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Microsoft and Lenovo are having a contest.

I want to win. No, really. Not would be happy. Not think winning would be swell.

I Want it. With that hunger which is a quiet fire in the belly. The kind of thing which ferments in the mind and makes one think of what one could do with it.

It's a really simple contest, one which is tailor made for me. More to the point it's tailor made for me right now. Right now I can afford to win this thing, and in two years it might be much harder.

It's a photo contest, sort of. It's a contest in which the winning lets one take photos. All one needs to do is come up with an idea and get people to vote for it. The top twenty vote getters will be evaluated (idea, the ability to take a photo and... the ability to blog).

The winner gets 50,000 USD to make it happen. The winner has to pay taxes on it, so the working budget is more like 35,000 (state and feds). Knock out 5,000 for a new camera body, and I have a pretty good working budget.

I don't know that this links to:

The most original idea, but it's one I can do well. It's one where I can strech the budget some. [profile] pindar I will have time to drop in on you. I'll have other people to look up too.

But I can live out of my rucksack with a camp stove, and something from Tesco. I can use Hostels. I will rent a barge, and travel the canals. I can, in short, be a tinker, and a gypsy.

Think of Toad, and Mole and Ratty; without, one hopes, the pitfalls and disasters.

I can write descriptive travel writing, even when there is a lot going on.

I can take photos

I can write about taking photos

I can do this.

So, please, vote for me. Link to this. Tell your friends to vote for me. Send e-mails to anyone whom you can beg a favor from to vote for me, if you can, make a comment explaining that you like the idea, my photos, my writing, what have you.

If I win, you get the trip reports (I'll be pubbing my ish as I go). You'll get to see the photos.

I can have three projects. I think they can all be voted for. If you have any ideas, for an alternate project, let me know.

(addendum: It has come to my attention that actually voting for My Dream Photo Assignment is a bit of a trial.

The problem, so it seems is figuring out how to register, and then refinding the project for which one want's to vote. Since I wasn't trying to vote on something, but rather write one, this wasn't plain to me.

The easiest way to negotiate the process seems to be:

1: Go to the link above. After the page loads, copy the URL from the address bar.

2: Click on the button which says, "Submit your idea now"

3: Fill out the registration form (the ticky box about wanting e-mail is optional; if you aren't planning to submit a proposal, feel free to fake the phone number).

4: Follow the link in the registration e-mail.

5: Load the copied url into the address bar.

6: Vote (a button marked, "Pic").


Dec. 4th, 2006 01:40 pm
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Fans of Patrick O'Brian's Aubry/Maturin stories know that food plays an important role in the stories, and meals; on shore, in the wardroom, or at the captain's table are commonly discussed in detail enough to give one the sense that, were a meal of like sort to be served, it would be familiar.

A mother and daughter team decided to go this one better, and spent a couple of years going through the books, researching the food and trying to make/reconstruct the foods described. I have this cookbook (Lobscouse and Spotted Dog).

For the Autumn Ball I made lobscouse.

It's a type of hash. If I were to make a stab at describing the recipe, as given, it's scouse, for the captain's table. I made it for the wardroom.

It takes time, and some effort, in way of ongoing prep-work, but the dish is dead simple.

Equal parts, by volume corned beef and ham/corned, or pickled pork
1/2 part(by weight)pounded biscuit (or powdered saltines, unsalted. Bread crumbs in a pinch)
Juniper berries (fresh is best... I got mine from a local bush, but dried can be purchased)
Stick cinnamon
Ground clove

I used 4 lbs beef, and about 2-1/2 lbs ham.

Slowly cook the beef, just covered in water. I cooked it for about six hours in a crock-pot, on low. Remove the meat, strain the corning spices, and set the brine aside, cool in the refridgerator, and skimt any fat. Reserve the fat.

Slice the beef, across the grain, into 1-2 inch slices. Place in a large pot, and add the ham, chopped small, but not fine(1/3, to 3/4 inch pieces, they ought to small enough that they easily fit in the mouth). Add to the corned beef, Add the, strained brine, and enough water to cover.

Pound the juniper berries (for this batch I used about 15) until they are clearly deformed, but not mashed. Add two sticks cinammon, and about 1/2 Tbls. clove powder.

Dice potatoes. This is the part which takes the time. As you dice them, toss them in the pot. When it looks about right (which will be a couple of pounds), let it simmer. Stir every 10-15 minutes. The beef will start to shred, don't rush it. Grind a mid-sized nutmeg into the pot.

If you try to taste as it goes, it will seem terribly salty. Don't worry, this will not be the case when you serve it.

Chop some more potatoes (it will look as if you have enough, then you'll stir, and it won't. This is fine, it helps the beef shred).

When you've used 5-7 pounds of potatoes (this will vary based on the potato. I used a waxy variety) add the ship's biscuit, and stir.

When the biscuit disappears, you can serve it up.

To make it rich (which is how the Captain is likely to have wanted it, and the Wardroom might ask for it), take some salt pork (or bacon) and fry it up. You want the grease, to use in lieu of the slush which would collect in the cook-pots.

Put a small layer (more than just enough to grease the pan, but not really deep enough to be "fried", maybe a 1/4" of the bacon/salt pork grease, and get it hot. Ladle a serving of the scouse into it. When it smells toasty, turn (this works better if the scouse is cooled, it will hold together better). Use a large skillet, and a spatula large enough to get under the entire serving, or it will fall apart when you try to turn it.

After a like amount of time, serve, with the pepper grinder close to hand.

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This is a great time of year, starting at Hallowe'en, and running to Twelfth Night is the season of being sociable. It's a grace note, or perhaps the reason for so many excuses, that this is the dark of year, and convivial company is a way to keep the cold at bay.

This year there were two thanksgivings, [ profile] skeetermonkey asked me to help him throw a dinner party, so he could practice for The Big Day, which was his first performance of the day for an audience.

We had eleven people. For nibblies on arrival a cheese plate; Humbolt Fog, mahon, Leyden; with cumin, gouda; cheddared with porter, a cheese which looked like brie; but was some form of butter cheese, and a couple of others which I no longer recall. This was served with crusty baguette, and some buals madiera, from the historic wine company. It was in the style of the buals popular in Boston in the late 1700s.

While we cooked, Nathan, [ profile] skeetermonkey and I drank Brother Thelonius; a Trappist Ale, from Uniebrowe in Canada. It was very good. Sweetish, malty, hints of cinnamon and clove. A slight fizz, and thin head.

During the afternoon, while we were waiting for things to do the sorts of things they needed to do for the next phase of the cooking, we noodled about. I on a pennywhistle, and he on his mandolin. It was fun, but I need more practice with other people, and probably a metronome, since I have evolved far too fluid a tempo. This was when the place up the hill (some 100 meters away) was practicing for the karoaoke they did later in the evening. The new neighbor said it was strange to see us, through he window, and be able to hear nothing but snippets of hip-hop. We invited her to dinner, after we discussed the various merits of shooting out the speakers. It was during this conversation that it came out she had a Ph.D in ethics and social policy.

Dinner was turkey, chestnut dressing, potatoes, gravy, green beans, sweet potatoes (of the variety commonly called yams) Trimbach Gewrtztraminer, a beerenauslese to go with the apple and pumpkin pies.

We got mingle with friends, spent some time with [ profile] off_coloratura who's in town to perfrom in a couple of operas.

Thanksgiving at home was the usual, though we did add Maia's dressing, since she thinks Barry's is too heavy.

Saturday we went to LosCon, and I got to see [ profile] soggyoptomist whom I'd not seen since, IIRC, 1999, in person. So we retired with a crowd of people I'd not seen since, oh, about the same time frame, some of whom were shocked to discover I wasn't dead, or something.

Maia and I went to supper with my folks, and pleasant conversation was had. Marty has started sampling beers again (which he'd not had many of since his father was posted away from German, about forty-five years ago. I ordered a Fuller's 1875 for him, had a Trois Pistoles (by Uniebrowe). The lamb chops (mistakenly called a rack of lamb) were decent, the potatoes slightly better. The beer went well.

After that we mingled through parties, and ended up at the Prime Time Party (from 0100-0700), which we had to leave early, but much good conversing was had, as well as an himbeer schapps, some talisker and a Malmsey, no one, thankfully, had to be drowned it.

Tues. Maia and I went to the Highland Park farmers' market. We bought bread, carrots, lettuces and some of the last of the seasons raspberries. The white were better, and I got three half-pints. When we got home I stewed them and pressed them. Then I scalded the juice into some heavy cream. It's very sublte, but three cups of berries yields only about 4 oz. To do anything with it I needed more.

In the room I saw, on the dry-goods shelf, a package of dried raspberries. So I set them to soak, and then, when Barry and I were prepping the fridge for the meats we need for Autumn Ball of the Friends of the English Regency (probably the oldest regency dance group in the country. I started dancing with them at a LosCon, 30 years ago this weekend) on Saturday. I'm making a lobscouse, Barry his usual ragoût) there was revealed a package of frozen raspberries. I now have enough juice to make a custard.

For supper I took the stock from the turkey (mosty drippings) and added about 3 lbs of carrots, and one onion, also enough water to make about 2 qts. Cooked them until they were soft enough to mash with a spoon, and then puréed the lot; voila, carrot soup. Some ginger would go well with it, but I didn't want to be too adventurous with something Marcia hadn't had before. It was well recieved, and she thinks some ginger would go well.

