Monday, October 31, 2005

Ah, there's nothing like a hoarde of small children hopped up on sugar

Today was D-day. In the last twenty-four hours I:

  • Bought construction paper, feathers, tacky glue, googly eyes (surprisingly hard to find), a long adhesive magnetic strip, and clothespins.
  • Cut out 28 rectangles out of orange construction paper (to go along with a reading of "The Little Orange House")
  • Planned out a ghost finger puppet craft project (teacher handed me white felt and ribbon and said, "you can make some kind of ghost puppets with these, right?")
  • Cut out 48 felt ghosts
  • Cut out 24 orange ribbons for the bows that went on the ghost puppets.
  • Tied and trimmed 24 orange bows for the ghost puppets.
  • Made up a sad sample around midnight.
  • Traced out 24 mask shapes from orange construction paper.
  • Made up a pathetic sample around 1:00 am.
  • Painted 24 clothespins black.
  • Drew out bat wings (teacher handed me a bat magnet and said, "can you make up something like this for the Halloween party craft?" I stupidly said yes. Then I lost the bat so this one's all my own.)
  • Cut out 24 sets of bat wings from black construction paper.
  • Cut 24 strips of magnet for the back of the bats. Have to have something to hang on the refrigerator door, you know.
  • Cut 24 lengths of narrow orange ribbon for the bat magnets.
  • Tied and trimmed 24 orange bows for the bat magnets.
  • Made up a not entirely pathetic sample bat around 2:00 am.
  • Got to bed by 3:00 am - at least I beat the sun!
  • Made cheese dip for my youngest's Halloween party.
  • Got both boys to school and stayed at the youngest's party long enough to play musical chairs twice.
  • Went back to Michael's to get orange construction paper for the jack o lanterns.
  • Picked up youngest at school.
  • Ran the Halloween party for 20 first graders, 3 younger siblings (all four years old), and a darling 5 month old baby girl.
  • Somehow managed to run all the children through four craft stations without anyone gluing themselves to anyone else or loss of life and limb.
  • Served humongous cupcakes, juice boxes, and chips to the above mentioned children (aside from the baby who was quite happy with breast milk, thank you).
  • Distributed goodie bags to 20 first graders while assuring the siblings that their bats, jack '0 lanterns, ghosts, and masks were really lots of goodies and just as nice as the goody bags. Honest. Only a few tears here.
  • Managed to maintain my sanity. Mostly.
...and we haven't even done Trick or Treating yet.

I'm doomed.

Oh, and can I just say publicly, for the record, that 89 degrees is too freaking hot for Halloween? Just had to get that out.

Sunday, October 30, 2005


Panna Cotta (brain style)

1 cup milk
5 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
4 cups heavy cream
1 cup sugar
pinch salt
2 Tablespoons. vanilla
8 oz. pomegranite juice
1/4 cup cornstarch

Place milk in a small bowl and sprinkle gelatin over the top. Stir and let sit for about five minutes so the gelatin can rehydrate a bit.

Combine cream and sugar in a pan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla and salt. Add the gelatin mixture and stir again until combined. Pour into (brain) mold, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight or until mixture is completely set.

To unmold, gently tilt mold so sides of the panna cotta pull away a bit, then place on platter or plate. You can also dip the bottom of the mold into warm water to help in unmolding.

(Ror non-brain occasions, pour into small custard cups, ramekins, or a large bowl. Especially pretty in small individual molds, centered on a plate and topped with berries or sauce.)

For the pomegranite sauce, I just got a small bottle of Pom Wonderful, added three heaping spoonfuls of sugar so it wasn't so tart, mixed in about 1/4 cup cornstarch, whisked like crazy, then brought it all to a boil in a small saucepan while stirring. I'd use less cornstarch of you wanted to use the sauce without the brain mold - the consistancy is rather disgusting. Let the sauce cool before plopping/spreading over the brain.

Friday, October 28, 2005


Last night, I made fingers. Many, many fingers. Oh, and toes. Big toes, little toes, stubbed toes.

Have I mentioned just how much I love Halloween?

When else could I spend an hour making severed digits out of almond dough, carefully applying red "blood" and making them look as realistic and gross as possible? More importantly, when else could I do this without having someone come and lock me up?

...and when else could I say, "honey, could you give me a hand?" and have him answer like this?

