Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Homemade vs. Store Bought

Slate has a fascinating little piece comparing the wonders of homemade versus store bought bagels, cream cheese, yogurt, jam, crackers, and granola. It provides both a price comparison and a taste comparison, as well as links to recipes. She gives the thumbs down to homemade crackers, which keep getting pushed to the bottom of my "to bake" list. But now I can't get the idea of homemade bagels out of my head.

Found via Re-Nest at a post which also links to an index of recipes for pantry staples from the kitchn (Apartment Therapy's food spin off).

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Bob's mobloggin'

These are some pretty flowers in our backyard. They've bloomed now that the ivy's not choking them. Oh, and I'm blogging this from my PHONE. I'm like all twenty-first century.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Earth Day Aftershock

An aftershock apparently can be larger than the original earthquake. Just now we had a 3.9 about half a mile closer than the one earlier this evening. Here's the USGS 411.

Earth Day ROCKS

Just had a 3.8 earthquake in the neighboring town of Yorba Linda. Technically the epicenter was about 8 miles from our house. Here's the USGS 411. Shook the house. Freaked out the dogs. I got to practice my cowering under a desk, a.k.a. Drop, Cover, and Hold On. Highly effective.

That's the third since we moved to California less than a year ago (here are the posts on July's and January's).

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

No learning, no responsibility

This is a quote from Ta-Nehisi Coates:

A kid may well blame himself for doing poor on a math test by saying he's stupid, but that doesn't mean he's taken responsibility, that he's acknowledged that he's capable of doing better the next time.

I bring this up because I thought it was insightful. It ties in well with one of the deep seated myths of math (and possibly other academic fields): "Either you can do math, or you can't." If you think about it, this simply denies the whole notion of learning. And if you assume you can't learn, that implies you're not capable of doing better. So, you're not responsible, right?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Brunch Menu

Last Saturday we hosted our first party in California, a little brunch to welcome friends' new baby. I cooked like a mad woman and was rewarded with many compliments. Following please find the menu with links to all the recipes I could find.

  • Wild Rice and Quinoa Breakfast Stuffing - Back in February Mark Bittman wrote an article in The New York Times about rethinking breakfast. This recipe and the two following are all from that article.
  • Wheat Berries with Sesame, Soy Sauce, and Scallions
  • Polenta Pizza - I made the variation with mozzarella, roma tomatoes, and fresh basil.
  • Quiche - I omitted the ham, since I wasn't sure if there were any veggies in the crowd. Everyone seemed to like it regardless. I heard no cries of, "You know what this needs? HAM!"
  • Chocolate-Oatmeal Cupcakes With Maple-Bacon Butter Cream - On the same day as the aforementioned Bittman breakfast article ran, the Dining section also ran an article by Julia Moskin about chefs taking inspiration from diner breakfast items to create intricate desserts. This recipe was the least insane of the recipes printed with that article . . . and, yes, there is bacon grease in the frosting.
  • Whoopie Pies - I made these about a third the size the recipe calls for and served them in cupcake liners, which made for easy eating.
  • Baking Powder Biscuits - my own recipe that I'll save for another day.
  • Super Seven-Spice Potatoes from The Grit Cookbook: World-Wise, Down-Home Recipes.
  • Brie en Croute - my own recipe that I'll save for another day.
  • Eggs, sausage, & bacon - no recipes required.

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

This week in pictures

It's been a fairly typical week. Cookies for the Math Tea, coaxing my plants to grow so that I can have some life on the deck, and taking in a little fun via the Monument Avenue Easter Parade.

Black and white cookies were a big hit. Fortunately there were some leftover to make a delicious Friday night dinner. (In conjunction with some matzo ball soup.)

My wimpy plants are hanging in there, but not super happy. The peppers look the most robust, but even they aren't close to ready for the real world.

Sunkissed blooms on Monument Ave. It was a really pretty day and everyone's gardens were blooming.

One great dog tongue picture. It did not seem like it would be possible for him to fit his tongue back into his mouth.

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Friday, April 10, 2009

Fullerton Furrday

Shortly after we moved here, two drainage devices on the corner of State College and Yorba Linda were painted to look like old fashioned orange crates. I have wanted to get a picture of the dogs in front of these crates ever since. Between that and my need for a picture of myself for another purpose, this week we finally did a little photo shoot.
As you can probably tell, Augie just got his summer hairdo. David insisted we go on our entire walk before the photo shoot, so my hairdo looks a little mushed from my hat.
Izzy and I are looking at the camera . . . a certain dog who shall go unnamed is busy licking his nose.
We tried a sunnier side of the box with ears down . . .
. . . and with ears up.
By this time Izzy felt that the photo shoot was unduly delaying his breakfast time.

