Tuesday, September 27, 2011


I fell in love with this stupid little dog. I don't guess he's any more stupid than any other dog, but you tend to assume that a dog that small has got to be sort of impaired. Just look at the little guy. Weighs a whole 3 pounds. My co-worker Heather brought him over one time this summer when I did some sewing for her, and I thought, well, jeez, he's awfully... adorable. He was perfectly quiet, he just sat around acting like a dog, which is another thing you don't expect from something that tiny. Everything on him wiggles when he moves. Wiggly feet, wiggly ears, wiggly tail. It's awful. Heather tells me he does have some social problems though. Sigh.

You know, people always think there's something inherently screwed up about tiny dogs, and in the sense that their brains are about as big as peas, they're right. There's only so much smarts you can put in a brain that size, but seriously? The truth is that it doesn't take a lot of intelligence to be a dog. Some people tend to deny this, but I suspect that's because they secretly want their dogs to be humans, only less troublesome. Those are the folks who like big oafish things like golden retrievers, or chocolate labs. On the other end of the spectrum are a bunch of people who buy teeny tiny dogs, and then treat them like stuffed animals. Unfortunately, a tiny dog is just as doggy as an enormous one. The difference is that if you bought an energetic large dog, you would think twice about doing any of the incomprehensible and startling (to a dog) things people regularly do to say, chihuahuas. Because if you randomly terrify even a golden retriever, that thing is big enough to bite a piece of you off. Can you imagine swooping in on a sleeping bull terrier, grabbing it, turning it upside down, and making noises like "AAARGGGHHGLGLSNRGLSNRGL!!!!" Of course not. That thing would fuck you up, and you would deserve it. But because a tiny dogs are, well, tiny, their fear and outrage look hilarious to humans, and we do stuff like that to them all the time.

Imagine this: for your whole life, you have been dependent on people for everything it takes to stay alive, from food and water, to a clean place to take a dump, to a safe place to sleep. You can't talk to anybody, because you can't learn the language, and you can't participate in any of the group activities the people you depend on engage in. You are the only person around who is like you. Sometimes you see another similar person at a distance when you are allowed to go outside about once a day, but most of the time you aren't allowed to talk to them.

Maybe you're Pedro. People do weird things to you. You can't figure out why. Every time somebody gets bored of you, you get passed off to some other set of people. Some of them are mean, some of them are nice, and the worst part is that some of them are alternatingly mean and nice for no apparent reason! Every other live thing you've ever met could kick your ass, and sometimes they do. You're not a bad dog, you're just really nervous, who wouldn't be? So all your conversations start out with you saying something like "Hey, uh, hey, we're cool, right? We're cool? Yeah, I'm cool. Yeah. Yeah. HEY!  Like, Respect My Words, right? Or I might bite you! Uhm, but, we're cool, right?"

Or maybe you luck out, you're one of the retrievers the Petit family kept when I was a kid. The people who take care of you are always kind, they take you on regular interesting field trips, they are consistent in maintaining household discipline, and one of your siblings or children is with you for your whole life. You sorta figure these people out, and even though you can't have a conversation, you really get to like them. You feel like these folks belong to you. Yeah, you spend a lot of time being bored, but on the other hand, you've never once spent a day seriously worried about anything. You tend to meet other people like you pretty regularly on the field trips, and most of the time your conversations start kinda like the one Harriet imagined years and years ago:

Them: Hey! Are you from Dog?
You: No, I was raised in Human, but, like, my parents were Dogs, you know?
Them: Oh wow, I'm totally the same way! I'm a Dog raised in Human too!
You: No way man! That's amazing, who'd'a thought? Well it's nice to meet you!

Poor Pedro was a third-hand dog by the time Heather got him, and she's doing the best she can for the little bugger. I don't want anybody to think I'm against having pets, but I do think that if you get a dog, you ought to think about what it might be like if you were that dog. Would you want to be owned by you? Be honest.

Saturday, September 24, 2011


You can always tell when I'm extra pleased about something, because there are exclamation points. So, Yes! Falafel! I'm from Ann Arbor. This is not mere non sequitur, Ann Arbor is where Jerusalem Garden* is, and thus, all other falafel is to be compared to theirs, in my mind. When I was a small child, my parents wouldn't get us food from there. This was not, I maintain, due to pecuniary embarrassment, but rather due to dad's prejudice against the very idea of middle eastern food. It was certainly cheap- cheaper than Portland food cart cheap- although prices rose latterly.