Photos, though not of these things, should follow, but since I've been saying that for some time, I'd advise against holding your breath.

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I've been a trifle moody lately, and so not all that inspired to write.

Bacon. I like bacon. There's a charcuterie in town and I keep meaning to go and buy a flitch. The idea of being able to slice it myself and use it in chunks and the like was just so tempting (and comes from reading books as a kid which referred to doing things like this. Much as I recall reading about someone who had the chore of carving a bit off the hanging ham and then dipping the cut face in salt again, every morning before breakfast).

So one of the members of the Tuesday Night Supper Club Crowd used to work at some meat distributor and he gave me a flitch. Whoo-hoo. I used some of it in the baked beans of a a couple weeks back.

It's fatty. The top rind is thick. So thick I actually can't eat it if it's been fried, because it gets tougher than shoe leather.

So night before last there was no Supper Club meeting, because it was moved to tonight (I am planning to fake some chicken gumbo-ish dish so I can disappear to the dojo for awhile.) The housemates were out (one was working, and the other was bowling) I decided it was time for comfort food. Mid-afternoon I boiled some potatoes (Yukon gold, waxy, good boilers, when mashed {even through a ricer} they are a tad gummy. Butter in the mix would probably help with that) and let them cool.

I decided, years ago, the secret to hash browns is the cooking, and cooling, of the potatoes; before they get saut&eacut;ed. For chunky ones, boil them whole and cut them later, for the sort one gets in a diner, shred them, and toss them in boiling water (I use a pasta pot) and the plunge them into ice water. The cooking gelatinises the startch, and the cooling makes it easier to brown them without burning.

I wanted some bacon. So I took out the flitch, cut off a slab (about five slices worth; of the sort stores would call "thick" in packaged bacon) sliced the top-rind off (which was then chopped into pieces for using as treats in training the dogs) and cut that piece into three pieces (of what I would call thick) and put it on a low fire.

I wanted the fat to render, so I could use it to do the potatoes.

It smelled divine. I think (from the texture of the rind) that this was really smoked. The smell is potent, even when all that's done is opening the bag. The fat is silky, greasy, and pure white. It renders out wonderfully. I got about an eighth of an inch in the pan.

Maia didn't want any bacon, so I ate it as I was cooking the onions in the renderings. When they (bermuda) were almost done I put them in a strainer and set them aside, while the potatoes were browning. The bacon was great. I am not a big fan of fat, qua fat. I like marbled meat, but the gobbets that sit on the outside of a piece of prime rib, or a pork roast, &c, not so much. I usually cut them away and feed them to the dogs. This wasn't like that. Maybe it's the smoke and the age, but it was good. The best part of it was the salt. It was low. If you wanted this to taste like bacon you'd have needed to add salt.

On the other hand, if you wanted a milder, meatier, and slightly nutty flavor, this is the stuff for you. Now I want to get some bacon from pigs fed on mast.

When the potatoes were almost done, the onions went back in. In my omelette pan went five eggs, some white pepper and a dash of cumin. Ten minutes later dinner was on the stove.

For planning ahead, one can cook some potatoes, leave them in the skin, and use them later (they'll keep a week in the fridge). For a slightly different bit of planning ahead, make some potatoes in parsley and butter for supper. Just make more than will be eaten, put the rest in the fridge overnight and use them (with a little olive oil) for making hash browns in the morning.

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Amusing topicality

Found at American Idle a whole lot of, mostly, amusing bits of photoshopping.

Dinner last night was boiled.

Pot roast, with pototaoes, carrots, turnips and celery.

Baked beans (2 lbs dry beans soaked overnight, parboiled with some baking soda: drained and mixed with salt, mustard powder, molasses and flitch bacon and one large onion; chopped large; covered with water and baked in a dutch oven, placed in a 250 oven for about seven hours, check occasionally to see the water isn't boiled away)

Brown bread (which is really a pudding, a la Christmas).


Grease, and line with paper a pudding basin, or some empty coffee cans.

Place a large pot on the stove, with a cake rack in the bottom, add a few inches of water, and bring to low boil.

1/3 cup ea. (scant) of cornmeal, buckweat and all-purpose white flour.
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda

Mix the dry ingredients and add,

1/2 cup ea. of milk, molasses and water (we had skim and cream in the house, so I used a tad of cream. When measuring use either a 2 cup liquid measure, end with the molasses [because it will displace to the right level before you can see to stop] or measure the milk first, then the molasses, then the water. The fat in the milk [more evident when using cream] will ease the departure of the molasses. Then one can use the water to dissolve the last of the molasses).

For a stronger flavor use blackstrap.

Mix until wet, and a very loose dough. Do not over mix.

Fill the container(s) about 2/3rds full, cover with cloth, or parchment paper and place in the pan.

Keep an eye on the water, and allow to steam for ca. 1 1/2 hours.

I made a double batch (deciding, after the first was in the basin that I'd not enough). That was about 3 qts, volume, when done. I didn't tie the cloth, just laid it across the top. It was lovely. There was none left.

I think I'll add some cinnamon the next time I make, and use blackstrap (all I had was Grandmother's unsulphured, which was nice, but it wants more bite). I may also reduce the buckwheat, and replace it with white; I may also try it with rye.

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Our seasonal perigrinations are over. We didn't take the train to Seattle, as we did last year (and a good thing too, if [personal profile] jonquil's tale of trial is indicative. We did spend time again in Sebastapol, where we had some rain, but little flooding. We left Pasadena yesterday, and as we were pulling into town in Arroyo Grande I realised I really wanted to be in Pasadena, since I could have walked to the Rose Parade, and seen it in the rain, which is probably the only chance I'll have to do that in my lifetime. Ah well, better, when all was said an done that we were here.

Because we lost a fence. About 2:00 this afternoon we heard a crack, and looking out the sliding glass door we saw grass. We have no lawn, (the back yard is a flat-bed of concrete and feeding the dogs last night required wellies, standing water at least two-inches deep in the back of the yard. There is a slight slope, and some small point of drainage) what we saw was the neighbor's back yard.

No small amount of effort to remove some fifty feet of double-paled wooden fence. The wind had caused one of the 4x4s to shear, and that let the weight of the fence shear the rest. Happily there was a part of the fence, near the gate, which was a trifle more solid, and it held, so the dogs would not have gotten out, merely been trapped in a larger yard.

The $17 Fiskar axe (a celt, with a plastic handle, light, all the weight in the head, and even unsharpened [by my standards] quite up to knocking the remaining bits apart, and cutting a bit of more solid fence so we could be, reasonably, certain the better part of the fence wouldn't be shoved over.

Some rebar, and heavy rabbit wire and a fence was faked, until Alexa can talk to the landlord next door, and we can get a new fence built.

Oddly, the ant/termite damage was all in the upper rail, not the lower.

Dinner, when we got done with that, was a little later then I meant it to be (I am shifting the hour ahead a bit, because Maia has to get up earlier for her classes this term) because the bread was late.

Bread, semi-wild yeast (the red-star I have been nursing is going sour. It smells of apples when young, and cider vinegar when old), with rosemary and a salted crust. It was under-risen and came out heavy, and damp.

Rice pliaf: Jasmine rice, a smaller batch with saffron., wild rice, toasted slivers of almond, peas. Tossed with a trifle of butter. Atop that were chicken breasts and thick slices of bacon. A friend brought me a flitch and I thawed it today, cut about a 1/3rd of pound off in four slices. The top rind is very hard, in large pieces that rind isn't really edible. But the fat is good, the flavor strong and the meat well textured. I will make some baked beans with it.

Tomorrow is the Tuesday Night Supper Club, so I have a sponge working on the sideboard, and I think I'll make a pilaf again, perhaps a layered one in the covered dish Maia got me for Christmas. It matches the french butter keepper she bought.

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Food Porn

Nov. 9th, 2005 09:39 pm
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Monday, when Maia and I got home at 1800 (I decided I wasn't going to pick her up at the airport. Her father was going that way to get her mother and sister, so I went to bed, and the plan was to get up at the ugly hour of 0330 and drive to SLO, so she could make her eight o'clock. She decided not to go, and we got up at 0900, chatted with Barry for a bit, and got her to her two o'clock lab. After that we fed the horses and ran some errands) I made dinner.

It was fast and lazy.

Some marsala, and curry, simmer sauce from TJs. Microwave a couple of potatoes, for about three minutes (they were smallish). Cut them up, and let them finish in the sauce. In the meanwhile, make some basmati, and boil some lentils. To the basmati add a few strands of saffron. Chop some chicken breast and toss it in the sauce.

Take some cumin, cardamom, cinnamon (in order a ratio of 4/2/1) and powder them. Add them to the lentils when they are done. At the same time put some peas in the chicken, potato, curry/marsala mix.


The whole thing takes about an hour.

Last night was salad, butternut squash soup and pan-grilled chicken with jelled sesame sauce, and carrots with peas and two onions. Bread was kaiser style dinner rolls.

Chop the squash (about 3 lbs.) into chunks. Scoop the seeds and pith, set aside. Lightly caramalise a shallot (or two) in a stick of butter, at the bottom of a heavy bottomed stock pot, or dutch oven. Add the reserved pith and seeds, sauté until the butter is at least saffron colored, and orange if you can get it.

