Friday, July 30, 2010

Using fig-infused gin & rum: report!

If you'll recall, I infused gin and rum with figs. It was very lovely; I was going to go share it with friends, mixed with prosecco, and promised to report on my succes (or failure!). It was .. okay. It was pretty, but we didn't bother adding sugar, and we should've, as the drink wasn't sweet enough.

Well, I've found a great summery application for it! Sparkling lemonade + fig-infused gin = SUPER yum. And gorgeous too!

I was thinking I should do a series called Weekend Lush or something, and have the post go live on Fridays. I'm not quite up to getting that scheduled (I borrowed WIP Wednesday from Meghan, though she's temporarily suspended the series after producing a Work that was 9-plus months in the making, if you know what I mean), but I'll keep it in mind.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

WIP Wednesday: More sweater!

Reader, my enthusiasm for this project wanes.

Yeah, I've (only?) been working on it for four months. Yes, I'm nearly done with the two sleeves, knit in tandem as long rectangles which shall then be seamed; yes, I've started on the shoulder caps, meaning only about 54 rows separate me from near-completion! But still.. I am weary.

Perhaps that's why I'm suddenly interested in making jams again. Really my subconcious is screaming:
No more knitting!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Houston, we may have a problem

I bought sour cherries today. Even though I have some in the freezer.
I bought blueberries today. Even though I have some in the freezer.

I have a bunch of ideas of what I might do with them, but did I need these or plan on them entering my life?? No, and no.

But .. but.. but! Blueberry season is short! Sour cherry season doesn't even EXIST where I live! These suckers came from Washington and by the Flying Spaghetti Monster, they shall feel loved!

But possibly I can resolve to NOT purchase any more freezer-bound items until I've used up some of my bounty. Yeah. I can promise that. Really.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

It's a sad sad day...

Something is wrong with my laptop. What? I have no idea. None. Yeah, I've been working with computers since forever, yeah, maybe I've been paid to do support even, but I'm more a specialized-software-type than a machine-fixer.

What's most tragic is that the trouble is manifesting in Firefox! I've been reduced to using IE to write this very post, and I have to say - at least it's working. I tried to add a short comment to one of my own posts three times with ffx, and it keeps freezing up and I have to kill it.

I've uninstalled and reinstalled Firefox. I've turned off any fancy add-ons I have. I found some recommendation to change some setting to extend the time before firefox refreshes from the server.. and it's still happening.

yes, this laptop is just over four years old - but it should have plenty of wherewithal to post a freaking comment. Short of buying a new one (which seems ludicrous), I don't know what to do. I think I need a techie sibling or friend to come visit and give my laptop some love. Any volunteers? I guess if I have to, I'll take long-distance advice!

(edited to add: I tried to use Google Chrome, and it couldn't even connect to my wireless internet. DOOMED I tell you.)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Sludgy health in a bottle

I had some routine bloodwork last week, and came back CRAZY low on the measure They use to assess the body's stores of iron. A healthy range for a woman is: 12-150 ng/mL. I measured a four! Ha!

It's nothing to be concerned about, as all my other numbers are fine, but my doc has told me to get more iron and come back in 2 months for a do-over. So, I'm trying to be good. I don't eat a lot of meat, and I don't like liver at all, ick. But I do like things like hamburgers, and edamame, and black beans. Also: molasses! Turns out blackstrap molasses is crazy high in iron.

Sorry about the terrible focus! But THIS is loud and clear:

Twenty percent! In a tablespoon! So yeah.. I'm adding that to my usual breakfast of oats & milk/yogurt. It's a little stronger-tasting than the other molasses I already had (which boasts 15% so even that isn't too shabby) and I'm sure I feel better already.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Summer in a bowl!

This pasta salad was a standby in my childhood. The flavors of ham, sharp cheddar, sweet pickle relish, mustard, and mayo (or Miracle Whip, in our household!) combine in a sweet/sharp contrast. Toss in crunchy veggies and refrigerate so the flavors mingle, and you've got a great summer treat!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Using fig infused gin!

A few weeks ago, I got the idea to infuse gin with figs. While I was at it, I infused some rum, too! The only problem is, what should I do with this boozy goodness?
 Gin on the left, rum on the right.

Luckily for me, the coworker who gave me the idea mentioned in passing that he serves the fig-infused gin with prosecco and thyme. I think he must have gotten the idea from an article online, available at this link

Stay tuned for a report!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

WIP Wednesday: Sweater!

Warning - lots of knit-talk ahead. If you're not a knitter, please feel free to just leave a comment saying "oooooh pretty."

I've gotten to a rather exciting point in knitting my sweater: it's actually taking shape! I finished the other front-half last week, and when I actually laid the pieces out, I can see it's actually going to really be a (gorgeous) sweater.