Erica Knopper gave me my first falafel. I think she asked me if I liked falafel, and I said I didn't know what that was, and was it spicy? She said it wasn't 'really' spicy, which to a kid is just like saying Warning: grownup trying to get you to do something dreadfully uncomfortable. She must have realized this (I'm sure my skepticism was obvious), and offered to let me try some of hers.

It was delicious. It was rolled in pita, with lettuce and tomato, and it was crunchy, and warm, and savory, and sour (that was the tahini sauce), and just a bit spicy- I think I ate most of one of their falafel with hummus sandwiches. I used to hang out with lots of earnest hippies back then, and they cooked a lot of earnest food that usually tasted a bit odd to me. It didn't cross my mind until years later that what they were trying to do with all that earnest cooking was produce the experience of eating that falafel. It was vegetarian, it was comfort food, but more than that, it was just really good food.

 I moved here a little over 3 years ago, which was a little over 20 years after I ate that sandwich. In New York, I worked with a rapidly changing stream of several hundred energetic and quirky people in their 20's, and so when I ended up at a bar here in southeast a couple years ago, it didn't surprise me that I recognized one of the bartenders. Lots of people I'd worked with had moved to Portland, I got on the bandwagon pretty late. But I couldn't remember this dude's name. So finally I did the "hey, not to be creepy or anything, but haven't we met" and he said well, you look pretty familiar. New York? I say. No, not there, Michigan, he says. And it turns out that he was the guy who made my falafel patties at Jerusalem Garden before I left town. I sorta wish now that I'd got his number, or given him mine, just to hang out maybe, but I was feeling bashful, and he was at work, and well, you know. It was a little weird.

Sometimes I really miss that falafel. I'm not going to say that my falafel is at all the same as the falafel at J Garden- I used black eyed peas- but it's got the right something-something to it.

This is a single-girl sized recipe,which makes about 8-10 2-inch balls. About enough for dinner one day, and lunch the next.

3/4 cup dry black eyed peas

half bunch green onions, chopped-this is around 1/2 cup
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced very fine
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon paprika
a smidge of black pepper
1/4 teaspoon baking powder

Cover the beans with at least 3 cups of water, and leave them to soak for about 24 hours. If you can stir them up and change the water somewhere in the middle, even better.

Rinse the beans and drain them thoroughly. Put them in a food processor with the onion and process until the mix looks like wet, green cornmeal. You'll have to keep scraping down the bowl. Add all the seasonings and process to combine.

Put about 3 inches of oil in a deep pot. Heat it to about 350 degrees, then drop spoonfuls of falafel into the oil. They take about 10 minutes to cook. Drain on paper towel for about 5 minutes, and eat with tahini dressing. And pickles, if you have 'em.

Oh yeah, tahini dressing.

1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon tahini paste
salt, and a pinch of cayenne

There's no reason you can't use all lemon juice, but I prefer it slightly less tart than that.


1. I have a candy thermometer. I thought I'd never use it, but it's great for this. If you don't have one, test the pot by dropping a bit of dough in. Remember the noodle video? Falafel should only sizzle up about half that hard.
2. The temperature and thus, cooking time, is important. 10 minutes seems to be enough time to develop a dark, crusty outside, and a fully cooked interior. If the oil is hot enough to brown much faster than that, the insides might not be cooked, and if it isn't hot enough, the falafel will just be sodden and greasy. They will be quite dark when they're done.
3. Balls rather than patties are best for deep frying. Keeps the proportion of crust to middle balanced.
4. It is also important to let the balls stand for several minutes, because they will keep cooking for a while, which helps with the texture.
5. Most importantly, this recipe used raw dried beans, unlike many which call for a can of cooked. Here is my pseudo-scientific hypothesis: in canned beans, the starches are already cooked. When you mash them, the starches get gummy, and no matter how carefully you cook them, your falafel will be dense and puck-like. With raw beans, running them through the food processor before they are cooked breaks open all the plant cells and dumps the raw starches out into a slushy suspension of fiber and water, pretty much like, say, cake batter. Thus, when the falafel is cooked, the starches expand and remain subsequently unmolested, resulting in a substantial, but bread-like texture. Baking powder undoubtedly helps.

