29 December 2016

Slow Cooker Ham & Split Pea Soup

As a child, winter always meant big bowls of meaty, flavorful ham and split pea soup made with the bone of our Christmas ham. My mother would let the soup simmer all day on the stove and the heavenly aroma would slowly spread throughout the house, driving me mad with desire. Yes, I was a strange kid.

Even now, my mother is my primary source of ham and pea soup. I do, occasionally, make a meatless pea and mint soup using frozen peas or a meatless dried yellow pea soup, but I never make anything even close to her hammy soup as I simply don't cook ham. The Husband won't eat ham and I do not need an entire ham of my own.

But then I was talking to a coworker about soups we grew up on and I mentioned how I never made my mom's soup because I needed a ham bone for it and she said "Mark's making a ham! I bet he'd give you the bone!" and, the next thing I knew, Mark's come into work with a big ham bone just for me.

So I made soup! And while it isn't quite my mother's, it's still pretty darn good. Rich, thick, and savory. I eat a bowlful with a satsuma and that's all I need for breakfast or lunch.


I used a "traditional" split pea soup mix I'd found at the Polish grocery which used a combination of both green and yellow split peas as well as red lentils. It came with a seasoning packet, but I chose to use my own seasonings to try to control the amount of sodium in the soup as I reckoned the ham bone would add lots of salt.

I also used my slow cooker, rather than simmering it on the stove all day, because I needed to leave the house and didn't want to worry about some stove-related catastrophe happening back at home while I was loitering at The Paperstore.


Slow Cooker Ham & Split Pea Soup

Yield: 6

Ingredients

  • 1 package (13 oz) dried split peas
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 cup chopped carrots
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ tsp crushed dried rosemary
  • ½ tsp dried thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 meaty ham bone
  • 32 oz carton low-sodium chicken broth
  • Salt & pepper, as desired

Instructions

  1. Combine peas, onion, carrots, celery, garlic, rosemary, thyme, and bay in slow cooker insert. Nestle in ham bone and pour broth over everything.
  2. Cover and cook on Low 8-10 hours or until peas are tender.
  3. Remove ham bone from slow cooker. Pull meat from bone, discarding bone and other inedible/undesirable bits. Stir ham into soup.
  4. Add water to soup, if too thick. Season with salt and pepper, as desired, and serve.

The finished soup did seem rather loose when done, but set up nicely once cooled. If you prefer a looser soup, you may want to add a cup or two of additional broth at the end. I didn't feel it needed any additional salt, but did add lashings of freshly cracked black pepper.

28 December 2016

Wordless Wednesday: Presents

"The Christmas presents once opened are Not So Much Fun as they were while we were in the process of examining, lifting, shaking, thinking about, and opening them. Three hundred sixty-five days later, we try again and find that the same thing has happened. Each time the goal is reached, it becomes Not So Much Fun, and we're off to reach the next one,
then the next one, then the next." -- Benjamin Hoff, The Tao of Pooh

26 December 2016

Wayward, Volume 1: String Theory


Irish-Japanese teenager Rori Lane has left Ireland to start over with her mother in Japan and, from the moment she arrives, she begins to experience a whole lot of weirdness. Turns out Rori possesses some kind of secret cosmic powers that the Japanese supernatural world is very interested in! Quelle surprise!

Rori quickly runs into trouble, but is saved by the intervention of a mysterious cat-girl. The she runs into more trouble with a spirit-eating boy ... but then they become besties. And, wouldn't you know it, Rori keeps getting into trouble (she is a girl-shaped Trouble Magnet) and, coincidentally, running into other powered kids ... and even becomes their leader! All while having unsurprising adjustment issues at her new school. Oh, and mom is ever the absent parent. And Rori likes to cut herself to cope.

I don't really know what to say about Wayward, Volume 1: String Theory. It's certainly very attractive to look at -- Cummings' illustrations are vibrant and rich with detail -- but the story itself is just kind-of mediocre. It's the first volume, though, so there's hope it will improve over the next three (or more) volumes. And the end was surprising.

Despite my mixed feelings, I have added the second volume tp my library hold list and am actually looking forward to reading it. I know, I know ... I am so wiffle-waffle.

Wayward, Volume 1: String Theory written by Jim Zub w/ illus by Steven Cummings et al. (Image Comics, 2015)

22 December 2016

Garlic & Rosemary Leg o' Lamb

Roasting a boneless leg of lamb in the middle of the work week doesn't sound like the smartest idea -- it takes almost two hours to prep and cook the blessed thing -- but I had a wee 2½ lb roast in the fridge that didn't get cooked over the weekend, Wednesday was its "eat by" date, and slow cooking wasn't an option as 10+ hours in the slow cooker sounded like a terrible thing to do to lamb.

Anyway, the trick is to eat a really filling (but not heavy) lunch. And have a glass of wine (or two) while you wait for the lamb to cook. Red wine is heart-healthy, after all ...

I use my pie plates for everything. Everything.

To cook the 2½ lb roast, I stabbed the fatty "top" of the roast all over with a knife and shoved slivers of garlic into the cuts. Then I rubbed the roast with a little olive oil, slipped a few sprigs of rosemary under the netting, and sprinkled the whole things with freshly ground salt and pepper. Popped the roast, uncovered into a 400°F oven for 12 minutes, then turned the heat down to 325°F and let the roast cook for about 75 min longer. When the roast reached 145°F, I removed it from the oven, covered it loosely with foil, and let it rest for 5 minutes ... et voilà, noms.

