Saturday, March 27, 2010

I've been pre-occupied

I have not been cooking anything photogenic. Potato Leek Soup is still just a bowl of grayish goop, no matter how tasty it is.

Sunchoke chips are pretty yummy too, but they look just like potato chips, in any case, they didn't sit around long enough to get a picture. It's the weather. It has been so lovely out, and my plants are doing lots of interesting things.

I have figured out a couple things since last year:

Mustard grows very quickly, but is no fun to eat. Radishes are at least as fun to grow, and the eating part is much more satisfying.

These were the sweetest, tenderest radishes I can remember ever having eaten.

Cilantro starts slowly. Very slowly. But you better give it its own pot, because it gets enormous.

Does anybody know what is making my spinach do this? The ones on the right are looking strangely anemic. Spinach is also very satisfying to grow; it starts early and grows vigorously. Hopefully, I will like to eat it more than mustard.

Speaking of vigorous growers, here are my borage plants. I read that "you won't need more than one" and boy, they were right. On the left, you see that in an optimistic spirit, I planted five.

Five. Seeds. The lefthand picture is from the 18th, the righthand picture, from the 26th. I had to pull out 2 of them, I'm calling the lettuce in the same pot a loss. Borage is very spiny, we had a windstorm and the prickers on the borage leaves savaged the lettuce while flapping around in the breeze.

But that's all right, because lettuce is another of the things I realized that I don't care enough about to bother growing. Some people say that you should grow things that are unusual or that would be expensive to buy. To some extent, this is true, but I think that one should grow the things that one is likely to eat. Yes I could buy spinach, and radishes, but it's also true that I actually do buy them sometimes. Which means that I like eating them enough to go the effort of growing them.  I never buy lettuce.

And this is my tea plant. I don't guess that I will ever be able to harvest any amount of tea from it. But I like the idea.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Oriental Field Trip

Chinese grocery stores are still very fascinating to me. Fubonn is the good one within convenient driving distance from me, and on Sunday I got a whole bunch of goofy things. I went partly because I was out of rice and vinegar, and soysauce, and partly in a spirit of adventure, and I acquired some stuff I don't usually get.

The little round cake at the left is palm sugar. I have never used it, but hopefully I will now. It tastes less sweet than brown or white sugar, is a little malty, and almost fruity. I could eat it like candy, it's quite tasty.

Pineapple cakes!!! I love these. Somebody brought us some when I was a kid, and I have had an inordinate fondness for them ever since. The cake part is very crumbly and sort of coconutty. I don't think the package is telling the truth when it says they are made with soybean oil. And when it says 'pineapple jam' it doesn't have a subset of ingredients for that. Very cryptic, if you ask me. I was super excited when I found a recipe online to make them. I haven't yet tried it, but I keep thinking about it.

Haw flakes. I got them because the first time I had them, I thought they were totally nasty, and I wanted to share how gross they were. But I find that they aren't nearly as repellant as I recall. They are slightly sweet, slightly fruity, in a tart, apple-ish way, and because they seem to be composed mainly of sugar, they are almost crunchy and granular at the first bite. Plus, they come in that super oriental paper wrapper.

Fish snacks. I actually like the ones that are made of raw dried fish and glazed with a sweet soy-based marinade. These may be pre-cooked, and they have a chili powder seasoning on them. Most charitably described as pungent. Fairminded persons would say they are totally foul. I like them on soup.

Vegetarian Mushroom Fluff. How could I pass up something that says that on it? It is delicious. From the picture, I would guess that it is made of shiitake mushrooms, seasoned and deep fried to a crisp, then pounded into a fibrous mass. In function, I think it is related to the japanese rice seasoning mixes which usually have a combination of seaweed and fish flakes in them. If the package does not lie, it is a vegan product. The flavor reminds me of a really good beef & mushroom stock, with some crispy nutty things going on as well.

Sesame paste. I hope I got the right kind. Sesame paste can be made of either raw or cooked sesame seeds. I wanted raw, but I haven't tasted it yet. It's pretty much just tahini, but the texture is a little finer. It goes in salad dressing, meat dishes and on noodles. And some baked things too, probably.

Dried shiitakes. Gotta have 'em for making soup. And chinese tamales.

Rice vinegar. Again for the salad dressing. It's milder and less pungent than cider vinegar, which is an acceptable substitute. But it really is better for seasoning sushi rice.

I got some chopsticks. These are the chinese kind. I don't like japanese style ones, they're too pointy.

Buckwheat soba. They have a grassy taste, and the texture is more assertive than plain wheat noodles. I got some fresh ones out of the refrigerator case one time, and I just didn't eat them up fast enough. The dried ones are just fine. They make a great cold salad for hot weather with green onions, ham slivers and a vinaigrette with a little hot pepper.

A couple things didn't make it into the picture: a bag of wide rice noodles, (yummy) the package of  pandanus flavored candies, (ick) and the mango drink which had little gelatinous chunks of baby coconut floating in it (woah). And a bag of basil seeds. I got an indian cookbook for 4 bucks, and it's got a recipe for a basil seed dessert drink. It looks like little tiny frog spawn once it's hydrated, how cool is that?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Sartorial Cream of Cthulhu Soup

Food and clothing are my two main obsessions, and mostly this post is about clothes. This vest, in particular. It must be the ugliest damn thing I've ever made. But it reminds me of a phenomenon I usually encounter when cooking; that of using up leftovers. Which brings me to the soup of the title.

