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random musings of a crazy cat lady

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Recipe Geek: Spicy Turkey in Lettuce Cups

Recipe Geek is a new feature in which I pick random recipes which I haven't made before and test them and report on the results. The recipes will generally be taken from magazines, the newspaper, or the internet. I'll include a link to the recipe but won't cut and paste the whole thing into here.
This week's entry/entree, Spicy Chicken in Lettuce Cups, appeared in the Whole Foods magazine. I picked it because I like chicken in lettuce cups but have never made it at home. Also, I had some ground turkey in the freezer.
I prepared it more or less according to the recipe. I used ground turkey instead of chicken, and left out the green onions - I had some chives I was going to use instead but they had gone bad. Other than that I didn't make any substitutions.
It was pretty straightforward - much less problematic than meatballs. Ginger, red bell pepper and garlic were chopped up and briefly sauteed, then the turkey was added and broken up while it was cooking. When the turkey was done, the remaining soy sauce/broth/cornstarch mixture was added, followed by cilantro, sesame oil and a smidgen of red pepper flakes. I didn't have the proper type of lettuce so i just ate it on a bed of mixed baby lettuce.
Anyway, it was pretty good but not quite as tasty as some of the restaurant versions, which are a lot sweeter and richer and probably contain MSG. You could probably add a little bit of plum sauce to mimic the taste of the restaurant versions. The green onions would've added some zip too, but since I'm not a huge onion fan I didn't miss them very much.
It's pretty healthy, easy, and tasty, so it's a keeper. Plus, it's a lot cheaper than going to P.F. Chang's!
OK, it's time for me to go swim now. Stay tuned for the next installment of Recipe Geek.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

old biddy + soccer = torn meniscus

In three weeks I'll have knee surgery to repair my torn meniscus. I am a bit nervous, but am looking forward to being more mobile again.
I hurt it while playing soccer, of course. I wish I could say that I did some extreme athletic maneuver or got tackled really hard, but this was my Monday night pickup game, and that kind of stuff doesn't happen there. No, I was nowhere near the ball or any other players. I changed direction and felt the tiniest little sensation in the back of my knee. It felt like I had just tweaked it. A second later it felt fine again.
After soccer it got very stiff and swelled up. The next morning it felt worse and clicked every time I took a step. Nonetheless, I wasn't too worried. I'd had something sort of similar happen a few weeks before in my other knee, and it went away in a few days. This time, however, after a week it wasn't getting any better so I went to the doctor. She saw the swelling and thought it was bursitis, since i had been doing a lot of kneeling during the bathroom remodel.
She told me to stop kneeling on hard surfaces and to continue playing soccer. Unfortunately, that didn't help. It got worse after I played soccer again. Eventually I got an appointment in the sports medicine department and a MRI. The diagnosis, which came a few days after my 40th birthday, was that I had a meniscus tear in the right knee and patellofemoral syndrome and a little bit of arthritis in both knees. Welcome to old biddyhood!
So now I'm waiting for arthroscopic surgery. My appointment is on St Patrick's day. I will definitely not be doing any jigs, step dancing, or Irish waltzes that night. In the meantime I'm supposed to ride the exercise bike with no resistance, swim, and lift weights. I was told not to walk on the treadmill. Soccer, biking, hiking, using the stairmaster and running are out. So are any exercises involving lunges or sideways twisting. The swimming and weightlifting aren't a problem. The exercise bike is more problematic. It made my knee feel worse and I lost a lot of leg strength. I went back to walking on the treadmill. Nonetheless, I've lost a lot of muscle and core strength and between that and the knee itself, it threw everything slightly out of kilter. I've heard that this is normal. At this point I'm just trying not to gain any weight.
I'm not sure if I'm going to go back to playing soccer or not. I enjoy it a lot, but sometimes I think it's not worth it. I stopped playing competitively about a year ago, when I landed hard on my tailbone and hurt my back. I'm going to do my best to get in shape for running and hiking and strengthen my legs. If I feel like I'm stronger than I was before I was injured, I may go back to playing in the Monday night pickup games, but I'm not going to rush it. More than the soccer itself, I miss the camaraderie.
Anyway, it's a pain but in the grand scheme of things it's pretty minor. I try to keep it in perspective. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I don't.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Bay Celtic Festival, Oakland, CA

