Archive for the ‘food’ Category

Getting some culture

Saturday, December 15th, 2012

The Wombat has embarked on a new project.  She is growing things.

A few months ago, I purchased Sandor Katz’s The Art of Fermentation.  I am here to report on my first few projects.

KEFIR:  For the past few years, I have been stretching my store-bought kefir ($5.49/quart!) by adding a cup at a time to fresh milk and leaving it sit out for a day.  But last week, I order my very own kefir grains, which arrived  from Ohio today.  I added some milk and in a mere 24 hours, I should have some new kefir to make into smoothies.  Yum.  I am, however, a little concerned about the beasties when I leave this Friday for two and a half weeks…

KOMBUCHA:  Last Saturday, I started a kombucha culture from store-bought.  By this morning, it had an oozy little film on the surface and it smelled just like it should.  I have added some more sweetened tea today and transferred it to a larger container.   I hope it will grow well until I have to refrigerate it for my trip…

MILLET PORRIDGE:   Well, Mr Katz gives an appealing description of millet porridge.  And, generally, the Wombat really loves her porridge — oatmeal, cream of wheat, cream of rice, and jook are all delicious!  So, I ground up some millet, added some water, and let it sit for a couple days until it fermented a bit, and then added more water and cooked it.  And it made my whole house smell unpleasantly of cheese.   Although cheese can be delicious, H pointed out that the smell of cheese is not always a good thing — when your feet, your yoga clothes, or a wound smell like cheese, this is a bad sign.  Well, my millet porridge smelled unappealingly of cheese and tasted bitter.  I decided that I would not feel guilty about throwing it out.  The Wombat does not care for cheesy millet porridge.

RED WINE VINEGAR:  Last Saturday, I picked up a cheap 1.5L bottle of red wine at CostCo for my first vinegar experiment.  I poured the wine into a large, 2-gal glass wide-mouth jar, added a cup or so of raw cider vinegar and covered with a towel to await transformation.  It is starting to smell more like vinegar.  On Monday, I will take a sample to the lab to test the pH and see how things are coming along.



Just a Sunday

Sunday, April 10th, 2011

Well, it’s been a while since I posted here, and my last post still makes me sad.

Just a Sunday today: practice, blueberry coffee cake, laundry, produce shopping in chinatown, a few errands, big salad at 4pm that I suppose will count for lunch and dinner (esp with the two helpings of coffee cake…).

I practiced this morning through dwi padi shirshasana, although on Friday, CL threatened that the yoganidrasana and titibasana would be forthcoming this week.  Just when I was getting the hang of things!  Some interesting goings-on in the body, though.  I’ve found the lift in kapo, so that I can get half-way up my feet without assistance now.  And finding that lift (from hollowing the belly, rotating the thighs inward — perhaps this is the elusive nutation of the sacrum?) also changes the preceding backbends.  In other backbend changes, CL went around a couple weeks ago tucking in chins in backbends: my! what a great idea!  With all these interesting changes, my practice is full of effort right now.  From danurasana through the LBHs, it’s focused and a bit fierce; I’ll need to find some softness in there if I’m going to make it through the titibasanas.  Kapo is getting less exhausting and scary, but bakasana B?  Still catching my breath after the two twists.

