Friday, December 24, 2010

If Scrooge Tweeted...

Most people are familiar with the character Ebeneezer Scrooge from Charles Dickens' classic tale "A Christmas Carol". Here's my take on what Scrooge might have written during those fateful hours had he been using Twitter:

December 24th, 4 PM Caught Cratchit sneaking coal into the fire again. He's trying to heat me out of house and home! ha ha!

4:30 PM Another bunch of do-gooders trying to separate me from my money. What are poor houses for, then?

5:30 PM Find myself thinking of my old partner Marley, now dead as a door nail. Now there was a man who knew how to foreclose a widow's loan!

7:30 PM Off to a hopefully quiet dinner. I swear, if I hear "Little Drummer Boy" ONE MORE TIME...

9:30 PM Nasty shock: thought I saw the face on my door knocker turn Marley's! The old buzzard was ugly enough alive! Gotta lay off the mustard at dinner.

10:30 PM I've been visited by Marley's ghost! And he said more ghosts were coming! Long night ahead: may be too tired tomorrow to go steal candy from babies.

December 25th, 12:17 AM Just left by the "Ghost of Christmas Past". Ah, sweet Belle was so lovely. But have you seen her lately? What a hag! LOL

3:23 AM Boy, the "Ghost of Christmas Present" sure could stand to mix a salad in between all those goodies. What a tub!

5:15 AM The "Ghost of Christmases Yet to Come" could SERIOUSLY use some social skills. What a drag THAT guy is!

5:35 AM Exhausted, but having trouble sleeping. Thinking things over: maybe I COULD stand to make some changes...

9:30 AM Could it really still be Christmas morning? Man, I thought I'd spent a MONTH with those ghosts. Where's Scooby-Doo when you need him?

9:40 AM Just sent some little scamp off with money to buy a big goose for the Cratchits. Might as well: been giving those poor folks the bird for years now. That's gonna change now, though.

11:00 AM Off to my nephew's for dinner. I hope I'll be welcome: got a sneaking feeling I don't deserve to be. Gosh, though, I feel good!

4 PM Lovely dinner, lovely people. Feel happier than I have in many years! Merry Christmas to everybody!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Cooking Goals for 2011

One of the reasons I don't think of myself as a good cook is that there's so much basic stuff I don't know how to do. Here are a few things I'd like to accomplish by the end of 2011:

1. Understand my options for thickening a liquid and be able to use at least some of them without resort to a recipe. In particular, I'd like to be able to make/use a roux on the fly and be able to do a white sauce without doing more than referring to a note card for a ratio. I have Christmas Day planned for Project White Sauce.

2. Prepare more of my own food during the summer months. Kansas City isn't exactly the Amazon, but it does get hot here, and the hot weather sucks me dry of any culinary ambition. So things go generally to heck. I need to develop a plan.

3. Learn to clarify a bouillon by using a "raft" of vegetables, meat, and egg. OK, I'm lying: I have no need for beautifully clear bouillon. But I saw this done on TV the other day and it's a cute trick. :)

4. Learn the uses for more of the seasonings in my spice drawer. A lot of that stuff I can't even mentally 'taste'.

This seems doable to me!

Friday, December 17, 2010

D-Feast Friday: The Soul of a Recipe

I have a love-hate relationship with recipes. I love them when they teach me what I want to do, but I hate referring to instructions as I cook. Alas, unless I'm just making something up as I go, I do need the recipe.

Here's my main quarrel with most recipes: they tell me too much and too little at the very same time. The lists of ingredients and detailed procedures usually fail to convey what the recipe is really about. What ingredients and steps are necessary to for the dish work from a chemical standpoint, which are necessary for a pleasing flavor, and which just give the dish that extra something?

What is the soul of a recipe, its essence? If the recipe went to Nepal to find itself, what would it learn? When I experimented with breadmaking a decade ago, I learned from my reading that all you need for yeast bread to work are yeast, some kind of sugar for the yeast to much on, flour, and water. I haven't made bread in ages, but I'm reasonably sure I could bake acceptable bread just from those ingredients, using no recipe. All the other ingredients you find in bread recipes are there to enhance flavor, texture, shelf life, nutritional value, etc. I'm not saying those thing are unnecessary, because they are necessary if you're after the characteristics bring. But the SOUL of yeast bread is flour, water, yeast, sugar or something, and the steps needed for the yeast to make the dough rise.

I once tried to make a curry sauce by stirring curry powder into unflavored yogurt. The result was incredibly bitter, one of the worst things I've put into my mouth: I can almost taste it now. Today, I used the Internet to track down a number of yogurt based curry sauce recipes. The first few I looked at didn't seem to be quite when I wanted. When I pulled up the fourth one, I almost fainted from the length of the ingredient list. Once I resumed breathing normally, I deduced from the list that the author was basically asking you to build your own curry powder from whole spices - a fine idea, but not a process I would find necessary. When I had mentally crossed off the curry-powder ingredients, what was left was pretty much this: yogurt, curry powder, and sugar. I had been on the right track, all those years ago: I just needed some sweetener.