Alas, no pictures were taken of the soup. It was a thing for the ages. For those of you who do not know the story of the cream of cthulhu soup, it was something my dad made when I was in high school. It was a cream soup. It otherwise consisted mainly of turkey feet and squid heads.

No foolin.

It was the color of a dirty eraser, was slightly curdled, opaque, and had claws and tentacles rising up out of it. I think nobody but my dad and Pete had the balls to actually try eating it. It was, as dad said, "a little strange". It has nothing whatsoever to do with this vest, except the similarity in mode of manufacture. Not so long ago, at a family dinner, something recalled the infamous soup to me, and as usual I said something rhetorical-'what could he have been thinking?' blah blah. Pete, who witnessed its birth, so to speak, described a cascading series of accidents and errors the result of which was so startling, and bore so little resemblance to the original concept that the finished product acquired a near mythic stature.

Now, I don't think my vest has anything like that degree of verve. The thing is, I could not tell you what I thought this was going to look like when I started out. I liked the plaid. The cloth has a nice feel, I thought the colors would go well with the rest of my clothes. And I had a good-ish bit left from making a skirt. But then it seemed that there wasn't quite enough to make a vest. Unless I cut it out on the bias. But then there really wasn't enough to match any of the plaids. Oh well. And then there were the darts, which changed the direction of the stripes halfway down the front. And I had to cut the back in 2 pieces, not one, so there was yet another seam. Then I thought that patch pockets would be so much easier, and maybe they would look cool if I cut those on the diagonal as well... And after that, what the hell, giant gold buttons and red topstitching? Might as well go with it.

Do I think it was waste of my efforts? No way. Do I like it? Hell yes. I have worn it in public 3 times now, and each time it has inspired me to pull together the goofiest outfits and wear them with aplomb. Clothing should be fun, and sometimes it should be downright funny. This stupid vest cracks me up. I'm gonna wear it until everybody who knows me is sick of it. Maybe someday I will wear it to pick up my nieces at school, and it will embarrass them. And if by some miracle, it survives that long, in some far distant time, maybe one of them will be a stylish young woman digging through my old crap and she will pick up my ugly vest any say Holy shit! I remember this thing! Can I wear it?

That's how I got my pants.

Monday, March 8, 2010

'Stolen' Apple Pancakes

Which is what the handwritten recipe in my mom's recipe notebook says.

I associate a childhood trip to chicago with this recipe. There was a pancake restaurant. I think I was in first grade, and I did not appreciate it. I have never been a good traveler, nor a person who enjoys meeting strangers. Going to Chicago was something I wanted to do not because I actually enjoyed the experience, but because like all children, I didn't want to miss out on anything that might be fun. How was I to know at that age that I was destined to be a curmudgeon? I was six.

The pancake restaurant was noisy, crowded, I was at a table with many strangers, and I don't remember what I ordered. Waffles, maybe. With strawberries, because we never had such exotic things at home, but I don't think they lived up to the expectations I had of them. Somebody else ordered the apple pancakes. I don't know if that was when dad first had them or what, but evidently they made a great impression on him, because this recipe showed up in mom's cookbook. 'Stolen' I assume because dad had to approximate the originals on his own.

On the other hand, while thinking about this recipe brings up memories of some very uncomfortable family excursions, the pancakes themselves, and the making of them, impart a feeling of great wellbeing. Even, I hate to admit it, of nostalgia! This was a special occasion breakfast to begin with, and later on, Dad would just decide that he wanted apple pancakes from time to time. Sometimes the tai chi group would come over, Dad would make a bunch of these things, and the house would smell like hot cooking oil and sugar all day.

The pictures are not that great, but I plead ravenous impatience to eat breakfast.

1 large apple, 2 would have been better
1 or 2 T cooking oil, canola or like that, not olive.
a teensy pinch of salt

a generous handful of brown sugar
punkin pie spice or cinnamon, if you like

I have no idea what the pancake recipe was on that card. I know that it used only white flour. It had a bunch of eggs in it. I was feeling lazy, and just used pancake mix: TJ's multigrain. It makes a fluffier, lighter dough than the ones Dad made, but I like things to be less heavy than he did. Also, do not attempt to make this in a flimsy pan or one with a non-stick coating.

1 1/2 c pancake mix
1 egg
1 cup water
a dab of oil

Pre-heat the oven to 475.

Peel and slice the apple into 1/4 inch pieces or so. Get the oil pretty hot in a well seasoned all metal skillet and throw in the apples and a sprinkle of salt. The salt is very important, it makes the apples sweat, and keeps them from being one dimensionally sweet. When the apples are a teensy bit brown, turn them once and sprinkle the brown sugar and spice over them. The sugar will begin to caramelize very rapidly.

Mix up the batter ingredients up really fast, and don't worry about a few lumps. You will actually only need to use about 2/3 of the batter. Pour the batter over the apples and cover for a few seconds. When the caramel begins to ooze up around the edges and through any little holes, remove the cover and put the skillet in the oven to finish cooking.

When the pancake is just barely done and is starting to brown at the edges, take it out, cover it and let it sit for about 3 minutes. This lets the pancake finish cooking, and allows the apples to steam loose from the pan a bit. Turn the pancake out onto a plate and poke any apple bits back into it that have got stuck in the pan. Eat with scrambled eggs and cheddar cheese.

Definitely, this is for eating with company. It will taste just as delicious by yourself, but it would be a terrible pity to have nobody to enjoy it with.