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Thursday, April 09, 2009

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Container Garden: Seedlings First True Leaves

Six weeks from their start date, my seedlings are still doing their thing (see, e.g., parsley above and basil below the jump). They're a little leggy because they're sun exposure isn't quite optimal. Right now the basil and parsley have developed their first true leaves. This means it's time to start the grow juice.According to Container Gardening for Dummies by Bill Marken and the Editors of the National Gardening Association (1998) (which is out of print and only has about a page on starting from seeds), at two weeks seedlings are ready for a little fertilizer. CG4D recommends the weekly application of a water soluble fertilizer mixed at half the strength described on the package.

The Gardener's Guide to Starting and Growing Plants from Seeds disagrees.

Once the first true leaves (the second set to emerge) develop, you can begin to feed your plants. Up until this time the seedlings have been being nourished from the seed itself. Fertilizing should be still done from the bottom at this point, using a very dilute 1/4 strength mix of soluble all purpose plant food once a week. When the plants have reached about 3 inches you can begin to water and feed the plants from above.
My tomato seedling still hasn't developed its first true leaves. I think the strain for sunshine might have been fatal.The two tomato plants I bought at the Fullerton Arboretum are doing O.K. Hopefully they will succeed where my tomato seedling appears to be failing.

Previous container garden posts:

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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

White House Spinach and Green Mashed Potatoes

I've been working on increasing the quantity and diversity of my leaf intake. Michael Pollan in In Defense of Food recommends that we "eat mostly plants, especially leaves." So I've been looking out for weird leaves in my produce aisle. Last week Henry's had organic dandelion greens. But what to do with them?

Back on March 11th the New York Times ran a bit about Michelle Obama giving a tour of the White House kitchens and discussing the challenges of getting her daughters to eat well. In passing the article mentioned a spinach dish that Cristeta Comerford, the White House Executive Chef, cooks for the Obamas. In the same issue Mark Bittman wrote an article, The Greening of Mashed Potatoes, including a recipe for green mashed potatoes. The green ingredient: dandelion. I was so enamored with the no-cream creamed spinach idea that I jotted down as much as I could glean from the article about the recipe in the top margin of my clipping of The Greening of Mashed Potatoes. About a week later the Dining blog (and the hard copy of the newspaper, but can I find that online, no) had the recipe for No-Cream Creamed Spinach.

Saturday I made both.
Now, to be fair, I failed to review the entire Bittman article in order to recognize the importance of equal parts potato to greens. So, in the interest of efficiency, I used five pounds of potatoes instead of one. But I did use homemade bread crumbs, so I should still score some Bittman points. I also added about a quarter cup of shredded Asiago cheese on top, just because it was there. To top off my deviance, instead of baking at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, I popped it in with the turkey meatloaf, which was baking at 350 degrees, about 20 minutes before the meatloaf was done. Then I switched on the broiler for about fifty seconds to brown the top.

My independent taste tester was thoroughly wowed. He'd never scarfed up spinach so fast. And the potatoes were awesome. They might be awesomer if the ratio of greens to potatoes was closer to one to one.

But I've got to confess, dandelion greens involve a lot of de-stemming for not so much green leafy, so I think I might substitute some other weird green in the future.

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Monday, April 06, 2009

Spanish Lemon Cake

In Athens, Georgia, there was a cake baker by the name of Cecilia Villarreal. She made a cake known as a Spanish Lemon Cake. It was the perfect cake for a hot, humid, Georgia summer evening. We pretty much based our restaurant decisions on whether or not they bought cakes from Ms. Villarreal because if there was no chance for Spanish Lemon Cake, there was no point in eating.

By the time we left The ATH, fewer and fewer restaurants were stocking her wares and the few who were did not regularly stock the Spanish Lemon Cake. Whether this was due to the overharvesting of Spaniards, we shall never know. But when my friend who gave me the eggs gave me a dozen lemons from neighborhood trees, I took it as a sign from the citrus gods: I was meant to make my first attempt at recreating Spanish Lemon Cake.

The cake is no trickier than the average cake, but I had never made a boiled frosting before. When I made the filling for the Whoopie Pies a couple of weeks ago I realized at a certain step it could either become a boiled frosting or Whoopie Pie filling. This realization in combination with the arrival of a dozen lemons on my doorstep is what precipitated this little experiment.