And what did it taste like? Like lamb, obviously. But there were also definite notes of garlic and rosemary so I think I'll use this method again. Usually, I coat lamb roasts with a paste of rosemary, olive oil, garlic, lemon, salt, and pepper, and the roast looks beautiful when it comes out of the oven, but all the coating comes off as I remove the netting, leaving little non-lamb flavor behind. Stab and stuff, people. That's where it's at.

21 December 2016

Wordless Wednesday: Winter Fire

It's officially winter now! Time for cosy evenings by the fire.

19 December 2016

My Life As Shitty Slapstick

Wake up in the wee small hours of the morning, desperate to pee. Stumble out of bed to realize I also really need to empty my ostomy pouch, but whatever, I'm headed to the right place, anyway. Arrive at the toilet still only half awake. Decide it is more important to empty my pouch than my bladder. Empty pouch. Start to tidy the end with a bit of tissue. Sudden, godawful, gurgling sound from my stoma and watery, almost entirely colorless, poo shoots down my pouch, out the opening and, missing the toilet entirely, splashes all over the floor.


Horrified, I stare at the floor for what seems like hours, before hesitantly reaching for the hand towel hanging above the sink. I don't want to sacrifice the hand towel, but I don't know what else to do. So I lean forward.

And slip. Slip in my own watery poo. And fall. Whacking my chest against the corner of the sink as I go down. Down, down, onto my knees in the watery poo. Still desperate to pee.

Best. Night. Ever. At least I didn't brain myself, eh?

(And the bruises. Dear god, the black-purple-green-blue peacock bruises. At least no-one can see them when I'm clothed, because I don't know how to explain them in a way that doesn't involve poo!)

15 December 2016

Improv Challenge: Cinnamon & Honey

I know, for many cooks, this time of year is all about baking and December's Improv Cooking Challenge ingredients (cinnamon and honey) certainly lend themselves to baking, but I wanted something ... healthy and savory. So I made a salad! Hooray! I know salad in cold, dark December doesn't sound fabulous, but I promise you that this one is totally yum.

There are many versions of carrot and raisin salad in the world, but I strove to be An Original and made up my own. Cinnamon and honey, obviously, go into my salad, but so does cumin because I've been experimenting with "Moroccan" flavors and cinnamon + cumin seemed like a natural combination. Also, black currants instead of raisins, because black currants are brilliant. No mayonnaise, because carrots + mayonnaise = NOPE.

I have used the handful, an entirely unscientific unit of measurement, in my recipe. If you want to be more precise, use a ⅓ or ½ cup. Mostly, it's all about what flavors YOU like and how many currants or almonds YOU want to eat. Me, I love dried currants and almonds + carrots = ❤️ so I was generous with my handfuls. If you hate currants (but WHY?), feel free to use raisins.



Carrot & Currant Salad

Yield: 4

Ingredients

  • 1 lb carrots, peeled and grated
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed or chopped fine
  • ¾ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Handful of dried currants
  • Handful of sliced almonds
  • Handful of dried parsley
  • Salt and black pepper, as desired

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients. Cover and let sit in the refrigerator overnight to allow the flavors to marry. Season with salt and pepper, if desired. Best served at room temperature.

Personally, I love this salad. It's bright and sweet and ... carroty. Very aromatic with lots of tongue-pleasing textures. The blackcurrants plump up a bit as they sit overnight and become a like little chewy flavor bombs. While I ate it with salmon, it would also be good with roast or grilled chicken or pork. Or rolled up in rice paper with a bit of cilantro and pickled onion? Hmmm.

For anyone new to my blog, Improv Cooking Challenge is a monthly blog hop where two ingredients are assigned, participants must make a new-to-their-blog recipe using both ingredients, and publish a blog post about it on the third Thursday of the month. If you think that sounds like fun, click on the Improv Cooking Challenge logo below.

improv cooking challenge logo (aqua rolling pin, spatula, fork, whisk suspended from rack)



14 December 2016

Wordless Wednesday: "Fragile Omens"

"Fragile Omens" by Simon Boses. My belated birthday present from our New Mexico vacation. Saw it on display at the Stranger Factory & fell in love.

12 December 2016

Meet Me At The Cupcake Cafe


When Issy Randall's London employer makes her redundant -- no matter she's be sleeping with her boss and you'd think he'd might have given her fair warning (the jerk)-- she is justifiably despondent and at a loss as to what to do next. While she takes "retraining" classes, she finds herself dreaming of owning a bakery. Issy grew up in her granddad's bakery and, as her roommate and ex-coworkers will attest, certainly knows her way around a kitchen. In pursuing her dream of owning a bakery, Issy meets many interesting secondary characters -- everyone from future employees, to possible love interests, to quirky new neighbors. Of course, her ex-boss (now her ex-boyfriend, too) can't stay out of the picture for long ...

Issy's relationship with her nursing home-bound grandfather and her fond memories of his shop are warm and endearing, and add extra charm to a novel already bursting with it. I also enjoyed Issy's friendship with her roommate Helena, which feels very authentic. And, really, you cans feel that kind of "authenticity" throughout the book -- the secondary characters (aside from, maybe, The Dreadful Ex) are all full-fleshed and functioning "real" people. That's quite a feat and one of the reasons I really enjoy Colgan's books.

Meet Me At The Cupcake Cafe by Jenny Colgan (Sphere, 2011)

08 December 2016

Cooking with Spiced Pantry: Sweden

October's Spiced Pantry box was all about the flavors of Sweden! Rather like with Morocco, I could smell the contents before I even opened the box and it got me craving gingerbread something terrible. Is gingerbread even Swedish? Pepparkakor is definitely gingerbreadish.