Halloween Fingers
These are not only scary but quite nibble-able as well. Crisp, almond flavored shortbread that tastes better as you store them.

Yield: 5 dozen

1 cup Butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1 Egg
1 tsp Almond extract
1 tsp Vanilla
2 2/3 cups Flour
1 tsp Baking powder
1/4 tsp Salt
3/4 cup Almonds, whole blanched
Raspberry jelly or jam (you can use red decorator gel, but it won't taste as good)

In bowl, beat together butter, sugar, egg, almond extract and vanilla. Beat in flour, baking powder, and salt to make a very stiff dough. Cover and refrigerate 30 minutes.

Working with one quarter of the dough at a time and keeping remainder refrigerated, roll about a tablespoon full (I used a 1 oz. cookie scoop) of dough into a thin log shape about 4" long for each cookie. Squeeze in center and close to one end to create knuckle shapes. Press almond firmly into the end of the cookie for nail. Using paring knife, make slashes in several places to form knuckle. You want them a bit thin and gangly looking, since they'll puff a little when you bake them.

Place on lightly greased baking sheets; bake in 325F oven for 20-25 minutes or until pale golden. Let cool for 3 minutes. Meanwhile, stir a little of the jam until it's thinner or warm for 30 seconds or so in the microwave (or use decorator gel straight from the tube). Lift up almond, squeeze red decorator gel onto nail bed and press almond back in place, so gel oozes out from underneath. You can also make slashes in the finger and fill them with "blood." Breaking one and adding jam to the end makes a pretty impressive severed finger, too.

Soap recipe and more information

I got several requests to share recipes and I thought I'd add a bit more in terms of general information on soap making. The biggest thing I want to say is that it's not a hard process and that the results are absolutely worth it.

(begin soap rant) If you've had dry skin every time you leave the shower and avoid soap for your face like the plague you need to try real soap. No, what you are using is most likely not soap. It's a detergent bar. Lever 2000, Irish Spring, Ivory, Dove and the rest of them - all detergent bars (notice how the packaging doesn't actually use the word "soap" anywhere? They can't, legally). What's the difference between real soap and a detergent bar? Real soap has high levels of glycerine that are produced as the lye and oils/fats chemically react or saponify and become soap. Detergent bars have that glycerin removed so it can be used in other products. This is why "soap" is so drying and harsh to skin. Oh, and if you're vegan you'll want to switch to real soap, since detergent bars pretty much all contain beef tallow as one of the main ingredients (it's cheap and readily available). Real soap, however, is very gentle and moisturizing. There is glycerin and a small amount of fats/oils remaining in the soap once it is finished and those ingredients moisturize and soothe skin. It's amazing what a difference there is once you try it. Real soap is gentle enough for the face, gentle enough for a baby's delicate skin. If you want to try soap without making your own, grab a bar of Dr. Bronner's soap, giggle a bit as you read the packaging, and give it a whirl. It's not my favorite soap by any means but it should be available at most health food stores, drug stores, and even many grocery stores. Just give real soap a try, OK? It's amazing stuff. (end soap rant)

Whew. Got that out of the way.

Now, you'd like to make soap? Here is my favorite recipe, sized to fit my soap molds. I use all vegetable oils, but you can use any fat or oil to make soap and there are many ardent fans of lard as a soaping ingredient (note: do not substitute oils for the ones I have listed without recalculating the amount of lye needed - the amount of lye listed is for this particular mix and amount of oils and fats only). This recipe produces a relatively hard bar that's creamy and full of suds when you use it and very gentle to the skin.

Basic Vegetable Oil Soap
2 ounces Castor Oil
7 ounces Coconut Oil
17 ounces Olive Oil
17 ounces Palm Oil
1 ounces Rice Bran Oil
Total Weight 44 ounces

14 ounces water
6.07 ounces lye (or 172 grams - I like to measure the lye using grams since it's a much more accurate measure of weight)

Optional things you can add in after trace:

3 Tablespoons essential oils
2 ounces fragrance oils (be sure fragrance oils are intended for soapmaking)

3 Tablespoons botanicals (any dry add-in such as herbs, ground tea leaves, seeds, ground oatmeal, etc.)

If you'd like to make up a different size batch, run it through a lye calculator, calculate for lye, then go to the bottom of the screen and change the amount to whatever you'd like. I wouldn't suggest going much smaller than 30 ounces or so as small amounts are tricky to measure properly and this is chemistry in action, so precise measurement is key.

