Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Kitty Picspam

It has been a while since I've posted pictures of the bitches, felt like it was time.






This is what success looks like!

I made marmalade!
 My first time and I couldn't be more proud. The only time I have ever made anything jam or jelly like was 3 years ago when I made pepper jelly. That almost feels like cheating because then I used packaged pectin. This time I used a recipe with just oranges, lemons, sugar and water and it came out great! I don't have a candy thermometer, so I couldn't check temperature, but I did a chilled plate test and that worked great. The marmalade set up perfectly! Within 30 seconds of removing the jars from the water bath I heard the lovely popping sound of a successful vacuum seal! It tastes really good, too. It is sweet, but really flavorful and I didn't scorch it at all while cooking. HOORAY!

Monday, September 27, 2010

like studying, only more fun

I often have people asking me to teach them how to do things that I do pretty easily, like cooking, canning, baking and knitting. Sometimes computer stuff, but I'm not really that technical, I'm just good at problem solving/figuring things out. But for all the homey stuff I do, I'd say I'm probably around 98% self taught. Sure, someone showed me how to cook the first time, and knit the first time, but after that it all came down to what information I could find in books, on TV or on the internet.

I was never a great student in school because I didn't really like doing homework. Now, by homework I mean the work part of the equation. Reading up on a subject and listening to lectures was fun for me and I always did incredibly well on tests. But if I needed to turn in a paper or my work on mathematical equations, etc, I never did well because I was super lazy. I just learn from absorbing. That is how it is with cooking for me. Like studying. I take the time to commit a recipe to memory as if I were preparing for an exam. Because it is hard to do everything so quickly, which is usually how things need to be done, when you have to stop every 30 seconds and read the next step. Now, I'm not saying I don't have the recipe with me when I'm cooking as a cheat sheet, I'm just saying I try to really know what I am about to do way before I actually do it. It is just better for the final result. So, nothing I do really takes any special skill other than researching the stuff so I know it well.

Also, finding out the science of things can help too. I really like to wing it when I cook things, but when it comes to baking and canning, you can't just make things up and expect them to work. There is a science to it, but if you know the science than you can figure out how to make subtle changes without ruining the overall result. In baking this usually means something like replacing a portion of liquid with another liquid to give it a different flavor, or using a different color sugar or a different type of flour to change the texture.

Canning is a little different, just because you really have to have something exact to make it safe. But there are a lot of safe and approved recipes, so if you research and study all of the recipes you can find, you can figure out how to merge them if you want to tweak things a little based on your preferred ingredients. For instance, I am making a recipe from Ina Garten (The Barefoot Contessa) called Anna's Orange Marmalade currently (it is in the overnight phase right now), but because I read in a few other recipes that you can enhance the flavor by replacing the water with orange juice, and because I saw some lime added in yet another recipe, I replaced 1 cup of the water with lime juice I happened to have. It still has the right amount of liquid, just slightly changed to add a little extra sourness.

A big thing with all of this is finding out WHY you are doing something. Why do you need yeast in bread? Because it won't rise if you don't use it. Why do you need lemon juice or vinegar in canned salsa? Because you need a certain level of acidity to kill harmful bacteria. Why do you need to yarn over or knit into the front and back of a stitch? Because you need to increase a stitch. Once you start figuring out why things work the way they do, that is why you can be more creative. I see people having issues with their knitting more because they don't know how many stitch variations work, yet they also don't want to follow a pattern. I too don't like to follow certain patterns very strictly, but it is a lot easier if you know why a stitch does something so you don't need to follow a pattern. However, with lace, I have no patience for figuring out my own fancy patterns, so I stick to the instructions on those. But even when I have an exact pattern, I read the whole thing first to make sure I understand all the instructions and can anticipate what will be next.

It is all about studying up and knowing what you are doing. Nothing I do is all that complicated, I just spend a good amount of prep time figuring things out first so then I don't feel like I'm jumping into something scary.

Also, the biggest thing? If you do screw things up it isn't the end of the world. I've made some real messes for dinner before, and hand to unravel many a knitting project. I think we all need to learn to be a little less scared to mess up and less concerned about the wasted time, and more interested in the learning process.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Cooking Mania

And by mania, I mean the manic half of manic depression. Can't quite figure out what is "wrong" with me, but all I want to do is make stuff. But like, I don't really want to cook meals, I want to make mass quantities as if I were preparing for the apocalypse. I have 20 jars of pickles, 8 jars of salsa and tomorrow I'll have about 6 jars of orange marmalade. I'm not even done with the marmalade, but now I'm already completely obsessed with making pumpkin pie. But not just regular pumpkin pie, I want to make pumpkin pie from real fresh pumpkin. Oh, and I am already collecting recipes for the marmalade. My big plan right now is to make a twist on brie en croute with apricot jam, using the marmalade instead of the jam and Saint Andre cheese in place of the brie. I think it is going to be pretty spectacular. Also I found a really tasty crock pot recipe for orange marmalade curry chicken that I think I will make soon. I love curry!

It really does feel like a mild form of mania, like my brain can't stop running with all the ideas of things I can make. One minute I'm looking up tortellini recipes, next minute I'm bookmarking 5 recipes for my bread machine.