I have to admit that the little I know about Swedish cuisine comes from the Pleasant Company's Kirsten Larson American Girl Doll books (and Kirsten definitely ate some kind of ginger biscuit) and marathoning Crimes of Passion, based on works by the Swedish crime novelist Maria Lang (not much about food, there).


So what is this Spiced Pantry, anyway? Spiced Pantry is a monthly food subscription box featuring a different cuisine each month. Every box includes four ingredients (custom spice blends, grains, legumes, etc), an information card introducing that month's cuisine and ingredients, and the recipes to make with them. Recipes usually serve 4-6 people so, if you are small household like mine, either expect leftovers or be prepared to halve the recipes.

Subscribers can chose between the standard or vegetarian plan. While I selected the standard plan, most of the meat-based recipes I've received include easy modifications to make them vegetarian, anyway. As with many subscription plans, it renews automatically every month until cancelled.

Ingredients in October's Spiced Pantry box:
  1. Ground cardamom
  2. Caraway Seeds
  3. Juniper Berries
  4. Stockholm Spice Blend

Recipes in October's Spiced Pantry box:
  1. Braised Creamy Cabbage With Caraway
  2. Cardamom Buns
  3. Salmon with Mustard & Juniper
  4. Swedish Meatballs
  5. Swedish Potatoes Au Gratin


"Swedish Meatballs" were AWESOME. One of the best, if not the best, recipe I've made from a Spiced Pantry box. The Husband really enjoyed them, too, and there was a bit of a squabble over the leftovers. My mother and aunts always made Swedish meatballs at Christmas and I thought theirs were good, but this recipe put them to shame. The tender meatballs are packed with delicious flavor and smothered in the most heavenly creamy sauce that manages to taste rich without being heavy.


The "Swedish Potatoes Au Gratin" were also very pleasing and, while so creamy and cheesy, not heavy. A nice take on the French Gratin dauphinois with a touch of Scandinavian spice. Definitely something you want seconds of. The gratin was a little runny when it first came out of the oven, but I gave it fifteen minutes on the kitchen side and it set up nice.

My potatoes were getting a bit gnarly, so I peeled them, but I might leave them unpeeled next time for a little more texture and color. Also, maybe, add thinly sliced leeks and garlic, because more alliums is almost always better!

Looking forward to November's box, featuring the flavors of Vietnam. I know nothing about Vietnamese food that isn't phở or bánh mì, so this should be exciting!

Read about my other Spiced Pantry experiences.

07 December 2016

Wordless Wednesday: A Cat Naps

A cat naps ... right between the pillows, because clearly that's the comfiest spot.

05 December 2016

Lady Mechanika, Volume 1: The Mystery of the Mechanical Corpse


Alt-Victorian steampunk with an intimidating  and uncompromising female "cyborg" protagonist. What more could I want? Aside from fewer boob cutouts? Fewer trying-too-hard-to-sound-Victorian long-winded exposition dumps that had me skimming ahead? It's unfortunate, because the illustrations are gorgeous -- the detail and coloring of each panel is just WOW -- and the premise is quite compelling.

Lady Mechanika doesn't remember who created her or where she came from, just that she woke up in a basement surrounded by dead bodies. She now spends her time searching out other mechanical entities who might be able to provide information about her past while also rescuing mechanicals being hunted by various anti-tech (destroy) and pro-tech (dismember and study) human organizations and, generally, trying to be a Good Person.

The story can get quite complicated -- hence the exposition dumps, I guess -- as there are many secondary characters and they all have their own stories/plots that need to be told. It's definitely compelling stuff, but felt it would have been better told spread out over more pages as some of story felt a bit rushed. The story and illustrations flirt with a darker, grimmer steampunk alt-Victorian England than I am used to seeing and that was quite refreshing. This isn't a sparkling, clean, optimistic steampunk England, but as dirty, grim, and terrible as the real one could be. I think, if you enjoy TV series like Penny Dreadful or read steampunk horror, you may enjoy Lady Mechanika.

Lady Mechanika, Volume 1 Joe Benitez & Peter Steigerwald ( Benitez Productions, 2015)

01 December 2016

Creamy No-Dairy Broccoli Soup

As always, I made too much food for Thanksgiving dinner. It was clear, by late Thanksgiving morning, that that was the way things were going, so I dropped the steamed broccoli with thyme and lemon butter and garlicky sautéed spinach from the menu. Which still left us with maple mashed sweet, sour cream and chive mashed white, buttery corn, thyme and onion peas, and garlicky creamed spinach. As well as, of course, the turkey, gravy, and stuffing!


All that for five people. What can I say? I'm a feeder.

Anyway, BROCCOLI. What to do with the broccoli? Roast it? Chop it into a salad? Turn it into soup? Mmm ... soup ...


While this soup has a very smooth and creamy texture, it contains absolutely no dairy or dairy analogue. The home-made turkey broth lends the soup lots of flavor and richness with very little added fat (I made good use of my OXO Good Grips fat separator) -- for all it's deliciousness, this is really quite a healthy soup. Definitely be making it again as winter sets in.