Right now I'm working on the sleeves, which are essentially two loooong rectangles that I'll then sew into tubes. Thanks to a chance passing question from a knitting coworker, I'm doing both sleeves at the same time, starting from the wrists and working up to the shoulder. It's essentially knitting the two rectangles side-by-side, being careful to use the correct ball of yarn for each one (otherwise they'd be hopelessly linked and I would cry).

It's a little fiddly, but it got better when the same coworker passed on a tip from another knitting buddy - connect the sleeves on one side so that you can easily tell which way you should be knitting across the project. Otherwise you quickly get confused about how many rows you've knit on each one, where you should be going next, etc. You'd probably have to be a knitter contemplating doing something like this to realize, but trust me when I say it made my life SO much easier.

Of course when I lined up the project so far, I realized that I screwed up in the shoulder area a little bit - I decreased the fronts more slowly than the pattern called for, meaning at the front of the shoulder I have about 20 stitches, but on the back part of the shoulder I only have about 11. They're supposed to line up perfectly, so there shall be some fudging. It's salvageable for sure, it's just a question of how I do it.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Discoveries in the filing cabinet

This weekend, out of nowhere, along came the impulse to clean out my filing cabinets. I've barely touched them since before my move from Oregon in 2006 - for a while I shoved new stuff in the TO FILE file, but for the last year or so I've just piled papers on top of the cabinet. Ugh. So when that impulse drifted by, I grabbed it and ran with it!

Three bags of recycling later, I learned a few things.

1) The stock market has been even more horrific than I realized. Over the course of ten years, one group of retirement accounts went haywire. From the high balance in 2000, it was down 44% by 2003, then went up 200% by 2007, then back down 49% in 2009, and when I rolled over the account in 2010 it was back up 159%. What those numbers don't show is that from starting to finishing balance, it was down 30%. Tragic. Good thing I believe in saving aggressively for retirement!

2) I was reminded that I hate Charles Schwab. In 1999-2001 I had investment accounts there. I bought some stocks, realized I didn't know what I was doing, sold them in May 2000 to pay off my credit card debt (which was, in retrospect, excellent timing as the market tanked after that). I got laid off, I got busy, I got lazy - I stopped opening their mail for a while. Well, over three quarters they charged me a total of $121.66 in quarterly fees, because my account was under $300. Talk about slimy and short-sighted. I take full blame for not reading my mail and the statements, but I have fantasies of them begging for my money someday, so I can scornfully spurn them. At any rate, I tell anyone who cares not to invest with Charles Schwab. That behavior MAY be a thing of the past, but if a company will be so greedy once, who's to say they won't be again?

3) I'm so grateful for this day of electronic statements. I don't get anything like the flood of mail I used to! I might even get rid of one of my filing cabinets, as I think the other one is mostly empty - I didn't have the heart to look, though.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Nocino update, and recipe recommendation

I've been moderately good about shaking the nocino, and as promised, it's already turning all manner of strange colors!
The one on the left is a brackish green, but the jar in the center is BLACK already. So cool!

In non-related news, I made this cake and it is to die for: David Lebovitz's Almond Cake.
It was super easy to make in my whiz-bang food processor, and he's correct that it tastes amazing even a couple of days later. I served mine with homemade limoncello, homegrown blueberries, and storebought creme fraiche. I almost think the add-ons were too much; next time I'll keep it more simple so the amazing almond flavor can shine. Look how fine the texture is! The only disappointment was the outside edge was a teeny bit overcooked. I might take it out 2 minutes sooner next time.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

WIP Wednesday: Nocino!

It's happening: I'm infusing vodka with unripe walnuts.. and it's going to be yummy!

On the left, unripe English walnuts; on the right, unripe black walnuts. Both are just called green walnuts in most recipes, but I was careful to do a matching infusions with different walnuts, so I can see if I can detect a difference.

It's pretty easy in concept to make nocino: combine vodka, sugar, spices, and quartered green walnuts. I'm using a recipe from one of my favorite food blogs, Simply Recipes. Of course as is typical, I charted my own course.

I didn't have any lemons and didn't feel like running down to the tree, so right now there isn't any citrus element. Also, I thought I'd save time, space, and dishes, and combine the sugar, spices, and vodka in the jars before adding the walnuts:

Only as I started chucking in the walnuts did I realize I wasn't going to have enough room! I fudged it a bit and made four jars' worth of the stuff:

As you can see, the jar on the left is SUPER full - I siphoned out some of the vodka, and didn't put in quite as many walnuts as the recipe called for (probably 26 instead of 30). The jar in the middle is not even quite half-full - I divided its contents between it and the jar behind it. I figure once I remove the solids I can combine the liquids again. Finally, the jar on the right is short on sugar, since I ran out. I'll have to stick a note on it and add the missing sugar st some point! (Don't worry.. I put notes on the lids)

The walnuts were harvested here in the Bay Area over Fourth of July weekend. The English walnuts (jar on the left, also about four of them in the jar on the right) were very easy to cut through. The black walnuts (in all but the left-hand jar) were definitely starting to firm up. I only cut them in half, and even that was an effort. I was careful not to cut myself - I could see it happening all too easily.