On Friday, I participated in a benefit event (A Prayer for Japan), which was my first experience with large numbers of sun salutations – an order of magnitude more than usual.  One of the neat things was that we were accompanied by Kenny Endo, an improvisational taiko drummer (and he and an amazing ukulele player, Jake Shimabukuro, performed a concert afterwards).  I have mixed feelings about events like this, but the experience of doing 108 sun salutations was very interesting.  I don’t think my spine has every felt so fluid.  I was surprised that I didn’t get tired.  I worried that my form would deteriorate and that I might tweak my shoulders, but that didn’t happen.  Perhaps to help prevent this, the style of sun salute was varied for each set of 27 as the count switched among 4 teachers from the sponsoring studios: only the first set by CL was the traditional ashtanga suryanamaskara A.  I don’t participate in the “yoga community” much, aside from chatting after class with a few shala-mates, so this was a nice experience in that way, too.  As for my mixed feelings about these kinds of events, I suppose there are many.  First, there is a monetary part:  this is the tiniest token, and I’m not even sure that these kinds of donations are appropriate for a first-world disaster.  Certainly, inter-governmental assistance providing helicopters, search and rescue teams, generators, etc is all totally appropriate and critical.  But $10-20k to a wealthy country?  This simply can’t go very far — $15k doesn’t buy in Japan what it does in Haiti.  But putting money aside, we are sending our prayers to Japan.  Thus, the 108 sun salutations. And here’s where my skepticism kicks in: I enjoyed doing the 108 sun salutations and I did them with a sincere heart, but I’m pretty sure it didn’t do a thing for folks in Japan.  This leads me to the conclusion that this event really isn’t for the Japanese tsunami victims, it’s for us, the participants.  It’s to assuage our sense of powerlessness, to reinforce our own community, and to do something fun in the name of meaningfulness.  And it was fun: the performances were great, the donated food was great, the community showing was great.  But there is also something a bit voyeuristic about it.  I certainly acknowledge the special relationship between Hawaii and Japan, but this is a tragedy thousands of miles away and, somehow, we want to participate in it.  This strikes me as both compassionate and voyeuristic.

Well, there are many more things to say — H was here for the month of March, and we had several adventures!  A ride up and down Haleakala, a hike over the Ko’olau range, and backpacking on Mauna Loa.  All great!  For now, though, I’ll just post a few photos.







Thanksgiving Report

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

We arrived late to H’s sister’s house on Wednesday night. My fault… I had to send off a page to a collaborator for a proposal, and it took a while to get it done. Doesn’t it always?

Upon arrival after 11pm, we did three things: boiled some cranberries in simple syrup in preparation for candied cranberries, soaked stoneground cornmeal for cornbread, and disassembled four pomegranates.

We started early on Thanksgiving day.  As I put the pomegranate seeds through the food mill, H’s sister joined us in the kitchen.  I sweetened the juice a bit, then heated it to dissolve agar flakes.  Once set, these would be pomegranate cubes for chocolate fondue.

Fondue is a food favored by my family, though we haven’t had it in a long time.  My parents received two fondue sets when they were married, but we always used the red enamel one with four long forks heated by a small can of Sterno.  Bread dipped in winey cheese fondue, or apples, bananas, and Sara Lee poundcake cubes dipped in chocolate.  Ahh.  Needless to say, we had never tried pomegranate agar when I was growing up!

H’s mom starts on our first round of dirty dishes.

Next I made the persimmon cranberry sauce.  I love to make cranberry sauce.  It’s incredibly easy and everyone loves it.  It can be as sweet or as tart as you like.  (Mmm, I just picked up more cranberries at the market today so I could have more!)  Meanwhile, H is setting up Sousie in the laundry room, where the hands of children are less likely to find the exposed wires.

Next I boil the corn for the cornbread, cut it off the cob, and start assembling the dry ingredients.  Oops — I have forgotten to let the soaking cornmeal come to room temperature.   On to the pumpkin chiffon pie!  Hmmm.  I need to crush ginger snaps (TJ’s Triple Ginger Snaps) for the crust.  We didn’t bring a food processor, H’s sister does not have a rolling pin… but H finds a MagLite and a plastic bag.  This performs nicely.  Pie crust goes in the oven briefly.  I also start roasting the beets for a salad.  I dissolve some gelatin in warm water, then cook the pumpkin-egg yolk base for the pie filling.  By the time this is done and starting to cool, my gelatin has set.  I gently re-dissolve in the microwave, then fold it into the yolks.  I start digging through the cupboards for an electric mixer.  Eventually, H’s sister finds it for me, and I beat the whites in a double boiler (Italian meringue-style), and fold these into the cooled pumpkin-egg yolk mixture.  This goes into the fridge to set.  By now, H has the cornbread in the oven.

H’s mom is on the second round of dirty dishes.

By now, H’s nieces have joined us.  H’s older niece, S-N, has now begun to act like a teenager.  While still eager to please, she cops a little more attitude this year.  We try not to make fun of her too much.   H’s younger niece, I-R, is at a great age to help now.  A bit more coordinated than last year, I am less petrified by showing her how to use a sharp knife, and she is interested in what we’re doing.  H starts mise-en-placing for the chard dish (a riff on this – with dried cranberries and no bacon).  This will a last minute saute, so everything has to be ready to go.  I-R helps him tear the chard into big chunks, but gets a bit bored.  I entice her first into completing the candied cranberries — rolling them in sugar — and then into peeling the roasted beets.

