Wednesday, August 25, 2010

WIP Wednesday: me!

It is Wednesday, and I realized the perfect topic for my Work-In-Progress Wednesday post: ME!

My birthday falls on a Wednesday this year. I'm one year away from a so-called "zero birthday" so I've spent more time thinking about that than thinking about this one.

I'm pretty sure that if you asked me at 20 what I'd be like now, what would be going on in my life, where I'd be, who I'd be with, I'd never have guessed anything correctly. Software barely existed waaaaay back then, I never expected to live in California, and of course I assumed I'd be married with kids.

Then again, I wouldn't have guessed I'd be interested in hiking, biking, camping, cooking, baking, canning, photography, libraries, cities, personal finance, alcohol-infusing, gardening, and knitting. I'd have been glad to know about the decent amount of travel I've accomplished, and I'd have been quite surprised (but gratified!) at my sociable self.

I thought a while to see if I've got any life predictions, but honestly, my life has been so changeable in the big picture that I really don't. Fifteen years ago I was living in Boston, planning my big move to Portland. Ten years ago I was in Portland, recently laid off from my first software job, thinking about grad school, and planning a trip to Italy for summer 2001. Five years ago I was a librarian at a suburban library, still living in Portland, without an inkling about all the changes coming at me in a mere nine months.

I'm super lucky to be healthy, have a challenging job, stable and excellent friends, and a loving family. I might be officially middle-aged (am I?? I'm not sure!!) but it's been a fun ride!

Tonight I've got friends indulging my refusal to grow up. Ice cream for dinner!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Nocino: now it's time to wait

This will be the last nocino update for a while. After six weeks (and four days) of benign neglect (with the occasional shake), I decided to strain the solids from my infusion. It was a little messy, and I definitely stained my hands a little, but I now have three quart jars, each 2/3 full, of aging nocino.

As a reminder: recipes call for green walnuts, often not specifying if they intend that you use black walnuts or English walnuts. It appears that either will work, but since I was presented with both types of unripe walnuts, I made three batches, all based on this recipe:

1. approx. 26 unripe English walnuts, 2 cinnamon sticks, 5 whole cloves, 1/3 vanilla bean, 2 1/2 cups sugar, and just under 1 liter of vodka.. all steeped in one jammed-full jar.

2. approx 30 unripe black walnuts, 2 cinnamon sticks, 5 whole cloves, 1/3 vanilla bean, 2 1/2 cups sugar, 1 liter of vodka, divided into two separate jars (resulting in a lot more oxygen exposure, I think, which may partially account for the extreme inky-ness of that batch, but that's probably more a result of the nature of black walnuts)

3. approx 24 unripe black walnuts + 5 unripe English walnuts, 2 cinnamon sticks, 5 whole cloves, 1/3 vanilla bean, 1 star anise, 1/4 tsp grains of paradise, 1 liter vodka, and 1 1/2 cups sugar (because I simply ran out of room. I may add more sugar after it's aged.. I assume that's doable.)

The English walnuts were far easier to cut; the black walnuts were hardening up and quite challenging to work with. The black walnuts ooze a clear liquid that rapidly darkens to a chartreuse green and stains whatever it touches. Yes, including my fingers!

So, the photos:
Before straining. English walnuts on left, black walnuts center & right.

Strained black walnuts; nocino below! 

Strained English walnuts.

Black walnut nocino, left; English walnut nocino, right. 
The color isn't that different without the sun's help! From a distance they are both very dark.

Left, black walnut nocino; right, English walnut nocino.

Left, black walnut nocino; right, English walnut nocino.

Naturally  I tasted both. Eeuuuggghhhh. They smell good, and start off okay, but are NOT ready for prime time. I hope that a few months will mellow them out; one article I read indicates that they infuse from end of June to end of August, but don't actually drink the nocino until Christmas. So, we'll see.

To be honest, no matter how this batch comes out, now that I have access to unripe walnuts, I've got my eye on this recipe for next June! I like that the sugar goes directly on the quartered walnuts for a day or two before the rest of the ingredients get added.

Friday, August 20, 2010

you so wish you worked with me!

All bake sale proceeds go to the American Cancer Society; I take requests, and I do believe I owe a few people who donated already! Let me know if you want to collect.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

It seems too good to be true

... but I MAY have figured out my Firefox freezing issue.

 If this blog post makes it up, it will be a pretty good indication that I solved it - usually the second Blogger or Gmail autosaves, that's all I get to write - the browser is frozen.

But this post has been saved multiple times already (for no good reason) and I'm still in business. Am I a GENIUS? Or, am I LEGEND, as is apparently the slang in Australia? Sure, you can call me legend.

I remembered that I'd installed a little app called cutePDF. It lets you print a doc to a pdf file, is super slick, and was quite handy when I needed it. But I uninstalled it today and my goodness: I seem to be back in business.


back to the kitchen!

