below the knee length makes me walk funny, and I'm afraid I'm going to pull the kick pleat out of it before long.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

There is no excuse for pastry cream

Because well, duh, you should enjoy it without needing an excuse. I revisited my recipe from last July, and found it worth a second shot. Here is version 2, with a few alterations in procedure. If anything, this is even simpler than my last attempt.

1 recipe of pastry crust, your choice. I like a slightly sweet crust. You need to pre-bake the crust and have it cooled and ready to fill with the cream and whatever decorations you want.

1 1/2 cups half and half
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 plus 1/3 cups white sugar
4 egg yolks
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon orange extract
2 tablespoons cold butter

Put the cream, half and half, and 1/3 cup of sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Thoroughly mix everything else except the butter in a bowl. When the milk mix is steaming, slowly dribble about half of it into the bowl with the eggs while stirring to prevent the eggs from curdling by accident. Return the milk to the heat, mix up the warmed eggs pretty well, then dump them in with the milk on the stove. Whisk constantly until the mixture boils very gently. It will get quite thick, so it'll really just spit a few bubbles of steam rather than actually boiling. Take it off the stove, whisk in the butter and then put it in the fridge with a sheet of plastic wrap or waxed paper right on the surface of the pastry cream. When the cream is mostly cool, you can fill your crust with it. I put figs on mine, because that's just what I had.

Something worth noting is that the starch really does have a function in this recipe. It gives the cream its texture and glossy appearance. Because it is a starch, it does have to be brought to a boil in order to do that. Also, because you are relying on starch, not egg protein, for the custardy effect, it is almost impossible to cause the cream to "break". If you've ever overheated a cream sauce, you've seen this happen- you get a grainy textured mass of curds in a thin liquid. Starch actually likes to be boiled. I think what happens is that the starch forms a gel in which the protein and fat molecules are evenly suspended, but I'd have to look it up to make sure.

I bet this would taste really good if you sweetened it with molasses.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Hey Jej! Here's your noodles!

Every time I make this, I forget to take a picture. I don't know how many times this year I've had this, but here's the recipe. I usually consume it so fast, there doesn't seem to be time for photos. This was the only  cold noodle salad in our house when I was a kid, and it took me many years to realize that there was a kinship between this stuff and those gooshy, pasty, bland, miracle whip-and-macaroni things that would turn up at potluck reunions. Setting aside my loathing for miracle whip, the important thing is to eat a noodle salad at the right phase of its lifespan. For this, that time is At Once.

Meat of choice- about half a cup. Ham matchsticks were the thing that usually went in it when I was a kid, but I have used cold chicken shreds of various flavors and it is pretty good with that. Another traditional variant is to use bits of marinated tofu.

Buckwheat udon or soba. I use the dry kind. Dad would never have used these- buckwheat being for "those countryside people" and "not even pigs eat". Plus, soba is japanese. He always stuck to plain white noodles, but I like the texture and color of soba better.

a cucumber or two, cut in matchsticks. Or some shredded napa cabbage. I use cucumbers because napa doesn't usually come in single person sizes.
green onion or chives, finely chopped- I don't remember if this is just me, or of dad put them in too.
minced cilantro- optional
toasted sesame seeds

a generous tablespoon of sesame paste, aka tahini. If you buy it at a chinese grocery though, it may just say "sesame paste".
the same amount each of peanut butter, sesame oil, & soy sauce. You can do without the peanut butter, if you want.
2-4 tablespoons rice vinegar, depending on how tart you want it. I like a lot.
hoisin sauce- maybe a teaspoon. Dad used a little char siu, but I like hoisin better.
dash of cayenne, optional

If you buy most brands of japanese noodles, they come in plastic packages of several bundles of noodles wrapped in paper bands. One bunch of noodles is usually good for 2 servings for me, unless I am famished. I can do some damage to a noodle salad. Boil the noodles in salted water until they are al dente, then drain and run a lot of cold water over them to rinse off the extra starch and keep them from getting  gummy.

Mix all the other ingredients thoroughly to make a dressing. If it's not sweet enough, add a little hoisin. If you want it a little saltier, add soysauce. It's all about how you like it. Toss in the noodles, and sprinkle a little extra cilantro and seeds on if you feel fancy.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Good Lord, it's too hot to eat lunch

I'm glad I bothered to take a quick shot of this, because it turned out to be a very tasty thing. I might even enjoy the weather, at this rate.

ham slivers
bell peppers
herbed goat cheese
pine nuts
cheap balsamic vinegar
pretty decent olive oil
really good sherry vineagar

I think it was the vinegar combination that did it. The sherry vinegar has lots of personality, but I think I would find it overpowering if I put it on there by itself. It's a little bitey. The cheap balsamic adds sweetness, the olive oil is a medium-peppery kind, and it goes really well with the cheese.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Pardon the crap image quality...

