Tuesday, February 28, 2012

It’s Crazy Baking

We follow up yesterday’s post (about how utterly insane it is that I’ve seen so many of this year’s Oscar winners, considering how few movies I watch) with a post on baking - both on a crazy scale and of crazy stuff.

Item #1: Whole wheat “goldfish” quackers

I don’t own a fish-shaped cookie cutter of any size, but I do own a small duck. Thus the “quackers” instead of “crackers.” The crackers don’t have the same crispness of the branded kind, but are amazingly similar in taste. A recipe worth repeating.

Item #2: Peanut butter and jelly potato chip thumbprint cookies

I opted for boysenberry jam. My dough may not have been as stiff as theirs because the cookies spread to the point that - even using my pinkie to make the impression as they advised - the cookies spread and flattened until the indentation was a memory. Fortunately the cookie was soft enough fresh from the oven that I salvaged it by re-impressing with a spoon. It tastes very much like I would expect a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to taste, except in cookie form. In my youth I never added potato chips to my actual sandwich. Kinda glad I never went down that dark path.

Item #3: Grapefruit gumdrops, a repeat of the recipe I tried a few months ago. Still worth it.

Item #4: French gingerbread cookies, from Swedish Cakes and Cookies

Yes, they are “French”, but really Swedish. From what I understand, it’s a very traditional Christmas cookie. This is the first recipe I’ve sampled from the book, and OMG is it wonderful. It has all the spices you would expect, plus chopped almonds. The dough is rolled into logs, and the logs chilled until firm. Then then slices are taken off the ends and baked. Super easy.

The excuse for all of this was to ship portions off to a hard-to-buy-for relative for his birthday. The downside (?) is that the vast majority of everything stayed behind.

And yes, 1 day later I’m still trying to catch up on the dishes.

Monday, February 27, 2012

It’s Movie Crazy Making

The Oscar awards were last night. Did you see it?

Yeah, me neither. But what I did see was an insane number of this year’s winners—particularly given my past track record, the events of the past year, and general reluctance to go to the theater for any reason.

Let’s see how I did:

Hugo. It’s been in my library queue since the DVD was released. I’m just waiting for my name to rise to the top. In the meantime, I read the book it’s based on, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Artist. Saw it at the local arts house. Amazing, and so glad I saw it on a big screen.

Beginners. Borrowed it from the library. Provocative and realistic in its portrayal of loss and grief (expect for the part where the dog speaks, of course). But bear in mind that I would watch an hour-long documentary on the history of mustard if it starred Ewan McGregor.

Man or Muppets from The Muppets. I’ve heard this song many times on episodes of Fresh Air, and it always makes me stop whatever I’m doing to just listen and enjoy. It makes me happy. The movie is in my library queue, and am just waiting for my name to rise to the top.

Midnight in Paris. Again, has been in my queue, and am waiting my turn.

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. You may be asking yourself how in the heck I saw that. It happened to be playing for a school group at a museum in Shreveport, Louisiana (where the animation house is located) while I was in town researching a travel story for an AAA magazine in December 2010. Yes, I saw it that long ago. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and think you would too.

Considering the only other movie on the winner’s list I care to see is The Descendants, that’s an awesome achievement.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Chilling Music

I’m in awe of the beautiful sounds this Norwegian musician creates using only ice - and a helluva lot of talent:


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Breathe In, Breathe Out

Yesterday was a weird-ass kind of day. Mid-February, and the first snow of the season (when November is more usual). The kind of day when I am told by a 70-something year-old woman that she had eaten a McDonald’s Happy Meal (presumably for the first time in her life) and it was dee-LISH-ous! Have you ever tried one? The kind of day that goes from the uphill battle of explaining that a pile of documents rubber-banded together go to the tax preparer via a trust officer (she described the experience of reading a 1099 that arrived in the mail as “mind-blowing,” yet oddly failed to understand that the 1099 needed to go to the tax preparer, too) to where a bank deposit becomes a battle of wills with a bank employee who was poorly trained and has the darnedest time conceding that she might not understand banking regulations as well as she thinks and should call a supervisor (the call was ultimately placed, and to her dismay, I was right - duh) The kind of day when during the long drive home I become acutely aware of a mounting tension (understandable) in the neck and head muscles, which will likely end in a pounder of a headache, and want nothing more than to end the day with the simplicity of Advil, Irish coffee, and a crackling fire.

