Thursday, January 29, 2009

I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got*

It is the dead of winter. The point where it almost seems like I can’t stand it any longer and ask “when will this let up?” There must be some commonalty in this feeling since Groundhog Day is approaching. I don’t know much about the history of that holiday, but it makes me feel a sense of connectedness in the shared experience of wanting to know when winter will ever end.

Overall though, I have been feeling kind of surprised at my sense of contentment lately. I have been reviewing how my life is different from this time last year and how somehow I am very “at peace” with how my life is going. Is there a tantric yoga pose called “sitting at the keyboard, blogging”? Everything that we need in order to be complete is within us right at this very moment. It is simply a matter of being able to recognize it.**

Last year at this time, I was frustrated working at a place I didn’t like. I kept putting off leaving and it caused me a lot of prolonged grief. Hopefully I am learning to address issues more quickly. A stitch in time saves nine.***

Last year, I was overwhelmed with the thought of caring for Grandma. I was so depressed by her Alzheimer’s diagnosis, and I felt so trapped, thinking about caring for her every day. I don’t think she has gotten much worse, and not only is it not a “burden”, but I have grown to enjoy spending most days at home with her.

Last year, I was codependent on my heroin addict friend. I don’t know if anyone noticed that few months ago, in my “About Me” on this blog, I removed the part that said “recovering codependent to recovering heroin addict”. I didn’t write about it much, but there was a period of time, when several times a week I would fly to his house like Mighty Mouse, singing “here I come to save the day!” Since I have stopped trying to help him, I have been so much happier.

Right now, I am enjoying simple things, books, baking , blogging. (Hmm, do all my hobbies start with the letter “B”?) I am looking forward to the year ahead. I want to continue doing what I am enjoying. I hope to spend some time soon researching the history of my work building. I think it will be demolished soon, and am curious about what happened in the building during the prohibition era. There are entryways to what may have been tunnels leading under the street and I would love to learn more about this soon.

I am looking to the spring and summer and being able to exercise more outdoors. (Yes, I know I CAN exercise outdoors now.) I will start running again and will do the outdoor things I love like rock hunting. I would love to learn about geocaching and give this a try. I always look forward to the Sun Foundation Arts and Science in the Woods Camp. It is my favorite week of the year and I get to do a lot of rock hunting. I just found out last night I am not going to get to go to Utah this summer to see one of the most spectacular geological sights in the world, Arches National Park. (I thought Little E and I were going to go to a church choir thing in Utah, but it got postponed to 2010 in Minnesota.) Maybe we will take a more local field trip instead. I also hope to get to go on a trip of some sort with Jennifer and her family. I am looking forward to the warm days ahead!
* Sinead O'Conner
** Tibetan Buddhist Tantric practitioner Lama Thubten Yeshe
***Thomas Fuller. It is unknown if he coined the phrase, or simply used a proverb popular during the time.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

TWD- Chocolate Gingerbread for Baby and Me

This week, Heather, of Sherry Trifle chose Fresh Ginger and Chocolate Gingerbread on page 212 of Baking, From My Home to Yours.

I LOVED this recipe. Some TWD colleagues felt the ginger was too strong, but mine was perfect. (Not perfect looking, but the amount of ginger seemed just right.) I did omit the optional stem ginger in syrup though. Jennifer and I had decided that we will do our best to include the optional ingredients. Unless it is a real hardship, we will try to adhere to the spirit of each recipe and go all out. We do have a well-stocked Asian store in Peoria. We were going to pop in after spin torture and grab the stem ginger. After spin torture, we went to Cub Foods with Rotund Reader. All three of us needed to go to the service desk to get money back for errors. Then we headed to the new Indian restaurant, where, in addition to other oddities, there was no restroom. In spite of Rotund Reader and I desperately needing a restroom, we decided to go to CVS before the Asian store, where they also did not have a restroom. Rotund Reader warned me, "You will need to drag Jennifer out of the make-up section". I threatened to pee in her car and we made haste to the Asian store, went to turn into the alley to park, but a car came barreling out from the wrong direction and stopped in front of us. Forever. Or at least long enough for another car (also heading the WRONG way down the alley) to take the one parking place. We would have had to park a mile away and the temperature was about 15 degrees. We decided that this qualified as a hardship and decided to forgo the optional stem ginger in syrup.

No worries though. Apparently the powdered ginger and the fresh sugared ginger was just right for my tastes.