Sailor jeans and halter top, originally uploaded by Chinkypin.
But it is so bloody hot out that I was afraid I would be burnt to a frizzle if I tried to take any photos outdoors. I really just wanted to get some pictures of these things because both items are projects I began and abandoned last year. Last year, damnit! The pants at least are complicated, so I'll let that stand as my excuse, but I have no good reason for not having finished the top before now. I wish I had a better picture of the back of the trousers. I like the way they turned out, even though the pocket welts are a bit uneven. These are really my attempt to find a pair of pants that will conform to the conflicting dress codes of my 2 jobs so that I only have to pack a spare shirt when I have to go to both places in the same day.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Some things are alright

Riding MAX every day is usually an eye opener of one kind or another. I believe it is a salutary experience, but not always enjoyable. I have a grim determination to believe that human nature is basically neutral, if not good. Sometimes I have to fall back on statistics to convince myself of this. I think something like "Look at this train full of people. I find some of them obnoxious, or repulsive, or think they smell bad, but look at them: none of them are biting each other, threatening each other with death or bodily harm, and none of them know each other. If this was a room full of strange baboons, the carnage would be indescribable. Humans really are pretty nice, for primates."

So there I was on the Red Line from downtown. Usual assortment of people, usual assortment of critical-overshare types of converations buzzing around. At Lloyd Center, a little black girl, about seven, gets on the train with a white lady who is clearly kin to her, but it isn't clear in what relationship. The lady is totally unremarkable, and since I'm not at all motherly, the girl is pretty uninteresting too, except that she's wearing a plaid skirt I kind of like, and looks cleaner than most children that age do by 6:30 pm. They take a seat, facing this sullen looking late thirties-ish white dude with his black T-shirt, messenger bag, head and chin shaved to an identical stubble, 1-inch ear plugs and giant lip ring. He's reading a book.

The train starts moving, and I overhear the little girl say "Want to see my new earrings?" A man says "I would, please!" I look around, and it's Earplugs dude, who has happily put his book down, and is watching her pull several cards of cheap earrings out of a plastic bag. The train is noisy, so I don't hear everything they say, but I got the impression that she'd just had her ears pierced. He is clearly a guy who likes kids, and hangs out with them a lot. They compare the size of her dangley earbobs with the size of his earplugs, I hear her say "We were shopping at Claire's, and they were buy 2 get one free!" and he says "Claire's is good- I've bought earrings there too. Not in a long time, but, I have."  I decided not to stare at them, because I was grinning like an idiot, and then it was time to get off the train. They were talking about how how far it was to Gresham when I left.

There are so many things right about those 2 minutes on the train that it's hard to even think them all out.  But yes, it seems to be true that humans are really pretty nice, for primates.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Somebody asked me what Chinkypin means, which was a surprise, because I am always surprised when somebody who is neither close blood kin nor an acquaintance of such long standing as to make no difference, asks me about this blog. I mean, I like to think random people read this, but mostly I don't think they do.

Thank you random people. I don't want to sound facetious, I'm actually very happy you're here- the thing is that I'm just kind of socially awkward. That's why I hang out in cyberspace.

Just in case anybody else was wondering, I have a pink fuzzy hat with ears on it, I wear it in the winter and am very fond of it. When I was choosing a name, pinkychin had already been taken. I don't like having my email handle clunked up with a bunch of numbers, so Chinkypin was what seemed to follow naturally as a second choice.

A chinkypin is a nut, and the tree it grows on. They are native to the appalachians, which is where my mom is from. The correct spelling is chinquapin, but I spell it the way she says it. I always think of the story she tells, which is that the native american name for the locality of her home was hanatuskee, which meant something like "a place where there are a lot of nuts" or maybe "a good place to find nuts". Which, given the populace both then and in all likelihood, now, is extremely humorous.

Also, my dad was chinese, and I have an inappropriate sense of humor. I suppose a more easily interpreted racial joke would have been "Listen To The Banana" but that has a different something or other to it. Har har.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Ok, I confess

I really love ranch dip. I always have- even in kindergarten, when my introduction to the stuff came from school cafeteria lunch. That really says a lot, huh? That's got to be the only thing I remember liking enough at school lunch to come home and ask a) what it was and b) could we have it. I may have had trouble describing it, since it is totally unlike any food substance I had ever encountered up until that time. It was white. It had specks in it. It was not milk, cheese, or yogurt. It was not sweet, not sour, not oily or watery, but a little bit of all those things, and since I didn't learn the word umami until college, I didn't have the vocabulary to say just what it was that made me want it. Except that from my chinese-traditional-diet perspective, it was deliciously unusual. Exotic, even, but not in a nasty way like everything else to be found at school lunch. I don't remember what I ate it with, probably a spoon. Possibly carrot sticks, but I doubt it, because I hated carrots in any form until high school, or nearly. I bet I was that awful weirdo who licked ranch dressing off her carrot sticks. Yow. In my defense, when the first americans were introduced to sushi there had to have been some incidents that would cause any japanese person to shudder. Same kind of situation, right? It's damned peculiar stuff, you can't figure out what it is by looking at it, it doesn't come with instructions because everybody else assumes you know what to do with it, so you just kinda put your tongue on it to see if you like it.

