blk: (Default)
Food log, Jan 2016

I'm not listing everything I made this month because that would be boring, not to mention I don't remember it all. But here are some highlights.

After doing some traveling earlier in the month, the house ended up with a couple bags with a greater-than-usual quantity of crushed, sugary, cereal dust. The kind of sugary dust that nobody wants to eat as actual cereal, but I wondered what I could do.

Experiment 1 was crushed frosted flake chicken. It came out decent, but a little too sweet for everybody else in the house. I bet it would have been good paired with a nice mustard, but I'll probably not try again, and anyways I ran out of that cereal.

Experiment 2 was my basic goto banana muffins, with crushed frosted shredded wheat in place of the oats, and no extra sugar added. Success! I will probably use up the rest of that cereal this way, and possibly any future cereals.

Last weekend I threw my annual Soup Swap party, where people make soups, everybody samples everything, and we swap frozen quarts around. This year I decided to try out a super easy chicken taco recipe I borrowed from [personal profile] katybeth which is basically 1 can each of black beans, kidney beans, bbq beans, corn, and tomatoes (lg), mixed with 1# chicken and taco seasoning. I tried it a couple times and decided the taco seasoning was the most (only?) important part, and using our homemade seasoning and adding some liquid made it just right. Party folks liked it well enough, too, and 7qts of it got swapped away.

The party was a great success, with 40(!) people (10 under 18) and 15 soups. Nearly everything got finished up or taken away. Everything was pretty tasty, although there was nothing this year I ended up really loving. The day afterward I decided I had been craving a good cream soup, so after a surprise trip with friends to Restaurant Depot where I got a huuuuuge amount of 'shrooms, I tossed together a basic cream of mushroom soup that hit the spot.

Today Xuth and I are sniffly and sick and blah, so leftover soups (and some emergency canned soups) are just the right thing.
blk: (avatar)
The holiday week isn't over yet, as family is still in the house, but the food is basically front and center this year, so this is a post about food. Last year's food post helped me plan for this year. Maybe this one will help inspire for next year.

This year there was basically one day of food prep, and that's turned out to be lasting the whole time.

Thursday (all day) we had:
* baked ham
* roasted chicken
* roasted shredded brussels sprouts
* green beans with turkey bacon
* garlic mashed potatoes
* cranberries (can and sauce)
* biscuits (made by david)
* kale slaw
* veggies and hummus for snacking
* deviled eggs (made by my mom)
* pumpkin pie (made by my mom)
* nisu bread (made by jim)

It was all good, and since people in my family eat like birds there were leftovers of everything which we are slowly making progress on. I brined the chicken beforehand and I think it improved it. The brussels sprouts were my favorite. The kale slaw was good but didn't really fit in with other things, so now I have a huge amount of it leftover.

Then in the evening, Jim and I went over to another friend's house who does a big yearly friendsgiving party and stayed until very late, whenupon we got pressed into taking home a bunch of leftovers that couldn't be used by the host. So we ended up with
* another pumpkin pie
* indian pudding
* assorted olives
* cheese and crackers
* homemade bread slices
* buffalo and venison summer sausages
* a jar of homemade pate

We're working through all the perishable stuff; today/tomorrow's job will be to take the excess of that and freeze it. The rest will probably end up at various social events in the next week, and the meat will likely go into a variety of soups. Yum.
blk: (avatar)
I have too much food.

First: other people's leftovers. I went to a lovely party last weekend where the hosts had ordered catered food, and as I was present at the very end of the wind-down and willing to carry a bunch of food in my car, after the hosts took their cut, I claimed a bunch of the rest of what was going to be thrown away. This included, among other things, a 4+ lb tray of (what I believe is) seasoned seitan. It's delicious. So far I have added it to salad, to stir-fry, to sauteed greens, and eaten it straight. Fortunately, it should freeze quite well, so I packaged up almost 3 lbs of it to save for later, since I'm the only one in the house who will eat it. Now the question is, what else should I do with it? I'm not very familiar with how to use meat substitutes well. Maybe I'll try a stew with it sometime next week. Any suggestions?

Second: the garden. I don't put super amounts of effort into gardening, and intentionally grow stuff that mostly keeps. I have about a dozen small squash out there, which isn't a problem because it stores (as long as I remember to pull it in before it freezes and turns to mush), two chard plants which I am months behind on (but can probably use up before winter), and the things in my herb garden. The oregano and chives I ignore because it comes back next year. The rosemary I will probably just cut and dry, since it's predicted to be a very cold winter, so it will probably not survive. The basil I need to do something with before it freezes. I had a good amount of caprese over the summer, but about the only thing else I know to do with large amounts of basil is pesto. Which I freeze, and then discover hidden in my freezer the next year, when it's time to make the next batch. What else is basil good for?

Third: the farm share. Every season I go back and forth on whether getting a farm share is worth it. On one hand, it is great for inspiring me to make new dishes and introduces me to new foods. On the other hand, I'm the only person in the house who eats 90% of the stuff, and it's easy for it to get overwhelming. I've managed to have to throw out very little so far, partially through sheer stubbornness. Currently I have two cabbages, two small eggplants, and three medium beets. I know I theoretically like these foods, at least when cooked in certain ways, but I have not enough experience cooking them to know what ways. And I still have radishes and cucumbers to use up from last week (although I'm going to make more of this salad as soon as I get more onions, because I did it once and that shit was delish.

I foresee a lot of cooking in my future. Well, this weekend. Maybe I should have a party so I can feed people who will actually eat my foods.
blk: (sandwich)
This weekend I had a rare weekend to myself with no major plans. Aside from various standard house chores, some minor repair projects, some closet cleanout, and some time out of the house, I also engaged in a weekend-long session of my own version of solo Iron Chef: Leftovers. This is where I clean out the fridge and pantry of ingredients that have been in there too long, and (after making sure they aren't spoiled) re-making them into delicious things that people (or at least I) will want to eat, ideally using only other things that I already have in the house.

