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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Taking Stock

So I skimmed the fat off the stock I started last night, heated it up a bit to help things flow and strained it.

I ended up with slightly more than two quarts of stock, which I'll no doubt supplement with some chicken broth as the soup comes together.

It's going to be a seven bean soup: I washed the beans and tossed the floaters this evening and they're soaking now, so I can cook them tomorrow with the stock and sausage and some veggies that won't get strained out of the soup.

Why a seven bean soup? Because seven felt lucky? Because there was a finite selection in one pound bags? Because I'm a dork?

What we have soaking is a pound each:

Navy Beans
Pinto Beans
Black Beans
Baby Lima Beans
Red Beans
Kidney Beans
Great Northern Beans

If I went to the Whole Paycheck Market, I could get a dozen more kinds of legumes, and I could go in, say, half pound increments to compensate for the fact that even a big freakin' stock pot is not without volumetric limits.

I'm still debating the tomatoes. I have a can of crushed and a can of diced tomatoes I think I'm going to add to the soup when it all comes together, but I'm not sure. The stock tastes pretty damn good now, and part of me says 'go ahead, the tomatoes will add some tang to it,' and the other part says 'leave well enough alone.'

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Hands Team

Okay, so I'm doing this newsletter, something I do at work every month. I use a few stock photos to spice up the thing.

Being it's the February issue, it make sense to use a bunch of heart images and other Valentine type things. I know this client's tastes, so when I find this heart made with hands, I know I have a keeper.

But I didn't want the sky, it didn't work with the layout, so when I'm in Photoshop COBing the thing, I get a closer look and I see...

Warts? Skin tags? I see growths in the right hand, shit I'd be pretty self-conscious about. And I'm thinking, A hand model with lesions?

They're easy enough to clone out, but damn. You'd think the photographer would have done that, it being so simple, before he sold the picture to a stock photo service...

Screams of the Vegetables

As I say, I have to make me some more soup. This is just the stock, it'll be soup later. (Is it soup yet?)

This time, instead of cheating and using chicken broth from a can to make my stock, I thought I'd try water and more reduction. I bought a pack of smoked ham hocks and a pack of smoked pork 'neck bone' chunks, and while bringing it up to a boil, added the following:

Four green onions (diced)*
two bay leaves
one bunch parsley (chopped)
10 (or so) stalks celery (chopped)**
3 large carrots (chopped)
3 shallots (chopped)
2 white onions (chopped)
2 tablespoons garlic (chopped)
2 broccoli stems (chopped)***

It took over an hour to come to a boil, but once it did, I just let it roll and steam.  I love the way my house smells when I do this.  I didn't add any pepper to the stock because I'm going to try to get Em to eat the soup this will be come the weekend, and I didn't add salt because by the time I end up reducing things down, the salt in the smoked pork parts should be sufficient.

And yes, as I did this huge amount of prep work, I heard the screams of the vegetables. The YouTube video I've embedded in the post takes me back to junior high, when I reported in the school paper on the Paraphenaliens, a cult that not unlike Jane Buddhists believe it's wrong to kill even plants for your own survival, but unlike Jane Buddhists back it up by eating only candles and soap. They meditate and achieve deeper and deeper states of relaxation until they're so relaxed they no longer have vital signs and, as a matter of fact, start to smell pretty awful.

*I was already cutting up the green onions to have to eat raw, and diced a bit to throw in the stock. But as I had some white bulb onions and some shallots as well, I didn't want to waste a bunch of them.

**I had an epiphany and realized I've been cutting off and discarding the trying tips of the celery as if I was prepping it to eat raw. I still cut out anything that looked like a blemish, but if it was obviously good celery that was just drying out, I included it in the stock.

***I was cutting up the broccoli to eat raw as well, and thought the stems taste fine, they're just tough, therefore, put them in the stock instead of trashing them.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Soup is Good Food

Okay, the DK song has run around in my head lately. But besides that, I loves me some soup on a cold day.

Get a good cold snap and I cannot not cook soup.

This convenience store I frequent, it's owned by a family of Indians. Red-dot, not feather.