Parsnips.  H’s sister comes in periodically to ask if she can help.  I set her to peeling and cubing the parsnips for steaming.  I cook a few sage leaves for sage-infused olive oil.  H fries some more sage leaves for garnish

H starts on the sweet potato soup.  He puts the turkey breasts into Sousie.  I start boiling the wild rice for the stuffing.  At this point, I’m onto chopping things.  Lots of fruit to prepare for the fondue (kiwi, oranges, apples, bananas, and persimmon), and chanterelles, garlic, and shallots to prep for the pasta with mushroom sauce (a riff on this and this).  For the beet salad, I dice the beets and toss them in an orange viniagrette, section three oranges (sectioning citrus is my specialty!), thinly slice half a sweet onion, and cube up some slightly overripe kiwi.  I also toast and chop some hazelnuts for garnish (Have I mentioned before that I am on a rather expensive hazelnut kick right now?  I ate handfuls of them at work today.)  H finishes the wild rice stuffing.  H starts on the fresh egg pasta – the semolina flour needs to hydrate for a while.

H’s mom is still cleaning up dirty dishes.  Really, her constant washing makes it possible to keep things moving in the kitchen all day.  Where’s the XXX?  Oh! Here it is!  Clean, again.

In the meanwhile, we are supervising the nieces who have started on the annual Cranberry-Nut Bread ritual (this is a really great recipe from Cook’s Illustrated.  It’s behind a paywall but a clever google search will find it).  This year, we tell them to read the directions through, ask if they have questions, and make it on their own.  I remember in second grade that we were given a worksheet where the first instruction was “Read all the instructions before filling anything out on your worksheet”.  It then proceeded to give all kinds of crazy detailed instructions (e.g., underline the word “year” with a red pen on line 7), and the last instruction was to ignore all the previous instructions and do one simple thing.  Needless to say, I was not patient enough for this exercise and failed it miserably.  But now I know why our teacher’s did it.  The nieces simply could not read through the instructions and follow them!  They kept asking what to do next, and we would say, “What does the recipe say?”  and they would read it to us, and then ask “What do we do next?”.  Oh dear.  Well, they chopped the cranberries.  That was good.  They zested the orange (H reminded them to zest it before they cut it for juice.  That’s just experience, not in the recipe.)  They measured the flour, powder, and soda.  They juiced the orange.  H taught them about how to read a measuring cup and about the meniscus.  They measured out 2/3 C orange juice.  Since they were doubling the recipe, they needed 1 1/3 C buttermilk — ah! this sums to 2 C!  And can be measured all at once in a 2 C measure!  S-N and I toasted the pecans.  After we burnt them once, we toasted them again, and she chopped them.   Now what? Now what?  Read the recipe.  Read the recipe.  Did you butter the pans?  Did you preheat the oven?  Now can we mix? Now can we mix?  Read the recipe.  Read the recipe.  Instructions on not overmixing the batter.  Into the now-greased loaf pans!  Into the oven!  Nieces disappear for a while…

It is now the calm before the storm.  We sit for a few minutes.  We have extra corn from the cob, and I decide to make the corn pudding that I have been wanting to make but H kept nixing (wrong texture, he says) and look up a few recipes to work from.  H and I make a plan for the last 1-1.5 hours for a 6:30 dinner.  We would have liked it to be a bit earlier, but the turkey breast got into Sousie a little late, so 6:30 is a realistic goal.  It’s about 4:30 now, the cran-nut bread is out of the oven; the sweet potato soup has been blended; the parsnips have been pureed in the food mill; I have sent H’s brother-in-law to get the dining room furniture arranged; H’s sister has set out plates and utensils for our buffet-style meal.  The mises are in their places for the chard, sauteed carrots with garlic and ginger, the mushroom sauce, and the beet salad.  The fruit for the fondue is prepped and plated and chilling in the fridge.