I used most of a container of blueberry cream cheese and made cream cheese muffins (minus the sugar on top, plus some chocolate chips). These went well buttered with the homemade applesauce that had been sitting around for a while and the lid was firmly glued in place, until I unstuck it and cleaned it up. Hopefully I can resist eating these too quickly, because they are really tasty.

I used leftover pineapple tidbits and juice, half a bag of old lemons, and a small bit of leftover mint simple syrup to make pineapple lemonade. It goes really nicely over ice or with some vodka.

I had a small amount of liver pâté (sealed), so I hard-boiled up some eggs and made a small batch of pâté deviled eggs. They were gone within a day, so everybody will just have to take my word on how delish they were.

I used the last few slices of leftover ham that had been frozen for a while, thawed, fried and chopped it up, mixed with another hard-boiled egg, the last of an almost empty contain of dijon mustard and a few more things, and made ham salad for a couple sandwiches, which will also be my lunch tomorrow.

I used up a travel container of oatmeal, the rest of the crisp rice cereal, the last quarter of a container of long-since-crystallized honey, the last few scoops of a container of peanut butter, the last of a bottle of chocolate syrup, and several more things to make homemade granola bars, which will hopefully feed the kids for snacks this week, and might be some breakfast for me.

And then lastly, I made up another experimental batch of ramen, using up the beef broth that I'd simmered from our Meat & Potatoes leftovers, and a whole bunch of other tasty stuff. Not as many people showed up for dinner as I was expecting, so I have a lot of leftovers there. This might be dinner tomorrow as well, or else a whole lot of lunches for me. This time I got a really lovely broth (and excellent eggs, as usual). The pork, although tasty, was not nearly as soft texturally as I want. Last time it had a good texture with a boring taste, so hopefully next time I can get the right combination of both attempts. I also used udon noodles (closest I could get from the local small geagle), which I think were an improvement over cheap packaged ramen noodles.

The only things I had to acquire were more ingredients for the ramen (eggs, onions, mushrooms, noodles). Now, I just have to make sure the new foods get eaten...
blk: (sandwich)
Finally, Tuesday. My Thanksgiving week+ is done. 4 loads of laundry later, the house is sooooooo quiet; finally empty but for me for the first time in 11 days. It's lovely.

My favorite part of hosting the family is that I get to cook all kinds of foods that I want to make, everything gets eaten with compliments (and without complaints), and the kitchen cleanup happens without me needing to nag.

For future reference here's approximately the food fixed that I can remember:

Mon: roast chicken, cole slaw, roasted potatoes, roasted brussels sprouts, bread
Tue: venison stew, kale salad, bread
Wed: kale chips, roasted cauliflower, bread (x3, to prep for making stuffing)
Thu: baked ham, brussels sprouts, corn, crockpot stuffing, green beans + bacon, mashed sweet potatoes, twice baked garlic potatoes, pumpkin pie (x2) and apple pie (x1) (made by mom), cranberry sauce (made by justin), biscuits (made by david)
Sat: okonomiyaki by katie, quiches (using thu leftovers as fillings)
Sun: tacos
Mon: cuban pork, black beans, yellow rice, hominy, bread

Other: 3 qts soup frozen pre visit, pancakes sun morning by david, a second batch of deviled eggs by mom, egg nog and nutmeg ice creams by katie, and chinese tea eggs by katie, which I knew I loved but didn't know the name for before she brought them, and now I'm attempting to make my own by using the leftover soaking liquid.

Leftovers that will be lunch or dinner this week: half a cauliflower, a little bit of ham, a few quarts of ham broth, a bag of brussels sprouts, a quart of stuffing, a tiny bit of cranberry sauce, a few deviled eggs, pork, rice, hominy, and bread.
blk: (flower)
I found a single ripe raspberry yesterday on the new bush. Delicious!

Several more are green, despite it only being in its second year. Strawberries have been fruiting, although not super heavily, but enough for a snack every other day and a supplement to smoothies. I think my patch doesn't get enough sun anymore. Made a kale salad that was delicious, and it's almost ready for round two. Blueberries are not ripe yet. The mystery squash in the garden are growing huge and shadowing out other plants, oops. Applets are falling in the front lawn and should start getting collected soon.

In flowery things, the daylilies on the side and back started flowering a few days ago, and the front ones look only days away. Alas, I did have almost an entire two weeks with no flowers in my front yard. I may have to remedy this. Hostas are starting to put up stalks which should be flowers soon. Peonies are done blooming. Spirea has some tiny white and purple flowers.

In weather things, we have had ALL THE RAIN in the past two weeks. Our May precipitation was under average, and currently in June we are over or at average in just the first 15 days (4.26 in; avg is around 4, depending on where you look). It's meant no yardwork for a couple weekends, which is OK with me because I got a lot done two weeks ago.

Things I have done:
  • Planted pavers. Yay, this project got done! I researched the right way to plant pavers, spent an afternoon digging a hole, filled it with rocks, leveled it, and put pavers on. A couple weeks and a whole bunch of rain later and it's looking like one of them is a teeny bit lower than the others and collects some water in heavy rains, but mostly it seems to be working. I suppose I'll figure out when the ground freezes if I actually did it right. Doing this project gives me a lot more confidence for the sidewalk planting I plan for later in the summer. Added a picture post for this here.
  • Planted plants. Put some clover by the pavers so hopefully the dirt will not just wash onto them. Also some more clover in the front yard to replace the stuff that died (oops, seedlings really don't like to be dry) and moved more mystery squash from the compost to some spare earth.
  • Dug up dead bushes. Well, yanked them slightly. It turns out dead bushes don't have much in the way of a grip on the ground. Those places look much better now.