Last night T and I went to Oakland for the Bay Celtic Festival . Bay Celtic Festival is a sort of mini-celtic festival with various Bay Area bands playing, as well as different types of Celtic dance. It was a one-day affair and was held at the Veteran's Hall, which is right across from Lake Merritt. Tempest and Molly's Revenge were playing, so it sounded like it would be a fun night, but I had no idea what was in store for us.
We had dinner at a Thai restaurant and then walked over to the Veteran's Hall. It was a nice night - a storm was brewing so the air was windy but balmy, and it hadn't started raining yet. When we got there, I realized that the Veteran's Hall is also the Oakland Senior Center. I told T that I was taking him to the senior center for a wild Saturday night. Little did I know that would actually be the case.
The Irish dance classes had finished by the time we got there. Molly's Revenge was just doing their sound check when we arrived. We sat down and the concert began. At first there were just a few people dancing in the back, and up front by the stage an older man was doing an interpretive dance similar to what one might see at a Grateful Dead concert. We were, after all, very close to Berkeley. Then the Borat lookalike showed up and proceeded to strip down to running shorts and a T-shirt and dance a jig. I've seen him at a concert once before. That time, it was a few days after the Borat movie came out and I though he was some weirdo out to get attention. But now that I've seen him more than once, I realized that this is just what he does. Compared to the interpretive dance dude, he had better rhythm and seemed pretty normal.
The band invited the dancers to move to the front. It was mostly younger people from a local Irish dance club. Some of them were extremely good. Some weren't. In any case it was entertaining to watch them. After Molly's Revenge finished, Tempest took the stage. Tempest always puts on a good, high-energy show. I especially enjoy watching their fiddle player, since he's extremely hyper. He also wears a kilt. Between my fixation with kilts, fiddlers, and men with shaved heads and goatees, I REALLY enjoy watching him, if you catch my drift. I admit, I do try to look up his kilt. (Last night's kilt upskirting report: black boxer briefs) T told me I should go stand in front of the stage for a better view, but unfortunately interpretive dance man had taken my prime viewing spot.
At this point, more people started dancing. It was mainly Tempest fans and the Irish dancers, plus interpretive dance man and the Borat lookalike. Some of them were doing an Irish style waltz, which is pretty speedy and athletic. They were circling the perimeter of the room. It was pretty entertaining to watch them dodge each other. Due to the acoustics and the fact that there was more dancing than at a normal concert, both bands played more instrumentals than usual.
After Tempest finished playing, a guy came out and got people to move about half of the chairs to the edge the room so that the front half was clear. The website had said something about waltzes and polkas during the last concert, but I just assumed that it would be similar to the previous two hours.
I had never heard of the last band, Culann's Hounds . They're sort of Irish punk-traditional, like if the Pogues or Flogging Molly covered a bunch of songs by the Chieftains. Their squeezebox player, Renee de la Prade, had hot pink hair, nerd-girl glasses, and wore a most awesome outfit consisting of black thigh high stockings, cowboy boots, a shortie-short black leather skirt and bustier, and somehow managed to make it look kick-ass rather than revealing. She swigged beer between songs, danced, sang songs in French and English, and almost stole the show. If I had an ass-kicking alter-ego twin, she would look a lot like that. The rest of the band was really good too. It didn't hurt that they were all extremely well-built, good looking guys. They were rocking out and playing a mix of spastic polkas and waltzes and drinking songs.
It was the dancers, however, that really stole the show. I didn't realize it at the time, but there is a social dance group that does a lot of dance lessons, waltzes, etc at the Veteran's Hall, so a lot of people showed up for the last concert/dance. There were old people, young people, people in formal attire, people in Renaissance Faire attire, goth attire, Berkeley attire, etc. They took over the dance floor and went crazy doing all variations of waltzes at all different speeds. They had to dodge around people who were doing step dancing or a type of Irish dancing that is similar to square dancing. Those of us who were still sitting had to keep scooting back our chairs to make more room. Thanks to my old biddy knee, I was unable to dance, unfortunately. Many people would change partners frequently, so it wasn't unusual to see someone in a T-shirt and shorts dancing with someone in full formal waltz attire, and then with someone in gothic attire, and then with someone in formal attire. It was also entertaining to see the older people dancing to the punk waltzes and polkas. I want to do that when I'm their age (note to self - get knee repaired and learned how to dance).
It was at once incongruous and magical to see such a random and diverse group of people having such a good time. Even though I didn't dance, I had a great time enjoying the music and people watching. It was as if there was a great energy that sprang from the music and from everyone in the room, in the warm dance hall on the windy night with the smell of impending rain in the air.
Next year I'm gong to get there early and learn all the dances, and I'm going to bring my camera and take lots of pictures!