So for a break from that, first a video about Mickey, the Firefighting Cat:

My favorite part is when Mickey slides down the pole.

After that refreshing drink of water, on to quilting fun.

I am a 100% self-taught quilter. I tend to prefer modern quilts over traditional, but as with painting, even abstract modern painters should have a good foundation in the basics of the discipline. And so I found myself signing up for an online quilting class earlier this year. That’s a BOM, or Block of the Month, class, for the initiated.

January’s quilt blocks covered two methods and techniques for inserting linear accent fabric across a quilt block. February’s lesson demonstrated two ways to cut and sew triangular patterns.

Block one: the Balkan Puzzle Block, using the magic triangle method:

Using this method, much of the sewing is on the bias, which leads to stretching and possible frustration. You may notice the reddish fabric panels. Those are from my stash. I bought what I considered to be one of the most hideous fabrics ever because I wanted to practice embroidery duplicating the gold/green design in the pattern - and it was on sale. Funny that it turned out to be such a perfect choice for this block.

Block two: the Chunky Chevron Block, using the drawn line method:

The king-sized winter (2012-13) quilt is still coming along slowly but surely. While that project is the opposite of portable, I’ve nominated hand-quilting its matching shams to be the project of choice for the upcoming hospital waiting room season.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Rocking Out the Reading

If you pay the slightest bit of attention to my sidebar, you may have noticed that books under Now Reading tend to stay there a long, long, really long time. But my statistical average of 10.3 months to read a 326 page book has now been skewed, thanks to one freakishly long book read at a fever pitch.

I finally finished up The Frozen Rabbi by Steve Stern, and this is a book I enjoyed and recommend, to anyone open to Yiddish and a bit of magical realism. That one took me quite a long while, reading it between appointments and in hospital waiting areas.

From there I opted for an easy read that I would be willing to donate to the local library afterward. Tell Me Where it Hurts: A Day of Humor, Healing and Hope in My Life as an Animal Surgeon by Nick Trout. Despite its 304 pages, I polished this baby off in under a week. The book reads like a fresh bag of potato chips: it’s seductive to reach for one more, then another, page. If I have any disappointment at all is that I suspect Dr. Trout is not a cat person. The few cats that are mentioned are always being cared for by some other doctor in the past or present.

The next book was a whopping 533 pages that I read in a single day. I know! Okay. In the interest of honesty and fair play, it was a The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, and the book had almost more illustrations than words. Still, it was highly enjoyable, pouring through a hefty tome felt like a victory, and I am glad so glad that I’ve read the book before I see the movie.

Now I’m dipping my toe into 1Q84, a book that you’ll probably still see in my sidebar in early 2013 (and possibly 2014) as it has 944 pages and zero illustrations that I’ve run across thus far. It’s a parallel universe story set in Tokyo in the year 1984, which anyone around my age will recognize as the title of a pivotal George Orwell novel. I’m less than a dozen pages into it, but I feel the suction pull of a really great novel.

In other entertainment news, we recently finished season 1 of Boardwalk Empire set in 1920 New Jersey at the beginning of Prohibition. And now we’re watching season 2 of Downton Abbey set in a highbrow English manor in 1918. So close in time, yet so different in culture, comparing the two series is an interesting exercise. Old money vs. new, class differences, world view, technological advances... Lady Grantham struggles to use the manor’s new phone as she places long-distance calls to see to the care of her relatives and servants injured on the battlefield. Two years later, a much lower-class Margaret is having the same difficulty when her lover gives her a phone so they can stay in contact. I can’t wait until the next season (please, please) is released of both.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Kitchen Adventures: A Journey Back to the Dark Days of American Home Cooking

When I explore my cookbook collection looking for new things, there are generally three things that might entice me to sample a recipe. The first reason is that it simply sounds good. That’s true 90% of the time. Second, a recipe may use cooking techniques I’m unfamiliar with, or be of a culture I’d like to explore more. Let’s say that’s true 9.5% of the time.