A really basic vegetable soap recipe
17% coconut oil
42% palm oil
42% olive oil

lye needed for the amount of oils (again, use the lye calculator)

To figure out actual weights for the individual oils, plug in 17 oz. coconut oil, 42 oz. palm oil and 42 oz. olive oil into the calculator. Then resize the batch to whatever size you need. This is handy when you want to play around with the percentages of different oils/fats/butters, too.

Coconut, palm and olive oil are the vegetable oil triad - a mix of all three produces a well balanced, attractive soap. Coconut oil can be purchased in many grocery stores and pretty much all health food stores. Olive oil is easy, just get the cheapest you can get your hands on. Palm oil is tougher but can be found in restaurant supply stores. You can also order it online from many soap making companies. I'll list a bunch at the end of this entry. Lye can be purchased at some grocery stores (look for "Red Devil" drain cleaner) and in many hardware stores. Depending on where you live it might take a little bit of searching around to find some.

Even more information:
Kathy Miller's soap site - a great source of information on making soap. Tons of information here.
Walton Feed - another great starting place
The Soap Dish - one of my very favorite places to go to talk about all things soap related. There are some amazing people in this forum and a wealth of information available.
Majestic Mountain Sage - soap supplies and a great lye calculator
BrambleBerry - more soap supplies, great prices, great fragrance oils
SweetCakes - not the best prices, but awesome selection of fragrance oils
From Nature With Love - all the soap making supplies you could ever possibly want or need. Prices aren't the best, but you'll find literally everything here.
Camden Grey - essential oil mecca. Quality essential oils of every kind.
Essential Oil University - essential oils at truly incredible prices.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Soap making

In an effort to start paring down things that need to be moved, I made soap last night. We're running a bit low on our regular antimicrobial/nice to the skin shower type bar, so I made some more up. Here's how I do it:

First, I measure out all the oils and fats needed. For this batch, that meant olive oil, coconut oil, palm oil, castor oil, and shea butter. The amounts of each are important, so I use my kitchen scale to weigh everything out. I give the oils and fats a bit of a whir with my stick blender to break up any large pieces about now.

Next I measure out the "extra stuff" - things that add scent, help soothe skin, or just make the soap look more interesting. From left to right are powdered chickweed (soothing and healing), tea tree and oregano essential oils (antimicrobial), and powdered oatmeal (soothing). The first and last will also give the soap a nice flecked appearance since there isn't anything that will color it otherwise.
Next, I need a mold. I have a custom wooden mold that Dan made up for me a while back, but you don't have to use anything that fancy. For instance, pictured on the left is a mold I often use if I want to make a few quick square bars. Can anyone guess what it is?

Next I measure out the lye. This is very, very important. Different oils and fats need different amounts of lye to cause the chemical reaction needed to form soap, so I use a lye calculator (there are many of these available online) to do the math for me and measure carefully. Yes, you do need lye to make soap. No, there isn't any lye remaining in the soap when you use it. Yes, you should be very careful when using lye. Wear protective clothing (including eye protection), gloves, and shoes that cover your feet.

Next, I measure out the water. Then I slowly pour the lye into the water (never pour water into lye!) and stir until the lye dissolves. The lye solution heats up pretty quickly. There are some fumes that aren't good to breathe about now, so I make sure there's lots of ventillation. The measuring cup is in the sink in case of spills.

Now the lye solution gets poured into the oils and fats. The heat of the lye and water help to melt any fats that aren't liquid yet and also starts saponification (the process of turning fats and oils into soap). Heat and motion both speed the process along, so I start in with the stick blender to get things going.

I blend until I see trace, meaning when I pick up the blender (or a spoon), the mixture is thick enough to show a trace of the drops or drizzle on top for a moment or two. Pictured at left is a rather thick trace - I really wanted to get a good picture and went longer than I had planned. This makes it harder to mix in essential oils and the like, and can make getting it into a mold more difficult as well. I quickly add in the essential oils and other goodies.