I haven't had much in the way of photos to post, lately. Lunch group is on hiatus (ALL THREE of my compatriots are on vacation right now.. *sniffle*), the theatrical goodness of Ashland isn't that photogenic, and I have FINISHED my sweater but don't have any pics yet.

So. Well.

Well, I'm doing a fund-raising around-the-clock team walk 8 days from now (Aug 28/29). I'm terrible at asking for donations, but I'm GREAT at baking. Last year we had two bake sales at work and raised $500. We had one sale last week ($285) and have another one tomorrow. My recipes are a great credit to the blogs I read!(most especially, Smitten Kitchen!)

Last week I brought:
Smitten Kitchen's Crispy Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
Smitten Kitchen's Everyday chocolate cake (which I charred just a teeny bit)
Smitten Kitchen's Blueberry crumb bars (which were veeeery popular but also a bit charred)

This week I'm bringing:
the blueberry bars again (but I swear to check on them sooner)
zucchini bread (recipe from the Better Homes & Gardens cookbook)
Simply Recipes' Chocolate zucchini cake (I made this insanely tasty cake for a bbq last weekend. wowza was it good... I have frozen remnants at home. This time I added some chocolate chips to push it RIGHT over the top.)
And blueberry muffins.

So yeah, that's a good chunk of money masquerading as ingredients. Also plenty of time and energy - but it's fun, and I like baking, and I really like off-loading the majority of it.

Monday, August 16, 2010

zucchini madness omg

Friends, I don't really like zucchini. It just figures, doesn't it, that it's the easiest dang thing to grow?! Here's a picture of the one zuke plant from my group garden project, about 6 weeks ago:

It's the big green leaves to the right. Believe me when I say that freaking monster has more than doubled in volume since then! And of the five of us in the garden group... it doesn't seem like anyone is that into the dreaded green veg.

My biggest hits so far this year have been Simply Recipes' Chocolate Zucchini Cake, and zucchini pickles!

When I was growing up, our next-door neighbor had a HUGE garden, and I distinctly remember these pickles she'd make. Oddly enough, I liked neither pickles nor zucchini, but it seemed like the two negatives cancelled each other out; I liked her zucchini pickles! I hadn't thought of them for years until I had a burger at a restaurant in Portland and they came with a side of the distinctively-colored pickles. Now that I'm blessed with an abundance of the Loathsome Green Monster, I made my own. They came out pretty tasty, though next time I may use cider vinegar to bump up the sweetness a tiny bit.

I used this recipe (I think... they are all about the same) and here's my pickles getting briney. yep, everything is now that turmeric yellow color.

What else can I do with zucchini? I should probably just give in and pick 'em really small, but I keep hoping one of the gardeners will want one or two (or ten).

Monday, August 9, 2010

back from the road!

Well, the trip to Ashland was amazing. The focus of the trip was to see plays put on as part of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and I saw three of the best productions I'll probably ever see: Hamlet, Ruined, and She Loves Me.

Most people are probably at least passingly familar with Hamlet. I don't think I've ever seen or read the whole thing, but I certainly knew the gist of it. This production was stellar. It was set in somewhat modern times, and the traveling theater crew performed the play-within-a-play as a hip-hop troupe; all the characters seemed totally modern and understandable though they used the original language. The actor who performed as Hamlet was amazing. I'd seen him as Iago last year, and he was good in it, but he really was transcendant this year.

Ruined is a 2009 Pulitzer-prize-winning play about the effects of the war in the Congo on civilians, especially the women. It was riveting, and disturbing, and moving, and so powerful - everything I want theater performance to be!

Finishing the weekend with an exuberant musical was a perfect way to close it out. She Loves Me premiered in 1963 and the story itself has a long history, starting as a play by a Hungarian author in the 1930s, then becoming a movie in 1940 (The Shop Around the Corner), a movie musical in 1949 (In the Good Old Summertime), and most recently being produced as the 1998 Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan movie, You've Got Mail. I actually saw the musical before, but remembered little, and this staging was SO well done - funny, charming, and clever.

So, I'm back from vacation but not ready to go to work. Alas, my job awaits, so I'll get back to it tomorrow.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Road trip, weekend culture edition!

I lived in Portland, Oregon for ten years, and only made it to Ashland for the Shakespeare Festival a couple of times - at a guess, the first time was probably 1999. I drove from Portland to Oakland to visit a friend, flew to Southern California to meet up with family, and flew back to the SF area with my younger brother along for the ride. I don't know how long we stayed in the Bay Area - I'm guessing overnight at most. I remember we met my friend Carol for dim sum at a highly-regarded restaurant in the Financial District. Reader: I can hold a grudge. I refuse to link to that restaurant because they were outrageously expensive: $75 for dim sum for three, during a workday! In 1999! Hmf.