And of course, making all of this stuff in my cramped and messy kitchen without half the tools usually recommended for things like canning is a little crazy. I like to think of it as extreme cooking, like extreme sports. There is an element of danger. Like how I don't have jar tongs for removing processed jars from the pot of boiling water - so I scoop the jar up with a spoon and grab it with a pot holder, hoping that it doesn't slip out of my hand and trying to keep the boiling water from soaking through the pot holder and burning me. Or not using gloves to chop 3 pounds of spicy peppers and then scratching the inside of my nostril. Hm, maybe it isn't extreme cooking and is just dumb cooking.  I don't want to buy all the tools though, because I want to ask for them for my birthday, which is now less than a month away.

So until then, kitchen shenanigans will ensue. Extreme manic cooking for the apocalypse. 

Friday, September 24, 2010

I Have Issues: Sidewalk Rage

The streets of Downtown Seattle frustrate me, but not because of all the traffic. Most of you who know me know that I don't drive. And I don't mean I just don't have a car, I've never had my license. I learned to drive when I was 15, but I wasn't great at it and I feel like if you can't do something well you shouldn't do it at all, amiright? I think when I tell the story to new people it includes a few bits about my parents and how they never really wanted to let me practice because we like to avoid stress as much as possible in our family (aka laziness). I also talk about how two of my best friends in high school were in the same driver's ed car as I was and there was a little bit of ridicule and boy can I not take criticism well. How dare they laugh when I drove right up on to a street corner? OH, and then I mention how many car wrecks that both of those girls got in within the next few years after getting their licenses. I'm still not sure my best friend Shannon ever goes the actual speed limit. (Shannon - I say that with ALL the love in my heart!)

So, I take the bus and walk places. It isn't so bad. Not that I enjoy taking two hours out of my day to go visit my future in-laws, or having to leave events early because the last bus is coming, but I manage. Dan drives, but we also don't have a car, so that doesn't help so much. And even if we did have a car, I really really wouldn't want to drive it, and he wouldn't want to be my chauffeur as lovely as that idea sounds to me. I don't want to operate something that is a million times stronger than I am. I could like, hurt people or something. That would TOTALLY suck.

Also, I have this rage issue. Even when I'm not the one driving I will usually be the one getting angry at the guy cutting us off and end up flipping people off. Rage is not a good trait in a driver, I think. I don't want to find myself in a situation with someone who has even more rage than me, either. I could end up getting myself all shot up and crap. No good.

I mean, I can't even walk down the street without getting angry, which gets me back to my original point. The frustrating SIDEWALKS of Downtown Seattle. I work in the heart of the shopping area here, and that means that most of the people walking around do not have a specific destination. They are on the scenic route, leisurely window shopping and chatting along the way. This is not good for me and my rage issues, particularly when I DO have a specific destination, work for example. Don't all these well meaning individuals know that they are in my effing way? Why must they walk at a snail's pace? And then they walk in groups, side by side, so there is no way to pass. Add into it the weird promotional event happening outside of the mall that is spilling out onto the sidewalk with gawking onlookers and a hoard of Children International reps trying to get me to give them money and it is about enough to make me want to punch a baby. And it wells up inside of me so that by the time I get to work, even the slightest annoyance makes me seethe with fiery anger. Or maybe I'm on my way to catch a bus, and then I miss my bus by mere seconds. I want to take everything I am holding and just throw it on the ground. You know, like this guy:



I mean, I probably won't do it. Well, unless I've been drinking, then it is usually my cell phone that suffers in that situation. I'm trying really hard to be as nice as possible to my new iPhone, though. That would just be sad.

In short, it is probably a really good idea that I don't drive, considering just walking down the street can turn me into an angry gorilla on steroids.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Monday Musings

I just realized that I haven't posted in over a week, and that is totally against the rules, so here I go... without an actual topic.

I made more pickles today. I AM A PICKLE MACHINE. I have 21 jars of dill pickles now, I think that might be enough to last at least a month or two, right?

It is baby city all up in here. Dan's sister just had a baby a few weeks ago, and my friends Roxanne and Jessie are about to have a baby too. I went to their baby shower on Saturday, which was a wonderful little party with lots of old friends there. I gotta say, the whole thing is making me a little crazy, though. I mean, one thing at a time and all, I need to focus on the wedding planning and stuff, but BABIES. My ovaries are screaming, can you hear them?

I sort of fizzled out on the wedding planning, too. I guess I just have a lot planned already and now there isn't much to do other than wait until it is closer, but I was so hyped and now I'm just like, meh. I'm excited about the actual wedding, just not all the weird details I am eventually going to have to think about. Like, where is Dan going to find wedding pants that are long enough? Why does he have to be so tall? Hehe. And who is going to facilitate the food situation on the day of? And do we rent a car to get around? IS POTLUCK A NIGHTMARE?

Um, let me take a deep breath and talk about something else.