Friday, February 20, 2009

lazy biddy bread recipe

Unfortunately for my waistline, I'm a bread maniac. There's nothing that tastes better than bread fresh from the oven, but I rarely baked it since it took too long and inevitably left me with too much bread. About a year ago I bought a book called "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day" by Zoe Francois and Jeff Hertzberg. They've developed a method where you mix up a master batch of bread dough and store it in the fridge. It's a pretty wet dough so it mixes up easily with just a large spoon. No fancy stand mixer required (although I still want to get one!). When you want to bake bread, take out a piece of dough and shape it, let it sit for an hour or two and then bake it. There's no kneading involved, so it really is about as easy as using a bread machine, and the results are a lot tastier.
The key to the recipe is the high water to flour ratio. This enables the gluten to develop more easily without any kneading. Other food writers have published similar high hydration recipes, but this one is the easiest. The dough is baked in a hot (450F) oven on a baking stone. It can also be used for pizza dough, calzones, foccacia, etc. The bread is somewhat dense, with great flavor and a very nice crust. I usually just use the master recipe but have also made the semolina and rye bread variations.
The question that I've gotten is whether it's really "5 minutes a day" Well, not exactly. There's a lot of resting and baking time in there, but very little prep or cleanup time. I wish that all the syntheses I do in the lab were this quick! It takes about 5 minutes to mix the dough. After that you let it sit at room temperature for two hours. At that point you can take some out and bake it, and/or pop the whole bowl in in the fridge. When you make the bread, you pull out a ball of dough (usually 1 lb, or 1/4 of the master recipe) and shape it. This takes a minute or two. Then it rises for a while. When it's ready to bake, slash a few slits in the top and put it in the preheated oven. So the actual "active time" really is about five minutes on the days you make the dough or bake a loaf.
When I get my fancy stand mixer, I'll go back to making breads that need a lot of kneading, but for now I'm pretty happy with my lazy bread.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

When I grow up I want to be an old woman

by Jenny Joseph

With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick the flowers in other people's gardens
And learn to spit

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.


I've always liked that poem. It was published when I was a young college biddy. My mom read it and passed it along to me. As I approach perimenopause I find I'm worrying a lot less about what people think, and am looking forward to continuing along that path as I get older. That's one thing that's nice about being an old biddy.

Of course, I already wear purple frequently. I'll skip the red hat - I'd probably wear a green or black hat instead, but that's just me. I will leave it up to your imagination which of those other things I already do.

Anyway, now there's a whole social organization called "The Red Hat Society". They get together for brunch, etc, and wear eclectic outfits with, of course, red hats. According to their website, they were inspired by the poem. One could join either the on-line community or a local chapter. I saw them one time when I was at brunch with Missy. They were wearing crazy dresses, pajamas, sequined tops, etc, and having a grand old time. Missy said that her mother in-law had wanted to join but got rejected. It seemed completely at odds with the message of the poem.

I already wear purple but when I'm 50 I will not be joining the Red Hat society. When I grow up I want to be an old woman. Y'all are welcome to come join me, no application necessary.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Missy's Macadamia Nut Cookies

A few weeks ago, Missy was rapidly approaching the old biddy milestone of her 40th birthday. She dropped hints that some Mexican wedding cookies would be a good gift. Mexican wedding cookies are buttery nut cookies which I make every year at Christmas. I use walnuts but they also taste good with pecans. They're also known as Russian tea cakes or snowballs. Over the years, I've tweaked the recipe slightly by using a bit of rice flour in place of regular white flour. By lowering the gluten content slightly,the cookies are more buttery and have less of a raw flour taste. They also spread a bit more while baking.
Missy loves macadamia nuts and I wanted to do something special for her birthday, so I tweaked the recipe some more. I'm still partial to the walnut ones, but the macadamia nut ones got raves from Missy and also were a hit as a valentine's day present.
As an added bonus, you can mix in the nuts with your hands. Since the dough doesn't contain any eggs, you can even lick out the bowl when you're done.
One of my cats is obsessed with butterfat. She goes ballistic whenenever I make these. I have to chase her out of the kitchen. The last time I made them, I caught her sitting on the counter next to the cookies with a guilty look on her face.