Things to do:
  • Turn compost. That hasn't happened yet because of SO MUCH RAIN so it is currently soggy. Going to wait until we have a break in the wet.
  • Transplant irises. Probably next free weekend. That will look so much nicer. And free up some garden space to grow something edible.
  • Plant a sidewalk. I can do this thing! But probably not until next month.
    blk: (sandwich)
    Some years ago, when I started doing a lot of bean soups, I decided to build up a collection of dried beans, so I could just always have a variety of stuff on hand. I collected pretty much everything I could find, including a lot that I'd never heard of before looking - like canary, adzuki, roman, and pigeon peas - among another dozen of the more common varieties. Some while ago, while in the Strip, I found some bulk dried lupini beans and got a small amount.

    Last week I was making a multibean soup, and I went around adding various dried beans to the pot to soak, including the lupinis (for the first time). The next morning, I drained the water, as usual, and popped a couple random beans into my mouth, as usual. Fortunately, one of them was a lupini, which was so horridly nasty I spit it back out, looked in horror at the pot, and immediately went and googled the bean more carefully. Somehow in my previous skimming I'd totally missed that without a rather extensive preparation process, lupini beans are not only extremely bitter they are also somewhat poisonous. Oops.

    Since I hadn't done any actual cooking, I carefully pulled out all the lupin beans from my pot, rinsed the remaining beans well, and continued with the soup. But now I had a handful of soaked lupini beans. I could toss the whole lot, or I could try actually prepping them. I've actually eaten store-bought ones before, and found them quite tasty. However, it's almost a week-long process to make them edible.

    I went ahead and did it. I found a lot of varying instructions, so I did an easy version, which was to first boil them for an hourish, let cool, and soak in a closed jar of fresh water in a cupboard, changing the water 1-2x a day for 5 days. After 5 days, they were not at all bitter, so I popped them out of their skins, put them in a light brine (water, salt, splash of balsamic) in the fridge, and ate them the following day. Delicious!

    I can't say I'm really interested in doing that much work more than once, though. Well, maybe twice. I have a half lb left that I think I'll go ahead and prep and eat (when I find the time), but after that I don't think I'll be buying any more.
    blk: (pie)
    [ profile] xuth and I threw our second pizza ("pi") party yesterday on pi day.

    It went off quite well overall. I counted 24 adults, 11 kids, and 14 pizzas, as well as 2 quiches and 2 dessert pies. The weather dried up just in time that plenty of people got to go play on the trampoline, and was warm enough that people could spend time outside fairly comfortably, but not so warm that having the oven on at >500°F for ~3 hours made the kitchen too hot. After the main pizzaing was done, plenty of the crowds went away, but a few stubborn guests hung out for some games, and we finished up a slightly lopsided (but fun) game of C&K just after midnight.

    Jim made several of his traditional thin crust pepperoni. I decided to try out a thicker crust pizza cooked in a pan (based on this recipe), and that came out pretty well (and better with more practice). There was also a buffalo chicken pizza, thai chicken pizza, blueberry pizza, 3 margherita pizzas, and three GF/DF pies (from a bakery). It was a mostly different crowd than last year's party with very different pizza lineup, and all was good. The younger son made me a lovely (and delicious) pi-shaped pumpkin pie again, and two vegetarian quiches came late. Most of the pies got finished, with a few leftovers going home with friends (and the rest saved for my lunches).

    Today, Jim and I made 5 more basic pizzas to finish up the rest of the leftover dough, sauce, and toppings. Then we get to enjoy an all-pizza diet for a couple days before life goes back to normal.
    blk: (sandwich)
    What a week. Tuesday we drove all day to return home from Arisia (which I still intend to post about), the rest of the week was prep for the weekend (while still keeping to usual social/active things), and the weekend was more party prep and parties. Today is the first day of real downtime in a long time and it's wonderful. I'm also getting a whole lot accomplished because I'm procrastinating the chores that actually need to get done (like cleaning off the game shelf to allow access one of the windows that is getting replaced tomorrow). Thus, LJ.

    But first, successes for the week: Friday I went to another clothing swap, and I successfully gave away more clothes than I came home with. Plus I acquired a pair of jeans that fits me PERFECTLY. It's amazing. Just the cut that I like, looks good on me, AND it stays up without a belt. I haven't checked to see if the line is discontinued yet (that's usually the case when this happens to me) but I still have hopes.

    Then Saturday I got to be Supergirl again briefly for a little girl's superhero party. She and were both dressed similarly, and I have to say, her surprised happy face when I revealed my outfit that matched hers was possibly the most adorable thing I've seen from her ever.

    The party was brief because overlapping that party was my Soup Swap party. I planned ahead semi-poorly and didn't actually get my soup started until after noon on party day. Jim helped out by chopping ALL THE THINGS (while I peeled) and then I roasted and sauteed and stirred and simmered (while also cleaning stuff from the first floor to make party space) and got 6 quarts packed up just as the first guests were knocking on the door.

    Souping was super fun (even though I had changed out of my costume) and lots of tasty things were there. We didn't get anything as surprisingly awesome as the dill pickle soup from last year but there was a particularly nice creamy garlic one. My soups once again got claimed out first, which is a nice ego boost. I guess I make good soup.

    Soups represented )

    While making soup yesterday I discovered I have a surfeit of onions. On top of that, I just read about making caramelized onions in the crockpot, and now I REALLY want to do a big batch of French Onion Soup. I might need to figure out another social event to do this for.
    blk: (flower)
    My last SOTY post was three months ago and it's been that long because I've basically been completely ignoring the yard since then (and feeling guilty about it).

