Wednesday, September 30, 2009

something smells GOOD in here

It's finally feeling a bit autumnal in these parts - a bit chilly in the evenings and mornings - and I decided to bake something yummy. I picked out this recipe for Dark Molasses Gingerbread. May I say: it smells amazing!!!!!

I had all of the ingredients on hand - I always find that SO satisfying. As is My Way, I altered things a bit. Instead of a round cake pan, I decided to use a loaf pan (and lengthened the baking time - I expect it'll take about 60-70 minutes to bake fully). Also, instead of 2 cups cake flour, I used 2/3 cup whole wheat flour, and 1 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose. Almost all the ingredients (missing only the butter & water):

It's pretty easy. Mix the dry ingredients:

Then add 2 eggs, 1 cup hot water and 1/2 cup butter that's been melted into it (the hot liquid made the bowl steam appealingly); then add a WHOLE lot of molasses: the entire 12-ounce bottle went in.

And get it in the oven!

I think that'll make a really nice breakfast, along with some plain yogurt. I've got something else in mind to bake for my coworkers, so I won't feel TOO bad about keeping this all for myself!

I'll try to get a picture of the finished product and share that later.

Picky picky

I started knitting in January 2008. It's fun, though I'm getting to the point where I really have enough of everything - do I really need three sets of fingerless mitts? No. But here I am, making my third set. To be fair: a) the first set is too big b) the second pair doesn't match c) I didn't set out to make mitts.

I started out making socks, but made the cuff too small. It's a fancy cuff, and the yarn is a bit heavy to wear around here anyway, so I figured I'd use the sock pattern and improvise mitts. Here is the first attempt:

I like how the line is running up the thumb, but if you look closely, you can see that there's a jag where the wrist hits the hand - the zig-zag line that continues onto the hand is off a stitch. I decided I couldn't live with that, and ripped out the hand. If you look closely you can see the lifeline: the thread I put through the stitches at the wrist/hand join area, to make it easy to rip out.

Take two is much better: the wrist/hand join line is perfect, and I think I like the continued zig-zag theme better:

Now I'm finishing up at the finger end with a version of the wrist pattern. Then I do the thumb, and then try to repeat for the other hand!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

garden snag

I've mentioned I'm helping coordinate the installation of a raised bed garden at my apartment building. The apartment manager has the okay to spend some money (he's been VERY vague about the amount) and after some conversation & back and forth, I gave him the list of things to buy.

I got a message from him yesterday: he's spent a bunch of money but hasn't gotten the wood to build the raised beds yet, so we may have to buy those.

I mean, I'm willing to throw in some cash and do it, but really?? The last thing on the list is the wood to make the beds????? sheesh. honest to Pete. I bet it's really because he doesn't want to have to go to another store, aside from the garden center.

.. who's Pete, anyway?

Monday, September 28, 2009

iron cupcake, or: oh, my tummy

I'm back from the San Francisco Iron Cupcake event. This month's challenge ingredient was: squash! Contestants have to bring something like 70 mini cupcakes; the general public (including yours truly) pay five bucks and get to sample each entry. There were twenty (yes TWENTY) entries, so my two friends and I chose to literally divide and conquer: we shared the samples among ourselves, and only a couple of cupcakes merited second helpings.

Let's revisit my predictions, shall we? I said:
If I were doing this I might do maple-acorn squash, or curry-butternut-coconut, or summer-squash/squash-flower.

Well, did anyone follow my brainstorm? nope! None of the twenty (yes TWENTY) cupcakes on offer were any of the above combinations. There was at least one with acorn squash, two that used curry, and one that used summer squash, so all is not lost. There were a surprising number of pumpkin spice cupcakes on offer, which I found puzzling, but I guess it IS a winning flavor, literally - I know the first place cupcake was pumpkin-chocolate chip. There was a surprising number of entries with cream cheese frosting, including one unfortunate one that tasted like mayo. ALL of the cupcakes were lovely.