Creamy No-Dairy Broccoli Soup

Yield: 8

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium sweet onion, chopped
  • 2 large carrots, chopped
  • 4 large cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
  • 20 oz fresh broccoli florets
  • 4 cups home-made turkey broth
  • Salt and black pepper, as desired

Instructions

  1. Heat oil in a French/Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and carrots. Cook, stirring occasionally, until carrots are softened and onion is translucent. Add garlic and thyme. Cook, stirring, until very fragrant.
  2. Add broccoli florets and broth. Bring pot to a simmer. Reduce heat and cook until very broccoli is very tender, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.
  3. When cool, puree the soup with a stick blender until desired level of smoothness is reached. Season with salt and pepper, as desired.

This is a very thick soup, so feel free to add more broth if you prefer a thinner one! Also, if you use vegetable broth, this dish is perfectly appropriate for vegans and vegetarians.

26 November 2016

Gobble-Gobble In My Pot

We'd pretty much picked the turkey carcass clean of white meat by Saturday so I decided to go ahead and make soup right away rather than chucking the carcass in the freezer and making it Someday. Also, the freezer is kind-of full right now and I'm not sure it would have fit ... someone needs to do a no-shopping challenge, again.


Each time I make turkey or chicken soup it comes out differently because I don't have a set recipe -- I always start the same way, but what goes in at the end varies as I tend to simply round up whatever open bags of frozen vegetables I can find and dump them in the pot with whatever slightly wrinkly potatoes or rice/barley/noodle bag ends I find in the pantry. Seasoning depends strongly on taste and mood -- sometimes, I make a spicy turkey soup but more often it is just very garlicky and redolent with thyme.

How I made this turkey soup:
  1. Removed all bits of skin/fat from the turkey carcass and then crushed it down a bit to fit in my big French/Dutch oven.
  2. Surrounded the carcass with carrots, onion, celery, bay, and fresh thyme.
  3. Topped the whole thing off with cold water and let it simmer for about three hours (I took an unplanned nap at this point).
  4. Drained pot contents through a cheesecloth lined colander into a big basin.
  5. Picked vegetable bits out and set aside.
  6. Separated edible turkey bits from inedible.
  7. Used my OXO Good Grips (a Thanksgiving gift to myself and well worth it) fat separator to remove the fat from the broth.
  8. Poured most of the broth back into the pot (reserving four cups for another soup)
  9. Broke the veggies up a bit and put them back in the pot. Ditto the turkey, odds-and-ends of bagged frozen corn and peas, and a half cup of pastina.
  10. Let everything cook for about thirty minutes, then taste-tested and added parsley, salt, and black pepper as whim took me.

And the leftover dark meat? I turned most of that into easy turkey enchiladas using kitchen staples like corn tortillas and salsa verde. They weren't fancy (or in any way authentic), but they tasted good.

Also, the cats got some turkey, because it's Thanksgiving and they deserve a little feast of their own. Unfortunately, they now demand turkey every time we wander near the kitchen ...

23 November 2016

21 November 2016

Ostomy: Travel Kit & Accidental Poopage

We were on vacation recently and so I thought it'd be a good time to talk a little about what it's like to travel as an ostomate. I don't know about you but, for me, traveling as an ostomate can be a bit nerve-racking. While I actually love flying, I am always slightly terrified I will develop some catastrophic pouch or faceplate failure on the plane and be stuck changing it in the tiny, tiny airplane toilet. During some delightful turbulence, no doubt.

Happily, I've flown many times since my surgery and this nightmare-scenario has yet to happen. It's probably just luck, but I like to pretend these actions help:

  1. Changing my appliance the morning of my flight so it's at maximum freshness and hold
  2. Eating very lightly before and during the flight so there's not a lot of gas or poop to pass
  3. Drinking lots of water (avoiding sticky poo pileup)

I do pack an "ostomy kit" in my carry-on when I travel, as well as an indentical kit in my checked luggage because I'd rather have too many medical supplies than not enough. I've never had a problem getting my kit through the checkpoints, although I've occasionally had to explain the contents. Given a choice, I go through the line for families and travelers with disabilities/medical conditions and I think that makes it a bit easier for everyone.

I do always get my pouch area patted down and my hands checked for explosives, but the screeners have been very fairly discreet and impersonal about it (unlike some of my rubbernecking fellow travelers) and it doesn't bother me. (I'm also quite sure that the smoothness of screening is helped by the fact I'm a completely innocuous-looking and pleasantly-mannered middle-aged white lady and, god help me, I will play that privilege hard to make my travel experience as comfortable and easy as possible).

So what's in my carry-on kit?


  • 4 faceplates
  • 4 pouches
  • 1 tube stomehesive
  • 4 skin cleansing wipes
  • 8 hand wipes
  • 1 pair of blunt-tipped nail scissors

You might think that's a lot of stuff, but it's enough to cover us both supposing we both fail twice during travel ... or our checked luggage is temporarily misplaced. Again, I'd rather too many medical supplies than not enough!

And it's all zipped up into an unattractive transparent plastic storage bag. I keep my work kit in a cute batik cosmetics bag, because it's much more unobtrusive when tucked under my arm and carried across the reference floor, but the travel stuff ... it's just easier to have "out in the open" for when I have to explain it to the screeners, etc.

Incidentally, the worst thing that ever happened to me while traveling happened on this most recent trip. I drank rather heavily one night (I think we can all guess which night that was) and, sunk in a deep sleep, did not waken as my bag reached capacity due to a combination of poop and gas. Indeed, I only woke up after I had rolled over in my sleep and the bag popped right off the faceplate, spreading poop all over me and the beautiful king-sized hotel room bed (but none on The Husband, lucky bastard).