Odd conversation with husband:
-"Honey, do you know if we have any cloves?"
-(He finds a jar way in the back of a never used cupboard) "Umm, we have these", holding up a jar his mom gave to me to use to make Christmas ornaments fifteen years ago.
-"Well, they smell fine and I just need a couple; I think they will be fine"
-"You just put two whole cloves in your gingerbread?"
-"No, I need to grind them up."
-"How are you going to do that?"
-"Umm, probably with a mortar and pestle"
He starts laughing hysterically, "yeah right", continues laughing.
-"Well, it would be silly to get out the electric spice grinder for a couple cloves."
Still laughing,"ha ha, ha ha, you want to make this recipe TODAY? OK, see you in a couple of hours, you will never be able to grind up those cloves!"
- 5 Seconds later, while he is still laughing-

Apparently my husband believes cloves have the hardness of diamonds.

My cake did break coming out of the pan.

I decided to snack on some then and take the neater parts and frost them. I gave some to my niece for her birthday.

And made some of the ginger infused whipped cream for us to have the next day.

My favorite recipe so far!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Thank Goodness This Weirdo Doesn't Do a Wordless Wednesday

I'm sure my many readers who love to hear about The Strip Club have been disappointed by all the baking blogging I have been doing. Wednesday, I was busy at work because there was a fertilizer convention in town. Unfortunately, the fertilizer crowd, they are pretty shitty tippers. I would estimate a full 75% of my customers did not tip me at all. One man did show me several Polaroid pictures of his penis though, that he was carrying around in his jacket pocket. Like ten of them, at least. I wonder what really goes on at these fertilizer fests?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Tuesdays With Dorie (and Jennifer): Berry Surprise Cake

Jennifer (Keep Passing Open Windows) and I collaborated on the Berry Surprise Cake for our Tuesdays with Dorie assignment. This recipe was chosen by Mary Ann of Meet Me In The Kitchen and can be found on pages 273-275 of Baking, From My Home To Yours.

I could tell the recipe looked difficult. That was before I read the 60+ comments in which many of my TWD colleagues described cakes that fell flat, or turned out like rocks, even after second attempts. I was relieved and excited that Jennifer invited me over to bake this cake together and play Wii. I looked up the correct pronunciation of genoise, picked up some Framboise, and headed to her house for a berry delightful afternoon. (For some reason I had Strawberry Shortcake in the back of my mind all afternoon.)

At the liquor store, I just went and picked up a bottle of the only Framboise I knew about, Framboise Lambic, which I knew was a fermented raspberry beverage. In hindsight, I'm not sure that this was what Dorie meant by Framboise. From Wikipedia, "This framboise article concerns a fruit beer. Framboise is also a French raspberry eau-de-vie, or clear brandy distilled from fermented fruit." Hmmm, I think that sounds more appropriate to this recipe. So that was probably the first mistake of the day, one I feel particularly stupid about, since I am a bartender.

There were a few other things we didn't do exactly per the recipe. It called for an 8 inch springform pan, and we only had 9 inch or larger ones. So we used a 9 inch pan. There were little things like adding too much cream cheese to the filling and adding the liquor a little too soon to the syrup. We had read about other people over mixing and used a very light hand to fold the dry ingredients into the wet, so we did have a few little flour clumps.

We thought we beat the eggs enough. We thought we got them to the ribbon stage. We thought we treated them like the divas they are, but apparently Jennifer and I do not know how to treat divas.

So, we couldn't cut a half inch off the top and hollow out the middle for the berry surprise. We just put the berry surprise in the sunken middle of our cake and put the topping over it. We had a drink,

ate some cake,

and played some Wii.

Actually, Jennifer kicked my ass in bowling and boxing. So I thought I would post her picture looking like the Peculiar Purple Pie Man of Porcupine Peak. Yah-tah-tah-tah-tah-tah-tah-tah, tah-tah-tah-tah! Cha! I love her.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Jackfruit Adventure

I'm a vegetarian. For some reason, typing that proclamation makes me think of Zed in Police Academy proclaiming "I'm a vegetarian" in that crazy voice. I just did a Bobcat Goldthwait imitation for my husband and he doesn't remember that part of Police Academy. I also tried youtubing it, to no avail. So maybe I am crazy and just have a screechy man voice in my head that says "I..I..I'm a vegetarian!"