The place, when I moved to Gardner, was owned by a local redneck clan, and it was horrible. It was full of cigarette smoke in violation of two or three ordinances, and the people who worked there made no bones about what an inconvenience we customers were, coming in there and expecting them to sell us stuff.

The Indian family that bought it, when they re-opened and I first went there, I wondered if it was the same building. I had to ask myself, did they tear the old building down and build a new building and I just didn't notice? It was that clean. Or, rather, it had been that disgustingly filthy.

I love the new owners. They don't even make me prepay for my gas, and that's something these days. If they recognize the person, and don't recognize them as 'Hey, that asshole stole gasoline from us the other day,' they turn the pump on. I love that.

So back to the soup: I go in there the other night, and the smokin' hot Indian chick working the shift is making soup. She's chopping up all kinds of green vegetables and adding them to a big five gallon enamelware canning kettle on a big propane burner.

Parsley, kale, I don't know what-all. And cumin and cilantro and so on and so forth. I've got to make me some more soup.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Soda Bread (Cookie)

Okay, I made a lot of black bean soup, dig? A lot, like as in, I still had a lot of soup after I finished the corn bread.

So I made some Irish Soda Bread. Sort of.

The Joy of Cooking recipe tries to be two recipes at once: one for Irish Soda Bread, the other for a 'tea loaf' which is richer and moister. And I got some shit mixed up, because I'm all about richer and moister (and I have the waistline to prove it), but I missed how that variant of the recipe was strictly for a loaf pan.

I got that I could make it in a loaf pan, even that there was a 25º temperature difference in the oven settings if I did. But mainly, I got that the tea loaf used a bit more buttermilk.

I whisked together:

1-2/3 cup flour
2 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp Caraway seeds (which look a lot like mouse turds once you've whisked it together)

Then I beat 1 egg with 1 cup of buttermilk.

Mix it all together into a batter and dump it on a baking sheet (sprayed with pan-spray). I mean, dump it in a loaf pan, damnit.

It spread out something fierce. I've been trying to get Em to eat more different things, try foods, and when I foisted this on her, she said, 'That's not bread, it's a big cookie!'

Sunday, January 27, 2008


We went a scopin' this weekend.

I know, again.

Em originally dragged her feet on this, claiming she 'didn't want to have fun,' she just wanted to 'hang out here at the house.'

I told her I'd spoken my peace and counted to three, and to my amazement, it worked.  She's such a fan of O Brother Where Art Thou that she actually resigned herself to the adventure I had in mind.

It helped that the other two thirds of the Friendship Circle were out of town, I think.

On the way there, I realized that my car was filthy.  Really filthy.  And that it was above freezing, into the 40s, so I should probably get a car wash.

I thought I'd be the only one with this idea, but nope.  David Sedaris told us funny stories about his childhood (I had the audiobook of Dress Your Family out from the library) while we waited seven years and three minutes for some relief from the salt encrusting my car.

Kaleidoscope was it's usual marvelous, and we actually got to enjoy it this time.  Last time we tried, Mo had a seizure right after the session started.

This time, too, they had a machine fired up I'd never seen in action.  It's an old shrink-wrapper they decorated.  They'd set out watercolors in the station near it, and were using it to dry the resulting art.  Pretty cool.

It was weird when a group of men in suits came through on a tour (or so it appeared).

I wanted to go up to them and say, 'You can't come in here looking like this,' but I feared they might be Hallmark brass evaluating whether it was still a good idea to have Kaleidoscope.

I also wondered, times I've worn a suit: job interviews, weddings, funerals.  I can't imagine what it's like to have to wear this as a uniform every day I'm at work.  And if you have to wear it even when duty calls you to work on Saturday?  While I envy these gents their (I'd suppose) six-figure incomes, I shudder to think of what their world is like.

I wonder if a normal person could even comprehend what it's like, having to wear a suit on Saturday for a field-trip to a children's art session.

After the session, Em wanted to visit the chocolate factory (a usual stop for us), but this time she had money in her purse.  Burning a hole in her purse, really.

She asked about the M&M barks, and one was put on the scale and she was told it'd run $3.50.  She asked what was cheaper, and the lady told her what was $1.  Then Em asked about the chocolate dipped marshmallows, big marshmallows that come three to a stick.  Those are $1.50.  She asked for two, and I didn't think a thing of it.  Marshmallows are mostly made of air, so a half dozen of them isn't all that much to consume.