Unsurprisingly, there was some screaming. Then I showered, stripped the bed, rolled everything up into a horrible bedding burrito, and pushed it into a corner. I called housekeeping and asked for a new set of linens, mostly remade the bed, and went back to sleep. In the morning, I left the housekeeper a twenty dollar bill on the burrito along with an extremely apologetic note. (And, of course, I also left a good tip when we checked out. My mother, grandmother, and aunts have worked as hotel chambermaids/housekeepers and I've heard all their horror stories, so I try to be a respectful guest ... but poop happens).

19 November 2016

Heterosexual Privilege; Or, Let's Stay Focused on the Cheese, Please

Usually, I just don't talk about my sexuality because, frankly, it's not all that interesting. The bears at my bird feeders are interesting. The Ann Cleeves novel I just finished was interesting. The chocolate orange bundt cake recipe I can't stop thinking about is interesting.

But, ohhhh, when I'm sitting in a classroom, ostensibly learning about cheese, and the instructor and several students start talking about how they can't stand a local openly gay television news anchor because he's "so gay, gay, GAY" about everything. They don't talk about how straight they are. Why does he keep bringing gay into everything.

That's when I want to say something about heterosexual privilege.

Unless I were to introduce myself to them as a bisexual, most people -- especially if I've referred to The Husband at any point in prior conversation -- would assume I was straight. Because, for most people, society is coded straight. The baseline for humanity is straight.

And you can either let straight people go along thinking that, or you can out yourself (over and over and over again ... and it can get damn tiring). Straight people don't have to make that choice. They are free to act straight all the time -- talking openly about their relationships and families -- and their straightness goes completely unnoticed. They never have to worry about being the only straight person in a cheese class, for example, because it never occurs to them that is even a possibility.

But the openly gay television news anchor? The most casual mention of his husband is going to draw attention. And if he talks about his spouse as often as I talk about mine then, BAM, he's waving his gayness all over the place and is Just. Too. Gay.

But I didn't want to start something. I just wanted to learn about cheese. So I kept my mouth shut. But the experience keeps nagging at me, so here I am, throwing words down and hoping to make sense out of a tangle of feelings.

17 November 2016

Improv Challenge: Nuts & Caramel

I really wanted to make something sophisticated with November's Improv Cooking Challenge ingredients -- nuts and caramel -- but after I burnt three fingers by pouring hot, burnt caramel over them while trying to clean up from a complete millionaire's bar FAIL, I realized I was going to have to go back to beginner's level caramel.


Folks, I give you "Pretzel Delights." Versions of these treats can be found all over Pinterest and are one of those dishes you don't really need a recipe for, so much as a basic technique:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. Arrange as many pretzels as desired on sheet.
  4. Top each pretzel with one unwrapped chocolate-covered caramel candy.
  5. Bake 2½-3 minutes or until candy begins to soften, but not melt (it will start to look shiny).
  6. Remove from oven and top with your preferred nut.
  7. Allow to cool completely or eat slightly warm (the choice is yours).

I tried this technique out with milk chocolate Rolo, dark chocolate and sea salt caramel Dove Promises, and Toffifay (aka Toffifee). I used salted, roasted hazelnuts with the Rolo and unsalted, roasted cashews with the Dove Promises.


While I thought the Dove Promises fit best on the square pretzels I used, I found the ratio of hazelnut to Rolo to be more pleasing and will probably stick with that combination if I make these again.

As for the Toffifay ... Toffifay was a nonstarter. I don't know what's in the caramel that makes the Toffifay's outer shell, but that stuff would not soften -- not even after 5 minutes in the oven -- so I gave up.

I do suggest you go ahead and try this out on your own (or with your kids!). Because you're using ingredients that will keep just fine almost indefinitely, you can limit yourself to a half dozen at a time and make them whenever (however) you like.


For anyone new to my blog, Improv Cooking Challenge is a monthly blog hop where two ingredients are assigned, participants must make a new-to-their-blog recipe using both ingredients, and publish a blog post about it on the third Thursday of the month. If you think that sounds like fun, click on the Improv Cooking Challenge logo below.

improv cooking challenge logo (aqua rolling pin, spatula, fork, whisk suspended from rack)



16 November 2016

Wordless Wednesday: La Virgen de Guadalupe


Image of the Virgin of Guadalupe carved into a cottonwood tree at
San Felipe de Neri, Albuquerque.

14 November 2016

Hedwig the Mighty, Grand Duchess of Cats

Ah, Hedwig, it is so difficult to believe you were in our lives for nearly seventeen years. It feels like only days ago we brought you home from the Connecticut Humane Society. So small, so mottled, so gnomish-looking a kitten. A perfect hedge witch's cat. "Hedge witch" quickly devolved into "Hedwig" and there it stayed. Hedwig the Mighty. Hedwig the Beautiful. Hedwig the Grand Duchess of Cats.


You were so very wee -- you could easily curl up in (and fall asleep in) one of The Husband's shoes. And when you'd figured out how your claws worked, you used to run up his trouser legs and shirts, perching on his shoulder with all the pride of Sir Edmund Hillary conquering Everest.

As you grew older, you became a much more grounded cat, preferring the comforts of desks and sofa backs. You kept me company through the writing of many a resume and grad school paper, sometimes with near disastrous results -- I still remember waking up to find you had opened so many browser tabs my computer had stop responding.

You could be a grand cuddler when you wanted to be and, in recent years, you took to perching on my chair back, rubbing your head against my head in an almost violently affectionate manner until I would reach back and give you the ear scritches you so clearly deserved. And, when I came home from the hairdresser, you would doggedly attempt to lick down all the spikes the stylist had given me, as if I were a recalcitrant kitten in need of grooming.