Add six cups of water, and steam the squash pieces above the butter, shallot, pith and seeds, which are boiling in the water. When they are done (a fork goes in with ease) scrape the meat from the skins, strain the liquid and purée the two in a blender (not a food processor, not a food mill, a blender).

If this is the main dish, heat it until done, just before you finish it, add 1/2 cup heavy cream, garnish with a sprinkle of nutmeg; some parsley or watercress for color and contrast (this can be in the pot/tureen, or in each bowl).

If it's a course, set it aside, and wait. Heat it to done (as above) so as to be served hot from the stove.

For the jellied sesame sauce take some chicken stock, some seasame oil, some soy sauce and some vinegar (cider is best, but basalmic will do). Adjust to taste. Bring to a high simmer and add enough cornstarch (mixed with water, so it's at least a thin paste) to make it thick, while still hot.

Grill the chicken (you can use a very hot pan, undercook it, and toss it in a low (170-200) oven to stay warm/finish. The last pieces will need to be cooked through on the stove. This will keep the chicken moist, and hot. Brining helps too) and serve with the sauce; and a dusting of toasted sesame seeds. If you let it rest for a couple of moments the sauce will thicken on the meat.

When you start the chicken do the veggies. A pot of water on simmer gets raised to boil, baby carrots go in. When you sauce the meat, add the peas. The onions were started already. Caramelize some long slices. About the time the chicken goes on the stove, add some finely chopped onion to the caramlizing ones, and you'll get sweated (which will still have some tooth, and a bit of bite) as well as the really sweet strings of the darker onions.

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To go back a bit (you have to suffer more than just food porn) Maia and I went to Faire, where we celebrated our anniversary.

Me, I did what she told me too. She wanted a Singletree flask, with horses. She happens to like a cosmopolitan, as tweaked by me (a gold rum in lieu of vodka, a dash of either Gran Marnier, or Cointreau) and since she doesn't drink much, and most have too heavy a hand when pouring (esp. at the faire where much is lived large and hostpitality a virtue) she likes to carry her own spirits. An old pasta jar full of booze is a small bit of declassé and so I went and got it.

Now, for all that Maia's family is fond of telling each other what they want (to the point that sometimes the giftgiving is settled with the question, "What do you want for, "x" holiday?" as well as simple declarations of what one wants. These are seen as perfectly normal, and not in the least rude), I am of a tradition in which gifts are little tokens of appreciation. Something the giver thinks the gifted will enjoy, be it dear, or mean, in price, the choosing is more than trifle of the worth.

I went to our jeweler, and got her something she's been complaining of not having, some rose earings; these had garnets where the stamens would be. I also knew she wouls be stopping by, and so just left it with Steve and Benita to deliver as they saw fit.

Then I went and spent the day with a friend, making him look the more well to do noble. This was a pleasant foolishness, as David carries what can only be described as a punch-bowl on a stem, where a normal man would have a goblet, cup, or stein. The thing isn't quite full when a magnum's worth of ale is put in it; and he likes Belgian brews.

I cut myself off at 4 in the afternoon, with a Guinness, bought by the third member of our little troupe. We'd spent the day riffing on the relative prowess of each other, using the size, material and whatever other attributes of our cups we might bring into (or have dragged in by the customers). A pleasant ribabldry was the nature of the day.

I also took some time to browse. Oso was there. This is an amazing sword and bladsmith. He has, in the past several years, taken to making patterned steel. Beautiful stuff. Many moons ago he made a katana styled blade, with brass tsuba and pommel, and a piece of oryx horn between them. I wanted it. It was as close to perfect in a sword as I have ever handled. One-handed or two, it was light, quick, and balanced. I could've used it to cleave armies. Even an inept swordsman (and while I'm not in the practice I used to be, nor even in the practice I want to be, I am not inept) could do some real damage with it. Lovely to look at, and thrilling to handle. At $1,200, it was a steal, but beyond my means.

Now his stuff is better (and no less dear). If he made rapiers, well I'd want one. Simple fittings, utilitarian to look at, but imagine the looks I'd get when 32" inches of watered steel was put on display. And light, did I mention light, which makes for quick, so it would be whipping around when I was taking practice. Ah, things which pass for toys in my middle years.

There were new potters. Some with very nice looking stuff. Maia asked if I'd looked at one of them, he had, she said, amazing textures. I went and looked, and he did. The glazes were matt, and smooth. Not glassy smooth, more a sense of brushed satin; in earth tones. Some of them had bands of bare stone (done by placing wax on the bisque, so the glaze won't stick) and into that he had scribed wheat, the heads drifting in a breeze.

And I saw a set of three (in blue, high gloss) of bowls. I went to look at them and he commeded a set of the speckled brown (sort of like spotted eggs). I lifted one (it too, like Oso's cutlery, was light) and below it was a piece of paper, "Happy Anniversary Terry, Bake More Bread.".

She had bought me lingerie (for those who don't know, a guy buys a woman lingerie, because he wants her to wear it).

So, I knew we were having lasagne for dinner on Tues., I'd done this so I could make some bread. This just made it easier. I had been complaing for a while that the largest of our bowls is a little small for making more than a single loaf at a time. This was no longer a problem.

Monday I made a batch of dough, and decided to see just what the bowl would do.

It was a pretty big loaf. I shaped it into a ring.

For those who want a sense of scale

Maia )

I also made some sourdough. I bought a book The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Reinhart. Really good book, and he explained why my sourdough tastes like normal bread. It's the yeast. No, not the local stuff, but the way yeast, in general grows. It's fast. You can double a cup of starter and the next day, split it, put half back in the fridge and sponge it up to make a couple pounds of bread.

The bacteria, however, which make the acids which make it sour, take days to catch up to that much volume and so there isn't any bite.

The cure, so Reinhart tells me, is to let the starter sit, for up to four days (after that the enzymes start to break the gluten down and the bread stops getting so much rise... this can be fixed by adding gluten [pokes about the cupboard, whattayaknow, I have about 8 oz. of essential wheat gluten, so I guess I can cope). I let the starter rest in a cool, dark place, for about three and half days and made a loaf of bread.

I also made about 60 percent of the dough from the starter. Bliss. It was creamy, (though the crumb was a little dense) had good crust and a bite. Brighter than SF sourdough, and a slow finish. It was repeatable. I have a batch in the garage right now, and will be making some to take to Barry when we head to L.A. this weekend.

The lasagne. Vegetarian. I like veggies, but regrettably the popular ones and I don't agree. Spinach? Wonderful if raw, a potent emtetic if I try to swallow it cooked. Broccoli? Nope. Eggplant? Foul.

So, to make a veggie lasagne I use capers, olives, and tomatoes. Line the pan with dry noodles (most sauces are fairly wet, the sauce will get to at least 180, and then the starches will absorb the excess liquid and you get done noodles, and no watery slop on the plate.

Place a thinnish layer of sauce on the noodles.

Take some ricotta (you may substitue cottage cheese, or stretch it, should your taste; or budget demand it. You may smoothen it, and mellow the flavor with marscapone. You can sharpen the flavor with assagio, romano or [what I do] with ricotta you have bought some weeks in advance and allowed to rest in the fridge), and mix it with dried oregano, and fresh marjoram. Rosemary if that suits your fancy (I find it starts to get too complicated, and muddy, sort of like a medieval meat pie, but that's just me) and spread the mix on the sauce.

Layer on some small capers.

Repeat the noodles, sauce, cheese (if you want to make your own pasta, lasagne is a wonderful dish for it, because one need not use a machine. A rolling pin and a wooden board is perfect. A charming benefit is the noodle sheets can be made to fit the pan, one layer, one noodle). This time add chopped olives (black, green, kalamata, picholine, sicilian, niçoise, whatever takes your fancy. The sauce can be adjusted to suit the olives, just recall the capers will be a bright, and astringent note).

A layer of noodles (if you are using dried, press them down between layers) sauce cheese, etc..

Keep doing this up to the top of the pan. Leave at least 1/4 inch (and a half is best) to pour in a lot of sauce, so the edges of the noodles don't burn in the oven.

About twenty minutes before it's done, toss on the mozzarella (or, for a more punguent layer, provolone). For fresh, chop it small, or aged/mass, grate it.

The first course was a soup.

Take some olive oil, get it hot. Into this toss some cubed potatoes; peeled. Cook them until they make a slight fond, but don't let them brown. While this is going on, add an onion, chopped small.

When the fond gets a little more defined, add a couple of cups each of chopped celery and carrots (you may grate the carrots if you choose, but I just slice them thin). Let them sauté for a couple of minutes.

Just as they are finishing, place about a quarter cup of tomato paste in the hot spot of the pot (It's got to be a big pot, I use my 12" dutch oven) and let it heat through. In a cooler part of the pot, place some crushed garlic. When the garlic starts to brown, add 4 qt.s hot water (you can set it to simmer on a back burner, it has to heat up anyway, so you aren't wasting energy).

Toss in some bay leaves (not less than two, nor more than four) and some piece of parmagian rind.

Cover and let sit on high simmer until the potatoes are disolved.

It can be served as is, or turned into any number of soups. It's a great base for minestrone. Black pepper, (or some warm/hot peppers to taste) will give it some bite.

That was last week.

This week I was lazier. I made a mulligatawny. Took some veggie and chicken stock from the freezer. Added 1 1/2 lbs dried peas (I couldn't find brown and yellow dal [which are varieties of lentils] so I made do).