A bit past 5 o’clock and the pace picks up.  I heat up the reduction I prepared on Tuesday for the gravy.  It smells divine.  I make a roux (with unsalted butter — I forgot to reserve the turkey fat), thicken the gravy, and let it sit on the lowest possible setting until ready to serve.   H has taken the newly cooked turkey breast out of Sousie and is using Sousie to reheat another that we cooked the day before.  The dark meat goes into a high roast oven (also a great Cook’s Illustrated recipe for butterflied high-roast turkey).   H starts rolling out the pasta.  I set out the cran sauce to let it come to room temperature.  I whip egg whites and fold then into the corn, yolks, and cream in the corn pudding (H’s sister digs in the garage to find me the right size baking dish).   When the dark meat comes out of the oven, the corn pudding goes in to cook; the parsnips and rice stuffing – both covered – go in to reheat.  Corn bread is cut up and goes to table.  By now I have started on the mushroom sauce.  After a while, it gets turned down to the lowest possible setting, waiting for everything to come together.  H rolls the pasta through the setting.  H takes a propane torch to the sous vided turkey breasts to brown the skin.  I assemble the beet salad and send it out to the table.  I find the remaining bowls we need for each dish.  H cooks the chard and carrots.  They hold for a final spurt of heat.  H completes the pasta, I have water boiling.  Into the water goes the pasta, I reheat the sauce, into a bowl and to the table.  Chard is heated and sent out to table with H’s second sister; carrots heated and out;  reheated stuffing and parsnips come out of the oven and onto the table.  Gravy goes into a bowl and to the table.  H carves up and plates the turkey.  I send twelve soup bowls of sweet potato soup topped with cream, cranberry oil, and a few nuts (H and his toppings!?!).

Is that it?  Everyone gather round!  Let’s take pictures while the food gets cold!  Everyone over here!  Wait use this camera! Everyone gather around H’s 93 year-old grandma!  And another picture!  Now for the annual description of the food while the food gets cold!  H and I describe each dish to his family.

Later, we make the chocolate fondue, whip cream for the pie topping, and serve dessert around 9pm.

Another thanksgiving.  Photos to come.

Also, here are too many photos from our BC trip.


Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

I am in Cali for Thanksgiving.  For the last three years, H and I have prepared Thanksgiving dinner for his family.  His two sisters live in the same neighborhood of new houses that stretch across the hills east of the East Bay, with large but inadequately equipped kitchens.  Well, inadequate for the likes of us.  We’ll pack the car with half-prepared food, mixers, food processors, and all manner of utensils and head down on Wed.  Last year we taught his two nieces (9 and 12) proper(!)  knife skills chopping cranberries and pecans.  We have word that they are ready to make the cranberry-nut bread again this year.

H is on a sous vide kick this year.  Sous vide is sealing food in a vacuum sealed bag and immersing it in water at the temperature you would like to to reach.  If you want your turkey breast to be 145 degF when it’s done, you don’t cook it in an oven at 325, you cook it in a water bath at 145.  That’s the idea anyway.  So, H has purchased a controller, a immersable thermocouple, some switches, and has disassembled the slow cooker to create… Sousie the SousVider.  Oh my!  We’ll sous vide the breasts, but (after a disappointing attempt at turkey leg confit) we’ll salt rub and roast the legs and thighs.

We went to the Farmer’s Market (and several other markets) on Sunday morning to stock up.  Instead of the university-town, rather expensive farmer’s market in Davis that caters to the locavore crowd on Sat, we went into Sac, where the vendors (some the same) are a bit scrappier (isn’t this $0.75/lb, not a $1/lb?), prices are cheaper, but the produce diverse and plentiful.  We got lots of persimmons, the end of the local grapes, the end of the fresh corn (?! didn’t expect this, but were excited to make a corn pudding or corn souffle), a bunch of kiwi, beets, sweet potatoes, three bunches of rainbow chard, a bag of onions, a spinach-mustard greens cross, apples, and pomegranates.  Whee!  I even got some flowers, including several dark red Gerber daisies, which are my favorite.

H has parted up two turkeys, and I started on turkey stock and the base for gravy this morning.  The house smells of thyme and peppercorns.

Realm of the Jealous Wombats

Sunday, August 29th, 2010

When it is too difficult to achieve its goals, the wombat may shy away from the struggle and condemn itself for not disciplining itself, for not working harder. So the wombat is caught in a world of unfulfilled ideals, self-condemnation and fear of failure. –CTSM 142

Silly Wombat