I regret I did not cuddle with you as often as you wished or give you all the treats you tried to seduce from me with your pretty looks as you, in hindsight, clearly deserved them and so much more. I hope you knew how much we loved you and how very hard we tried to do our best by you in all things and I hope that, at the end, you died gently, easily, dreaming of sunbeams and sardines. Farewell, my darling cat. There will never be another cat as fine as you.

10 November 2016

Cooking with Spiced Pantry: Morocco

September's Spiced Pantry box was all about the flavors of Morocco. I know very little about the food of Morocco, but had images of aromatic spice bazaars, mounds of Mediterranean fruit, and beautifully glazed earthenware tagines in my head when I fetched the box in from the mailbox. I could smell its spicy contents long before I even opened it (must have drive the postie mad) and then, when I did, I felt almost drunk on the heady perfume created by the spices.


So what is this Spiced Pantry? Spiced Pantry is a monthly food subscription box featuring a different cuisine each month. Every box includes four ingredients (custom spice blends, grains, legumes, etc), an information card introducing that month's cuisine and ingredients, and the recipes to make with them. Recipes usually serve 4-6 people so, if you are small household like mine, either expect leftovers or be prepared to halve the recipes.

Subscribers can chose between the standard or vegetarian plan. While I selected the standard plan, most of the meat-based recipes I've received include easy modifications to make them vegetarian, anyway. As with many subscription plans, it renews automatically every month until cancelled.

Ingredients in September's Spiced Pantry box:
  1. Chermoula Spice Blend
  2. Dried Moroccan Pink Rose Petals
  3. La Kama Spice Blend
  4. Ras El Hanout

Recipes in September's Spiced Pantry box:
  1. Carrot & Chickpea Tagine
  2. Chicken Tfaya with Couscous
  3. Moroccan Lentil Salad
  4. Moroccan Pumpkin Soup
  5. White Fish Chermoula


The recipe card for the "Moroccan Pumpkin Soup" indicated I could use vegetable broth and coconut milk, if I wanted to make this vegan, so that's what I did. The soup was very easy to make and quite tasty. While it's very aromatic, it doesn't taste particularly strongly of spice -- the spice is there to support and enhance the pumpkin, which it does well. That said, when I make it again (I have 5 more cans of post-Thanksgiving clearance pumpkin in the pantry), I will add more spice and a smidge more heat.


The "Carrot & Chickpea Tagine" was fabulous -- both sweet and savory, with a hint of heat, and very easy to put together. Really, a recipe worth repeating. I forgot the fresh herb garnish, but didn't miss it. As the recipe card suggested, I used vegetable broth (to keep it vegetarian) and currants (because currants are awesome).

Looking forward to cooking up October's box next as December (I am sadly behind, yes) seems the perfect time to experiment with the flavors of Sweden. Juniper, cardamom, caraway... mmm. Might want to dust of that bottle of aquavit!

Read about my other Spiced Pantry experiences.

09 November 2016

05 November 2016

I'm Finally A Real Grown-Up Woman?


I'm 40 today which, to me, means I am finally A Real Grown-Up Woman. I have accrued enough years that I've become, in my head, grown-up by default. This probably seems weird and nonsensical to you, because you don't suffer from weird age-related identity issues, but it's a surprising relief to me.

Since leaving college, I frequently felt as if I was floundering around being Not A Real Grown-Up Woman. Like many of my age-mates, I did an undergraduate program and then moved onto grad school before starting a career -- acquiring a spouse, a mortgage, and various retirement accounts along the way. All suitably Real Grown-Up Things, right? But, ring-a-ding-ding, no kids. (And, no, I have never been so far gone in cat-love as to call those four-legged beasties my "children").

Let me be clear. I never wanted a child. But. I felt as if my friends with children (or who were trying for kids) had stepped into The Accepted Template For (Heteronormative) Adulthood and I was some kind sham. (Is this a problem shared by childless married men? Do they look at their male fiends becoming dads and think "I'm not properly an adult?").

But now I'm forty. No-one seriously expects me to have kids now, right? I'm officially in the Geeky Cat Lady subset of Real Grown-Up Woman? So break out the Hobnobs and the merlot. Let's get this unending Real Grown-Up party started.

03 November 2016

Taste of Home: Taste the Seasons Goodie Box: Fall 2016

The Taste of Home Taste the Seasons fall goodie box arrived early last month, but, what with one thing and another, I didn't get to it until recently. What can I say? These days I am sloooow and disorganized blogger. Anyway, despite the Christmas displays everywhere, it's still autumn for another six weeks.

Oops! Forgot to put the cookbook back in the box before I snapped the pic.

Taste the Seasons is a quarterly seasonal kitchen subscription box curated by Taste of Home featuring themed recipes, kitchen tools and gadgets, ingredients, special coupons/discounts, and access to TOH's online Cooking School (the classes are always awesome). You can buy an individual box for $34.95 or subscribe to the whole year for $29.95 each. Taste of Home values each box at $75 to $90 so it sounds like a good deal either way. Subscription options automatically renew quarterly until cancelled and canceling requires a call to Customer Care. If you have food allergies, you'll want to talk to Customer Care, anyway, before you commit to a box or boxes.