My new favorite thing in the whole world is Marc Maron's WTF podcast. He is hilarious and also so open and kind of raw, it is so wonderful to listen to. And it is so inspiring, listening to all these comedians talk about their careers. It does make me wish I were funnier or something. But of course, there also is so much about the craziness that goes along with being a comedian. A lot of neuroses. Although I am quite neurotic, so I kind of wish I had that crazy ability to make people laugh that would make the mental illness a little bit more worth it. Anyway, I can't stop listening. The Judd Apatow two-parter is a must listen.

I'm hoping that I can post something a little more entertaining later on this week, I'm just a little brain-dead right now. We've got big meetings at work this week, so perhaps over the weekend I'll get back to some regularly scheduled blogging. Until then, I LOVE PICKLES. Er, I mean, goodnight.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Preservation

I've suddenly become completely obsessed with making vast quantities of food for freezing or canning. Or, well, mainly I'm obsessed with making filled dumplings and pickles.

Last week I made possibly over 100 pelmeni Russian dumplings. Basically a simple noodle dough filled with a basic meat mixture of beef, pork, onions and spices and shaped similarly to tortellini. I had some at Bumbershoot that were really delicious and I had to make some. There are a ton in my freezer right now. I ate them for 3 or 4 meals and I'm sick of them, but now I know in a month when I have a craving, I can throw some in some boiling water.

I feel like I am preparing for something, like hibernation. Or maybe I'm just preparing for my own laziness. It is beginning to make me feel a little manic-depressive. I can go for weeks not wanting to cook a damn thing, but suddenly all I want to be doing is making these time consuming concoctions.

Kinda looks like my pickles are already too heavy for the shelf.
We're gonna need a bigger boat.
I made dill pickle chips and pickled green beans yesterday. My friend gave me a bunch of cucumbers from her garden because she has so many. I jumped at the chance because I've always wanted to make pickles. She is going to give me even more this week, so I'm going to make spicier spears. It was actually really fun and easy, and I think I was encouraged because all my jars sealed correctly. I had only canned once before and it was also successful, but it was 3 years ago, so I was a little nervous I'd mess up. So happy I didn't! In a few week's we'll be cracking some open for tasting. I really want to crack one open right now. I am all about instant gratification... perhaps canning isn't the best idea?

Tomorrow I am going to go to a local produce stand to buy some tomatoes for salsa canning. I figure I may as well keep at it while I'm feeling all manic, er, enthusiastic! I was going to make more pepper jelly, but why do something I've already done? Plus I think salsa would get used more than the pepper jelly. The recipe I'm using makes 6 pint jars. We'll be set all winter, and I hear that homemade salsa is much tastier than the crappy store stuff. Plus, any excuse to eat tortilla chips.

I want to make pickled cauliflower too. Maybe I'll pick up a head when I make my spicy pickles on Tuesday and just do it all at the same time. I always love the "hot mix" spicy pickled vegetable mix from the store, but I really just like the cauliflower part and none of the other crap in the jar. Plus, there is something slightly weird about it and I bet if I made it myself it would be much tastier.

I made pickled eggs today, too. This is something that most people I know act totally grossed out about, but they are effing delicious. If you like pickled salty things, and if you like deviled eggs, you would like them. I did an experiment months and months ago where I made 4 different kinds of pickled eggs, and the ones that were the best were ones that used white vinegar, salt, pickled jalapenos, hot sauce and chili powder. So I just made those in abundance today. The key with the eggs is a 50/50 water and vinegar mixture, plus spices and salt or sugar or a mixture of the two. I like eating one or two for breakfast.

I'm putting the dumpling situation on hold for right now until I get better supplies, although I did realize after I handed kneaded two batches of pelmeni dough that I indeed have a bread maker that I could have used to knead the dough for me. You know, rather than killing my hands and wrists for 45 minutes straight each time? But I'm sure it was totally character building.

That also made me realize that the whole time I've had this bread maker, I've never used it. That is just plain dumb. It is like fresh bread for dummies! You just dump everything in and turn it on. Why have I never used this thing? So I think tomorrow while I'm canning salsa, I'm also going to make a fresh loaf of rosemary bread. Because I can. (hehe, canning pun?) Oh, and because I like food. If you say you don't, you're either lying or YOU DON'T ENJOY LIFE.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

You are driving me 100% CRAZY

Allow me to get a little personal for a moment. My most recent ex-boyfriend, the one I was still living with when I met my fiancé (SCANDALOUS), and who I haven't spoken to in probably about two years, has had one of his email accounts hacked and has been sending me prescription medicine spam for about two weeks. The rate has increased to about 8 per day, so now every single time I open up my email I have one in my inbox and it still makes me jump a little every time I see his name sitting there. Yes, I know I can filter them directly to my spam, but I thought maybe I'd hear from him or something so I didn't do that initially. But now I've just started marking it as spam.

Anyways, it is making me a little crazy. If he were a normal person, I would just be able to text him or send him a message on facebook or something to let him know that his email account has been hacked. As it stands, I have no contact information for him, and when I told his sister she should let him know she didn't seem to know how to contact him either. He must be hiding from the world? I'm so glad I don't actually have to deal with this anymore.

P.S. If you're reading this, go deal with your damn email.