27 May 2009

My senator is a good man. Please support him, and tell him that you appreciate his efforts.

21 May 2009

I'm still alive!

I did my podcast episode on peanuts, which I'd been meaning to do for a long time. Finally, it's taken care of, and I've explained things as best as I could in a short time. I had to make it quick, because my battery was dying! What a mess I can be, right?

But! It's there, and I'm back to my food rambly self. Hopefully, people will like the new episode, and will want to listen. I'm still trying to work on saying "um" and "uh" a lot. It must be super annoying for you lot to listen to when I say it. But that's kind of how I talk, y'know? And of course, as anyone who's spoken with me on the phone can tell you, I can talk a /lot/.

I should catch up with my amma, but I don't know that I'll have too terribly much to say, seeing as how things are at a bit of a standstill at work. At least things on the personal front are cool! My friends are coming over on Saturday for an eating/cooking bash, so I'm definitely looking forward to that. I think I have three that are confirmed, so it's certainly exciting.

Then, I have a baby shower for a friend in Jersey later this month. I'm looking forward to seeing that bunch again. They're all sweethearts. It's going to be a pretty cool rest of the month, I think.

Aside from that, not much to report. I've gotta fly!

20 May 2009

Really cool story about a couple with a child, who didn't feel right about being a boy. So they said, "Let him be her." Sacred Chow: good luck katie!

I wish all parents were that enlightened.

18 May 2009

Court, boo

Had to go to MTA adjudication building to fight a bullshit ticket. Obviously, the matter isn't completed. They have to now send a summons to the cop who wrote the ticket, and send me the court date in the post via certified mail. Then, I have to appear AGAIN at the court house to present the evidence. Then, I have to wait for them to complete their decision. And if it doesn't go my way, I have to file an appeal.

All for a bloody $50 ticket. Sorry. Not going to buckle. I'm fighting this.

17 May 2009

Stretching the Fat

Stretching Cream

It may sound like an obvious proposition, but if you're looking to cut back on the amount of fat and calories you stack up when you're using things like coocnut milk and coconut cream in recipes, you'll want to use as little as possible. Furthermore, coconut milk and coconuts aren't exactly cheap. I get my coconut milk from a wonderful Chinese market out in Queens, for about 89¢ per 15 ounce tin. This is drastically less expensive than my grocery store, where it goes for at least $1.25. And that's cheaper still than the grocery stores in Manhattan, where that same amount of coconut milk can easily go for up to $3.

Suffice it to say, these things are best used sparingly. Furthermore, they're best used as a finishing ingredient, rather than an integral ingredient. That way, you get the maximum flavour impact of the freshness of coconut coming through loud and clear. When you cook the coconut for a long time, the freshness starts to dull, and the character of the fat changes. As I've said a few million times by now, it's best to avoid cooking the coconut fat if you're trying to eat it in a healthy way. If you're making a bechamel, the hell with health, and go nuts.

So. What is the easiest method of making the fat stretch?

I find that for the most part, starch does the job really well. This can be either potatoes, flour, cornstarch, or rice, depending on the application. If you're working with a stew or something similar, and it's got lots of hearty vegetables, and you have like a backnote of cream going on, what I find works really well is to mash together the coconut milk and some cooked rice. Mash it well and vigourously, much like you were trying to make very smooth mashed potatoes. Once it's in a nice mashed mass, slowly incorporate the cooking liquid from the stew into the mash, so that the rice and coconut get dispersed in liquid. If you were try to put that ball of mashed rice directly into the pot, you'd end up with some fairly unpleasant blobs of rice floating around. Definitely not good. Once the rice and coconut are sufficiently liquidy, feel free to pour that stuff directly into the soup. Bring everything up to a full rolling boil, then drop to a simmer for about five or ten minutes. It should thicken up quite nicely. Adjust for salt at the end, of course.

If you're looking to do something more like a soup, wherein you have a smooth consistency to maintain, I find that either a roux or a slurry works well, but finely mashed potatoes don't interfere too much. Take vichyssoise for example. It's creamy all by itself, without the addition of any cream. All it is should be potatoes, leeks, a bit of oil, and salt and pepper. Anything else is a bonus. start off with about a pound or so of leeks, sliced as thin as you can get 'em. Sauté them in a bit of peanut or other vegetable oil. When they turn translucent, dump in about two pounds of new potatoes (not the starchy kinds, the waxy work better, in my opinion), peeled and chopped roughly. Stir the potatoes and leeks around in the fat for about five minutes or so, being careful not to brown the potatoes.