My recipe is a four-parter taking lemon curd from the April 2001 issue of Gourmet as found on Epicurious, the cake batter from the awesome recipe I found from Bake and Shake via Not Martha, my own lemony variation on simple syrup, and the boiled frosting recipe is a hybrid of The New York Times Cookbook by Craig Claiborne (1961), an article "County Cooking by an Urban Chef" by Craig Claiborne, in the August 1, 1979, edition of the New York Times about Edna Lewis, and the filling for Whoopie Pie.

I made the lemony simple syrup by substituting a third of the water with lemon juice. After the sugar dissolved, I ran it through a strainer to get any of the lemon bits out. You can do this like a week in advance if you store it in the fridge.

I made the lemon curd immediately after and in the same pot as I made the lemony simple syrup. Again, you can do this like a week in advance if you store it in the fridge.

I made the cake two days in advance. In addition to the vanilla infused milk, vanilla infused sugar, and vanilla bean seeds, I added a pinch of lemon zest. For some reason the cake did not come out of the pan without a fight, so it was a little too unstable to bisect in order to form four layers. After the cake was cool, I froze it, like the pros do, and also because I thought the fallen apart bits might stay together better.

On the day of I took the cakes out of the freezer and slathered them in lemony simple syrup. Then I popped them back into the freezer while I made the boiled frosting. While the boiled frosting was finishing up in the mixer, I popped the cakes out of the freezer, spread a layer of lemon curd on the bottom layer and popped the top layer on top (check out the picture above for a look at that curd layer . . . in the study of narratives, we call this foreshadowing).

I made the boiled frosting on the day of and I ran into one snag. See if you can guess what it was just by reading my Frankensteinian recipe.

Boiled Frosting
2 c. sugar
2/3 c. water
2 tsp. lemon juice
4 egg whites, room temperature, stiffly beaten
1 tsp. vanilla
1. For best results, follow directions carefully, paying attention to required temperatures. Fill bottom half of a double boiler (or a medium saucepan) with an inch or two of water, and bring to a boil over high heat. In top half of double boiler (or a metal bowl), combine sugar, water and lemon juice. Place over simmering water and whisk just until sugar is dissolved and temperature reaches 236 degrees on candy thermometer.

2. Using a whisk attachment on a heavy-duty mixer, whisk egg whites while pouring sugar mixture slowly into egg whites, beating constantly. Add vanilla and continue beating on high until they double in volume and become thick and shiny. Continue to whisk until cool.

So you might recognize the first paragraph of instructions from the Whoopie Pie filling. The two differences are (1) whoopie pie filling combines sugar and egg whites, not sugar, water, and lemon juice and (2) whoopie pie filling maxes out at 180 degrees. Now, I'll confess, NONE of the boiled frosting recipes instructed me to use a double boiler but I am a chicken when it comes to burning stuff, so I thought the double boiler method was safer. But I could not get that beast above 180 degrees. Is this like a fundamental law of water boiling that I forgot from physics or chemistry or home ec? Or is the problem that I use a humongous stainless steel bowl as the top of my double boiler so my candy thermometer is never really sufficiently submerged to make an accurate reading and my "splash some on the pokey bit" method of temperature taking is only feasible up to 180 degrees? So I proceeded after this was at 180 degrees for fifteen minutes (which is apparently the maximum duration of my patience). Now, in the end, I think it turned out just fine.

Well, the boiled frosting turned out just fine. The cake itself suffered from a fundamental structural defect. As you recall, the cakes didn't come out of the pans intact so I couldn't slice them in half again to form four layers. You didn't think this would be significant, did you? But then when it was time to assemble the cake instead of using a third of the lemon curd between the two layers (because originally there would have been a third of the curd between each of four layers), I used all of it. This created a cake model of the geology of California. The top layer was balanced precariously on an unstably thick layer of lemon curd (see second picture above . . . remember what I said about foreshadowing?). So when the cake was sliced, it caused an imbalance which resulted in the top layer sliding off the bottom layer and onto the counter at our friends' house who had invited us over to dinner. But their squeals of delight at the taste of the cake and all its parts seemed to suggest they might eat the remainder off the counter with a spoon.

Now, part of me thinks reducing the quantity of curd will solve the problem. Part of me thinks I should use a more yolk-based curd recipe like the curd part of the Lemon Curd Layer Cake recipe from the March 1999 issue of Bon Appetit as found on Epicurious. Any suggestions regarding curd or the maximum temperature possible using a double boiler would be greatly appreciated.