I've seen several jackfruit recipes lately. I had never heard of jackfruit until a few weeks ago when I started seeing jackfruit posts while browsing the food porn. I was intrigued by recipes such as Tender Pulled Jackfruit with Gravy , and BBQ jackfruit sandwich. I decided to try this barbecue jackfruit recipe from the blog Vegangelical. It has a home made Irish coffee barbecue sauce with Irish whiskey (I used scotch), coffee (acidic, that will come into play later), ketchup (again, acidic), and apple cider vinegar (very acidic).

I thought I would try to contact the author of the blog, to get her permission to post her whole recipe on my blog, rather than just post a link to it. When I went to the blog, I realized that the posts were almost a year old, and after some reading, discovered a new blog had taken its place, called Hezbollah Tofu, which apparently is an anti-Anthony Bourdain blog. And I quote, "Little Tony Bourdain may have started out like a nice normal little guy, but then he started playing with entrails. End of normal. Now he's kind of pushy. He has meat fascist followers. He is allowed to say fuck without being raked over the coals for it." I'm kind of a fan of Anthony Bourdain, but whatever. I figured I could still contact the blog's author about getting her permission about the recipe. But after some reading there, I learned that she is not reading any emails because she is getting a lot of hate mail about her agenda and now has a different blog called cupcakes and liquor. This looks like a nice blog, but by that point, I was exhausted and just decided to post the recipe and give her credit.

It was a good recipe. The jackfruit was interesting. Apparently here in the US you can by canned jackfruit, either young jackfruit in brine or ripe jackfruit in syrup. For this recipe, you need the young kind. Here is what it looked like out of the can.

As it cooked, it became very tender and pulled apart, eerily looking meat-like.

But do you notice what I'm cooking it in? A cast iron skillet. I know you are not supposed to cook tomato based things or acidic things in cast iron. When recipes call for a non-reactive pan there is a reason for that. My barbecue sauce kind of reacted with the pan and left the jackfruit with a metallic aftertaste. I couldn't get past it. My husband, grandma, and Little E finished their sandwiches. Little E pointed out that I get a metallic taste in my mouth from using my laptop, so maybe I am ultra sensitive to it, or maybe I am just weird. True. All and all it was a great experiment and I can't wait to try it again, or another recipe, in a non-reactive pan.

Recipe from Sarah of Vegangelical, Hezbollah Tofu, and cupcakes and liquor. (Notations in the recipe are her comments)
Irish Coffee Jackfruit Barbecue
For the sauce:
1 medium onion, diced
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/4 cup Irish whiskey
1 1/2 tablespoons cumin
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
cayenne to taste (I used about 3 teaspoons, but I like things to be lethally hot)
3/4 cup ketchup (and all you Easterners can SUCK IT)
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup strong black coffee
1 tablespoon liquid smoke

Heat the oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat, add the onion and saute for a few minutes. Add the whiskey and saute for a few minutes more, until the onion is soft. Stir in the spices, then add the remainder of the ingredients and mix well. Reduce heat and let simmer for 30 minutes. Some swear by letting it sit refrigerated overnight so the flavors can develop more, but I'm too impatient.

For the jackfruit:

2 1-lb cans green (young) jackfruit in water (NOT cooked jackfruit in syrup)
2 tablespoons canola oil
sea salt and pepper to taste
1 recipe Irish Coffee Barbecue Sauce (above)
1 tablespoon liquid smoke (more or less if you prefer)

Saute the jackfruit in the oil with the salt and pepper over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Pour in the barbecue sauce and mix well. Add more liquid smoke to taste. Reduce heat, cover, and let simmer for 1 hour.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Tuesdays With Dorie; Savory Corn and Pepper Muffins, yum

For my second week of Tuesdays With Dorie, I made Savory Corn and Pepper Muffins, chosen by Rebecca, of Ezra Pound Cake. This recipe was super easy and super delicious. With jalapeno and bell peppers, corn and cilantro, they were like a bright burst of summer in the middle of this bitter cold. Even my cilantro hating husband enjoyed them. They contained a whole stick of butter. Who wouldn't love them?

You may be wondering what the heck I served them with. I am a vegetarian and don't cook meat, so what the heck is that? It is Barbecue jackfruit. It was intriguing to experiment with, and I will post about that next, but it was definitely upstaged by these wonderful muffins.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Maybe I am Dense

OK, so I am trying to learn to be a better baker. I have a muffin recipe I have been making for 10 years that I love. It is made with whole wheat flour, yogurt, orange juice, and berries. I think the muffins are delicious and I love the texture. My kids eat them and like them, but they were practically raised on them, so I don't know if they really know any different. My husband calls them hockey pucks and complains that they are gummy and very dense. Ummm, that is why I love them so much! I have briefly read things about ways to lighten up the texture of whole wheat. I have seen recipes that use half white flour and half whole wheat. I have used the whole white wheat flour. But I like this muffin recipe the way it is. Maybe it is like enjoying butter on Saltines and not realizing there is anything wrong with that until your friend blogs about it as though it was weird.