    The project in July was to clear out the compost pile, so both gardens got a nice thick layer of composted stuff on them. A couple weeks later I realized that was the thing that was supposed to happen in late spring instead of midsummer, as all the latent seeds found the sun and promptly sprouted about a zillion volunteer tomato plants. Which I didn't have the heart to kill right away, even though there wasn't enough time to get much in the way of actual tomatoes from. Jim even staked a couple up for me, but I kept on ignoring them, figuring they were all doomed, and depressed because my garden tomatoes pretty much all died off by early august.

    But we've been starting to get down to near freezing weather at night, so yesterday I went out and pulled up approximately a gazillion tomato plants, several of them even with half-ripe tomatoes on them. I tossed the ones without any fruit, but tied up the rest to a pole and have plans to try this thing where I hang them in the basement and hope they ripen. Unfortunately, I also have a bowlful of half-ripe tomatoes that dropped. Some of them are split, so they won't last longer than a couple days. Is there anything I can do with half-ripe tomatoes other than compost them?

    I also decided it was time to hack down the overgrown Brussels sprout plant, which was up to about 4 feet and had gotten top heavy enough to fall over since a few weeks ago. I de-fruited that stalk tonight, giving me a little over 2 lbs of sprouts... and several lbs of leaves. Leaves which look and act basically like any edible dark leafy green. Teh googles indicate they can be cooked just like collards. I roasted up a few of the top ones tonight to test this out and they were pretty tasty. I tossed about half of the biggest ones that looked extra tough, and de-ribbed and washed the rest, leaving me with just about a full lb of just edible leafy parts, which are now sitting in a Large Pile on my counter, waiting for me to figure out what to do with them. Help! Do you have suggestions on what to do with large dark green leafy bits? Recipes to share? I am probably the only person in the house who will eat them, so something that can freeze (I may likely see about blanching and freezing some of the leaves straight tomorrow) would be nice...

    That was about the only prolific food this year though. While the strawberries did start producing ripe berries sporadically through August, the apple trees really didn't do much of anything. I had mostly expected this, as I'd noticed extremely way fewer blossoms in spring than I'd expected. I have no idea if it was the super cold winter, the weird spring, or just a natural cycle of these particular apples. The trees themselves seem to be doing just fine, with the exception of not growing any viable fruit this year, so hopefully next year it'll come back.

    For other growing things, I successfully managed a second sowing of cilantro this year, which was fabulous (and there is still a little left). Parsley grew well enough to give me a large bunch harvested twice. The pepper plants did pretty much nothing all summer long, and now there is one green pepper on one of them. The volunteer pumpkin plant gave me one little orange pumpkin, then succumbed to powdery mildew. The zucchini flowered but never produced. The eggplant never grew (never died, either). The basil plants grew well and provided me with about 2 quarts of pesto, which is now frozen. The rosemary is slowly growing, and I haven't decided whether I'm going to try to bring it inside over winter or not. I still have three more brussels sprouts plants to harvest, but they were significantly smaller than the one I did today, and I hear they deal with cold pretty well, so I'm going to continue to ignore them for a bit longer.

    For more outdoor work this weekend, I also gave the lawn one last haircut and mowed up all the leaves which have fallen so far, yielding most of 4 leaf-bags full, in partial prep for (the one, sole, only slightly useful) leaf collection day in two weeks. There are still a bunch more leaves to fall so I'm sure the lawn will be covered again by tomorrow, and next weekend the boys and I can do some more. And I also made soup and pie to help use up farm-share food and apples. I finally sat down and figured out how to use the Kitchenaid to mix pie crust dough, and it's pretty easy and came out really well. I might make more pies soon. I also saw an old friend for lunch, did laundry, cleaned the kitchen too many times, helped the kids with homework, drove with Justin, grocery shopped, and finished my book. I wish I didn't still feel like I didn't get enough done this weekend. Phooey.

    Here is my bunch of hanging tomato plants and the brussels sprout harvest, pre-plucking.
    greens )
    blk: (Default)
    My memories of really learning to cook start 10 years ago, when I first started living alone. Faced with suddenly being head of my own household and in charge of feeding two small kids on a regular basis on a low budget, I started learning simply by doing. While I didn't really learn to do much in the kitchen growing up, I did inherit strong food frugality values from my parents - learning how to make my own, cook from scratch, find bargains, and not waste.

    I never liked the practice of making multiple meals for different preferences so as soon as the kids were past toddlers I did my best to just fix one meal for us all. Cooking for three was incentive enough to make a real meal (also because of my parental obligation to teach them good food habits by feeding them balanced, healthy meals), but things were kept relatively simple to accommodate my limited skills, my budget, and their food preferences. Fortunately, the jboys have never been terribly picky eaters, so as I learned more, I could expand easily.

    Almost five years ago my household changed size and I started cooking for five (or three). That number plus the higher ages of the kids meant a lot more volume of food involved, which also tended to mean more leftover bits, and helped me get a lot of practice in using up leftovers in creative ways so that other people would find them appetizing. Soups became somewhat of a staple for this purpose, and also because they are pretty easily scalable. Xuth has by far the most restrictive food preferences, so almost all meals tend to be built around what he eats, but the extra people mean that there's room for variety. Starting this fall we're down a kid, so I'll be cooking for four (or two). Probably not a whole lot will change except that I'll need to think about scaling down quantities a little.

    In many situations (parties, dinners, holidays), I've found myself cooking for six and more. I generally love these times when I explicitly accept the ownership of the kitchen and have time to plan and execute larger ticket items. These times are excellent for experimentation, but can also be fun when challenged to create appealing foods for people with preferences that are tricky or that I'm not used to.