Simmer, stirring on occasion to keep the bottom from scorching.

Add curry powder, turmeric and cumin. I wanted it to be more yellow, so I powdered some saffron and added it.

Monday I made a large loaf of flattish bread. Sliced the top off (so it was mostly flat, and about two-inches thick). It had been par-baked and, after scalping, I put it in a 375F oven to finish, and start to toast.

The plan was Welsh Rarebit.

In a pan I put some cream and butter (if making dairy sauces, start with cream, even when milk is the end point, because cream won't scorch, you can dilute later; though this recipe doesn't call for it).

That's when I discovered I had no worcestershire. No problem. Some soy, a dash of nam pla and a splach of balsamic, good to go. Some seeded mustard with horseradish and then the cubed cheese (about 3/4 of a lb) goes in, slowly at first and stir until it's smooth and thick.

Open the oven, ladle it on the bread, and put it on the high shelf, with the oven on broil. Five minutes later (which a pleasant freckling of toasted brown cheesey spots, it comes out.

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Oct. 4th, 2005 12:05 pm
pecunium: (Default)
I've not written much of cooking lately.

It isn't that I've not been cooking, that pretty much goes without saying. For example I made a mediocre chili out of leftover london broil (last week was the new roommate's birthday, and he wanted meat... a broil cooks quickly and if fewer than the 20+ people on the list showed up, I could've frozen the other one. We got about 15, which meant cooking both and having lots leftover). I think I burnt, instead of scorched the chili powder (NB, since capsaicin binds to water, cover the pot as soon as hot oil with scorched cayenne powder his the wet chili. Otherwise one's eyes get irritated).

The next night I boiled some potatoes, mashed them and used the leftvover chili (with some corn, peas, carrots and green beans added) to make a shepherds pie. All one needs is a little cream to bind the potatoes, cover the meat/veggie mix and put in a hot oven (375-425) until the sides are bubbling and the top is browned.

I am experimenting with a semi-sourdough. On Thursday I realised the bowl from the sponge for Tuesday's bread hadn't made it into the dishwasher.

Yeast fascinates me. A pinch of dry yeast will make all the bread you want. So I decided to see if I could revive the tougher yeasts from the dried dough on the side of the bowl. This is something like using a levain (which I keep meaning to do, but decide I won't have the enrgey tomorrow (or the need) to make more bread from a bit of old dough, much less the regular use it neets to develop the character for which it's famous).

Added some water, melted some of the scabs of dough and then added flour to make a sludge (and so be moist enough to melt more of the old dough). It worked. In a couple of hours I could see evidence of bubbles. I've kept it covered and it now smells (and has since Saturday) decidedly acidic. I've been feeding it, a bit (I started it with some honey, since I wanted the yeast to have easy food to get established).

Right now I've sponged it (the books all say let it run a week, if one is making a starter from scratch, which isn't what I intended) but if it shows real vigor, I might make some this afternoon.

The dogs, they love me. Not that they don't (love me already (having an attentive dog is sobering. I don't like being a god), but I've been making brown stock since Saturday (btw, it seems I am not going to Sacramento, the orders were canelled Friday afternoon).

Boiling 15 lbs of bones takes awhile. First they have to be browned. The grocery up the road has very nice marrow bones, at $2.50 a lb. If I didn't like having stock to base sauces on, then the couple of bones I can get from the campus would be enough, but I do like having stock on hand (and one can't fake it with boullion, it just isn't the same).

I don't like having a charred mess on the bottom of the pan. I think it gives the stock an off flavor. So I put the bones in a tinfoil boat, and that on top of a cooling rack, so the heat of the catchpan (a 9x13 jellyroll) isn't in direct contact. I got the best part of a pint of pure marrow from the first rack of bones. A clear fat, smooth and clear, with a yellow cast, as it poured from the tinfoil into a jar. It set up with the color of cream.

Fill the eight quart stock pot with bones, an onion, some peppercorns, two bay leaves and enough wather to cover. Set to simmer for eight hours (I just leave on the burner, set to low; with a cover and a heat diffuser, overnight).

Strain that into a 12" deep dutch oven and put it on the simmer burner. Set the scraps of meat and fat aside for the dogs.

The next set of bones didn't work so well. I seem to have built the boat wrong and the marrow ran into the pan. It was chestnut colored, and I thought the smell a trifle off.

Refill the stock pot. Skim, and skim, and skim, the stock. That too goes into a bowl.

When the dogs get fed, the off-colored marrow, the scraps and the skim all went into the food.

Repeat on Monday. Tonight they will get the last scraps; from the third set of bones, and tomorrow: or Thursday, I will decide any more skimming that gets done gets done when I'm making sauces, and I'll see how reduced I've made it (I'll stop before I hit demi-glace) and put it up in bags for the freezer.

When I get down to one bag, well, I'll do it again.

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pecunium: (Default)
[profile] libertango recently added to his info page.

His choice in quotations is always interesting, often amusing and leads those with wit (as do all strings of quotations) to moderate introspection.

"Produce! Produce! Were it but the pitifullest infinitesimal fraction of a Product, produce it, in God's name! 'Tis the utmost thou hast in thee: out with it, then. Up, up! Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy whole might. Work while it is called Today; for the night cometh, wherein no man can work."
-- Thomas Carlyle

That one struck me. It fits well with the blessed holdovers of my flirtation with Holy Orders (or perhaps those orders were flirting with me), because the Jesuits have a motto, Omnia ad majorem Dei gloriam (All for the greater glory of God). It is meant as a meditation, and a focus. A way to see the presence of the Divine in everything, from digging a ditch, to painting the Sistine Chapel. Each of us does things, we can do them mindfully, or not.


Me, I fail in that. There are hours of the day when I merely do, without thinking. And I am, as are we all, heterodox. I tend to do most of my offering up when I am doing something which will go to someone else. The Quakerish part of me (six years living with one will affect how one sees the world) says I am offering it up to the spark of the Divine in everyone. The Catholic part of me says that's narrow minded, as the Divine suffuses more than just those aspects of The Creation which are quick.

One of the times I am most likely to be more than merely doing, by rote, is when I cook. The most mundane aspects of cooking are, to me, infused with awe.

So, todays lesson, a reading from the book of grace notes:

Carmelized onions

Take you some onions, cut them up to the size you want.

In a heavy skillet place some butter, to this add the onions, and set them on a low heat.

Be certain you have a lid, for if one just leave the onions in the skillet those on the top will merely wilt, and those below shall be singed; and burnt, of no good to any man but the gardener; who may use them in his compost.

Leave them be, attending them only with your nose, for the lid will gather up the water the fire drives out; which water will remove the sugars the heat has released and those sugars will blend with the softening onions, and the butter, to a browned and sweet mass. Every so often, when the smell reminds you they are cooking, look on them, and stir the paler ones to the bottom; where they too may go limp, and become brown.

This may then be used in such wise as needed, to line the bottom of a quiche, to dress a steak, to round out a casserole, to be eaten out hand; steaming from the stove, simmered into a reduction, or to such other use as the mind and palate may see fit; be they dominant note, or harmony, the secret is the cover.

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pecunium: (Default)
I made some chicken cacciatorre, al a mexican.

Juice of three limes, some cumin, a bit of powedered oregeno and some celery seeds, half an onion (chopped small), and some rosemary.

Take a couple of chicken breasts and let them soak in this for two-three hours.

Simmer a couple of cans of diced tomatoes, and about four fresh (chopped small).

Mix the marinade into the tomatoes (a small clove of garlic can be added) and lay the breasts in the mixture; covering the meat.

Place a lid over the whole and let it simmer until the chicken is soft.

I steamed some squash on the side, and made a salad of tomatoes and lemon cucumbers. I dressed it with truffle oil.

Next time I'll probably use less than the entire marinade, since the tomatoes were a little bright as a side dish.

Last night was the Tuesday night supper club (it seems it was moved to Weds. while I was gone).

I felt lazy, so I made chili.

Juiced about four limes, added cumin, cinnamon, oregano, celery seed (all pulversised in the spice grinder; which is a Braun whirling coffee mill). Cubed about 1 1/2 lbs of pork. Marinated that for about four hours.

Took the remainder the previous night's tomatoes, added a large clove of garlic, about two-lbs of fresh tomatoes, three cans of diced, three cans of black beans and an onion as well as two small orange peppers (I don't know what kind they are, but they grew on a tall plant, and are hot. Short, pointed and lots of seeds, which I tossed most of away) which were also pulverised.

Roasted some paprika in bacon grease and added it, with about a tablespoon of fresh.

About an hour and half before I was expecting to serve it, I removed the meat from the marinade and added it.

Served with rice, chips, salsa guacamole and a bottle of "La Boca" Cabernet Sauvignon, 200s, from Mendoza Vinyards in Argentina. It needs another year or so. Very bright, the fruit overstated and metallic. It has promise, but I'm not likely to lay any in (it was brought by one of the guests).

The chili was almost perfect. The black beans gave it an nicely earthy note, the peppers (and the marinade) gave it bite and the rice kept it from being too much.


Jul. 31st, 2005 09:17 am
pecunium: (Default)
Maia told me yesterday that this was, "community day" at the Central Coast Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (as a holdover from the days when titles to things were long and descriptive I love the way Quakers actually name themselves).

Which is to say there will be a potluck after meeting.

I offered to make bread.