Some of the more interesting offerings:
Spiced chocolate zucchini cupcake
Pumpkin curry
Candied butternut squash with Guinness buttercream & {illegible writing} ginger
Butternut squash & apple cupcake with curry/cardamom cream cheese frosting
Butternut & yellow squash with brie & honey centers

My absolute favorite:
Pumpkin spice cake with butternut squash risotto "pudding" fill & creme fraiche frosting.

The cupcake was airy, and had a wee pocket of creamy goodness; the frosting was light and not too sweet. Alas, it did not win, but thank you for your effort, chefs!

I didn't have my camera with me and my phone died. Keep an eye on this link to look for updates! I'll add different links if I find good ones.

iron cupcake!!!!

Tonight I'm going to a cupcake event that should be awesome. You can read a bit about it here but basically it's a spin on Iron Chef: contestants are given a challenge ingredient, and then bring cupcakes for the crowd to judge.

This month's ingredient is squash.

Could be lame-to-easy: zucchini and pumpkin have been done to death (delicious death). I'm hoping that the contestants will get creative.

If I were doing this I might do maple-acorn squash, or curry-butternut-coconut, or summer-squash/squash-flower.

I hope that the contestants are even more creative than that!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

blabbity blah

I've got to get some more pictures up here! I charged my camera battery last night (uh.. after it died toward the end of my documenting the paths in Oakland. oops. It was getting dark anyway), so I'll be better able to do that. Also, I've got a houseguest or two for one or two nights this weekend, so I HAVE to clean. They'll be borrowing my car Saturday midday onward, so I expect to hang in my 'hood a lot of the weekend - I'll see if anything presents itself photographically.

Hey, here's something:

Tomato pie-quiche thing I made a couple weeks ago for lunch group. It was good, but could have been better. One of the other lunch group people brought a KILLER quiche later that week. Of course she used heavy cream in it!

Here's hoping for a photo-worthy weekend!

Friday, September 25, 2009

I am the Dirt Czar.

I've compiled the shopping list. I've submitted it to the rest of the people in the building for feedback. Then I'm going to give it to the apartment manager and devoutly hope he doesn't have a bunch of questions!

The biggest challenge so far is figuring out the size of the bed. One of the residents did some calculating and figuring, and suggested two 4x4 beds. We've got room for 6 beds of that size, but we're starting smallish to see how it goes.

Do you know how much dirt it takes to fill 16 square feet? It takes a lot of dirt. At first I was calculating 20 inches deep, but from what I could find, that's overkill. I changed the numbers so we're figuring on an average of 14 inches deep (more like 12 in one and 16 in the other, I think) and it's STILL a lot of dirt. We're looking at about $150 in dirt alone.

We could do it cheaper, but none of us have a truck, we'd have to drive a minimum of an hour round trip, and it would make a huge mess - not to mention taking lots of time. Even if I could find someone to deliver a bunch of dirt, we couldn't back the truck up to the prospective bed area, because it's fenced in, so we'd have to, what... get wheelbarrows and buckets?? Yeah that would be more work and mess.

So, I've made the list and will hold my breath til we find out if we get all the stuff. Fingers crossed!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

ah, me

a little-known Fact About Me: I learned to do tarot card readings a few years ago. I can't explain them, but I find that the cards are often uncannily accurate.

My birthday was last month, so I did a Wheel of the Year reading. My card for September was the King of Swords. Among other things, that card symbolizes being a leader and taking on responsibility.

This month my manager has started her maternity leave, and I've taken an unexpected role in the process of getting a garden at my apartment building. Both have kicked in for real this week. I think the sentence in the above-linked post that fits the situation best is: I'm leading not because I want to, but because I can. I've managed in the past and it's not my favorite activity, though I'm reasonably good at it!

I am stressed out and tired, because I'm not sleeping well! I feel silly complaining about it; in the grand scheme these cares are minimal. I am confident I'll work through it and be fine, but I'm eager to get through this month. Heck, I'm eager to close out this week. It is kicking my ask.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Helping a blogger misbehave

This is possibly not that interesting to you, my loyal readers, but it's an interesting commentary on blogs, search engines, and trademarks.