    Cooking for two is very different from cooking for three (at least once the other is old enough to fix some of their own food). Often times a joint meal is still the easiest thing, but two is just close enough to one that the temptation into specialty variation goes way up, particularly if food preferences aren't in close alignment and time and supplies are plentiful. Eating out is also more common, particularly when being two was rare and treasured. It remains to be seen how our more frequent two days will affect that trend.

    Cooking for one is a treat, because it means only eating what and when I want to eat, but is also very limiting, because quantities need to be kept down because consumption will be slow. This week I've spent several days alone, and my eating has been incredibly irregular. I've enjoyed several meals out (alone and with friends), but also spent time working on cleaning out the fridge in preparation for a vacation week. My days tend to have one (maybe two) actual meals and a lot of grazing. I know it's not sustainable so I'm enjoying it for now.

    The times I don't like cooking are when it comes as an expectation, when the help I request or expect from other people doesn't happen, when I feel I have no choice, or when I feel unappreciated for it. It's hard work to plan and direct things properly so it doesn't become a chore. It's been sometimes hard to accept that my choices and needs mean that I'm the one who has to manage things food-related, because my tolerance for unplanned, late, or unbalanced meals is incredibly low.

    I've mostly learned how to enjoy it, though. I have enough practice that I'm reasonably good at making things that people want to eat. My experiments usually come out pretty tasty and trustworthy. I'm good at finding ways to use up leftovers and minimizing waste, and I get a nice sense of accomplishment from it. I'm not anywhere near as creative or fancy as many people I know, but I'm looking forward to getting better.
    blk: (sudopie)
    This weekend... [ profile] xuth and I threw a pizza ("pi") party. Last week I noticed that everybody else posted pictures of pi parties that looked to feature several store-bought pies. My pie parties are definitely better in that regard. I may have become a slight pie snob.

    Xuth had been talking for years about wanting to do a pizza party, with memories of other parties where people just came and cooked pizza all day. We tried once last year but it didn't work like he wanted, I suspect mostly due to lack of expectation communication to party guests. So I tried another, thanks to prompting from my kid to have a Pi Party. This time I put in with plenty of advance warning and communication (sigh, FB does make these things easier), and it was a huge success! And far bigger than I'd expected! By my count, we had 30 people and 21 pizzas (as well as two traditional pies and a caesar salad). There was the Xuth basic pizza, several veggie pizza, several tortilla quick pizzas, a GF pesto pizza, a cauliflower crust pizza, and many more. The oven was on and filled with baking pizza for the better part of 4 hours, and only ended up with an accidentally burned crust/cheese and smoking up the house once! Almost all of the pizza got consumed yesterday, and the rest was finished up less than 24 hours later.

    I think the only downside to such a great party is that 30 people is really quite a lot for this house. It helped to have the kids go downstairs to be rowdy for a time, but with the kitchen being actively used, there were no real quiet spaces. We are usually able to spread outside by the usual pie party, which is my only other regularly bigger party. But people seemed to enjoy themselves, and I had a great time, and I had one guest specifically compliment the party as running particularly smoothly in terms of no chaos in the kitchen. And later on it quieted down to a couple game tables. So overall, yay. Pretty sure this will happen again.

    This week... has been filled with the ups and downs of Pittsburgh spring. On the upsides, we started pulling out all that stockpiled daylight, so now it is bright and sunny when I come home from work, and still quite light at dinner time, and starting to dim into evening at a somewhat more proper time. On top of that, we've had several days of delightfully warm sun and high temps, so pretty much all the snow is gone, and I went out in short sleeves one day. Of course, this being Pittsburgh, we also had two days of snow and temperature dips into the single digits, and this morning it mostly hovered just at or below freezing all day, but it looks like the next week will be perfectly decent. I'm greatly looking forward to all the additional outdoor stuff I'll be able to do soon.

    This month... I've spent a lot of time working on getting in better shape and running a lot more, in prep for the Pittsburgh half marathon in, eep, 7 weeks. I think I'm in much better shape this year at this time than I was last year, but I'm still coming out of winter hibernation, and man are my legs feeling it. I'm back to having sore legs wake me up at night a couple times a week. Not to mention finding time to do serious running several days a week turns out to be fairly hard when I have a full time job and kids and hobbies and I like being social. Fortunately, there exist plans which say it's ok to only be running 3 or 4 days a week, instead of 5 or 6. Not sure how I'm doing on my time goals, though.

    My goal for this year is 2 hours. Last year I made it in 2:10, so I feel like shaving less than a minute off per mile should be doable with work. However, in googling for training ideas, I noticed that there were multiple blogs and sites that touted a 2 hour goal as being for a "beginner," which confuses me. While I realize that the winners will be much faster than that, 2 hours is still a faster than average finish time (for both genders). Looking at last year's pgh half (which seems like a reasonably typical one) less than a third of the 16,000+ runners finished in 2 hours of less. If 2 is for a "beginner," what do you call everybody else? I admit to being a little irked by this. But I'm still trying for it. If all goes well, with a spiffy costume, to boot.
    blk: (avatar)
    A couple years ago or so I discovered I am somewhat lactose intolerant. (The investigation process was pretty simple: drink a glass of milk, observe various intestinal distress. Take a lactase pill before drinking milk, no distress. Well, there ya go.)

    It seems to be pretty minor, so I really don't know if it's been around for me for a while and I'm just noticing it now (what, regular stomach pain is NOT actually normal?), or if it's getting worse as I age and generally consume far less regular cow milk than I used to. It seems to be triggered by a serving size of (real) ice cream and by regular cow milk, but not by cheeses (thank goodness) or butter or other things with small amounts of whey.