Anyway, one day I had made a double (or was it quadruple?) batch of muffins and I had a lot. Little E was going to his friend's house across the street, so I sent some with him to take to his friend's family. The mom called and thanked me and said they were good, her dad is diabetic, so she might give some to him. I was a little puzzled, but oh well.

Last night, Little E's friend showed up at our door, with a bag of home made granola bars and a index card that said simply "WHOLE WHEAT & FLAX SEEDS". The little boy said, "My mom made these and no one in my house likes them. She said to bring them to you."

They are actually quite delicious. I have eaten all but one of them.

I've probably made my muffin recipe sound really appetizing. I will probably never hear the end of it if I finish this post without sharing it. OK. But I don't know where I got it. It is handwritten in a journal, so I don't know to whom to give credit.

Whole Wheat Blueberry Muffins

1 1/4 c. oatmeal
3/4 c. yogurt
1/2 c. orange juice
1 1/4 c. whole wheat flour
1/3 c. sugar
1/4 T baking powder
1/4 t baking soda
2 egg whites
1 c. blueberries

Combine 1st three ingredients. Set aside. Combine rest of ingredients except eggs. Add oat mix and egg whites. Stir until moist. Fold in blueberries. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.

The Weirdo Factor, Part 3- Some make me mad, some make me sad

I called in to work last Wednesday, after having to put Doobie to sleep. The owner and wife are dog lovers and the same bartender who covered my shift for Little E's birthday worked for me. I feel really thankful.

Friday night I successfully sabered three champagne bottles for the owner and his friends, so I felt a sense of redemption after the Dom disaster.

Saturday night, I worked a short shift behind the bar and it was really slow. I did serve a few weirdos. After the waitress was there awhile, she commented on the full moon. Many in the bar business believe that the moon phase affects the behavior of patrons.

What stands out in my mind are two separate couples I served. The first couple came in early and told me they were celebrating the woman's birthday. She was very friendly and showed me her "bustier". They ordered dinner and I served them a few drinks. They decided to move from the bar to a table, so I climbed under the bar and took all their plates, drinks, and condiments to a table for them. They did not ever tip me. Some people, especially if they don't go out much, don't really understand the etiquette of tipping. I tried not to think much of it and continued to be super friendly and help this woman enjoy her birthday. After awhile the gentleman came to the bar with a hundred dollar bill and wanted all singles. So apparently he did understand the concept of tipping, he just was not going to tip me. I let the waitress take care of them after that.

Later, another couple came in. I would not have identified them as a couple at first. They looked like father/daughter, father/granddaughter possibly? The woman did not look to be of drinking age, but she had some sort of physical(?) developmental(?) disability. That can make it difficult to judge age. I asked them if I could get them anything and the man wanted a Bud Light. I asked the woman what she wanted and she said nothing. I addressed the man, "that will be $3.25". He responded in a gruff voice, "She pays". OK. She counted out $3.25 exactly. I thought, well, maybe she works for him. Maybe she is his assistant or something. Then he leaned over and started making out with her. She seemed very uncomfortable the whole time they were there, which was for two more beers for him, nothing for her. At one point, he asked me to watch his beer while he stepped outside to smoke. The woman stayed at the bar for a minute and I was considering asking her if she was OK, but she put on her coat and said she was also going outside before I had made up my mind about what to say or if I should say anything. So I guess if she was being coerced, he wouldn't have left her there, and she could have said something to me while he was gone. It was just a bit disturbing to me and I hope the woman is capable of making informed decisions and hope she is happy if she is choosing to be with this creepy guy.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Good Bye Doobie Dog

After a traumatic couple of days, Doobie was put to sleep yesterday. He was part of my family for 10 years and it was sad to lose him, for myself and for my kids, but Grandma is beside herself with grief. I am scared about dealing with this and how her Alzheimer's will affect the situation.

On the way to the vet yesterday, after Doobie had fallen down the stairs and couldn't move his limbs, I knew that he would not recover. We had just been at the vet the day before, and Doobie was put on pain medicine that he would have to take for the rest of his life, so we had already been discussing his quality of life. In my opinion, it would be best not to even subject Doobie to X-rays or tests and just end his suffering. She agreed and we drove a few minutes more. Then she said "we can just leave him there while they do the X-rays", not remembering the difficult conversation we had just had.