Here's what I found in the fall box:
  1. Access code for free online access to 2 Cooking School courses
  2. Discounted subscription offer to Taste of Home magazine (77% off)
  3. Taste of Home's Cookies, Bars, & More cookbook
  4. My Spice Sage Cinnamon Flavored Sugar
  5. OXO Cookie Scoop
  6. Several TOH "Most Requested" seasonal recipe cards
  7. Red Star Platinum Superior Baking Yeast packets & brochure w/ coupon
  8. Metal dough scraper
  9. Maple leaf & candy corn-shaped metal cookie cutters

While I really wasn't thrilled by the metal cookie cutters as I just don't do that kind of cookie, I was pleased with everything else in the box and thought it was, overall, decent value (even if not quite the value TOH suggests). Alas, cookie cutters were in the summer box, too, so I expect to see them again in winter and spring ...

Maybe the universe (or, at least, TOH) is trying to tell me something? Is it time to embrace rolled cookies?


The cookbook, Cookies, Bars, & More is full of delicious-sounding cookie recipes and I've already liberally dotted the "Classics With a Twist" and "In the Pan" chapters with sticky notes. The OXO cookie scoop was very welcome, because while I own two other scoops, they are not that size (1½ Tbsp). Now I can take that item off my Amazon wish list and replace it with, say, America's Test Kitchen's Food Processor Perfection: 75 Amazing Ways to Use the Most Powerful Tool in Your Kitchen (IS THAT AN UNSUBTLE ENOUGH HINT VIS-A-VIS CHRISTMAS GIFT SHOPPING???).


Of the recipe cards, I have made the "Chocolate Pecan Pie Bars" and "Red Apple Butter Bars" with pleasing results -- my coworkers seemed quite taken by the apple bars, anyway, and there was nothing left by afternoon break. I actually made the pecan bars with hazelnuts so The Husband would eat them as I thought they were, in every other way, the perfect cookie for him. He must have liked them, because they're disappearing at a rapid pace. They were intensely chocolaty and reminded me a bit of my Mom's Toll House cookie bars ... but better. The apple bars were more like dense bars of apple crisp than cookie. Tasty, yes, but messy.


As for the yeast ... I've never done much baking with yeast as I am intimidated by it. I have made the basic loaf from Jeff Hertzberg's The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day several times with perfectly edible results, but have yet to get "fancy." However, one of the fall box recipes cards is for "Southwest Pretzels" and pretzel aren't that fancy. Surely, I can make pretzels! One of these days ...

While I do continue to think Taste of Home has somewhat over-valued the contents of the box, I'm still glad I subscribed for the year (at a discounted rate) and am looking forward to the winter box. Just, hopefully, no more cookie cutters! Maybe, a nice seasonal tea towel? Or more free magazines, like the summer box?

Read about my other experiences with Taste the Seasons.

02 November 2016

Wordless Wednesday: First Snow

First snow of the season puts an end to my cranesbill/geranium.

26 October 2016

Wordless Wednesday: 2 Cats, 1 Chair

Two cats, one chair. This can't end well.

I watched a SciShow recently and learned that cats prefer much warmer temperatures than most humans keep their houses -- between 86°F and 97°F -- and now, every time I look at one of my cats, I wonder if its cold!



24 October 2016

Phoebe & Her Unicorn


About a month ago, I stumbled across Phoebe & Her Unicorn: A Heavenly Nostrils Chronicle in Children's, screamed at the sheer sparkly cleverness of it, and brought it home.

Where I devoured it.

So I acquired the second book, Unicorn On A Roll: Another Phoebe & Her Unicorn Adventure. And devoured that.

And then ... what??? My library did not own the third book, Unicorn vs. Goblins: Another Phoebe & Her Unicorn Adventure! So sad. So I had to wait for another library to send their copy along. And, eventually, they did and I devoured that ... but maybe a little more slowly, because I thought it would the last volume for me.

But, lo, the Children's librarians had ordered the fourth book, Razzle Dazzle Unicorn: Another Phoebe & Her Unicorn Adventure, (still no third book) and there it was on the shelf earlier this week ... sparkling at me, tempting me with snarky unicorn whispers to take it home. And I did.

And then I finally came to my senses and subscribed to the daily update at GoComics. Because, you see, Phoebe & Her Unicorn is a webcomic created by Dana Simpson and I could have been reading it a leisurely pace since 2012. Rather than gobbling it down like so much delicious leftover Halloween candy. But then, you know, I'd have missed all the fun forwards by PETER "I WROTE THE SEMINAL UNICORN NOVEL" BEAGLE, Corey Doctorow, Lauren Faust, and the author herself. Also, the books come with activities, recipes, and vocabulary lists ...


Clever, cute, and laugh-out-loud funny (seriously, I don't recommend these as quiet, waiting room reading) Phoebe & Her Unicorn is reminiscent of Calvin & Hobbes and, indeed, I believe anyone who adored C&H will adore this comic. Also strongly recommend it to socially-awkward nerd girls with too big vocabularies.

The illustrations are well done -- simple but very expressive and I love that Marigold is a proper unicorn with cloven hooves and a tail more reminiscent of a lion's than a mare's. Also, she's very swoopy and curvy -- like a swan or a delicately carved carousel horse.

Yes, I'm quite enamored with Phoebe & Her Unicorn and can't wait for the fifth compilation to come out next year.


Simpson, Dana. Phoebe & Her Unicorn: A Heavenly Nostrils Chronicle. Andrews McMeel, 2014.

Simpson, Dana. Unicorn On A Roll: Another Phoebe & Her Unicorn Adventure. Andrews McMeel, 2015.