    I would be almost happy to simply stop drinking milk, EXCEPT that I absolutely love my tea with milk. Any non-milk tea I have tried has simply been entirely unsatisfying. And although the tiny glob that I generally add is little enough that my stomach doesn't notice it much, I decided recently that I definitely do notice it. So I started looking for substitutes.

    I tried almond and coconut "milk," as I enjoy the taste of both of those, but they interacted with tea in entirely the wrong ways and the mouthfeel was just wrong. I tried coconut, soy, and non-dairy creamers, but they didn't quite taste right, and generally contained way too much sweetener. Making my own unsweetened non-dairy creamer just doesn't appeal. Neither does taking a lactase pill before each cup of tea.

    After some more research, I tried goat milk. Success! A little more expensive and harder to find, but tastes and feels mostly like milk without the side effects. The kind I tried was a tad more bitter.

    Finally, I decided to try an idea I'd seen while researching info on lactose intolerance: Adding the lactase pill (in powder form) directly to milk. I tried it first with an (expensive) powder-filled capsule, then by crushing a (cheap) generic caplet, adding it to a pint of our regular cow milk. Success! Since the rest of the house drinks a ton of milk, we always have it around, which means making my own this way and not buying something separate is cheap, easy, and convenient, and in a pinch, it can be drunk by someone else.

    In lessons learned, if crushing the caplet with the house mortar and pestle, do make sure that the m&p is well-cleaned beforehand, otherwise risk ending up with rosemary-tinged milk. Which is... different.
    blk: (avatar)
    This weekend was a nice calm stay-at-home weekend for me after last week's con-people-boston-visiting whirl. (The writeup on that one will come later)

    It started with a bit of a busy-ness, as I prepped for my first Soup Swap Party. This involved making two large pots of clam chowdah (bacon and non) and doing a whole bunch of house cleaning, taking care of stuff that had piled up over the last couple weeks. The party was a huge success!! Despite a very snowy day, people braved the roads to come deliver soups to my house. We had a fantastic variety (enough to please GF folks, vegetarians, and meat lovers) , with no overlaps, and a few very strange ones that turned out really well, as well as bread and beer and a few other snackin's.

    I put my own tweak into the party, where instead of just swapping blindly, I asked everybody to bring a small amount to be heated up and eaten, then we used teeny party cups to get a few bites of each soup. This worked fabulously, IMO, as it meant I got to try things that I normally would have thought too weird, without committing to a full quart. The parsnip soup and dill pickle soup turned out to be two of my favorites! Even the swap went smoothly, with mostly the right number of people wanting what was available. My clam chowdah was super popular (either that or everybody was trying to butter up the host), which tickled me. We finished up the night with some light games, and traded recipes online. I'm looking forward to trying my hand at making some of them.

    Sunday I got to wake up to a nice clean house and laze around for a while, as I had mostly no plans except to go out and plan in the snow with some friends later. Eventually I walked down to Frick Park. The snow was light and fluffy and pretty much perfect for the sledding we were doing, and the main hill was surprisingly not very busy. We ended up with six people and three sleds, all of which fit two (or three!) people each, and ended up just tossing ourselves down the hill for an hour in various fun configurations, one of which was the three sled train. I haven't sledded like that in years and I had pretty much forgotten how much fun it could be. I took one spill while doubling with Charlie, unfortunately on the one time where I decided to try to video our trip, which meant that when we started tipping precariously, my main thought was to protect my camera and not my head, so I did a fun little slow rollover, ensuring that I'm going to be sore tomorrow. Eventually the hill started filling up with smaller kids who weren't smart enough to actually look uphill while they weren't sledding, which made things less fun for me, so after a quick detour over to the actual blue slide of Blue Slide Park (which was also good for sledding on), I invited people back to my house for snowbuilding and hot chocolate.

    We didn't quite make it home before running across my neighbor who was in the process of shoveling out his front yard ice rink. Upon greeting, he offered us a spin including lending skates, so two people took him up on that while the others of us attempted to make some snow sculptures. Eventually the cold started getting to me and the hot chocolate part of the afternoon happened inside my warm house, complete with peppermint marshmallows. Exhaustion was really setting in for me, though, and after everybody else left I ended up flopping down on the couch for a short nap, until a kid bugged me about dinner. Fortunately, I apparently hadn't quite reached my soup limit yet, and had thought to prep a big crockpot of chili earlier in the day, which was delicious. I realized I was probably so exhausted because I was dehydrated, so I fixed that as well, which did help some. I'm still feeling pretty wiped out and mildly headachey. Having fun is hard work! But worth it. I was tagged in various pictures on the Book of Face for people who are on there, but they're not public so I'm not linking directly from here.

    Expecting a cold and snowy week this week, and likely a snow day Tuesday, as temps drop back down to -9F around here. Brr. Fortunately, cold makes for excellent soup weather...
    blk: (summer)
    I don't have any one thing to say; I have a lot of little things.

    1. I lost my ability to enjoy spinning in circles about 5 years ago, and as since have given up on things like contra dancing, which [ profile] xuth enjoys regularly, but which will make me headachey and nauseated for the rest of the night after about half a dance. Upon recommendation from a friend, I took some dimenhydrinate and went dancing last night to see how it worked. I made it through 4 dances (not all in a row), and while the dizziness still came on strongly, it didn't make me feel icky, and it gradually went away without ill side effects. Hurray for science! Now I just have to figure out if I like contra dancing enough to go back.

    2. I spent almost all of this summer helping the [ profile] jboys clean out their rooms. By "clean" I mean, I'd sit down in their room, say "ok, today you're going to clean off your [desk]," and for every single $thing that existed in that area, we'd decide keep, give away, or throw away. Repeat dozens of more times for each other piece of furniture and drawer and box and area in the room. We went through toys and school artwork and old shoes and found things and organized things and talked about things. It was an exhausting process, but ended up with a lot of trash and a few boxes of things that got sold at a yard sale last week (along with a bunch of my stuff, and clothing from two different households). End result is more space in the house, a lot of stuff happily re-homed, about a dozen bags of clothing donated, a small amount of money made, and much, much cleaner kid bedrooms.