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Sunday, April 05, 2009

Updates: Microcow, Seed Source, Fullerton CSA, Bread

I posted a new picture of Talula without a sweater on so you can see her cow spots.

I found another source for heirloom seeds, Seed Savers Exchange, via Craft Nectar.

Re-Nest posted a reminder to sign up for your CSA and included a link to Local Harvest's CSA finder. I finally found a CSA with a drop off point in Fullerton! South Coast Farms now has a CSA drop off point at the Fullerton Arboretum.

FYI, the Rustic Cyprus-Style Herbed Olive Bread I baked the other week makes AWESOME croutons. And I baked another loaf not paying nearly enough attention to the baking time (we had to leave for a dinner party earlier than I expected), but it turned out just as good as when I obsessed over baking time. It is a very forgiving recipe.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Product Review: Dr. Bronner's Soap

Recently I have joined a sort of hippy elite. I became a user of Dr. Bronner's Soap. I've been searching for a less toxic soap for awhile, as evidenced by my review of Method Hand Wash almost a year ago. In the interim I made a desperate choice that reignited my motivation. I bought grocery store generic, anti-bacterial soap in a large refill bottle. In fact, they were two for the price of one, so I bought two. It smells STRONGLY of bleach and will strip the moisture from your hands turning you from smooth as a baby's bottom to see ya' later alligator in no time at all. In fact, when we had an ant infestation in our bathroom, I grabbed the nearest cleaning supply I had on hand--this toxic soap--and literally squirting this stuff over an inch away from the ants killed them immediately and we have not had a single ant in the house since. I'm pretty sure it is weaponized bleach.

I had heard good things about Dr. Bronner's and noted it's very good rating at the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database. But I was concerned about the cost. At Dr. Bronner's website you can get a gallon of peppermint scented for $52.49 ($0.41/fl. oz.) plus shipping and handling. Henry's charges $9.79 for a 16 fl. oz. bottle ($0.61/fl. oz.) and $14.49 for a 32 fl. oz. bottle ($0.45/fl. oz.). Trader Joe's only carries the 32 fl. oz. bottle and only in peppermint, but they more than make up for their lack of selection with their rockstar price: $8.99. ($0.28/fl. oz.). [Trader Joe's also carries their own brand of peppermint pure castille liquid soap, only in 16 oz. bottles for $3.49 (the lowest price of all: $0.22/fl. oz.).]

So when I used up the last of the weaponized bleach hand soap, I bought a 32 fl. oz. bottle of Dr. Bronner's Magic 18-in-1 Hemp Peppermint Pure Castille (liquid) Soap Made with Organic Oils at Trader Joe's. I filled our soap dispenser and have been in love ever since. Others have noted that optimally you would dilute the soap and run in through a foaming soap dispenser to avoid the solidification and concomitant clogging (read further for a link). But I thought I'd just give it a try in the smallest soap dispenser before I ran off and invested money in foaming soap dispensers. It has a low viscosity, which causes it to shoot out of the dispenser without mercy. But this also allows you to lather up your hands without water. It also rinses cleaner than any soap I or David have ever used. You get no sense that there is a residue on your hands once you've washed them. But it also doesn't strip your skin of moisture like other soap. I've used it to wash my face and it is effective even on my insane sunblock. The peppermint makes it very refreshing after a hot day outside. The only downside is that it is, as my loving husband so eloquently put it, "urine-colored." So our clear soap dispenser is slightly less attractive if you're into clear soap . . . which I think smacks of racism, but that's just me. I'm a hippy. You can tell because I use Dr. Bronner's.

A few other random thoughts on Dr. Bronner's:

As I mentioned many moons ago, Ask Metafilter's post describing Uses for Dr Bronner Soap [WARNING: RAGING hippies responded with some VERY personal uses for this product which may induce nausea and Republican sympathies in MANY readers]. It answered my question: can I use Dr. Bronner as a hand soap? Answer: Yes, diluted with water and in one of those foaming soap dispensers. Now I just have to wait for someone to ask, "Now that I use only foaming soap dispensers, what do I do with my three non-foaming soap dispensers?"

Ask Metafilter has also answered the key buying bulk Bronner's question: Will Dr. Bronner stay good for the rest of my life? Short answer: quite probably.

How many soaps can claim to have spawned a movie? Dr. Bronner's can: Dr. Bronner's Magic Soapbox by Sara Lamm. Gristmill has a nice review of the film.

Dr. Bronner's Peppermint get's a 9 out of 10 on Good Guide.

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