The Elizabethan Theatre in Ashland

Anyway, my brother and I drove from the Bay Area northward. I don't remember our route, but here's what I recall: we drove on small roads, past a "city" with a population well under 100; we camped overnight somewhere along the way, but we could hear traffic going by so it wasn't that rustic, we wound up in Ashland and met my friend and his wife, mom, and grandmother for a play - I can't remember its name, but it's some comedy of manners where a relative? or theater critic? gets injured and has to stay with a family far longer than he is welcome (it was NOT in the theater pictured above) (ooooh I remembered: The Man Who Came to Dinner! .. go me and my freaky memory); on our way back to the hotel after the play we accidentally got on I-5 south and couldn't turn around for ages; the next night we all stayed in a yurt in the Valley of the Rogue campground, wheelchair-bound granny and all! On the way back to Portland my brother and I did the drive-through Wildlife Safari which was actually super awesome.

I may be conflating trips, but that's how I remember it!

My second time going to Ashland was 2004, I think - it was the layover day for Cycle Oregon. I think it was pretty late in the week; I remember marveling at the technology of running water, after too-many days of porta-potties. I know I saw a play but haven't the foggiest idea what it was.

So, in ten years, I displayed not-much dedication to attending a very cool event. It runs from February to October - so it's not like I couldn't fit it in. But the thing is, you can't do Ashland on a whim - rooms book up and plays sell out, and I never felt motivated to organize something.

But then, I moved away from Portland to the Bay Area - just far enough that it's not an easy drive to go visit. However! Ashland is just about smack in the middle of the two areas (slightly closer to Portland). So, since the summer of 2007 I've been bringing friends from California and meeting friends from Portland. This year we even have a Seattleite joining us!

I picked the weekend in January, we bought tickets in February, and I knew this day would arrive eventually. I have no idea what I'm seeing, but our annual picnic in Lithia Park will definitely occur. And I'll have two days out of the office, four days in some real summer weather, and it's going to be great! Yay, vacation!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

WIP Wednesday: Yes, the sweater

Almost done, readers. I have completed all the parts of the sweater, and now have to get them together. You can almost see the finished product if you squint!

First problem: I think I mentioned that I don't have a perfect match on the shoulder fronts & backs. You can see the extent of the problem here:

The directions have me knitting just the neck band as a separate strip & then sewing it to the body but ideally I'd pick up the stitches and knit extra fabric + neckband. I'm not sure it's possible so I'm going to have to consult with Wiser Heads. Fortunately I have pretty broad shoulders, so the extra fabric won't be a problem.. if I can finagle it into place!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Recipe Review: Simply Recipes' Clafouti

The food blog Simply Recipes is turning into one of my go-to sources for deliciousness. I made her clafouti last year, following the recipe exactly, and was surprised to find it too sweet for my taste. I resolved to make it again if I could get my hands on sour cherries this year!

Well, as you may recall, I bought a ton of sour cherries just last week! So I knew what I was going to do with 2 cups' worth: clafouti!!!! I'd never heard of this delicious dish until about a year ago, but it's basically an eggy custard poured over fruit, then baked - it reminds me of a Dutch apple pancake. In fact I just looked at a recipe to compare and they're pretty much identical.

Anyway! After lovingly pitting the cherries, put them and some slivered almonds in a buttered/floured pan:

Mix the batter and pour over the fruit:

Bake it til it's puffy (though it falls a lot as it cools):

Let it cool, and watch it be eaten rapidly. Try to save leftovers for a daylight photo of the finished product!

Note: this time I made it with nonfat milk and it still tasted plenty rich and custardy. My instincts were right on regarding the tart fruit. I think next year when the teeny plums in the tree behind my building come back, I'll make this again with them. What other tart fruits are there? Nectarines? Would lemons work somehow? It's an interesting dilemma.

Of course you could use regular fruit & cut the sugar in the custard to acheive the same delicious effect.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Two Thousand Ten:August

Any faithful reader who's been following my monthly calendar posts knows I went to Ireland and Scotland last year! Yes, that trip figured heavily into my 2009 photos, but it wasn't the only trip I took that year.

In May I met most of my immediate family in New Orleans for a few days of hanging out. My younger brother is in the Air Force, and was slated to deploy for six months in Afghanistan starting in July - this was going to mark the very first Christmas with a missing family member! Plus, of course, anyone with a loved one deploying to a military zone has some not-unreasonable fear squelching around in the back of his or her mind. So we decided to universally suppress that concern and meet up in New Orleans to have some fun together. And we sure did! I was the last to arrive and my parents and two siblings were already hanging out poolside drinking beer. Over the course of a few days we did a walking tour of New Orleans; ate some amazing food - of course!; and got to soak up the admittedly-steamy ambience of early summer in Louisiana.

I also got to hang out with just my brother and sister which is always fun-and-random. This time we wound up going to an empty yet air-conditioned bar and drinking Pimm's cups, Campari Sodas, and I'm not sure what else; taking a random ferry across the Mississippi; and walking around in the rain to find a (closed!) umbrella shop.