Simpson, Dana. Unicorn vs. Goblins: Another Phoebe & Her Unicorn Adventure. Andrews McMeel, 2016.

Simpson, Dana. Razzle Dazzle Unicorn: Another Phoebe & Her Unicorn Adventure. Andrews McMeel, 2016.

20 October 2016

Improv Challenge: Carrots & Curry

I wanted to make something really fabulous with October's Improv Cooking Challenge ingredients (carrots and curry), but I left everything to the last minute (again) and so you're getting a simple salad. It's pretty, easy to assemble, keeps well, and tastes good -- both sweet and tangy with a gently kick from the sweet curry powder -- but I am still not 100% certain it is worthy of the challenge. Especially since I didn't even grate my own carrots, but bought a bag of pre-shredded rainbow carrots.


I used a medley of raisins in this salad -- Jumbo Golden, Crimson, Thompson, Flame, and Golden Flame raisins -- but the yellow ones kind-of disappear into the salad when you're looking at it, so next time I might stick with just dark Thompson and Crimson. Or maybe currants? Hmm.

Soaking the raisins helps them plump up a bit, making them tender and even more delicious than usual. The cider vinegar makes them a bit tangy, yes, but that works well with the honey and sweet curry flavors. Why sweet curry? I wanted something very fragrant and flavorful, but with only a little heat.

Curried Carrot & Raisin Salad

Yield: 4

Ingredients

  • ½ cup raisins
  • ¼ cup cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp sweet curry powder [Penzeys Maharajah]
  • 1 tsp honey
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 lb grated carrots
  • Salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Instructions

  1. In a small mixing bowl bowl, soak raisins in vinegar for 20 minutes. Drain vinegar into another small mixing bowl.
  2. Whisk together vinegar, curry powder, and oil until combined.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine raisins and carrots. Pour vinegar mixture over and toss well. Season with salt and pepper as desired.


For anyone new to my blog, Improv Cooking Challenge is a monthly blog hop where two ingredients are assigned, participants must make a new-to-their-blog recipe using both ingredients, and publish a blog post about it on the third Thursday of the month. If you think that sounds like fun, click on the Improv Cooking Challenge logo below.

improv cooking challenge logo (aqua rolling pin, spatula, fork, whisk suspended from rack)




19 October 2016

Wordless Wednesday: Autumn Rose

Autumn is really here now and with it, the last of the roses.

17 October 2016

In A Dark, Dark Wood


Seemingly out of the blue, Nora is invited up to a cottage in the wilds of Northumberland to celebrate the forthcoming nuptials of a once-friend. She's reluctant to attend, but Florence (the woman organizing the hen) is very persistent and it turns out one of Nora's current friends is going so ... why not go?

Because someone at the party has arranged a murder, that's why.

What a delicious thriller. And, yes, I'm saying that as someone who doesn't read many thrillers or mysteries so ymmv, etc, but wow. An absolute page-turner. Not at all creepy, but very psychological with lots of unreliable characters (including the narrator) doling out dribs and drabs of the story until a truly startling denouement when all those bits come together. In some ways In a Dark, Dark Wood felt like a rather old-fashioned mystery -- a house party murder à la Agatha Christie or Georgette Heyer -- but if that was ever Ware's intent, then it's a well-done homage.

tl;dr: I cannot wait to read Ware's latest, The Woman in Cabin 10.

Ware, Ruth. In a Dark, Dark Wood. Scout Press, 2015. Kindle file.

13 October 2016

Around Connecticut: Goldburgers


Whenever we hit the Newington Farmers Market, we stop at GoldBurgers for lunch. As good as a really good homemade burger can get, Goldburgers is always miles above. These are the freshest, juiciest, most flavorful burgers going and, trust me, we eat a lot of burgers.

One of my favorite burgers off the regular menu is the "Twice Roasted" -- two beef patties layered w/ provolone, CRISPY bacon, roasted red peppers and onions on a sesame seed bun (ridiculous amount of seeds on that bun!) spread with a schmear of roasted garlic. All burgers can be customized, so if you prefer chicken or need MOAR GARLIC or want to skip the bacon, they'll accommodate you. (The Husband occasionally orders bacon-y things sans bacon and I've finally trained him to ask for bacon on the side so I may enjoy his bacon and mine).

The daily specials board is always worth checking out, too, as it always contains interesting stuff. Of the daily specials I've tried, "Fried Chicken Mac Attack" -- fried chicken strips, fried mac 'n cheese square, tangy slaw, blue cheese, and hot sauce -- is probably my favorite as it was totally yum with perfectly balanced flavors & textures.

We've also shared the poutine a couple times. While I feel the gravy could have been beefier, the salty fries and squishy cheddary curds were omnomnomilicious. The first time we ordered these, the man behind the counter was happy to tell us all about how Goldburgers makes its fries -- hand-cut every morning, blanched, and fried as needed -- and what they're doing clearly works as Goldburgers' fries definitely vie with Five Guy's as my favorite fry.

Fountain sodas are all provided by Hosmer and the assortment is fairly good -- in addition to safe standards like Pink Lemonade and Cola Red (Coke analog), there's more interesting flavors like Black Cherry and Birch Beer. Goldburgers also offers freshly brewed unsweetened iced tea, bottled water, and a few other beverages I don't pay any attention to ... because Goldburgers' unsweetened iced tea is good.

tl;dr: Everything at Goldburgers is good. Go there.


12 October 2016

Wordless Wednesday: Mooch

Very much an "if I fits, I sits" moment. Also, long cat is loooong.