Back in April 2008, a blogger wrote a post about the company MonaVie. They make juice, I guess, and rely on individuals to sell their products. To sum up: the article wasn't complimentary; nor were the 3,200+ comments added to the post (three THOUSAND, folks).

Thanks to all those comments, and the links across the web, google searches for MonaVie return his post as the top search result. Guess who doesn't love that?

MonaVie wants him to stop! They want him to remove his post and stop talking about their company. That smacks of censorship to me. More importantly, the blogger cleverly repurposed an awesome monologue from the movie Serenity.

The idea is that the more people link to his post, the harder it will be for MonaVie to keep being idiots. I'm not sure it will help but I'm willing to try. Therefore, I am posting this in an attempt to help Lazy Man misbehave.

more creative dessert thinking

More on the Fallen Ladies.

I was thinking the gold flakes in Goldschlager might be a nice touch, but I don't want the cinnamon flavor. I also thought flower water would be lady-like, but a) I've never used it and b) prefer my flowers in a vase, not on my plate.

Meghan suggested a liqueur drizzle, and I am leaning that way. I don't want a fruity flavor, or coffee. I've been exposed to nocino, which is a liqueur made from green walnuts and is yummy. So I might get a bottle of that and see how it goes with chocolate cake. It might be good to add the flavor (whatever it winds up being) to whipped cream - a toffee sauce, while yummy, may be just too rich for my ladies. Then again, how about a hard sauce with whiskey or brandy or cognac?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Where the magic happens

I love seeing other peoples' homes and cooking areas. Here are pictures from mine!

This standing rack has changed my life. Seriously. My kitchen has very little convenient storage.

I had a friend visit last summer and he installed these two wall-mounted pieces for me. I tend to use the magnetic one to hold recipes, and can often excavate a week or more's worth of cooking.
You can see these pics on flickr here and here - I added extra notes over there.

Dessert creation process

My mental wheels are turning.

I got a copy of Cooks' Illustrated book on baking at the library recently, and as I was flipping through it yesterday, I glanced at a recipe titled Fallen Chocolate Cake. For some reason I read it as Fallen Ladies, and I've decided I want to make a recipe and give it that title.

So the base recipe will be fallen chocolate cake (think one of those little cakes with the gooey center that have been popular at restaurants for the last decade or so), but I need something to sex it up. I was at a dinner party this weekend and we had bread pudding with a killer toffee sauce, so I was thinking of making that. If the cake isn't too sweet, that would work. However, it seems to me like there should be booze in anything called a Fallen Lady - and probably lots of it.

I don't think I want to go fruity, though I did think it would provide the excuse I need to finally buy some kirsch (which I've wanted to do since I read this blog post).

I'm thinking chocolate, gooey, rich, decadent. And I think I know just the venue to try it out - we'll see!

Monday, September 21, 2009

busy & productive & social

The weekend was just about perfect: lots of down time (I only had plans for Saturday night!), I entertained myself in the kitchen (made yogurt, peach-blueberry jam, and applesauce), and did a volunteer gig.

Oakland is a city of many contradictions: rich people in the hills, gangs in the flatlands, and ordinary people like me in the middle. Of course it's not that simple, either, but that's not my point right now! Among its bounty, Oakland has tons of urban paths and stairways, and an organization is gathering volunteers to map, photograph, and in other ways document them. Sounds fun, so I've signed up. I'll need local buddies to keep me company and hold the tape measure!

Some of my treasure: applesauce (with a little peach, blueberry, and spices, but no sugar added)

And the peach-blueberry jam:

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Oakland = Awesome

You say tomato, I say YUM

When I was growing up, the best summer meal ever was BLTs made with the amazing beefsteak tomatoes my mom grew in the garden. I've never had a real urge to garden, but man, I miss amazing tomatoes fresh off the vine. Yes, I can buy them, but it's not quite the same.