Into the mold it goes. The mixture was thicker than usual this time, so I had to work quickly. I cover the top in plastic wrap to cut down on exposure to the air while saponification is happening. Otherwise, you can end up with an ashy layer on the top of the soap. Nothing harmful, just unattractive. I pop the mold into the oven preset to 170 degrees, then let it sit and warm for an hour. This helps speed things along. Then the mold is left in the oven (turned off) overnight. In the morning I do a quick test - rub my finger along the top and touch my tongue to see if I feel any "zap". None at all, so we have soap!

I cut the long bar into one inch sections and voila. The soap will be harder and lather better if left to dry and cure for a little while longer, but I can't resist using some of the ends to give my hands a quick wash. There really is nothing like real, honest soap - it's so unlike the detergent bars that you find in the supermarket (yes, even Dove isn't as gentle or good to your skin as real soap made with lye). Truly lovely stuff.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Halloween sucker

That would be me. Somehow, in a rash moment that I don't in any way recall, I signed up as "room mom" for my eldest's first grade class. What does a "room mom" do, you ask? Set up all of the holiday parties...parties full of small, sugar crazed jumping people who are unable to follow any kind of reason, being six and seven years old, the lot of them.

Today my eldest's teacher called me in to the classroom to discuss the upcoming Halloween party. Why oh why did I feel like somehow I was in trouble? I swear, suddenly my knees were covered in scabs again and I was wearing gauchos and eating pop rocks (yes, I am dating myself here). The time warp ended abruptly when I realized that his teacher was talking to me as a peer. Exactly how and when did I become a grown-up, again?

So, off to party planning. She wants the class split up into four groups, which means 4-5 kids per group. Each group will work on one of four stations at a time, rotating each fifteen minutes to the next station. After an hour of this, all will decend on juice and snacks before barreling out the door at 2:40 in their costumes.

The stations are all craft related: they will be making masks, colorful bat magnets, ghosts, and jack o lanterns. I need to round up volunteers for each of the stations, get the snacks, and decorate. Oh, and set up all of the crafts, making examples of each, cutting out bats, getting googly eyes and feathers and magnets at the craft store, eighty total projects if you look at em individually. Did I mention yet that his teacher will be gone from tomorrow afternoon until Monday night? And that the classroom might be moved to another location this Friday but no-one knows?

I am the consummate masochist. This is proof.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Shopping spree


That bought me:
1 1/2 pounds Fuji apples
red leaf lettuce
large lobok (variant of Daikon radish)
green onions
bok choy
pound of bean sprouts
2 large onions
2 medium tomatoes on the vine
2 pounds carrots
bag of salad - spring mix
dozen eggs
3/4 pound jack cheese
4 small frozen cheese pizzas
5 fruit leathers
1 quart milk
1 pound frozen blackberries
box of cereal
1/2 gallon soy milk
bag of sesame crackers
1 can frozen white grape juice
2 pounds fresh Chinese egg noodles
2 packages of cheese & crackers
Windex Multi-Task Spray Cleaner
large bag yukon gold potato chips (Terra these things)
2 pounds mozzarella cheese (some for pizza this week, the rest will be shredded and frozen)
2 Lunchables (vile, nasty things - they were free and were purchased solely because I know my son won't like them and therefore won't ask for them again)
1/2 gallon fresh orange juice
10 pack of frozen bean & cheese burritos
box of frozen waffles (yeah, yeah, I usually make these, honest)
2 bags frozen bagels - 1 Everything, 1 plain
2 packages Klondike bars :-)
Pyrex pie pan (part of a Christmas present for my sister who loves to bake)
Baker's Secret mini loaf pan (part of a Christmas present for my SIL)
Oxy-Clean (if you have children or pets or are less than graceful, you want some of this)
12 pack Diet Dr. Pepper (Dan loves this stuff and drinks it for the caffeine. I think it tastes like cough syrup)
5 pounds unbleached flour
2 stain pens - one tucked into my purse, the other waiting as backup
1 pound bacon (mmmm...bacon...)
2 pork and vegetable bao (wonderful, fluffy, savory treats - my grocery shopping snack)

All of this is enough to suppliment what's in my refrigerator, deep freeze, and pantry for the next week. I feed a family of four on around $75 a week, which blows my mind even though I'm the one doing it.