But no, Em had in mind that she was sharing with Mo.  I told her she didn't have to do this, she was spending her own money.  I knew it'd be weird if Mo decided she wanted some: it's sometimes hard to explain to her the concept that Sissy spent her own money, it's not the same as Daddy buying for one daughter and not the other.  But Em insisted, one was for Mo.

And Mo gratefully inhaled the thing, marshmallows and chocolate being two of her absolutely favorite things.

Em's money was still burning a hole when we passed B-Bop, the comic book shop.  Every time we pass it, Em expresses curiosity, and every time I offer to take her in there, she declines.

This time, I decided to just do it.  She protested that it might 'tempt' her, that what money she had left was being 'saved' for the next impulse that overwhelmed her judgment, but in we went.  I tried to get a good picture of the honyocks in front of their sign, but the sun was in their eyes, meaning that while the photo isn't unfortunately back-lit, their faces are unfortunately painfully squinted.

While in the store I spotted a box set that made me think Percy Trout.

Em bought a Simpsons comic book (I had no idea there was such a thing).  I had fun thumbing through old National Lampoons.

Then to Wonderscope.  Which still has the awesome Lego displays.

It was kind of crowded and noisy, but Mo seemed to enjoy herself anyway.  And in the craft room, I got to playing with paper and glue and figuring out if I could make a decent nose cone for a rocket out of paper.  I think not, but maybe if I fiberglassed over something like what I came up with, it'd work.  I'd still have to figure out the transition to a straight column for the base, but I think I could do it.

On a semi-related note, I've got to do my taxes and find out if this is possible, but I think I'm going to try to take the honyocks to the Kansas Cosmosphere for a vacation. We haven't really taken one that wasn't a 'vacation at home' since the divorce, and it looks to be a relatively affordable one. A hotel with an astronaut themed swimming pool is nearby, and for about $40 we can do the full Cosmosphere museum and taken in three shows there.

I'd thought of it as something that could tie in with going to Argonia for the Kloudbusters high power launch in August, see the big boy rockets and hit the Cosmosphere, but that launch coincides with the State Fair in Hutch, so it might be a bit too hectic. Plus, the Kloudbusters launch might lack the pace required to keep my daughters enthralled, no matter how impressive an M motor sounds when it finally ignites.

But aside from that, I thought of it because I had a dream. In the dream, we went to Cape Canaveral for a vacation, and when we got there, the highway led toward a rocket on the pad that must have been the size of the Empire State Building. And despite the fact they were about to launch it, we were able to drive incredibly close to this monster.

Maybe one day I can actually entertain the idea of a vacation that includes an actual trip to the Cape, even if it doesn't include a 1000 foot tall rocket that's never existed. See a Shuttle launch, maybe, or catch the launch of a sounding rocket or satellite launch.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Corn Bread

I started to make corn bread, but Em finished the job.

I measured stuff, but when she found out what I was up to, she all but took over. It took me 13 years and a divorce to finally regain my rightful place as Head Chef, and now my daughter is crowding in.

Actually, I was thrilled. I love to cook. It's a lot of why I make beer, and while brewing is an expedition that requires the illusion of disposable income and quite a bit of free time, cooking is something you have to do if you want to live. Okay, if you want to live without eating out all the time.

Basically, we made the Southern Corn Bread recipe from Joy of Cooking. I know, that book again.

Get your oven on to 425ºF

1-3/4 cups corn meal (JoC prefers white stoneground, but I had yellow Wal-Mart stuff)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Whisk all this dry stuff together, then in a separate bowl:

2 eggs
2 cups buttermilk

Whip the eggs into a frenzy, then make the buttermilk join the party.

The mix all the stuff together and pour it into a 8x8 (or whatever) dish you've sprayed liberally with pan spray.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, top with butter and serve with Papa Legba black bean soup.

I got Em to try the soup, even. She tasted it, then said, 'So-so...Hey, that's kinda good...WAIT, that's HOT!!!'

Once again, Daddy tries to poison his offspring.