Now that my building is doing a garden, I'm excited to try to save some tomato seeds and grow my own next year. I got three locally-bred tomatoes at the farmer's market today. The tomatoes are gorgeous: red, with hints of orange and green. The flavor is amazing - a bit tangy, a bit sweet; I couldn't stop myself from eating a whole one on its own. I'm inspired to save the seeds and see if they'll grow for me next year!

But now I've learned that you have to put a tiny bit of work into harvesting tomato seeds, and it could get a bit icky. Still, I've got to try. Stay tuned!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Apple tart-cake thingy

One of the food blogs I follow, Orangette, had an amazing-looking recipe that I saved many months ago. I was hoping for fall once September hit, because I am incapable of absorbing that the Bay Area gets summer starting around then. So, when I volunteered to make dessert for a dinner party, I resolutely ignored the weather, and made this cake. Tart. Thingy.

It's pretty easy: you make a yummy dough, moosh it in the bottom of a pan, and then layer apples on top. You bake about 2/3 of the total time, pull out the tart-cake thingy, put Amazing Deliciousness on top, and stick it back in the oven.

It may not be strictly autumn here, but man, was that good.

A belated greeting

New blog! New determination! new focus!

Something like that. I wonder how many blogs are out there with tumbleweeds rolling down the street? I bet the vast majority. In some ways, blogging feels so very 2006 - I keep up with my friends in other ways. But today's ways of keeping up are SO ephemeral.

I follow a lot of blogs about food and cooking and money and finance and the Bay Area (sometimes those topics overlap, even!) and I bookmark a handful of the posts every day (which adds up, and is the subject for a later post).

So what does all this mean? In this time of ephemeral chatter, I want to be able to revisit my thoughts. And I would love it if I have company along the way.

we have carrots!

teeny weeny green fronds are peeking up in the garden - carrots! I'll get a picture later this weekend, I think.

We also have soaker hoses laid in - these are new to me, but have teeny holes and get laid out amongst the plants, then just left there. Turn on the hose for 20 minutes and the ground is gently soaked. who knew?

we've decided on the measurements for the new beds and have asked for the parts we need. This thing is moving along better than I hoped, and with far less effort (so far) than I anticipated.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

I'm Wednesday!

We actually now have seven participants, so a person assigned to each day of the week for watering duties. Later, when we have more garden space, we may assign primary responsibility to areas. That way we'd have a planned crop that we could all share, but we'd each get to be a bit more involved in the particular plants of our sections - if that's the way we want to do it, anyway. I think it's a good idea.

We've got some plans, but they are VERY ambitious. Right now I think we need to think kind of small - two 4x4 beds will be a big enough challenge, considering we don't have access to free dirt or a truck. I have a coworker with a truck, and I might try asking for assistance.. but we'll see. I'm just excited this is slowly, slowly lifting off the ground.

Monday, September 7, 2009

post-first meeting

Our first meeting went well - six of us showed up, and five were able to stay and help get some seedlings planted. I got a better sense of what we want to do, and probably some ideas about how to handle the process. It sounds like the building manager wants us to have some guidelines in place, and the property management company is willing to kick in some money. So, I think it'll take some patience and negotiation, but we can get something in place.

The garden already has some thriving tomato plants; today we planted lettuce, kale, broccoli, turnips, and carrots. All but the carrots were seedlings. It's so weird to put stuff in the ground in September!!!

We also kicked around ideas for what else we might like to plant. For this coming fall/winter it sounds like we're interested in potatoes, beets, brussels sprouts, and some other hardy stuff. I suppose we have to get the beds built first, and who knows what that timeline is.

The garden: before

Quick post before I go to our first garden meeting - my apartment building is going to turn some unused common space into a shared garden. I've volunteered/fallen into the role of organizer. I'm good at organizing, but I know next to nothing about gardening, so this should be an interesting endeavor. I feel good about it, though: in the few days since this started happening, I've had more contact with some of the residents in my building since I moved in three years ago.

There's already a little bit of garden going - one person started it, and when he moved out, another took over and expanded a bit. But now we're probably going to remove some of the plants filling in the former pool, and get some raised beds built on it instead. This could be great!