    3. As part of my housecleaning project, I acquired a larger sectional couch and got rid of the two cushy green couches I've had for years. I moved two chairs into the place where the loveseat was, but now that they are there I've decided at least one won't work. Not sure yet if I'm on the lookout for another cushy armchair or another small loveseat.

    4. On top of the bedroom cleaning project was a project to switch bedrooms between the oldest boy (who had a small office for a bedroom) and the youngest boy (who had the largest bedroom). I told them that I would support and help as long as both rooms got super cleaned and STAYED mostly cleaned. The switch happened successfully last weekend, and I stayed up late helping the younger one pack and moving his furniture. So far they both claim to be happy with it. I am SO done with cleaning other people's stuff for the next long while.

    5. Due to the magic of multiple overlapping vacations and custody schedules, I am going to have Three! Whole! Days! All! To! Myself! next week. Nobody to clean up after or remind to do chores. Nobody to tell my schedule to or arrange things around. Nobody's food preferences to cook around. A totally quiet house to read in and wake up to. I am giddy with anticipation. I also have no idea what to do with myself. Got any suggestions?

    6. My gardens have tomato, basil, and garlic growing in them (among other things). That, combined with our propensity towards rosemary bread, means I've had a lot of bruschetta lately. Deeelicious.

    7. My compost pile, once again, has baby avocado trees growing in it. Four of them, this year. Anybody want them before they die in a few months? Also, apple season is about to start.

    8. The last week of social and activity has involved several days of informal meals, eating leftovers and going out to be active in the evening, and has resulted in my dinners for several days being not much more than light snacks interspersed throughout the evening. Probably relatedly, my weight is slightly down and my body has felt particularly good and less-in-pain in the mornings than usual. This is somewhat unfortunate, as it's really difficult to just skip dinner when we have sit-down family dinners (which is most of the time). Also because I really like eating.

    And your last tidbit for the day:

    9. Observation I had lately: as a casual transitive verb, to "mother" someone is to care for, protect, and provide for. To "father" someone is to, well, simply take part in their procreation. Neither word has the connotation I particularly care for when talking about how to raise a child ("mother" is closer, but i feel as sometimes it gets too close to "smother"), although Marshall Jones (slam poet) has a nice take on it. I prefer to use "parent."
    blk: (Default)
    I have been looking for some kind of snack food to keep around the house for the kids to munch on that is a) easy, convenient and appealing to both teen taste buds and sensible (*cough*) adults, b) packs a good amount of wholesome calories that is more nutritious than, say, instant ramen, and c) is easy on the wallet.

    We've settled for a while on buying protein/energy bars (powerbars, clif, balance, etc), but when the boys all come looking for an after school snack every day, that ends up being a noticeable fiscal dent, even when buying in bulk. So I kept looking.

    My answer: Homemade bars that are simple and easy to make, near-infinitely variable, tasty, and significantly less expensive than the pre-packaged stuff. I started with the recipe on this page and adapted it slightly to what has worked best for me. The making of is very similar to standard Rice Crispy Treats, and once you know what you are doing, takes all of about 10 minutes of prep work. I've been raving about the awesomeness of these to various of my friends lately, and so far everybody who has tried them has asked for the recipe. So here it is.

    2 cups oats
    2 cups cereal
    1-2 cups filler
    1/2 cup spread
    1 cup sweetener

    These are very general guidelines! Remember I said highly variable. Depending on what you use it's possible (and easy) to make this gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, soy-free, etc. So here are some specifics of what all this stuff can be:

    the dry

    oats - Standard generic rolled oats, dry and uncooked. They will absorb liquid from the sweetener and become soft and chewy overnight. Quick oats will also work, but I wouldn't recommend instant or steel cut.
    cereal - Any of those breakfast cereals usually served with milk. So far I've been using generic crisped rice but puffed rice, grape nuts, bran flakes, etc should all work fine. Possibly toss big chunks into a blender briefly.
    filler - Anything you want to include! Try nut pieces, seeds, baking chips, dried fruit, ginger, coconut, candy, or more. Use different combinations, as much or as little as you want. I prefer smaller bits of things to larger chunks, but do what you want.

    the wet

    spread - Any type of that paste that you'd spread on something, or a combination thereof. Try peanut butter, almond butter, soy butter, seed butter, earth balance, biscoff, etc.
    sweetener - Some combination of viscous sweeteners that are liquid when heated. You can use honey, molasses, maple syrup, corn syrup, brown rice syrup, chocolate syrup, marshmallows and butter, or even a simple syrup with granulated or cane sugar and some liquid.

    1. Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix.

    2. Combine all wet/sugar ingredients so you have about 1.5 cups of binder, and heat it until it's runny (microwave works fine). Mix well. You can vary the proportions however feels right for texture and for total sweet/saltiness - For example, if you have a very runny sweetener you might use more of the spread, or if you have a very sweet spread (I love Biscoff) you might try a less intense sweetener mix. Be careful of touching hot sugar.
    3. Mix the wet and dry stuff together, stirring well to coat thoroughly. (optional 3.5: add protein powder, cocoa powder, salt, spices, other flavorings)
    4. Dump the whole sticky mixture into a solid, flat-bottomed dish.
    5. Using a piece of waxed paper or something nonstick, press down firmly all around until it is as compact as possible. The bars I make are about 1" thick in an 8"x8" pan.