I decided to work the starter. Empty the jar, add three cups of water, three cups of flour and place in a corner. I let it rest for about nine hours, put a cup of the goo, and about a 1/4 cup of flour (I'm moving this from a wet starter to a "dry" one) and a and at 5 p.m divided the rest into two sections and worked them into dough (I don't have a bowl large enough to work the amount of dough one gets from four cups of sponge).

I kneaded them together, cut them apart, braided them, kneaded them back together and made sure the stuff was homegenous.

Then I cut it into rolls and baked it.

In the meanwhile I made dinner, a greek salad (romaine, tomatoes, butter-beans, kalamata olives, feta, cucumber and curly parsley), tzatziki (garlic, Fage yoghurt, and salted cucumbers. Maia thinks it needed some lemon) and prepared breakfast (which I am just finishing.

Breakfast was dirt simple, both last night and this morning.

All I had to do that the three of us might eat was spoon the clotted cream over the raspberries.

The clotted cream (which might have been better a slight bit more clotted, but had no real failing) is easy enough to make too.

Take a pan the heavier the better(yesterday was a score day for me at the yard sales, a pair of corning Visions saucepans (no lid, but at a whopping seven dollars for a 1 qt. and 2 qt. pair, I won't complain) and place the cream, I used a pint, on low heat (as low as possible; I used a pair of cast iron heat diffusers under mine). When the surface is rigid, and slightly undulated (so saith the joy of cooking) it's done.

Cook it at too high a heat (or with cream of too low a butterfat) and it will coagulate the protiens, and be ruined (much as a broken custard). If the heat is low enough you can keep cooking it, which forces out some of the moisture and makes it more to Devonshire Cream (oh! the horror).

It's best if one lets it rest for a few hours at room temperature (and if it's not been pasteurisd it gets slightly sharp). It needs to rest overnight (or through the day, should one be making it for late afternoon tea).

I just put a lid on the pan and let it sit out. Discarded the hardened foam and ladled the cream over the berries.

Simple decadence.
pecunium: (Default)
I am almost my normal self today.

I've not taken any vicodin since Sunday night (when I stayed up an extra two hours, so I could take one more pill). I've not had any spasms since Sunday evening, around 5 p.m. (when I retired to the empty room because crawling around an empty floor, in privacy, seemed so much better than trying to negotiate the living room, or not flail into a snake tank).

I am drinking more (to Maia's eternal glee, she has been saying, for the better part of six years, that I don't drink enough). I have yet to have coffee again. Somehow the idea of a diuretic isn't appealing enough to make any. Happily I can take or leave it.

I have been drinking Nestle Milo. You can't get it in the states, it was brought back to me from China, because Ovaltine couldn't be found there. I know Ovaltine makes a Chinese version, because I've bought it, in Chinatown. Perhaps it's for the local market. When I was a kid Ovaltine was really malty. The powder was shiny from malt crystals. These days, it's funny tasting hot chocolate. Opening this present (from Christmas) to consume as comfort food has been a treat.

I still have a mild ache in the lower left of my belly. I am not feeling as weak as I did yesterday.

On the other hand, I wasn't going to let this keep me down too much, so we had the usual open invite to the Tues. Night Supper Club (if any y'all are gonna be in the area, drop me a line, we've got lots of napkins, and food to spare).

Pasta. An easy dish. Almost trivial. A couple of pounds of last weeks farmers' market tomatoes, sliced. Some oregeno, a few cans of diced tomatoes, a healthy dash of celery seed, some marjoram (fresh, it doesn't dry well, much like basil. This was the first cutting from this plant. It needed to be pruned anyway, in the interest of turning the spikes to bushes) some pulverised white pepper, and a couple sprigs of rosemary.

The oregeno (one of the few spices I think improves from being dried) was powdered in the mortar, some red onion was sauteed, a bit of fresh garlic was added and the whole lot put to simmer on the back burner for six or seven hours.

While that was doing I was playing with the sourdough starter. I'd fed it the night before and fed it some more. I wanted enough to make three loaves of bread (last week there wasn't enough bread for the borshch, but it did, much to my pleased surprise, work. Dense, and light, and tasty, if Maia like caraway it would have been well nigh perfect).

Added the vital wheat gluten and decided to really let these loaves rise. I have been getting a nice crumb, but it's denser than I want. I'm not getting the open eyes I've been hoping for. So longer rise, with more stretching.

Stretching is one of the tricks I got from my valentine's day present. Instead of punching the dough down after it doubles, one pulls the lump out to a rectangle, or square, and then folds it back on itself, in thirds. Turn it 90 degrees and then fold it again. The reccomended interval is about 20 minutes between turnings. It slows the doubling, and makes more pockets for the air to get trapped in, but layering the gluten sheets.

Adding more gluten helped, a lot.

I'm still not adding quite enough salt, but when turned into garlic bread, I'm pretty much the only one who notices.

About 5 o'clock I ran the tomatoes through the medium setting on the food mill: one needs toys, not many, but a few, to make some things. Maia want's more toys than I do. I think my list of essentials is.

Pots, pans and skillets
Bread stone
Food mill
Mortars and pestles
Whisks (Swedish and balloon)
Thermometers (meat, instant and candy)
Knives (small, medium and large. A chef, and a cleaver are nice but three knives you like is better than 10 you don't)
Vegetable peeler
Measuring devices (this includes a scale)
Mixing devices (I am in love with my silicone spatula, it's what I make my loose dough with for bread, for some breads it does the kneading too).

The only other essential is heat diffusers for the stovetop. I have three, for a four burner stove. They are cast iron, and reduce the hot spots, so things are less likely to scorch. They do slow the start of things, and they mean one has to think of a gas range a bit more like an electric (if it's done, you have to take it off now).

Everything else, the Kitchen-aid, the mandoline, the ginger mincer. the rolling pin, the micro-plane, the the three part pasta pot/steamer etc. are tools of convenience. They don't make things possible, they just make them easier.

So, where was I before I got onto equipment...? Sauce.

Sauced the tomatoes, balanced the mix (a bit more oregeno, some olive oil, a pinch of salt), and set that on the burner again to reduce.

Set a large pot of water to simmer, and put the bread in the oven.

People came, tossed a pound of penne rigate in the pasta cradle (this is my three level pot/pasta cooker/steamer... I could make a dish doing all three. If Maia like shrimps, crawdads, clams, mussels or scallops, I would, but she doesn't, so I don't), and plunged it. While that was cooking I sliced some zucchini, and chopped some broccoli, while the garlic bread Maia had prepped was under the broiler.

Pasta, sauce, and salas on the table, veggies in the steamer, over the water from the pasta, and, voila, dinner is served.

We kept the water at a simmer, and Maia made another pound of pasta a little later.

I retired early.

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pecunium: (Default)
It's Tuesday, which means there are people coming over for dinner.

Rumor has it this week may number as many as a dozen guests, which, in light of the planned menu seems appropriate, because where we tend to count lots in groups of ten (a score, a hundred) the Russians are more fond of the casual dozen.

That means the vegetable stock I put up last week, with the expectation of feeding 8-10, is stretching a bit. Not a big deal. Some more beets, another bunch of kale, a leek, an onion and a head of cabbage, it ought to be all right.

Cabbage. I like cabbage. I like when it's fresh. Sliced up and put into slaw. I like it steamed around some rice, a bit of ground meat, some caraway seed (maybe some poppy seeds to sweeten it differently) and simmered in a pan with some tomato sauce (thin, not a marinara, but a loose, almost soupy sauce, slightly sweet, flavored with fennel). I like it with corned beef, or in colcannon.

But I really like it on the cutting board.

I like a host of "manly" toys. All manner of things which go boom (save hand grenades, they scare me. I don't know if it's the nature of how they work [a constellation of fragments meant to rend flesh] or the uncertain nature of the fuse [the TM says the fuse will burn for, "3-5 seconds" a pretty hefty dose of uncertainty, or the sense they might go off haphazardly, and I'll do myself in, all unawares. I qualified expert with them in Basic but hand grenades, of all the explosives I ever played with scare me) rifles, bombs, rockets, det-charges.

I also like cutlery. I own a fair selection, from paring knifes, to swords (real swords, not the stuff coming out of Toledo, with pattern names like, "El Cid" or "Edward IV") to a couple of axes and hatchets.

And a cleaver. Cleavers are funny knives. Heavy, even when they are light. No good balance. And not good for slicing. Once one learns the trick they'll joint a bird or a leg or split ribs but they don't really seem all that fun. Until one needs to chop a cabbage.

Set the cabbage head on the block, raise the cleaver and "Twonk!" the cabbage is in twain. A crisp noise, just a bit of resistance and then the board. With almost no practice one can make like Yan (the Chinese chef) and turn the halves into strips in a staccato of crunching and slicing.

Right now I have a head of cabbage rendering to more stock. I'm cheating. My pasta cooker has the veggies in it. When they are done, I just lift it and let it drain. Then the glop goes into a colander and the juice which collects goes back into the pot.

I also have a loaf of bread rising. I have no great hope for it. It's rye, and it seems I did something wrong. It didn't feel good beneath my hand, seems to be rising slowly (despite a well-proofed sponge) and is heavy as all get out. I know rye loaves are heavy, that they don't rise well (less gluten in the rye) and all the other quirks (I've made it before), but this load my be very dense.