But the other .5%? That’s reserved for the ridiculous—food that is bizarre, trashy, and somehow irresistible—the reason that “Mexican Dish with Doritos” was on the menu Friday evening. Before I delve into the specifics of this dish, let me first give it a little context.

The recipe came from a 1977 compilation of recipes by the Association of Operating Room Nurses Chapter 51 in Topeka, Kansas. While the recipes themselves were contributed by AORN members, the front of the comb bound book is filled with loads of “useful” information provided by the publisher. A table of food quantities necessary to serve 100 people (church supper, anyone?) tells me that I’ll need 3 lbs of coffee, 18 pies, and 18 quarts oysters, 30 lbs beets, and so on. Other nuggets are so dated that they make less sense to the 35 and under crowd than an LP does to the average ten-year-old:
  • “Before emptying the bag of your vacuum cleaner, sprinkle water on the newspaper into which it is emptied, and there will be no scattering of dust.”
  • “Instead of trying to iron rickrack on the right side of the garment, turn the article. The rickrack can be pressed perfectly.”
  • “Wash old powder puffs in soapy water, rinse well and dry thoroughly. Then use them for polishing silverware, copper and brass.”
  • “Use the divider from an ice tray to cut biscuits in a hurry. Shape dough to conform with size of divider and cut. After baking biscuits will separate at dividing lines.”
At this point you’re probably wondering how you’ve survived without this book, right?

Stage properly set, let’s get on with the recipe. Below is a photo of all the necessary ingredients.

You’ll note that, except for maybe the hamburger, there’s not a single fresh, non-processed ingredient in the bunch!

1 lb beef, browned
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 bottle taco sauce
1 can enchilada sauce
longhorn cheese - any variety
1 large package Doritos

Brown beef, drain. Add sauces and soups. Layer in baking dish; Doritos, sauce, cheese, then repeat layers. Bake 350 degrees until cheese bubbles. Serve warm/hot.

Some notes about the ingredients. I substituted mild Pace salsa for the taco sauce to give my dish at least a blush of vegetables. While I did use longhorn cheese (a colby/jack blend), that was completely unnecessary. Longhorn has nothing to do with the flavor. It’s just the shape of the cheese. Since I was grating, it didn’t matter a bit whether I started out with a slab with two rounded corners, or a brick.

The most difficult decision had to do with the Doritos. This is what the Doritos display on modern grocery store shelves look like in:

Definitely more flavors and options in 2012 than would have been available in 1977. But what would have been available? I ruled out the obvious ones, like Blazin’ Buffalo & Ranch, and Fiery HabeƱero. Anything “reduced fat” could be eliminated as well. I was down to two choices: Taco Flavored Tortilla Chips, and Nacho Cheese. I took a chance on Nacho Cheese.

Later I did a bit of research on the history of Doritos—a first for me. According to the Doritos wikipedia page (yes, there is one), the first flavor was taco when it Doritos launched in 1968. Nacho cheese was released in 1972, and is the most popular flavor. Both would have been available to the home cook in 1977, and I feel good about my choice.

The instructions were apparently too complicated, or not complicated enough, because I seem to have not paid proper attention to the ingredient order in the layers. But the critical question is how did it come out?

The flavors were overall acceptable to good. It was interesting. I can see some ways to improve it, like adding onion, olives and chiles. Perhaps serving with a dollop of sour cream. But there was so much sodium laced throughout the dish that my lips burned for an hour afterward, and I had to continually hydrate myself. So no, this once the leftovers are eaten, Mexican Dish with Doritos won’t be making a repeat appearance on our weekly menu plan.

The irony that this blatantly unhealthy family meal was contributed by an emergency room nurse, has not escaped me. Eat food like this on a regular basis, and you may very well be whisked off to one in an ambulance.