Saturday, October 30, 2010
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
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
Sunday, October 10, 2010
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
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
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..."