I still have to blanch, peel and cut the beets. I've already creamed a bunch of dill into a half-pound of butter (and placed it in a stilton crock. It looks nice and Maia will go, "eeeew," because she hates, "stinky," cheese.

I'll cut the lettuce around the birdshit grape, and perhaps boil some potatoes. That ought to do it.

Yesterday I made a mistake. Two actually.

We bought a half-flat of strawberries last Friday. By yesterday it was either, freeze them, make shortcake (for many more than we had to eat it) or make jam. I opted to try for the jam. I had decided on this Sunday, whence I hied myself to the local hardware store for a bottle lifter and some pectin. I was also followed home by 15 pepper plants (6 Ancho, 4 Gypsy [a sweet, frying, pepper. I like such in omelettes] and five Hungarian Wax). A pair of seed packets also fell into my cart. Pasilla and Pepperoncini peppers. (I happen to think them handsome plants) Somehow an African Violet (which I don't care for much) also ended up in the cart. Oddly it was of the deep purple color Maia likes them in, of a frilly sort she doesn't have.

When I got done planting them I started hulling and slicing berries. I was trying to make a "speed" recipe (it called for using a microwave, and being done in 15 minutes) into a more normally paced one. It seems I failed to let it cook enough, so now I have a jar of ice cream topping.

While I was waiting (fruitlessly) for it to set, I decided to make some ice cream topping. This had no pectin, less sugar and a trifle more lemon juice (one of Maia's riding partners has a Meyer Lemon tree. I will be making one of [profile] xoper_vh's Shaker lemon pies, and some lemon curd, either tomorrow or Thurs) and a tsp of powdered ginger and 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon.

Cooking things like this is always a tricky proposition. There is a lot of moisture, and a lot of sugar. For awhile this is insurance, and one can let them just simmer away on the stove. But they hit a point at which the sugar and water combine to raise the temperature (this is the secret to jams, jellies and candies) after which things can get very hot, very quickly. I got distracted. I think I may have scorched some of the berries.

This morning I found the it most decidedly jammed up. A perfect tecture and, wonder of wonders, (because peanut butter won't save strawberry jam) it didn't taste burnt. A tad carmelly in the undernotes, but strawberry and a hint of spice.

It goes beautifully with coffee on buttered toast.

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Home again

May. 6th, 2005 12:14 pm
pecunium: (Default)
Home again
I was gone for about two-weeks. It's a strange thing to discover one has settled. I am, in many ways, a gypsy. I've moved, completely, up stakes and don't look back, almost a score of times in the past 20 years.

That doesn't count the short stints here and there, where the Army saw fit to send me someplace(s) for more than three weeks (though I am counting the three major moves during my wartime peregrinations, but not the smaller jumps we made from Kuwait to everywhere else in country).

Most of these have been fairly easy to take. Pack the bags and boxes, move; unpack the bags and boxes and call it a day.

So coming back from LA to discover that this was, in fact, home; that I was happier here than elsewhere, was pleasant.

I had free reign in the kitchen again(I have become very territorial about the kitchen... it is my part of the house and last night I was irked to find that I was irked at having been displaced for the evening. Not that I mind not cooking but it just sort of happened and the not knowing this was frustrating me because it was me, not Maia who was in the way).

Time in Pasadena was spent well enough. Did some minor yard work, tried to repair a spa. Having a leak, below the basin of a Jacuzzi is frustrating. Having it in PVC piping is more so. There are no threads, one uses hacksaws and glues, where regular plumbing would be almost trivial (a wrench and some teflon tape, with a bit of putty... problem solved). After two days feeling as though I was living in a trench (it rained while we were working on things, which made being in the hole all the more pleasant... you betcha), we still hadn't managed to repair the leak... which was just noticeable when the pump was at rest, but couldn't be missed when under pressure. But, because it was all done with PVC the actual working space was reduced.

If Barry and Michael can't fix it between now and when I am next down, well a low-clearance hacksaw and completely ripping out everything from that T-joint to the flexible PVC (which isn't all that flexible) will come out and I'll force the new piece so far in it barely needs the welding compound.

I also spent some time in the pottery lab. My joints weren't up to much, so I think I only kept one piece. It has a very nice shape, thin walled (about as thin as that clay can manage) and a decent flare to the lip of the bowl. It's smallish (I'm factoring in the shrinkage after firing) and I trimmed the base to a deep foot and thin bottom. I was afraid I'd be either too aggressive, or not enough, but when I asked Maia if she could guess how I knew to stop she said "the bottom started to fall in," and that was the answer, so I guess I did all right.

Barry and I also played with glaze. A Cone 06 raku (boring looking thing, sort of khaki colored) which was supposed to give a purple/turquoise break when reduced at Cone 10. PCC fires to 11, so we had great hopes. We also, looking at the formula, expected a runny effect. In that we were not disappointed. The bowl I fired has no evidence of either Barry's stamp, nor my mark. Filled in completely. Sadly the kiln didn't reduce much, so it is a verdigris color, with hints of purple and blue. Nicely textured, and with promise. Josh has been trying to get, "track stars" so we added some wood ash to the mix and we'll see what comes of it.

And when Maia goes down next she'll being back some of the mix, sans water, and we'll see how it fires at Cone 5.

Maia was down on Thurs., and we had dinner with friends of hers (her employers at the Faire). For reasons of politics I had to decline passes, but I did go and collect her on both days, which meant I got to take pictures of the birds at the lake (the faire moved, because they managed to piss off the county of the site they had before... seems to me they figured they were a big enough boon to the local economy that they could make like a sports team and expect concessions. They were wrong). I could do this because the Faire is ten minutes from her house, and because the new site prohibits camping, so for the first time in almost 30 years (perhaps since the beginning of the faire, some 37 years ago, there is no night-life).

That let me shop for her birthday present, which took two days, because the lesser part was trivial to find, but without the greater part it was pointless. I am not sure why I was so hellbent on getting it while we were down south, because 1: I had three weeks still to find it and 2: That increased the risk of her seeing it and 3: there is a shop in walking distance of the house which has it, but I had this silly quest.

So there I was on Sunday trying to find my preferred game-shop. I made the drive to Burbank, and parked. Things looked bad, because half the block on which the shop is located is being turned into town-homes. Having not been in recently, I wasn't completely sure they weren't a bit further on. They weren't, and the Burbank Town Center didn't have anyplace with it. Nor did it have a phone book. This makes the second time the building for this shop has been bulldozed. The last time was to build the Town Center.

I found a phone book, in the restaurant across from where I'd parked and drove the couple of miles to the new shop (less attractive, in all descriptions, than the most recent, which was probably the best of the four venues I've known them to inhabit), and bought the game.

So we headed home, jiggety-jig.

Monday we got the box from the Cal-Poly farm project. Kale, and beets, and onions and garlic and parsnips, and radishes and lettuces. There were also no small numbers of veggies from before I left, and while I was gone. Out comes the stock pot, in go the leafy greens, the celery and some onions. I also took a cleaver to the carrot we bought before I left (this carrot was about 2 lbs, measured just less than 5" across and about 10" long... it needed the cleaver) and simmered that with half a dozen parsnips (I'd never bothered with parsnips before... silly me. These were sweet, smooth fleshed and went soft in no time at all... they will make an interesting puree, perhaps as a side dish next week with the borshch) until they were filling the kitchen with sweet savor. Then in to the pot.

Dinner was perfumed rice with lamb. Parboil some basmati, and some lentils. Take a bit of yogurt and a bit less than half that of melted butter, mix this with about 3/4" inch of the rice and place in a deep pot; over a medium heat for about ten minutes.

Layer the rice and the lentils with dried fruits (I used currents and montmorency cherries, but dates and raisins are canonic, apricots would not be ill, prunes might be a little rich), in a slowly tapering mound. Sprinkle the rice layers with persian allspice (ground cardamom, cinnamon, cumin and saffron {I used about equal parts of cumin (2/3rds of which I toasted in a skillet first) and cardamom, 1/2 that of cinnamon and a healthy pinch of the saffron, all ground to a fine powder [as much as the saffron would grind]} in a deep mortar and pestle). The saffron in the mix will color, and flavor, some of the rice, so you get a few pearls of delicate red/yellow rice. Drizzle with the rest of the butter you melted (you can clarify the latter butter, but don't do that for the yogurt mix).

For the lamb I used about two lbs. left over from Passover. Since it had been cooked some of the classic steps were changed. If you have raw lamb brown it in some persian allspice, absent the saffron. Then cover with water and simmer with apricots (and maybe some dates/raisins) and a few whole peppercorns. You may want to cook this up ahead, it will do fine simmering on the back burner while the rice cooks.

When the rice is done, remove it from the stove and place it on a dishtowel, soaked in cool/cold water. This helps release the crust on the bottom (a non-stick pan helps too). When the steam stops, start ladling the rice into a bowl... fluff it as you go. At the bottom will be a crunchy disk, with luck you can get it out in only a couple of pieces (with a non-stick pot it can even be done in one). Break this into pieces and put one on each plate. Guests may help themselves to some of the stewed lamb.

One of the advantages (or not) of using lamb from the week before is the increase in the lambiness of the meat, as it rests after roasting. Since this had been roasted over coals, not baked, there was a small counterpoint of smokiness to go with the sweetness of the diced apricots. I thickened with a bit of cornstarch, because I started it about 30 minutes too late.

