Stuff and Nonsense: 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 ...



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).


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.


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)


Wordless Wednesday: La Virgen de Guadalupe

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


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.


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.



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.


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.


Wordless Wednesday: First Snow

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