These days, I'm working on growing as a cook. As I do so, I find that I'm getting better at reading recipes and finding the soul that I seek. And that, in turn, makes the recipe easier to cook from. Because I'm not doing anything very elaborate, I start cooking knowing what I need to do: I just need the recipe as a memory jog. Why? Because I know that recipe's soul.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Thinking About Blogging: A Pop Quiz

OK, class, now I'm going to give you a pop quiz about blogging. This is an open-book test, so I encourage you to consult your own hearts and minds.

Please note that all answers are correct.

Posts to a blog that's mostly about a particular subject should be:
  1. Informational - readers should go away from the post more fully informed about the subject at hand.
  2. Experiential - readers should go away from the post better understanding the blogger's life and heart, and perhaps relating part of their own experience to the blogger's.

2. Ideally, a blog's post should feel like:
  1. An entry in a journal or diary.
  2. A letter to a trusted friend.
  3. A very small work of literature.

3. True or false: No matter what the normal subject of the blog is, it's a good idea to occasionally include pictures of and stories about cats:
  1. True: Yes, absolutely.
  2. True: Of course this is true! How could this possibly be false?

4. In most kinds of writing, the writer should have the needs of the reader foremost in his or her mind. In blogging, the writer should:
  1. Put the topic and the blogger's relation to it first. The blog is a journey of sorts, and readers are welcome to come along or not as they choose.
  2. Seek first to serve and nourish the readers. If the blogger is not serving readers, the risks of putting one's words online outweigh any advantage in having the blog at all.

Please pass your exam books to the center aisle for collection. And congratulations: no matter your answers, you get an "A".

Friday, December 10, 2010

D-Feast Friday: In a Pickle

As is typical with my cooking posts, this is the report of an amateur playing around than a dissertation by an expert.

I've been pickling some veggies lately. There are various advantages to this, such as getting some additional life out of a cooked veggie that needs to have something happen to it, as with the beets I put in a brine the other night. But the main reason I'm doing it is that the little flavor bombs are delicious, and eating them feels like I'm treating myself luxuriously. Fairly often, when I want a bedtime snack, a few bites of a good pickle does as a fine substitute for alternatives that would be much higher in calories.

The pickle world sort of divides into two main approaches: processed pickles add a brine to a veggie in a jar that is sealed under sterile conditions: this is often called canning. If it's done right, the results are stable at room temperature almost indefinitely.

My experiments, though, have been with what are called quick or refrigerator pickles. The veggie is placed in a brine and then in the refrigerator. It's ready to eat in a few days and typically lasts for a few weeks. (If you resist eating them for that long.)

The brine is typically a combination of water, salt, vinegar, often some spices, and some sugar. (I haven't tried this yet, but I was reading yesterday that Splenda or the like can be used in quick pickles though not for processed pickles.) Brines differ in the proportions and in the type of vinegar years, because different veggies vary in the level of acidity that work best, and different tastes may be sought.

Basically, following the recipe, you build the brine in a saucepan, chop your veggies and place them in the jar. Pour the brine over the veggies, put on the lid, and refrigerate. It really is easy-peasy.

I've done a mild version of kimchee, beets, bread-and-butter pickles, and pearl onions. My very favorite, though, is pickling roasted red peppers - I've used the Food Network recipe here. This recipe also teaches you how to roast peppers, which is pretty easy and (if you like roasted peppers) is a HUGE savings over buying them at a deli.

If you're interested in playing with this, check your favorite markets for a spice blend called "pickling spice". When I got in a toot to use it, the store I used most didn't have it, and made my own blend out of a bunch of stuff. This may be fresher, but the packaged blend would be easier!

Go on. Get in a pickle.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Aging Mind, Young Memory

Today, picking up my prescriptions at the pharmacy, I saw a young woman who looked so much like someone I knew that I almost spoke to her...could it be her? Then I realized that the young woman I'd known would now be in her 40's.

I tweeted the experience, as part of my "This is what aging is" series. My friend Jess, who blogs awesometastically, responded (translating from Twitter), "So your brain is aging but your memory isn't? :)"

I thought that was beautiful. I haven't seen the woman the girl in the pharmacy reminded me of in many years. I don't know what her life has been like, though I hope she's happy, or if she ever wishes to again be the age at which I knew her. In a sense, though, she'll live as a young woman, preserved in the amber of my memory, for as long as I live. So, too, will all the people that inhabit my memories, wherever life (or perhaps death) has taken them since we last met.
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T Minus Two by Bob Pedersen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.