Here's our menu for this week:

for the boys: pancakes, waffles, french toast, cereal, depending on the day (the pancakes and french toast I made ahead and froze), juice, fruit
me: eggs, apples, tea
Dan: veggie sausage, sprouted wheat bagels (some leftover in the fridge), juice

boys: Ryan usually has pizza, fruit or some veggies, a fruit leather, and water to drink. He had a Lunchable today - waiting to see what he thought (guessing he hated it - if so, score 1 for mom!) Arden usually has almond butter, cheese, crackers, apple slices, etc.
me: leftovers, cottage cheese, salad
Dan: I make and freeze extra portions of dinners as I make them, he pulls one out for lunch and adds fruit and some crackers

I always menu plan, but nothing is assigned any particular day and the produce depends on what's in season and what looks great at the store when I shop.

* pizza (homemade crust and sauce) with cheese, onions & garlic, green salad
* stir fried chicken with egg noodles and dark soy, bok choy with garlic
* teriyaki chicken, rice balls, braised lobok (for a picnic in the park after watching Curse of the Were-Rabbit)
* taco salad (refried beans, spanish rice (from scratch), sauteed corn kernels, assorted veggies, cheese, sour cream, salsa, and avocado)
* chana dal with herbs, cabbage with mustard seeds, basmati rice
* frozen dinners (we have some Marie Calendar dinners that need using up so we can empty the freezer a bit)
No 7th dinner planned - we're going to a party at a friend's house next Saturday so no dinner planned then. I will be making a panna cotta brain for it, though.

Friday, October 21, 2005

We're moving!

Well, not today or immediately, but we will be moving soon. Dan and I have wanted to move away from Southern California for years now for a whole host of reasons: real estate here is insane, a horrible school district, traffic, poor air quality, and the whole atmosphere in this area. Given our working situation - Dan working, me at home - we will always struggle to keep our heads above water here. We are currently trapped in a townhouse that is much too small for two boys but can't move unless we go hours inland (where there are no jobs for Dan) or leave the state. Oregon has just felt right to us for a long time and that's where we want to live.

A few weeks ago Dan was approached by a headhunter about a job near Portland, Oregon. There was a mad scramble to get information to her, get references checked, etc. It looked like the position was a lock since the headhunters only presents one candidate: Dan. Unfortunately, the company found someone local who knew someone else within the company and he got the job.

Dan and I talked, and we've decided that we need to make this happen. He's not getting considered for positions because he lives out of state, so searching here just isn't working. Having a job in place before we move would make the most sense, but we could wait years for that to happen. So we're going to do it. I feel exhilerated right now. It's a bit scary, but we can make this happen.

Right now we're putting together things to do to the house to make it more marketable. Cheap things (not much extra money on hand right now) like painting, replacing the kitchen floor, getting new blinds, things like that. The house is in decent shape but needs some updating and clean up so it is more appealing. I'm going through everything in the house and selling or giving away anything that isn't essential, a process that feels freeing and just plain good.

Looking at comparable houses that have sold recently, we should be able to get at least $150K more than we have tied up in mortgage which should help a lot in finding housing out in Oregon. Just talked to our financial planner and he's helping us work out the financial details. He also offered Dan a position in a group he just started heading up, a position that may well give Dan work while we start out up there. It's amazing how opportunities appear when you set your mind firmly on something.

Haven't been doing much knitting or crafting or cooking in the wake of all of this, but now that things are settled I'm guessing I'll tuck more in. I will be making soap in the next few days and photographing that as I go - have to use up the oils and supplies I have here in bulk before we go, so much soapmaking will be happening in the next few weeks. I also need to finish up the shawl and the scarf very soon. Oh, and I'm making a panna cotta brain mold with pomegranite sauce for Halloween. Stay tuned.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

All I need....

Kathy needs a nap.
Kathy needs to be treated with understanding, respect, and dignity.
Kathy needs the house to keep her sanity and resist suicide.
Kathy needs to know if this is something that colleges would really use.
Kathy needs 3 1/3 cups of flour for a cake.
Kathy needs 3-4 volunteers to assist with passing out stickers, fingerprint kits etc.
Kathy NEEDS new pants.
Kathy needs a hug.
Kathy needs to grow up and act her age!
Kathy needs to slow down.
Kathy needs comfort.
Kathy needs a vigilante.
Kathy needs her own show on prime time, big network, for big bucks.
Kathy needs to drive to a city some distance away.

(Take your name, add "needs" and Google it. I'm laughing at how many of these fit in an odd way.)