Other thoughts-

As I said, these are not quite like J Garden falafel. The only real reason I used black eyed peas instead of garbanzos is that those are what I had. But I think it's a pretty good knock-off. Of course, I asked the Falafel Guy (who did tell me his name, but I don't know that he'd want to be identified) about the secret formula for Jerusalem Garden falafel. He couldn't tell me, not having been granted the knowledge, but I'm pretty sure he said that there was thyme in it, and powdered garlic, and that they used a lot of green onions. Thyme was not a feature of any of the recipes I read before making mine, nor were garlic powder or scallions. I suspect the first two are the key flavor ingredients that make the recipe unique- thyme is not mentioned at all in any of the formulae I referred to, and garlic is always fresh. It's the scallions which make the dough bright green, and if you wanted to enhance the green effect, you could use just the tops of them. I'm going to have to try this with actual chick peas some time. The eyes of black eyed peas leave little dark flecks in the dough, which doesn't affect the flavor or texture, but sort of annoys me aesthetically.

*I could wish that their website was as awesome as their food, but I suppose I'm glad they concentrate on the essentials.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

More Goodwill


Hey lookit what I found! I thought this was a brandy pipe when I first saw it, but it turns out that it's for drinking port. At least, that's what the pictures said when I looked it up online. Who cares? I'll never use it- it's just adorable. It looks like a cross between an elephant and a jellyfish. It's got feet, and a tentacle! Feet + tentacle = totally worth 99 cents.

The other thing I found is this roll of material. It's about a foot wide, and there seems to be quite a lot of it. I'm hoping someone out there can tell me if the cryptic inscriptions say what the fiber content is, or if it's just some crap like a brand name, or 'inspected by inspector blah'. Anybody?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Breakfast Sammie


Rosemary might be the most overused herb in Portland, but that might be because it's real tasty. And grows weedlike in these parts, except on my porch. I'm sure that's my fault- I repotted my rosemary kinda late in the spring and it never did snap back. Over the summer I realized how many things I usually put rosemary in because my poor little plant just sat there cowering in its pot and never gave me enough branches to cook with. Eventually I snuck down the block one evening and pulled a couple twigs off the behemoth rosemary growing in my neighbor's yard. They really add zazz to my eggs.


I mince up the rosemary and sprinkle it over a fried egg with a pinch of salt. It's important to break the yolk just before you turn it over, or you'll have an explodingly messy sandwich. Cheese goes on the flipped egg. If you cut it evenly thin, it will have just slumped into melty ooze by the time the egg is done. You can toast the bread if you want to, for me it depends on how long ago I made it: more than a day or so and untoasted bread is less appealing. Mayo goes with tomato. That's one of those because-it-just-does things, in my book.


Saturday, September 17, 2011

Lemon Dilemma


Because I am a single gal, I usually don't use a whole lemon before it gets all wizened into a rock. I solved that problem by keeping lemon wedges in the freezer, but one consequence of freezing lemons is that when you thaw them out, the lemon oil in the rind tends to make your food bitter.

The lemon zest is where most of the oil in the rind is- which is a good thing if you want a pinch of it minced up to flavor something with. Not so good when you microwave a frozen lemon and you can't control how much peel flavor goes into your lemon juice. I decided that was something I could live with if it meant that I could have fresh tasting lemon juice without wasting most of a lemon, until I read somewhere that you can preserve lemon zest in salt or sugar. Hmmmm. If I zipped all the outsides of my lemons off before freezing them, I would have solved the bitter-lemon problem, as well as saved the good parts of the rind for something else, right? So the last time I bought half a dozen lemons, I saved the zest in a pint jar of sugar.

Well, now I have 2 cups of lemon sugar to use up. No big deal, but who on earth actually uses as much lemon zest as that? Next time, I think I'll just freeze some of it separately and make myself throw the rest away, like a sensible person. Meanwhile, here are some lemon bars.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
3/4 cup butter -I use salted. If you don't, then add 1/4 tsp salt to the crust.

5 eggs
3/4 cup lemon juice
1 1/2 cups sugar- I used 1 cup plain, 1/2 cup lemon sugar.
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt

Pre-heat the oven to 350. Line the bottom of a 9x13 pan with waxed or parchment paper.

Cut the first 3 ingredients together with a pastry tool. Unlike normal pastry, you don't want to leave butter lumps in the dough. It's done when it looks almost moist, but still crumbles easily. Dump the crumbs into the pan, distribute them evenly over the bottom, and then press them down firmly into a nice solid crust. Prick the crust all over with a fork to prevent it from bubbling up in the oven, and bake it for about 13 minutes. It should be barely browned around the edges by that time. Remove the crust from the oven, and turn the heat up to 375.