Add just enough water to cover the potatoes, and bring everything up to a boil. Drop down the heat to as low as it'll go, and let it gently bubble away for about 15 - 25 minutes, depending on how large you diced your potatoes. Once it's done, grind it down to a puree in a blender (if you want to grind it when it's still hot), or in a food processor (wait for it to cool down a bit, and use a fair bit less liquid to grind it), or a stick blender (if your food processor and/or blender are small, and you want to do it all at once). You won't need anything more, but a few tablespoons of coconut milk will just push it over the edge.

The vichyssoise is just an example of how powerful potatoes can be at thickening stuff. You don't quite have to go to the trouble of combining it with leeks every time (even though it's stunningly delicious). A shortcut is to nuke the potato for about four minutes (for a medium spud) on high power, and then peel it when it comes out of the microwave (be careful, it's hot!), and then mash the potato extremely well. Hell, if you want, pitch it in the blender with some water, crank that baby up, and bust out with improv potato "cream" with which to thicken your soup, stew, or whatever else. Then, at the very end, add just a fraction of coconut milk that you normally would, and watch the whole pot become creamy by association.

By the by, this also works with the ground nuts cream that I have in my book, if you don't have coconut milk.

14 May 2009

Late to bed, later to rise

I got to bed FAR too late last night, and of course, ended up sleeping till 11. If I'm to get to work on time, by around 12, I need to get moving from my house around 11:15 or so, so that I have enough time to get to the subway, wait for it to arrive, and then get into work. Sometimes it takes five or ten minutes to come, if it's running late, or if there's some sort of heavy train traffic. Very annoying, indeed.
Any rate, I got out of the door around 11:25 or so, and really hoofed it. I made it to the subway station pretty quickly, but as soon as I got to the platform, and somehow the train arrived immediately! On the train I go. Somehow, I managed to make it to work not only on time, but early! That was so unusual, but quite nice nonetheless. It really gave me a bit of a boost throughout the day. I also managed to finish work on time, and got to the train station. Again with the subway arriving just as I got on the platform!
It's a minor pleasure, but when things just go well, everything seems so much nicer. :)

13 May 2009

Dear Senator Serrano:
I was under the impression that this great city celebrates and rejoices in the diversity of its people, but I feel like my diversity isn't being respected. There's been some grumbling and mumbling going down about the Marriage Equality Bill not happening as it should have happened years ago, for all people. Please, if you have any compassion for those of us who have no rights to be given the respect that we deserve, please do your best to ensure that this bill passes. I came here from Florida to escape people who hated me for who I am. Please hear my voice, and know that people like me need those rights, so that we can have the same benefits that our straight married friends have. My partnership of four years is no less valid than anyone else's and I hope that you'll agree too.
I have attached a photograph of me with my beautiful husband, so that you'll see that we too have a face, an a voice, and are real people.
Thank you for your time.
The senator's email address: serrano@senate.state.ny.us
If you're a registered voter in New York, please, send the good senator a message. :)

Speak Softly, and Carry a Notebook

It happens so often that I wonder if I'm really alone as I think I am on this issue: great idea comes, you get distracted for a fraction of a second, and all of a sudden, the muse has flown off towards new heads. All of a sudden, you're slamming your brian against your skull to try to shake loose whatever that inspiration was from whichever dusty corner it sits in. Nothing.

It happened to me this morning. I had a pretty nifty idea for a blog post, but had to go to the washroom immediately. One flush later, and my idea was swirling along with the amber liquid and the rapidly rushing stream of water down the drain. Poof. Gone. Never to be realised now.

I used to be in the very good habit of carrying a notebook with me wherever I went. Then, when something just had to be said right now, I could reach for it, along with its pen (who sat neatly inside the spiral) and jot down whatever it is I was thinking. I would then get on with my life, and come back to that idea once it's had a chance to stew in my brain's juices, and pick up flavour and texture from the ambient noises that are always going on in there.

It's part of the reason that I digress so many times in conversation and in writing. My brain isn't a linear being; instead, he charges out in all directions, at a nice steady pace, in neat, parallel lines. Think of it like a koosh ball. Then, imagine each thought folding back in on itself, to come back to the middle. And while they do that, they rub up against each other, and create new thoughts, and new ideas, and different places to explore, all within a fraction of a second. It's not as chaotic as it sounds, mind you, but it works for me.

This is why it's so important to have that notebook at reach. If I don't have some place to put those fleeting moments of brilliance (stop rolling your eyes at me like that!), they'll constantly be escaping. And if I'd had the sense to be near my notebooks, as I used to be, you'd be reading an interesting piece, and not the insane ramblings of a crazy person.