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Much laciness

Here is the trinity shawl, up close and laid out flat. No edging on the sides, so there is no pulling in to deal with - it

was worth frogging, even if that set me back quite a bit. To the left you can see how open the pattern is, even before blocking. It will be much airier once stretched out a bit, I think. The way the colors are hitting reminds me of a Monet painting with all the lavenders and purples hazily transitioning from one shade to the next. The overall effect is really lovely.

This is a new scarf in Elizabeth Lavold Silky Wool, color #20 (teal). Super simple pattern:

cast on a multiple of four plus two
*k2, yo, p2tog* across each row

The result is very open and lacey with a vertical series of ladders and bars running down the scarf. Great knitting to tuck in your purse and work on in odd bits wherever since it goes so quickly and there isn't anything to think about. The Silky Wool is soft and luscious and will have an even richer hand once I block it up. Perfect as a gift for someone who had helped us so richly.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

It's a sprain

A rather technicolor sprain at the moment. Lots of purple, blues, and greens over the side of my foot. In fact, it would make a lovely yarn colorway, though I'd have to come up with a more appealing name than "Sprain", methinks. Dan's making sure I stay mostly put when he's home and I'm trying to limit going up and downstairs as much as possible. Feeling like a bit of an idiot - who gets hurt stepping down from a freaking curb, for goodness' sake? Also feeling quite glad that I prefer slip-on shoes of all kinds, since I have a plethora of choices that fit my rather swollen foot just fine.

I have a new knitting project, a quick and simple one. I just found out that the wonderful woman who did a Speech and Language evaluation on my oldest last year and later testified at our Due Process hearing against the school district is waving her usual testimony fee. We lost the case (don't even get me started, and yes we are appealing) and she decided we shouldn't have to pay more than our lawyer fees and she's sending us all kinds of information and software so we can work with him at home. I've tried to pay her - she won't accept it. Adding Ruth Bass to my list of wonderful people who I am lucky to have come into contact with, and knitting her something silky and special.

I'll close with a picture of last night's dinner. Yum!

Sunday, October 09, 2005

The agony of the feet

I was all set to take a picture of my feet for Mim's contest - bare feet? I'm there! I hate shoes in general and go barefoot almost always, settling for very comfortable slip ons when I really, really have to have something there for protection.

That was, until this afternoon, when I stepped down off a curb the wrong way. Instant, searing pain. This made getting back into my car and using the clutch rather tricky. Cursing my decision to check the mailbox via car rather than on foot, I gingerly used my toe, all the while gritting my teeth. Got thirty feet and into the garage and I was home. Ice, elevation, and rest for a while, then I figured I'd slap an ACE bandage on it for a few days and be done with it. Then I noticed that there was one, lone bruise on the top of my foot, not near the ankle. Ankle isn't swollen at all, and when I put weight on my foot the pain is on the top outside part of my foot - right where that bruising is. When I press there, it hurts like a $#%.

Dan and I decided I should go to our walk-in clinic that is available when my GP doesn't have office hours. Called them and was told to go to the ER since the clinic doesn't have an x-ray machine. That's when we sat down and really thought about what to do next. You see, the last time a family member went to the ER (younger son, deep cut on the eyelid that needed closure, trip to the ER on the advice of our pediatrician) it cost us almost $400, even with insurance. All I could think of is just how much x-rays, the cost of having someone read the x-rays, plus any wrapping or casting that might need to be much would that end up costing us? That's money we really don't have, money that would have to go on a credit card and get paid back later. All when this could be a simple sprain that some rest and compression would take care of in time whether I go and see anyone or not.

It kills me that in a country full of such bounty and wealth that I even have to think about whether I should go to the doctor when injured, that money even comes into the equation. I am reminded of years ago when I sold my stereo to a pawn shop so I could get a prescription filled - one I desperately needed - because I had no insurance. It's so incredibly wrong that health care isn't equally available to everyone, that there are people who can't afford to be healthy at all.

I didn't go to the ER. Tomorrow I'll go to my family doctor and hopefully get wrapped up in a nice ACE bandage and sent on my way. It's most likely a sprain, but I'd like to be sure and get it wrapped up properly regardless. Very grateful tonight that I do have insurance, not so happy that I had to think through when and how to get treatment, regardless.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Dutch Babies

Never knew exactly where the name "Dutch Babies" came from, but I always picture chubby, grinning wee ones that just make you want to pinch their cheeks, give a big squeeze, then eat them all up. These eggy, rich pancakes with high, crisp corners are perfect for topping with just about anything that comes to mind. This morning it was peaches, yogurt and sour cream mixed with a little brown sugar, and toasted walnuts on top. Simple to make, delicious to eat, and the name always gives me a smile.