    6. Refrigerate overnight.
    7. Cut into squares and enjoy.

    By my rough calculations, this should make about 3000-4000 calories worth of bar (depending on ingredients used), so cut into pieces accordingly. Pricewise I think they're roughly in the $3-$5 range per batch, depending greatly on what sweeteners you use, and if you're using name-brand or generics of things.

    In theory these should last for a several weeks in the fridge if stored in a sealed container, but I have never had a batch make it longer than a week so far (due to hungry eaters). We're on our third batch so far, and they've all been different and tasty. They work great as grab-and-go snacks. They soften up a little once they warm up, but still hold together pretty nicely without getting fingers all sticky.

    If you decide to make these, let me know what proportions and ingredients you use, and how it turned out!
    blk: (sandwich)
    Dinner tonight is something that is starting to be a classic of mine: refrigerator soup. It's basically where you take various ingredients in the refrigerator/pantry/kitchen that need to get used up and toss 'em together in a pot, along with whatever else comes to mind. I end up planning a lot of meals around using up things in the fridge, as I don't like wasting food. This one comes in handy when I have a bunch of stuff that needs to be gone, and is particularly good in the cold weather.

    Over the years, with lots of practice, I've figured out an approximate balance of what Stuff I like to use. If I have time I like to use my giant crockpot, but a large pot on the stove also works. Here's how it works for us:

    first one's free )

    A large (not huge) batch of soup in this house means about 6-8 quarts, which is generally enough for a dinner for all of us, a few lunches for two of us, some snacking for the boys and maybe some small amount frozen for later. Most of the time it turns out totally edible, and if not, well, in another few weeks it'll be time for a different batch!

    Totally related: Anybody local who would like to come over for dinner tonight is welcome. :)
    blk: (sandwich)
    Among the things I never thought I would willingly spend huge amounts of time and energy on, when I was younger: children and food. I'm not a super foodie. I'm not a scientist or an artist in the kitchen. I am usually perfectly happy letting other people create food for me to eat. But somewhere along the line, cooking became something of a hobby and I'm willing to venture that having kids and being a part-time single parent had a lot to do with that.

    But anyways, what I'm saying is that I'm realizing that I've managed to get decently good at creating reasonably tasty dinners on demand, and connecting that with the result of nourishing and caring for others means I occasionally enjoy doing so. So being a host for Thanksgiving dinner for family and a few orphan friends is more of a fun things for me to look forward for me. Of course, there are plenty of other stressful parts, but the food itself was nice.

    For the food of the actual day: there was a ham, because after years of making turkey, all the members of my family realized that we liked ham much better than turkey, and there hasn't been another turkey in our holidays since. There was a duck, since the Boy still wanted a bird, but I refused turkey, and chicken is boring, and I wasn't up to anything more exotic. It was my first time cooking duck and I think it could have been better but it wasn't awful. I tried out a new crockpot stuffing recipe, because of requests for stuffing (but no bird), that came out fabulously and I may attempt to repeat in the future. The [ profile] jboys made pies, which they are getting quite good at, with moderate supervision from my mom. [ profile] xuth made duck fat potatoes from the aforementioned bird drippings, of which there were not nearly enough. A few other sides to round it off, a small amount of oven juggling, and it was a great day and dinner. Leftover ingredients (for the week) include rendered duck and ham fat (I don't bother keeping chicken fat), duck/chicken/ham broth (or jelly, really), and duck/chicken/ham meat. Everything else pretty much got finished off within a couple days.

    The rest of the week included managing dinners to feed 7, which it turns out really isn't that much more work than dinner for 5, and is infinitely more rewarding when the guests are adults who are vocal about how much they enjoy the food and willingly help clean up afterwards. Much wine was consumed, a couple movies watched, gossip caught up on, and all the necessary homework done.

    It also let me know that I'm really horrible at actually doing this "relaxing" thing when I'm at home (and particularly when I have guests/kids around), and although it was relatively a very nice non-stressful time, I really didn't feel refreshed or do anything particularly useful. So of course on Sunday, after the guests had gone and the household chores were mostly managed, I went back to the kitchen and turned some of the leftovers into a big pot of yummy soup. Tomorrow I have plans to do similar. It's meditative and satisfying, which I didn't expect from me, but I'm not going to question it.
    blk: (sandwich)
    There was this silly kitchen gadget meme going around a while ago that reminded me I was many months overdue to clean out my kitchen Stuff drawers and sort through things. Over the weekend I finally did so, and succeeded in thinning things just slightly. While everything was spread out on my table I decided to make a rough listing. So here are the various implements that we have in our kitchen.

    this is kind of ridiculous )

    And this list is AFTER the pruning session (I decided we didn't need a melon baller, for example), and not counting any of the camping stuff (which we keep separate). The part of me that wants to de-cruft my space and get rid of single-purpose Things looks at that list hopelessly and just boggles. But the other part reminds me that we actually USE all of these things! With the exception of about four things (skewers, zester, thermometer fork, and pressure cooker), everything on these lists has been used for its intended food-related purpose at least once in the past year. Some of these I don't use but others in the house do. Some of these things only get used rarely, but they do the job better than anything else. Some of these things I could not imagine being without anymore. (#1 for me: probably electric kettle. What's yours?)
    blk: (house)
    Today was a great day to clear out all the apples from the first apple tree, since they had pretty much all ripened. Two monkeys climbing plus a long string trimmer from the ground = 85 lbs of apples, most of which got chopped, cored, mashed, and pressed into some fantastic cider, with another 15lbs of nicer ones to eat or do something else with this week.

    Then I proceeded to lie down on the couch and do absolutely nothing for the rest of the day, due to feeling awful and sluggish and cold from whatever upper respiratory thing I seem to have at the moment.

    Oh well, at least it was a good weekend for it. The other tree's apples are definitely starting to redden, as well.


    blk: (Default)

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