I started the bread the night before. I was trying for a na'an like bread again. So in addition to the sponge I used some old yogurt (this I have discovered is part of the secret). I did three batches, one with fresh dill, one with toasted cumin, and one plain. It was tasty, but I still had large loaves of pita. I'll figure it out yet.

Some tatziki (Fage yogurt, fresh garlic, and some dried cloves, cucumber) and the meal was complete.

The only thing which bothered me was the wine. I wanted to find some retsina, but the only place which might have some is all the way in SLO, and I forgot to have anyone check. I say the only place because everyplace nearby has not a drop.

The garden was in decent shape. I think the Thai Basil might recover, and I still have three plants (maybe four) of the 17 which used to be in the pot. I suspect a snail got to them. I have placed copper tape around the bottom of that pot. Not pretty (around the half-barrels it has a certain charm, on a red with black glossy glaze it looks terrible) but I want pesto, and pistou, and grilled cheese with basil sandwiches.

Weds. to the Farmers' Market in Arroyo Grande. We don't buy as much as we used to, because we get that box every week. On the other hand Maia and Alexa salvage the scraps, and feed them to rodents and rabbits. I bought an odd flower (Calceolaria Pocket book. It looks like a yellow snapdragon with a fat lip, and burst capillaries, or a cross between a snapdragon and a pitcher plant), as well as a number of small calla lilies with a dusky pink coloring.

Thursday night, at the larger market in Slo we bought a half-flat of strawberries (I think I'm making jam), a chardonnay grape (with two bunches of grapes on it) and some slow-growing basil (O sanctum ornamental, not used in cooking, according to the University of Ohio. I'll try it in some pesto and see if they are right).

It also turned out to be the Slo Wine and Food Festival so we watched (as the rain abated) a master cooper making some barrels. Sigh. A new barrel, suitable for actually storing things in, is only $350, if made from american oak. For French Oak (though I don't need it, since I'd not be aging wine, nor spirits in it) the cost is $900. I don't want to think what Limousin oak would run.

Today I'm going to make some beer bread with some of the last of Anchor Steam's 2004 Holiday Ale (I found almost two-cases worth while shopping for Passover, and couldn't justify buying more than one. If you should see any, grab it($11 dollars a six-pack and worth it, but $80 worth of beer was more than I thought I could get away with, esp. as I'd just bought $40 worth of wines at TJs, three Amarone and a BeerenAuslese). It is, in my opinion, the best year they've had in at least a decade and I'm curious as to how it will bake. I wish it was a live bottled beer, since I'd love to experiment with that. I'll have to buy some Red Tail Ale and see if it has any barm to it.

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pecunium: (Grab Bag)
A few people have said I ought to take pictures of my food.

To them I say, "hah!". Food is notoriously hard to shoot.

On the other hand I had Maia take some pictures of me when I was butchering the meat Thursday, and I post them for the hell of it. Any apparent flaws are my fault, as this is not her camera, and my preferred settings make the auto-focus less reliable; for the non-familiar.

I may elect to use one of them, as an Icon, to let people know I'm doing food porn (as the Kelp Bubble is being used to let you know this is a photography post, though perhaps the line is blurred on this one).

The pictures are here Cutting Meat

Preparation was straightforward. Strip the table, cover it with plastic, lay out the knives, steels, a bowl and the cutting board.

One big knife (I'm fortunate to have a quartering knife, which is suitable, in size, for anything from sectioning a whole steer into primal cuts (but isn't really the tool for the job, it won't go through bone) to the big cuts I was doing.

One general knife. I used my favorite all-around knife. Straight backed, with just a touch of clip at the tip, and rounded on the edge-side. Moderately thick in the blade. I tend to like square handles.

And a flensing knife. The house has two of these because when one takes the beef-production class (which she an Alexa have both done, one must by both the knife, and the text (and for proof that tinkering with the tax code leads to funny things, meat is no longer butchered after slaughter [which is now called harvesting] but manufactured, which means commercial butcheries get the manufacturing credits of the first Bush II tax cut, but I digress. It took me awhile to find out why this infelicitous language was being used).

It's a handy little knife. The sharp rake means it will dig very deeply into a large piece of meat with a nominal amount of wrist action, but the short length makes it easy to work around things. It has a thin blade, and a lot of flexibility. I was happier with it in action than I thought I would be when I was sharpening it.

The steels. I use stones to put the shape, and edge on my knives. But use dulls them, so steels take off the damaged teeth (to simplify the mechanics of sharpness, the edge of a knife is like a microscopic saw, and the teeth break, and bend with use). I have a ceramic steel, for big repair, a fine steel after that, and a satin steel for the last bit of edge.

I don't have one of the block steels sold with knife sets. They are too coarse for the edge I keep on my knives (which is both sharper in angle, and finer in detail than that recommended by most cutlers, and even cooks [save those who make sushi). The satin steel comes out only when I need to do something like this, and a razor's edge is needful.

I think I touched up the knives three times, after the cutting started.

The procedure was about the same for both pieces of meat. Look at the whole thing, decide on a couple of uses, make the cuts, look at the rest and repeat, until I ran out of smaller cuts to make. Even at that, I left a couple of larger cuts for roasting/using for lots of people (we are planning to have weekly get-togethers, starting next quarter), and I can still cut them down.

The loin was sliced at the 1/3rd point, turned sideways and sliced again, and then cut into disks for medallions. I can also cut those down again for chili verde, or stir-fry.

The rest of the loin was easy, as I just made it into roasting pieces, from some I will probably cube, or sliver for ingredients, to the monster I'll use for a tuesday night when we expect to have eight people at the table. I got ten sub-cuts from it, which will probably, when leftovers are figured in, make for 12-13 meals.

The rib-eye was about the same. The shape of the parent cut is pointed oval. So I cut the narrow part off, which makes it easier to cut thick steaks and still have a reasonable portion size. It also made it easier to slice off the fat which runs along the edge, in a hard ridge ( about 1/12 lbs, clean, white and flaky. Too bad I don't have need of it. We'll use it to train the dogs).

I cut some steaks, about nine, made a couple of small roasts, one medium roast, sliced some, along the grain for stir fry and made a lot of stew chunks; for soup, chili, stews, with the really densely marbled bits, and the meat in, and around, the fat.

It took about an hour and-a-half, from slicing the first one open, to sealing the last piece into the vacuum bag.

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I have a lot of film to sort through, and the scans are taking time.

I could do a fast scan, at 600 dpi, 8-bit, so I can store it as jpg and then send it out to people.

But I'm not. Nope, 2400dpi and 48 nit color, which I will then crop, tweak the brightness and contrast a bit, and then save as an 8 bit jpg. That's a slow scan.

So, in the meanwhile I have food to play with.

Today, planning for a small get-together for Thurs (small because lots of people have their finals out of the way and will be gone) to celebrate St. Patrick's Day, I went ogling the meat dept. at Food 4 Less. I wanted a brisket of corned beef (it's not Irish tradition, but it is American Irish traditional, and my family is American Irish on both sides, so it's tradition for me). It was on sale, but hidden away. Amazing since this is the time of year they have the most of it. Because it was hidden in plain sight I saw something else, beef bones.

Mind you, I can get beef bones at Scolari's, but I don't. Why? Because Scolari's wants $2.50 a lb. Food 4 Less, they want $0.69. That I'll spend. They had nice bones too, some meat on them, and the femurs done in three cuts. The top was split in half (I bought a pair of these) the long bone done in disks (I left them behind, the marrow wasn't the color I liked, and they were a tad dry, to look at) and the bottom's were sliced in halve's and bits. I bought about three lbs. of those.

Slice three carrots and an onion. Put them in the bottom of a cookie sheet (non-stick) with some water, and the bones piled onto cooling racks. Heat at 375F until the house smells like a roast.

Toss the bones in a pot, and deglaze the pan with water. Scrape with a nylon skimmer and pour the cracklin's and the broth into the pot. Cover the bones with water, add some parley, celery, marjoram, shallots (which Food 4 Less sells for $1.39 the lb.) and a couple of bay leaves.

This will make brown stock.

Tomorrow I start to make pork stock with the pork neck bones. I use it where recipes call for veal stock, because veal bones are hard to find, and pricey. It isn't quite as sweet, but it serves.

For Thurs. I'll do some colcannon (as I learned it, which is non-canonic, for any of the four versions of canonic I've seen).

It's potatoes, mashed with sour cream, and then made into a concrete with raw white cabbage and scallions (the whites sliced crosswise, and the greens along their length. It makes a splendid breakfast when a bit of milk/cream is added and the paste browned in a buttered skillet.

I've not yet decided on soda farl, or using the small dutch oven to make soda cake. In either case it's bread, made with soft wheat, buttermilk, and baking soda. I like caraway seeds, but Maia thinks them anathema (which is one reason to make farl, because I can made some with seeds, and some without).

Braised celery, and some sort of salad.

For desert, well I think of something, perhaps some apple fritters.

I'll use the cooking water, for the brisket, to make lentil soup.

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Mar. 11th, 2005 06:06 pm
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Danish is proceeding apace.

This is the first time I've really needed the rolling pin Maia bought me for Christmas. There are times I think she buys/makes me kitchen equipment for the same reason men buy lingerie.

If the recipe is right, I ought to have about 20 of them coming out of the oven ca. 1100.

Anyone who wants to come over for breakfast, just let me know.