12 May 2009

Still Cold

I called my mother yesterday. Unfortunately, the conversation was only about an hour and small change, but I did get to have my boss join in on it, which was nice. We all got a chance to chat about work, and dumb people, and all the rest, and it was definitely nice for him to hear a voice that's not mine. I know that I talk a lot, but it's part of my charm. Right? RIGHT?

Fine. Be that way.

My father's book is coming along swimmingly, although I haven't the time to edit it quite yet, because work has been filling my days and the rest with so much to do! It's good in one way, because it means that there is so much to get done, and we're not sitting around and scratching all various and sundry body parts. It's also good because it means that we're forever trying to improve ourselves, and reaching for the highest and best that we can do.
It's not so good, because we're not lounging on a beach somewhere with cocktails.

11 May 2009

Storing Grains

My mother had a problem with bugs, which she told me about. All her grain products, and many of her bean products had developed those little needle nosed bugs that some people call weevils, but are really Tribolium confusum, or the so called "confused flour beetle." Yes, it's a species of beetle. They're fascinating little creatures, and have a standard life cycle of egg, larva, pupa, and adult. They can survive on the tiniest amount of grain, and can even survive the freezer.
However, the people who typically give advice on bug management tell you to do horrible things, like put the grain into the freezer for extended time, so that they can be frozen to death. I don't know about you, but I'm not too keen on the cold, and freezing to death doesn't sound like my idea of fun. I think that the best way to avoid eating bugs (although it's funny how squeamish people get about eating bugs, when they have no problem eating other animals, but that's for another day) is to prevent their access to your food supplies in the first place.
This is dead simple to do, as long as you are fastidious about it.
1. If you already have an infestation, don't buy any new grain until all the old grain is completely consumed (by either you or the bugs). I'd suggest just letting the bugs have at, because the eggs are small enough to pass through a sieve, and are too small to be seen easily by the human eye. Better to start fresh, so that you're not taking any chances at all.
2. Clean out any vestiges of grain products left in open surfaces, such as on the counter, in cupboards, pantries, or other storage areas, and any other place you think some grain may have fallen. Thoroughly vacuum your kitchen, to pick up any stray pieces. Go over everything with hot water and bleach. It'll take a while, but it's well worth it if you're looking to start over fresh.
3. When you buy grain, beans, or anything else that these critters like to attack, store them in air-tight containers with as small an opening as possible.
I'll repeat that, in case you missed it: store them in airtight containers with small openings.
What do I mean?
Juice bottles! You know those bottles of cranberry juice or apple juice that you buy from the store? (Or, in some cases, bottles of liquor with a screw on cap.) Those are perfect for keeping out bugs, because you can close them tightly, they don't cost you anything, and they store a LOT of grain.
I can easily fit a 20 lb bag of rice into a couple of one gallon juice jugs. I prefer the clear containers, so that I can see what it is that's inside the container, but you can use any bottle you have.
If you've ever visited my apartment, you'll see bottles of rice, split peas, and other random grains on top of my fridge, bottles of spices in my cupboards, and bottles of other grains in my pantry. The easiest way to get your stuff into those jars is to visit a hardware store, and buy one of those cheap plastic funnels that have a very large opening on the bottom, so that your grain flows through evenly. Once they're in there, it's very easy to dispense.
Those funnels are usually used to get oil into a car, but they work just fine for grain. If you find that the opening that rests in the bottle is too small, grab a serrated knife, and saw off the bottom tip until it's wide enough to admit the grains, but narrow enough to fit the mouth of the bottles. Sand it down a bit with your sharpening steel, some steel wool pads, sandpaper, a nail file, an emery board, or whatever else you have lying around. The point is that you want to avoid the little bits of plastic getting into your food.
If you'd rather not spend the $1 - $3 on the plastic funnel, grab a newspaper, and roll it into a cone with an open end. Secure it with a staple or two, or some tape, and go to town. Or, use one of those party hats, and snip off an end. I used the same party hat for about six months while I was trying to find a better way, and it worked just fine for me.
In fact, I find it awkward to use my grains without pouring them out! The smaller containers are much easier to handle than those messy bags that they come packaged in.
This goes triple for sushi or basmati rice. Both are extremely expensive, and I'd sooner miss out on the attractive packaging that they come in than lose out on the rice itself.
If you have friends that also discard their used juice and water bottles, ask them to save the bottles for you, so that you can reuse them.
WARNING: Ensure that you wash and thoroughly dry the containers before putting any grain into them. Any leftover moisture will encourage the growth of fungus, and will spoil your stuff. Make sure that it's completely dry before using the containers. It's important to was the juice containers, because the leftover sugar will attract ants and other critters. Best to avoid it in the first place!
Why recycle when you can reuse?