Beat all the rest of the ingredients together until completely combined. Pour over the crust, and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the filling has set. When they are cool, sprinkle the tops with powdered sugar and cut them up. 


1. While the bars are still hot, take a very sharp, thin, knife and run it around the edge of the pan to separate the bars from the baking dish. On a related note,

2. Don't be tempted to use a non-stick pan. Even if the bars don't stick to the sides of the pan, you still have to cut them up, which will just gouge holes in your teflon. I am against teflon anyway.

3. You really do have to wait until they are cool to put the powdered sugar on top. If they are still warm, the steam coming off the bars will just make the sugar dissolve. I think Harriet did that once. They still tasted fine, but they didn't look the same and the tops were pretty sticky.

4. The amount of time the filling will take to set up depends on how cold your ingredients are. I use eggs right out of the fridge, so they take on the long side to cook.

5. Oil the knife you use to cut them with. This part isn't mandatory, but it makes them come out prettier, because they stick to the blade less.

This is a pretty good formula. It makes a good sized batch, with a nice proportion of lemon stuff to crust. I looked up a bunch of recipes before I made these, and I think I incorporated the main features that attracted me to each. I used less total sugar than most recipes called for, and more lemon juice. I added an egg to compensate for the extra juice, which had the added benefit of increasing the total volume of lemon goop to slightly greater than 50% of the finished confection. There is just enough flour in the filling to give it some stability, and the baking powder adds a bit of fluff.

The powdered sugar in the crust is indispensable for creating the texture which is such a key part of the lemon bar mystique. Granulated sugar tends to make a tougher pastry, both because the larger particle size makes the sugar distribute differently in the dough, and because powdered sugar has quite a bit of cornstarch in it as an anti-caking agent. I'm pretty sure that it's mostly the cornstarch which makes the crust both tender and dense, as a lot of shortbread recipes call for it. Incidentally, if you measure ingredients by weight, this takes about 65 grams of powdered sugar in the crust.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Bobbin Lace


I got a new obsessive hobby. I can never have too many of those, because knitting and sewing weren't enough, apparently. This does make some very pretty stuff, although I doubt I will ever become an expert lacemaker, any more than I am an expert knitter.

Bobbin lace has always fascinated me, initially because it is so pretty. Then when I read a few things about how lace is made, I was amazed by how simple the basic mechanics of lacemaking are. No matter how fancy a piece of lace looks, it is always made by doing one of the following things:

Take 2 strings. Either cross the left one over the top of the right one, or

Cross the right one over top of the left one.

If you line up a whole lot of strings and cross them left over right or right over left repeatedly, you will have lace. It's just like making a rather wide braid with tiny threads instead of large cords.

So, how do you know what order to do it in? Well, you draw a little map on a strip of paper, which shows you where your strings go, and pin your lace to it as you go along. How do you know where to put in a pin? You draw a little dot on the map, of course.

The cool thing is that, to an extent, you don't need to do the parts in any particular order. As long as you cross to the left or the right in the correct sequence, it will turn out fine. Sure, you can get pretty obsessive, and it's true that the more methodical you are, the fancier a thing you can make, but the pictures are of a super easy beginner's pattern I found online, and I think it's awfully nice.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Blueberries, Cashews, Vinaigrette

At some point, it finally got warm enough for me to be interested in eating greens. I've never met a store-bought salad dressing which I liked enough that I thought I would consume a whole container of it before it went bad. They're usually gooey, or slimy, or intensely sweet, or all of the above. Even the better kinds are just sort of Ok. No big surprise there- by definition they are designed for the mass market, and for a degree of shelf-stability undesirable in a home made food.  Most of the time I just dash some balsamic vinegar and olive oil on my salad and call it good. Unfortunately, this can get a bit monotonous. Here's something zippier:

Sesame Ginger Vinaigrette

2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated very fine
1 small clove garlic, also grated very fine
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/4 cup light soy sauce
1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons olive oil

I find that keeping my ginger root frozen makes it grate better, but that's the closest this recipe gets to food-ninja technique. I keep the dressing in the fridge and slop it on greens, or chunks of tofu. It's pretty good on rice too. You have to be a bit careful though because it'll give you garlic mouth somthin' powerful.

My salad hasn't got anything particularly Asian about it, but the dressing reminds me of the stuff that comes on salads in Japanese restaurants. I tried this with raisins and pine nuts, but I think I like the blueberries better. They almost have a citrusy thing which does well with the garlic and sesame. I could go either way on cashews vs. pine nuts, but visually, the cashews are more interesting.