Since this seems to be much easier than one might think, I may take a stab at pastry sometime soon. I think a freezer might be a good idea first, otherwise I'll have to plan an entire dinner around it.


Escargots bourguignonne, in pastry cups, rolled lamb en croute (a wonderful bit of optical food, leg of lamb is butterflied by the butcher, so the shin sticks out. Into the roast one places a potato, or two, which has been cored, and filled with a carrot, so the image, when it's carved is as though the bone has been sliced, as well as the meat One can use the bone to make stock; or a demi glace to sauce the meat), and then napoleons for desert.

Dry white with the soup the snails, some Amarone with the roast, more of the white with the salad and a TBA with the cheese, after the napoleons. I'd probably add asparagus, and some slivered tomatoes on the side. For salad, a variation on an endive salad from Mon Grenier. Pecans, mustard vinaigrette,slivered belgian endive on a bed of butter lettuce. For Maia I will leave off the blue cheese, for the rest of us I might make it with stilton.

Right now I hear the timer beeping, so I have to go and roll it out again, fold it in thirds and put it back in the fridge for another hour. I think when that is done I'll make some somen and drink some sake.

See you in the morning.

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If I can get my self settled enough to put my mind to writing there will be more today (some pictures to scan, and some to just fiddle, some Chain links, and whatever else comes to mind).

But right now, just a little food porn and perhaps a bit of natter.

I need more flour. Today I intend to make danish. The real thing, a cross between pastry, and bread. I need to go start the dough, and mangle the butter.

Tuesday I made curry. I cheated. I didn't call a Nepalese friend to get the, rough, ratios for making curry myself, but rather used a package. S&B, which is nice. Comes as a paste, in three levels: Mild, Mild-hot, and Hot. I also used the simmer masala sauce from TJs. The TJs stuff was a bit zippier than the mix of mild, and mild hot I used.

So, an onion and a a chicken breast, sauted in butter (maybe 1 1/2ts) until the onions were clear, lentils and a package of the mild sauce with vegetables (a misunderstanding on both my part, and that of the shopkeeper, I was buying two packets of the mild, and he pointed out the larger one, which wasn't the plain curry paste, but rather a made sauce, with carrots and potato) as well as a section and a half of the mild hot. To this add about 1 1/2 cps cooked lentils. Simmer, with the lid on.

I am moderate for heat. Maia and Alexa are both less tolerant of it. I am told the mix was just right. Me, I wanted a tad more zing. I may have to start setting a separate dish aside for myself and add more to it. Sigh.

To a jar of the simmer sauce add baby squash and asparagus stems.

Make Saffron rice.

In the meantime I was trying some pseudo na'an. The book with the recipe has an annoying habit. His instructions for water are vague. More vague than my descriptions here. Instead of saying, "About 1 cup" he says "Water to add." In the description of method he says things like, "Add water until the dough is loose, but not sloppy", or, "Add water until the dough is just elastic." This is only semi-useful as the nature of the dough changes as the flour hydrates. It ended up that I used too much water and had to add almost half again the flour (which meant more salt, happily he calls for a lot of yeast, so I was all right on that front).

Took two lumps of the dough and to one added cumin seed (not enough) and to the other, chopped cilantro.

Rolled them out, let them rest for five minutes or so and tossed them into a hot skillet. It mostly worked. I think the dough was too dry, the stovetop method only so-so. The bubbles were too small. Next time I'll set the oven to 450, make the dough a little, "sloppier" and toss the pieces onto the bread stone. We'll see if that works better.

When the first piece of na'an comes out of the skillet, add the asparagus tips.

When the third piece comes out, serve.

On the upside, I took some to a potluck last night and everyone thought they were na'an, so maybe I am too picky.

Friday last I had to head to L.A. for drill. The drive south was nasty. The San Luis Obispo area has been, largely, spared the heavy rains of climes, both more northern and southern. As I entered Santa Barbara County, the rain came down in sheets, visibility was a little as 100 meters in places. I grabbed a bite to eat at Pea Soup Andersen's until the weather abated some.

Spent the evening singing silly songs with a friend (Tom Lehrer, Flanders and Swann, etc.) and schmoozing. Saturday was the usual drill related stuff. As well as a description of how State plans to re-organize the guard. It's ambitious. Not as well thought out as I might like, but it paints an interesting picture.
One year in six is to be scheduled for deployment. If a unit doesn't deploy, the members can be snagged to join a unit which is. For two years out of six the drill schedule goes to about three days a month, and three weeks a year (ramping up for the deployment).

A whole lot of shuffling people and units, some of which is not well thought out. An infantry unit is an infantry unit, but signal units vary, so too does MI. One can't treat them as interchangeable parts.

Sat. Night spent with friends.

Sunday my semi-annual Russian test, the usual drill sorts of stuff, and then back to the place I hang my hat in L.A. where a friend dropped in and we made ableskivers, and talked fruit trees and home-security.

Monday picked up some things from Maia's folk's place, took a look at the mules and headed home. This trip was better, for weather, but worse for traffic (I didn't get out of town until about 1530). In Camarillo I stopped for food. Took some pictures of a Red-tail sitting on a lamp-post and killed time until the traffic eased up.

Which meant fog through Santa Barbara, and my picking Maia up at school (she is in what the students call, "dead week" just before finals, everyone working with groups to get projects done, or coming in to use the library to finish up term papers. So, unlike finals, this is the second busiest week of the term, with crazy parking and more stupid walkers).

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Food Porn

Feb. 27th, 2005 02:15 pm
pecunium: (Default)
I made chili this week.

Night before I soaked beans (pinto, kidney and red beans), changed the water in the morning and did it again.

Six cans of chopped tomatoes, enough beans that it looked right (maybe two-cups, but it might have been as few as 1 1/2. If I scant it, I add enough to be right when the meat goes in).

I ground about a teaspoon of cumin, and tore 3 dried Ancho, as well as 1 dried Anaheim/Calif, peppers and tossed them into the pot to simmer.

I then took some more cumin, ground it, added it to some olive oil, kosher salt and oregano. This was tossed with about a dozen tomatoes (sliced in half) and roasted with some garlic cloves for 25 minutes at 350F. The skins were removed, the heat dropped to 275F and they slowly baked until they were mostly dry (about 1/4 of the original size, and a color like drying ketchup).

Meanwhile I simmered two more Ancho, and another Anaheim (all dried) in a bottle of Negro Modelo, for about an hour, in a covered pot until the liquid was reduced buy about 1/4.

About one third of that went straight in the pot.

While those were simmering I made a sofritto with onions, garlic, some more cumin (when all is said and done it's probably about 1 1/2 Tbls.)and a healthy splash of red wine vinegar, tossed that in the pot.

Strained and used it to marinate the meat (about 1 1/2 lbs of rib eye, from the freezer; it was inexpensive in bulk) with another couple of chiles (minced small with a coffee mill) and some more powdered cumin.

After a couple of hours the meat was lifted out, and browned. When it was done I took the marinade and deglazed the pan, reducing it a little, and added this to the pot.

Simmer for as long as you like, covered. If it gets less than an hour it tastes hot. If it gets at least an hour and a half it has lots of flavor, but the heat isn't assertive. With a few bites it gets a tad warm.

I always soak more beans than I use, and the extra get made into refried.

It takes all day, but the actual working time is maybe an hour and a half, since lots of it is just simmering time.

Makes enough for three to eat hearty, and have about a qt. of leftovers.

To go with it I made corn bread. The only thing fancy about the corn bread is the corn. The same dried corn I used for the corn chowder a couple months back was ground in the spice mill (which cleaned out the last bits of pulverised peppers) to make up the corn part of the recipe.

It's sweeter, as well as being less evenly ground, so the texture of the bread is more interesting. I took the garlic cloves, roasted with the tomatoes (I have some in the oven now, for the tomato sauce starting on the stove) and made roasted garlic butter, which was wonderful on the cornbread. I also served three different types of honey (I tried to make honey a plural, but it looked wrong every way I tried it) Mesquite (from TJ's) California (from Linn's) and Italian Heather (from an apiary in Italy, bought at Buona Tavola in Pike Place Market).

Yesterday morning I made scones; from a mix. The recipe looks easy enough (I looked it up in the Bread Bible) and far less expensive than what we paid for the mix. I might keep some of the King Arthur Scone mix on hand, for convenience, but the next batch will be done here. Very nice with the Italian Heather (I need to get more of it. I am not much of a honey person, except on soft breads, like biscuits and scones, but in the past week I've used about 1/4 of the jar. It's as dark as strong tea and floral, musky and rich [Token is visible out the window, scratching his back by rolling in the sand]. I will want more when I run out. They have a website, Dottor Pescia so I may order from them, otherwise I will see about getting it [one way or another] from Bouna Tavola).

In the luxury department I bought a packet of Double Devon Cream Butter.

It's amazing. I've had it for a couple of weeks. The night I bought it I put it on some biscuits. Intersesting. Rich is the first word to come to mind. Past creamy and right on to fatty. I am not a huge fan of fat. I like bacon, but if the fat comes off, I give it to Maia. Except for cream. I love it. Eat it with a spoon. Drink it out of the bottle (this is at decided odds with my dislike of milk). This was more than that. Cream distilled. It has is reminiscent of cheese.

Today I had some on toast. It has improved (and I liked it fine before). Now it is tangy. A bit of bite to go with the feel of heavy silk.

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