10 May 2009

Happy Mother's Day to all the lovely moms out there!

I sent my mother a letter this morning, letting her know how amazing she is. If you haven't done so yet, better late than never!

Here's to all the lovely moms out there. You make our lives better in so many ways.

09 May 2009

I have no Junk Drawer

I don't have a junk drawer, and I'm quite happy that way. It goes in direct opposition (one of the very few times that I do diverge from her) to my mother's way, which is to have a junk drawer, a junk purse, a junk closet … you get the picture. The point is that people who tend to hold clutter tend to have these parts of their lives that are … junk.

What prompted me to give everything the ol' heave ho was an early morning while I was puttering around in my kitchen, making something for my darling husband. I don't recall which spice it was that I couldn't trace, but it was ever elusive. Fenugreek. That's the one. It's one of my favourite spices to use, both for its savoury aroma, and for its unctuous mouth feel when added to a soup towards the beginning of the cooking process. It was fenugreek.

At that moment, I started rifling through the pantry, the shelf above the stove (which is infrequently, if ever, used), the shelf above the fridge (which is damn near never used), and in all the drawers in the kitchen, starting with my spice drawer, and ending with my junk drawer. It dawned on me that while my computer files are neatly organised by project, and I can generally find things without the search feature, the rest of my life was slowly coming unglued, because of the chaos that I allowed to permeate everything.

Something had to go, and it sure as heck wasn't me.

Out came all the contents of the pantry, the shelves the drawers, everything. I arranged the whole mess atop my counter(s?), the stove, the floor, anywhere I could find another scrap of spare space. Then I attacked all the shelves and drawers with soap and hot water, to clean out the accumulated dust and debris that naturally builds over unkempt storage, like so many petals from the cherry blossoms on the ground during the first blush of Spring.

Then, slowly, methodically, and determinedly, I began to throw away anythingthat seemed remotely useless. The menu from the local eatery? They have a website. Gone. The random receipts from the grocery store? That food is long past eaten, and the paper has gone yellow with age, and become wrinkled. Yes, I got a fantastic deal on those strawberries, but this is surely not the way to enjoy that! As expected, most of the stuff in the junk drawer was exactly that: junk.

Anything else, like tools (hammers, chisels, screwdrivers) went to its own little storage area. No more office supplies in the kitchen. No more random scraps of paper that have no business existing, much less taking up valuable real estate on my tiny space. No more JUNK. All of it is gone now, and my pantry, although not the model of perfection, is organised, and easy to search. The shelves, although not strictly perfect, are still devoid of any random flotsam.

And for the record, there was no more fenugreek. I'd finished the last bit on a soup the week before, and had forgotten to make a trip out to the store to pick up some more. Never again.

04 May 2009

And again, with the going back to the freezing.

So here I am, waking up on yet ANOTHER freezing May morning. Dude, what's going on? In Florida, we'd have nice, toasty sunshine by this point. Here, it's still grey and windy and miserable. I don't think I like this plan very much.

In other news, some nice lady from Pom sent me a bunch of the juice. It tastes pretty good, but so far I've only used the first bottle on cocktails. ::cough:: I can pretend it's healthy! I think I'll try and be more creative with the next bottle, and see if I can't come up with something interesting. I'll let you lot know how it comes out.

Emily, Mike, and Steve all helped make lunch on Saturday go really well. It was a whole lot of fun, because we got to sit and chat, and eat. And eat. And eat. We made roasted cabbage, daikon/carrot/ginger/miso that was baked in the oven, roasted swiss chard, and rice. Then, we had little mini pizzas on pita bread after everyone was done. Oh, also green beans, south indian style. There's a recipe in the book, I think.

Now, after that much food and chatting, the conversation always picks up, because everyone is full and happy and the rest, right? FINALLY, after all these years of having said fun conversations, I brought in a microphone so that we could record some of it. And as usual, topics ranged from food, to food politics, to animal rights, to stupid omni questions, to joking and being silly. I did try to get everyone to speak up a bit when they were waning, but it is what it is. I uploaded it as a new podcast episode, so I hope you lot give it a listen.

Aside from that, my mother currently has no phone or internet for a few more days, while the respective companies get off their behinds and set things up. Mind, my sister and brother in law have mobile phones, but those are prepaid. My father has one from his work at the temple, but that's a work phone. Either way, I won't be able to catch up with amma for a while, so I'm just kind of saving up all the experiences in my head.