Luckily, the doctor there was the one I like more and is more compassionate and logical in my opinion, and did not recommend tests. She said she could tell his spinal cord was injured and that even a young, healthy dog might not make it through surgery and intensive physical therapy. We decided to put him to sleep and Grandma and I stayed with him while his suffering ended.

Most of the day she wouldn't eat or take her medicine and didn't want to talk to anyone on the phone. She cried off and on throughout the day. In the evening, she did not want to watch Top Chef with us and went downstairs and I helped her call her sister who had lost her husband two days ago. Later I went down and got her eye drops for her, that she usually does when she gives Doobie his medicine at night. I told her I was going to take Doobie's medicine off her table now. She asked why and I responded that he doesn't need it anymore and I was worried she would get confused and think it was for her.

"Why doesn't he need it anymore?"

Fuck. She did not remember. And I had to remind her that Doobie had died and she started crying again. What a cruel torture.

At the end of 2008, I was reflecting on how it really was not a bad year. I remember at the start of the year feeling overwhelmed with caring for Grandma and thinking "I don't know if I can do this". But I adjusted and she really did not get any worse I don't think. I am grateful for that and have been thinking "so far so good; I can do this". I hope I was right.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Pathetic Pears Turn Into Tasty Tart: TWD

OK, this is my first Tuesdays With Dorie post. This was a great week to start, not only because it is a new year, but because this week's recipe was selected by Dorie Greenspan herself! The recipe is for a French Pear Tart and can be found on her blog.

All the other bakers are saying how easy this recipe is. Mmmm, I guess it would be easy the second time around, now that I have more of a clue what I am doing. I had never made a tart so I ran into a few little bumps in the road. (My only tart pan is glass; can it go from freezer to oven without breaking? Yes it can, or at least this time it did.) Overall, the final result was DELICIOUS.

The first step was making almond cream out of ground blanched almonds. Again, this was a new concept for me. I had some almonds, so I figured I would just blanch them. The instructions I had warned against oversoaking the almonds and making them too soft. So I was careful to soak them only for a minute and then started peeling. It took forever and I kept hurting my fingers. After a long time, the skins did start to slide off easier and I realized this was what they were supposed to be like from the start. Next time I'll know.

One nice thing about this recipe is it allows you to choose between fresh pears, poached pears, or canned pears, saying that canned pears work splendidly. That is good to know, but I so happened to have some fresh pears that needed used (or thrown away.) Usually pears would not get to this sorry state in my house, but with Big E's fruit sale, and with me accidentally ordering an extra box of fruit, I have been overwhelmed with fruit and these little guys were teetering on the brink of rotten.

I didn't want to poach them and have them get any softer. After peeling, coring, culling a few spots, and dousing with lemon juice, they looked quite appealing.

Here is the assembled tart before it got baked:

Ooops, I forgot to dry off the pears before putting them on the almond cream. Maybe that is why it didn't brown very well and I had to put foil on the edges and cook it a little extra.

When it was finally done, I sprinkled on a little lemon zest (from the lemon I needed the juice from earlier) and a lot of powdered sugar. I didn't mean to do that much and tried to blow some off so the picture would look prettier, but that didn't work very well. The tart tasted wonderful though. I think I could have just an almond cream tart. I can't wait to try this with other fruit too.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Upcoming Year of Baking

My friend, Jennifer, loves to cook and bake, and she is really good at it. We both recently got the Kama Sutra of baking, Baking: From My Home To Yours, by Dorie Greenspan, I am not nearly as an acomplished baker as Jennifer, but we joined a group together called Tuesdays with Dorie. It is a group of several hundred blogging bakers who cook the same recipe from Baking each week and post about it. I am really looking forward to this weekly adventure.

I have already made a couple recipes from the book and am already loving it. For Little E's birthday, I made a Tall and Creamy Cheesecake. For my work Christmas party I made Real Butterscotch Pudding with my boss's favorite scotch, Johnnie Walker Black Label. To remain in the group, we are supposed to make the assigned recipe at least two times a month. I am hoping to participate every week. Tomorrow's treat is a French Pear Tart. Pears are a favorite fruit at my house. I think my family will like this new baking adventure too.

I can't decide if I should just post my baking posts on this blog, or start a new blog for food stuff. For now I will put my food posts here.