Missy's Macadamia Nut Cookies
1 cup (two sticks) butter
3/4 cup powdered sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup rice flour*
1 1/2 cups finely chopped macadamia nuts
1 cup powdered sugar for rolling the cookies in

Preheat oven to 350F and lightly grease two cookie sheets. Cream together the butter, sugar and vanilla until fluffy and well blended. Stir in flour and rice flour and blend well. Add nuts and mix. You can do this with your hands if you want. Shape the dough into walnut sized balls and bake 12-15 minutes or until lightly browned. After the cookies have cooled, roll them in powdered sugar and store in an airtight container.

*if you don't have rice flour, just use a total of 2 cups flour.


I'm a big fan of just about every dairy product out there. I'm also a big fan of edible kitchen science experiments. Knowing that, my friends J and K offered me some kefir grains so that I could make my own kefir.
I was mostly ignorant of kefir at that point. It's a cultured milk product similar in taste to yogurt or buttermilk. It differs in that the bacteria and yeast that help culture the milk live in a matrix of protein, lipids, and sugars. These are known as kefir grains. The grains, which look like little pieces of cauliflower, grow over time and sometimes split off new colonies. J and K's colony had grown and produced a new bud. They brought it over on a cup of milk, and also brought me a cup of the final product.
To make kefir, you put the buds in some fresh milk and let it sit on the counter for a day or two. I usually put it in a small bowl and cover it lightly with plastic wrap. The bacteria and yeast need some oxygen so it's a good idea not to cover it too tightly. When I remember, I also swirl it around once or twice to help the colony get fresh nutrients. The milk thickens and turns into kefir. Once it's done you can store it in the fridge. When you want to make more, fish out the buds and put them in fresh milk. My bud was about the size of a grape when I got it two months ago. Since then it's doubled in size and split off two grape-sized buds.
The kefir tastes a lot like buttermilk and can be used in recipes calling for buttermilk or yogurt. I eat it on cereal or in smoothies. I like it because not only is it cheap, it's also a good way to finish those gallon containers of milk before they go bad.
Nutritionally, it's similar to milk but has a lot of helpful probiotics. Since the bacteria digest the lactose, it's supposedly more easily digested by people who are lactose intolerant.
Here's the wikipedia link if you're interested in learning more about kefir

Old Biddies

I've known M forever and a day. We met when we were little toddler biddies. I am six weeks older than she. We have now both turned 40. Somewhere along the line, we started calling each other "Old Biddy" around the time of our birthdays. Somewhat more recently, I've been referring to myself as an old biddy more often than that. It suits me.
Since I like to express myself by writing and since we haven't lived in the same town since high school, M has read her share of letters and emails from me over the years. Much of the content was/is similar to the type of things I'll write about in this blog. So, in honor of M's friendship, and in honor of continuing to express my inner thoughts, I decided to call my blog "Old Biddy Blogging"
Here's to all the old and young biddies out there!

Why blog now?

In my personal life, I've never been a particularly early adopter of new technology. This is mainly because I'm pretty cheap and don't like to spend a lot of money on new gadgets, especially if I know they're going to become a lot cheaper in the next year or two. It's also because I get my fill of cool new technology at work, and like to use my brain in other ways when I get home.
In the last few years, however, I've become a fan of reading blogs. OK, I'm addicted, I admit. Sometimes I lurk and sometimes I comment. However, I find it difficult to fully get my point across. I get distracted by trying to respond to the post as well as the other commenters. This is not normal for me, since I am a veteran of many years of letter/email/diary writings. Eventually I decided to start blogging, and this is my first post.
What am I going to blog about? Short answer- anything that I feel like writing about. Long answer - cooking/baking, science, feminism, my own life, my pets, current events, and whatever else interests me.