Dutch Babies
(Makes one pancake, two servings)

2 large eggs
3/4 cup milk
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
2 Tb. butter, melted
1/2 cup flour

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Prepare pan: use an 8 inch cast iron skillet, a nonstick skillet of the same size, an 8 inch nonstick cake pan or an 8 inch glass pie dish. Place pan in oven with half of the melted butter.

Meanwhile, assemble the batter. Beat the eggs slightly, then add milk, salt, sugar and butter. Mix until everything is incorporated. Add in flour and whisk until smooth. Pour into waiting pan in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Turn heat down to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 10 minutes, or until sides are puffy and browned.

Topping suggestions: lemon juice and powdered sugar, berries or slightly sweetened fruit of any kind, sour cream or yogurt mixed with a bit of brown sugar, applesauce, toasted nuts, apples cooked in butter and a bit of sugar, bananas cooked the same way.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Not so many socks

Jane over at Quiddity asked the masses to "Show Me Your Socks." After looking at the vast, colorful stashes that everyone else seemed to have, I rounded up all of mine. This took less than two minutes, including grabbing a basket and the digital camera. As I looked sadly at the pitiful wee heap of socks, I realized why there were so few: I give them all away! I have made countless pairs of baby and toddler socks, all adorning happy, wiggly small toes now and not living in my sock drawer. I have made socks for friends, as barter, and traded socks with people I have never met before. Only recently did I start making socks that actually stayed here. In the basket, from center back around clockwise, are: white, lace, Fixation socks (first pair I made for myself), rose/purple Shaeffer Anne lace socks from my sockapal2za pal (figured these would stand in for the ones I made and sent off in trade), pale blue Baby Cashmerino slipper socks in progress (second pair for me - whoo!), blue Crusoe socks from the last sockapalooza swap (again, standing in for the rainbow socks I sent off), oatmeal colored fluted bannister socks for Dan, and finally deep gray yoga socks also for the Dan of the very cold feet. This was a good exercise - I realize that a) I need to finish those delicious cashmere socks pronto! and b) I need to make more socks that will actually live here.

Everything's dry dry dry dry dry

I can't get that out of my head.

"The mouth is dry and the throat is dry and everything's dry dry dry dry dry." This was part of a skit on a record I must have listened to hundreds of times when I was little. Bill Cosby at his best, talking about getting his tonsils out in hilarious detail. Right now that snippet is running through my head over and over because the air, my house, my nose, my throat, everything here is so incredibly dry right now. Thanks to the yearly Santa Ana winds, the air seems to crackle with each step I take and sparks fly when I open my mailbox. Pollen and negative ions fill the windy air as well, causing my nose to run and my poor athsma ridden lungs to sieze and wheeze pitifully. These hot, dry winds spur fires across Southern California and raise temperatures and tempers alike (something about the positive ions in the wind seems to affect human temperment in a rather negative way). It's simply a part of living here, but I've never liked the sensation of the Santa Ana winds on my skin, the way the air feels wrong somehow. So each year I simmer water on the stove to add some humidity in the house, use my neti pot religiously to wash out pollen and keep my nose clear, and try to relax and remember that the winds do eventually stop. In the meantime, everything is dry dry dry dry dry.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Random finished object

I'm most likely the very last person on earth to pick up a skein of Cotton-Ease, but I finally found some at my local Joann's and had to give it a knit up. At $3 a skein, what's there to lose? So I grabbed a skein of this lavender shade and three more of "blueberry", came home, and stared. Nice yarn. Very soft. Decent colors. What was I going to do with this stuff, anyway? Now the blue I think will be made into a wee sweater of some sort, but what about the sad, lone lavender one? I thought of making dish towels (bo-ring) then decided it should be a hat of some sort. Out came a quick, easy, tried and true pattern and I was off.

