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.