I remember mom saying "Oh. Well that's just ranch dressing," in this disparaging why-do-you-want-that tone. She may even have asked me what I wanted to do with it, because for one thing, salads were not usually eaten in our house, and for another, chinese salads do not go with ranch dressing.  Like, AT ALL. I thought the name was stupid, it made no sense to me since there were no ranches anywhere on earth, as far as I could tell- I was six. But I wanted ranch dressing anyway.

Later I became disaffected with ranch flavor. It was on everything from shrink wrapped deli trays to wings and pizza. (Pizza!?? Seriously? Bleagh...) Not only had it become ubiquitous, but it had lost any trace of food-like characteristics. There is nothing to recommend Hidden Valley and its ilk except that they have fat and salt in them, and such a whacking great dose of preservatives and additives that it is doubtful that they are capable of spoiling. And most recipes for making your own call for heaps of sour cream and mayonnaise, and buttermilk, 2 out of 3 of which, I don't keep around. Even worse are the recipes that call for opening a package of sour cream, and dumping in a pre-mixed packet of dehydrated adulterants.

But, I still get ranch dip cravings. Especially in the summer when I don't want to cook anything, but I still want to eat things that have fat and salt in them. Plus, I have acquired a taste for raw carrots and cauliflower as an adult, which are ideal media for consuming ranch dip. While I no longer lick dip off my carrots, I will admit to eating a spoon of this by itself. Maybe two. They were little.

Ranch Dip Fix

1 cup full fat greek yogurt. For this, you really need greek style yogurt. Fage is best, it's mildest.

Fresh herbs, minced. I used:
4 mint leaves
2 large basil leaves
a 3-inch sprig of tarragon
3 or 4 sprigs of thyme
4 or 5 small oregano leaves
a 2-inch piece of rosemary
half a dozen chives

salt &pepper
dash of cayenne

secret ingredients:
a tablespoon of good quality olive oil
a pinch of sugar
a pinch of garlic powder

The olive oil improves texture and sugar balances the tartness of the yogurt. The powdered garlic is key, though. You may think, well, isn't fresh better? In this case, no. Garlic powder has a mellow sweetness to it, unlike the bitey quality fresh garlic can have, and it doesn't give you quite as persistent a case of garlic mouth. Being strongly against garlic mouth, for a long time I tried to do without garlic altogether, until I read that the sulfur compounds in garlic will accentuate the taste of protein and fermentation in the yogurt, creating a more deeply satisfying flavor profile. Garlic powder: another of the 20th century's small miracles.

Thursday, August 5, 2010


Thimbles, originally uploaded by Chinkypin.
I needed some instant gratification last week or so, and made these. I saw some pictures on Burdastyle that had been posted by a japanese lady who makes these traditional asian style thimbles. Hers are much better executed than mine, but these only took me about a morning apiece, and I got it out of my system. I don't really use them, since I don't do any hand sewing if I can help it, but I do enjoy having them around to fiddle with.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Sorta 40's

I was invaded by meal moths. The damn things got in the appartment and ate my pancake mix, flax seed and walnuts that I know of, and who knows what all besides. It isn't a catastrophe, just an annoyance, all it means is that I threw away half of my dry goods and put the rest in the freezer to kill anything moving. But I have been eating a number of un-picturesque foods lately in an effort to use up whatever may be attractive to bugs before starting over. A handful of olives, pickles and some salami is a light and tasty dinner for summer, but there isn't much to say about it.

My general mood of using stuff up has extended to my fabric stash. Here is the dress I mentioned a while back. The pattern is from the seventies, but somehow it turned out looking more 1940's. The fabric is some holiday stuff from IKEA which I got 2 christmasses ago. It looks nice and summery, it's all cotton and I wanted a shirt dress. But it didn't turn out quite the way I intended- the sleeves are too poofy at the top, and the material is a bit stiffer than I realized. Also, I am woefully short-legged, so unless I wear it with heels, I look a tad stumpy in it. But! it used up most of the material, I had enough left over to whip up a halter style top for shlepping around the house in hot weather, and I did not make a practice garment first! The last part is key.

When I'm using a pattern that I have never tried before, I usually make up a practice version in waste fabric first. Most of the time I get great results this way, the only problem is that sometimes I get bored and never make up the final garment. It seems to me that a more fearless approach to sewing is in order, if I am ever to get through even a portion of my accumulated materials. Which is why I am really quite happy with this dress: overall I had rather do something imperfectly than do nothing, perfectly.

And here is my strange little cucumber-thing. This fruit is about 1 inch long. They taste a bit lemony, and have a slightly pulpy middle.