Now, the guage was a bit off, but this is a hat I'm thinking, so it should fit someone, somewhere. I like how the cables are a bit smaller and more vertical in nature than on the original hat. Also decided I really didn't like the decreases and devised my own pattern for the crown. Instead of evenly spaced k2togs with plain knitting in between I opted for a left-slanting decrease, p2, k across all knit stitches, p2, repeat across until there were no more knit stitches left. Then I simply continued the same decrease with purls in between. This left a really nice spiral pattern on top that followed the cable pattern nicely.

Now I had no particular plans for this hat when I made it. The color is wrong for me (I look vaguely ill) and I'm surrounded by testosterone in this house. Thinking it will be set aside as an emergency gift item for this winter. We might be moving to a rather different climate (I hope!), so it could come in handy come Christmas time.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Etouffee it is!

Etouffee is another dish that is new to me. I did quite a bit of reading and asking around as research and found that the word "etouffee" means to smother in French. Usually a rich, spicy gravy, this dish consists of crayfish or shrimp smothered in a thick sauce over rice. I looked all over for crayfish but was told this is the wrong season. So on to shrimp. Shrimp covered in a thick, spicy sauce...I couldn't wait.

First, I needed a good shrimp stock as a base for the sauce. I shelled two pounds of shrimp, added lemon, onion, celery, a bay leaf, peppercorns, salt, and a few sprigs of thyme and water to cover. I strained the stock and found I had more than enough for the sauce.

Into the freezer went 4 cups of golden liquid that will serve me well in future gumbo or jambalaya. I was a bit surprised at the deep color after such a short period of simmering. Guess I'm used to making chicken and beef stock. The whole house smelled like a shrimp boil at this point and my husband kept wandering over to check the stove approvingly.

Next, out came the butter. Lots of butter. A bit of flour whisked in and cooked just until the color turned a bit. Then came piles of onion, celery, bell pepper and garlic. Everything was cooked until the vegetables were just wilted. Then came two cups of the stock, salt and cayenne.

Stirred and simmered everything for a few minutes and ended up filling the house with the most amazing smells. The sauce thickened up nicely and seemed just spiced enough to set of the tender shrimp once they joined the pan. I added the shrimp and kept simmering until they were just cooked through but still tender. Meanwhile, I made up some rice to go underneath and chopped some parsley to top it all off.

Here is my shrimp etouffee in all its glory. How to describe this dish? If I were a food writer I could come up with all kinds of clever ways to capture how this felt in my mouth, how it all tasted. Istead, I'll just say this: it was incredibly, unbelievably delicious.

Thank you, Adam, for putting together Gourmet Survivor II. You raised a lot of money for a very worthy cause, and because of you I have cooked and eaten more wonderful New Orleans food in the past food than I have in my whole lifetime.

Shrimp Etouffee

for the shrimp stock:
1/2 onion, sliced
one stalk celery, sliced
1/2 lemon
bay leaf
1/4 tsp. peppercorns
1/2 tsp. salt
4 srpigs thyme
water to cover

For the sauce:
2 lbs. shrimp with shells
8 ounces butter
1/2 cup flour
4 cups yellow onion, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
1 medium green bell pepper, diced
2 Tbs. garlic, minced
2 cups shrimp stock
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. cayenne
1/4 cup parsley, chopped fine

For stock, combine shrimp shells with the remaining stock ingredients in a medium pot. Bring to a boil then turn to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes. Strain, set 2 cups of stock aside for this dish, and save remaining 4 cups stock for future use.

Melt butter in a large pan over medium heat. Add flour and cook until just turning color. Add onion, celery, bell pepper and garlic and cook until vegetables are just tender. Add shrimp stock, salt, and cayenne and stir to combine well. Turn down heat to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Add in the shrimp, stir, and simmer until shrimp is just cooked. Serve over rice and sprinkle parsley over the top.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Decisions, decisions

The last round of Gourmet Survivor II ends tomorrow. I'm having so much fun making New Orleans dishes that I'm playing along until the end. First came po' boys, then beignets, and now...well, it's whatever I want to make. This leads to an important question: what should I cook tomorrow? Gumbo I've made once, focusing on getting the roux nice and dark and relishing the end result. Etoufee sounds interesting. Jambalaya appeals as it seems similar to paella, a dish I love. All involve rice, one of my favorite foods on the planet.

I leave the decision to you. What should I make? I will include step by step pictures and a recipe tomorrow, so choose wisely!

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