So now I store them somewhere that I can reach them, and shake them daily for two months. I don't know if I should add the missing sugar to the right-hand jar now, or if I should wait until the walnuts come out.

For future reference, I think I'll combine the vodka and sugar, then put the walnuts in the jars, then cover with sugary booze, THEN add the spicing. Assuming a) this comes out, b) I like it, and c) I ever feel the need to make more!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

There will be nocino!

I thought I'd missed my chance, but today not one but two coworkers delivered the goods: unripe walnuts! I'm very excited that I'll get to make nocino after all. I have three bottles of vodka and several pounds of walnuts on my desk at work: too bad I rode my bike today! Fortunately one of my friends also biked and has some very cute panniers for her bike, and has offered to tote my walnuts home. I'll happily pay her in nocino...someday! It steeps for about 8 weeks, but apparently tastes best after it's aged for a year.

Yes, there will be pictures later. I'm particularly excited that I have TWO different types of green walnuts to try. I think they are black walnut and English walnut. Here's hoping I don't poison myself somewhere along the way!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Garden = miracle

Surely I live in a crazy place. How else can you explain what can happen in two months?? Look at how the garden grows:
Overhead shot taken May 1 2010

Overhead shot taken July 3 2010
Tomatoes, tomatillos, zucchini - taken May 2 2010

 Tomatoes, tomatillos, zucchini - taken July 3 2010

Look at the size of this zucchini plant! Here's my hand holding the leaf, for added scale:

And finally, the miracle of the tomato. In September, I harvested seeds from some local tomatoes. In March, I got some sprouts. And now the enormous thriving plants are starting to make fruit!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Fig-infused alcohols

Even though my limoncello project didn't knock my socks off with the results, I am still (for the moment) intrigued by the idea of infusing alcohol with other flavors. Through my wine group I was exposed to nocino, a green-walnut-infused vodka. I bought some Nocello a few months ago, which is a less-potent and more-blended product, and last week I tried to get my hands on some green walnuts so I could make my own, but I missed the (very short!) season by a week.

However, in talking about nocino with a coworker, I was turned onto the idea of infusing vodka gin with figs. One recipe search led to another, and before I knew it, I was making quite the range of fig-infused booze!
I cut up a ton of black mission figs (okay.. three baskets' worth),

filled six jars about half-full,

and experimented with ingredients I had on hand.

After the limoncello experience, I realize I'm better off trying a few things for the first time out, and if I find something I like, then I can make more later. In this case it'll have to wait til next year, since figs are almost out of season, but that's okay.

back row, l-r:
  • figs, rum, 1 cinnamon stick, 5 cloves
  • figs, rum, 3/4 vanilla bean
  • figs, gin, 1/2 vanilla bean
front row, l-r:
  • figs, gin, 1 cinnamon stick, 5 cloves
  • figs, gin
  • figs, gin, lemon peel, 3/4 vanilla bean.

Stay tuned!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Limoncello update

I recently posted about making limoncello, and I finally got to try it! Sadly, I have to admit that the stuff I bought in Italy in 2001 is better. Not only does it have a truer, more lemony flavor, it's more visually appealing as well:
See that gorgeous yellowy cloudy stuff on the left? That's the Italian limoncello.

Now, my version is by no means terrible, and it's certainly been a good learning experience. I thought it could use some sweetening, so I added more simple syrup, but now it tastes a bit watered-down (using stronger vodka and less-watery syrup would've helped on both counts). I think I'll make it again, but I'll use Meyer lemons (for a more unique flavor) and will do a more careful sweetening stage - I was really guessing at it this time, and that's where I went wrong.

I tell you what, I wish I could get lemons from New Zealand. The first time I had a glass of water there with lemons floating in it, I thought they'd somehow infused the water with flowers! Their lemons are a lot sweeter and less acidic than any I've ever had elsewhere. Anyway, as you'll soon see, this has not deterred me from boozy experimentation!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Calendar: Two Thousand Ten: July

Another month has come! The photo I selected for my July calendar page is yet another offering from my trip last year. 
These are the Shepherd's Steps leading down to sea level from the cliffs above Northern Ireland's Giants Causeway. It was an astonishingly beautiful day to walk along the top of the cliff, then down the stairs:

...along the base of the cliff:

... across the amazing hexagonal stepping-stone surface:

... to admire the ocean: