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random musings of a crazy cat lady

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Musings on Lego Chemist

Missy and Kadin gave me a little Lego scientist figure.*  Her name is Dr. Bodin, which reminds me of the Bohdan automated weighing station I used to use.  She has brown hair, glasses, and is wearing a purple shirt underneath her labcoat, and is holding two flasks.  In short, she looks a lot like me except she actually is wearing a labcoat and is holding flasks rather than Schlenk tubes or sticking her arms in a glovebox...or at a desk writing proposals and advising students.  (Note to self: make a Lego glovebox sometime)  Note: I did not mention that Dr. Bodin is a woman.  This fact is not that unusual in the world of real life scientists, and it wasn't even all that noteworthy 25 years ago when I first stuck my arms in a glovebox.  However, it is extremely unusual in the sausage-fest world of Legos.  Dr. Bodin had her debut a few months ago, and it was noteworthy enough that I, a cranky old childless biddy, knew about it from both feminist websites, Facebook, and Chemical and Engineering News.  It is 2013.  There should've been lots of female Lego figurines doing lots of different occupations, about 30 years ago, or whenever they started selling all the custom Lego pieces.
Today when we were shopping Missy said she would've had trouble dealing with the princessy crap if she had a daughter rather than a son.  I agree 1000% on that sentiment, but the toys geared to boys are not free of gender stereotypes, and I told her so.  Perhaps I notice it a lot because I do not have kids and only get exposed to it a few times a year, or because I work in what is still a male-dominated field, even though women have been going to grad school in large numbers for at least 30 years.  I get cranky about the Lego sets with one or no female characters, and the fact that Dr Bodin is still newsworthy.  I get cranky that the token Lego woman in Kadin's new Lego set is a princess locked in the tower, and that when Kadin asked me to play Legos with him he assumed that I would want to be the princess and put up quite a fuss when I said I wanted to be the wizard instead, and gave the princess some agency other than just being rescued (more on that later).  I go "WTF?!?!?" when the practically all the cartoon characters in the They Might Be Giants kids science video are boys.  I raise my eyebrows at the few female Skylanders characters, who, although they are all badass honey badgers, are all small and cute, whereas all the male and theoretically gender neutral characters can be big or small, ugly or cute, and are always assumed to be male even when they are something like a robot. 

I know that toys are more gendered now so that retailers can sell more stuff, and kids love to self-identify with a group, whether it is by gender, interest, or whatever, and so naturally they want the stuff with the targeted marketing that they have been inundated with since birth.  I know that many people view it as mainly harmless.  I am not so sure.  To me, it's kind of akin to junk food versus somewhat healthy food.  Sure, kids are going to prefer the junk food but that doesn't mean they should get a steady diet of it all the time.  I don't think it should be forbidden, either, just get a balance.  Even if the majority of Lego players are boys, that doesn't mean that every single interesting character should be male.  Perhaps if they included some interesting ones more girls would be interested in Legos, or, barring that, Dr. Bodin would not make the news and I would not have to give Kadin lessons on feminism, which he shouldn't need in the first place because of the good example of his awesome mom.  I can give similar examples of girls' stuff that is equally cringeworthy.   Even if the majority of kids who play with a toy are one gender or another, I don't think the toys, especially the middle of the road ones like soccer balls, Legos, or animals, should be targeted they way they are. 
Why do I care about this, you ask.  I don't have kids. It's the 21st century.  Women have made huge inroads in the workplace, even in the years since I started grad school.  Well, it all comes back to Dr. Bodin, the Lego princess, and 25 years of "2nd generation sexism" I've dealt with in the workplace.  This is the subtle kind that people deny still exists, but most women experience in the form of some blatant stuff and thousands of microagressions, which are like death by a thousand paper cuts, be they in the form of reduced pay and professional opportunities, a constant stress about one's weight and looks, the second shift of working full time and doing the majority of the housework/childcare, or in countless conservative politicians launching attacks on women's access to birth control and health care.  These things make me cranky, and I am worried that all the subtle influences kids are exposed to from birth will continue to set us back.*
Anyway, back to Dr. Bodin and the Lego princess.  When Kadin and I were playing with his Lego set, I was the princess and the evil wizard.  I forgot to include Dr. Bodin, unfortunately.  Kadin was the knight and various other characters.  The princess told the knight that she did not want to be rescued, that she was in grad school learning alchemy from the evil wizard.  It took a long time to convince the knight to go away.  I turned the narrative around a bit and was pleased with myself about that.  But, upon reflection later, it would've been even better if I had made Dr. Bodin the professor and the evil wizard a member of the princess's thesis committee.  Like everyone else in this country, even the cranky old feminist biddy is sexist at times, and it is humbling to realize that. So that is why we need more Dr. Bodins, so that 40 years from now, the women of Kadin's generation are not fighting the same microbattles that my generation naively assumed were history 25 years ago.

*  It's really quite astounding how much sexism persists in chemistry, even though things are a lot better than they were 20 years ago.  I've seen the female faculty candidates get subjected to much more critical assessments than the male ones, even though all of the obviously bad ones were male.  Over on ChemBark, which is a bit of a chemistry gossip blog, there was a post about who got hired for faculty positions last year.  That's not noteworthy in itself, but some of the comments degenerated to a discussion about various female faculty members and how they were so undeserving of the jobs they got, to the point where the commenter suggested that the faculty members got their jobs due to their parents' influence.  Seriously.  It was just ridiculous that the commenter had tracked down that information and actually believed it.  Fortunately, other commenters issued a pretty complete smackdown.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Gluten Free Pumpkin Ricotta Cheesecake

I'm on a completely non-ironic pumpkin spice craze, despite the fact that I have not consumed any pumpkin pie or pumpkin spice lattes this year.  Although I do enjoy a pumpkin-spice latte once or twice a year, this is sort of a new thing for me.  A few weeks ago, I made some pumpkin butter, which really looks more like pumpkin poo. That was my gateway drug.  I started putting it in my oatmeal and really liked it, so I made more.  Then I used some of it in pancakes, and liked that as well.  My neighbors had a fall-themed potluck, so of course I had to make a pumpkin cheesecake.  And of course it had to be gluten free...After much perusing of recipes online, I decided to make one with a mix of cream cheese and ricotta.  I have sentimental reason for doing this, and I happened to have ricotta. 
When I was a kid, my mom liked to make cheesecake.  Once in a great while, if she had to take it to a potluck or something, she pulled out her recipe and made one with all cream cheese and that nice sour cream layer on top.  That was awesome.  Most of the time, if it was just for us, she would take a bunch of cottage cheese, eggs, sugar, and lemon and put them in the blender and use that as the filling. She didn't use a recipe, but the overall proportions are something like this recipe.   Once in a while she would add a brick of cream cheese, but usually she didn't.  Sometimes she did this when she got discounted cottage cheese which was nearing its expiration date.  Anyway, as a result, these cottage cheese cheesecakes are my point of reference for cheesecake, even though I also love the richer all-cream cheese ones. I found a recipe for a pumpkin ricotta cheesecake online, but then proceeded to make major changes to it.

For the crust

1 1/4 cups ground almond flour
3/4 cup gluten free flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp almond extract
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 egg yolk

Preheat oven to 350F.  Melt butter and let cool.  Beat in egg yolk and add vanilla and almond extract.  Combine dry ingredients and mix. Pour wet ingredients on top and mix.  Press into bottom and sides of a 9" or 10" springform pan.* Bake until crust is lightly browned and has started to set.

For the filling
1 lb cream cheese, room temperature
2 cups ricotta
5 eggs
1 cup brown sugar
1 15 oz can pumpkin
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cloves

 I used both a mixer and a blender here, but you don't have to.  I wanted to get the ricotta and pumpkin really smooth.  Unfortunately I still had a few small lumps of cream cheese since my mixing bowl is tall and narrow, and some lumps got left on the bottom.  Anyway, whip up cream cheese until no lumps remain.  Add ricotta, eggs and sugar and dry ingredients and blend well (or puree ricotta and pumpkin in blender with eggs, and then cream cheese mixture).  Pour into springform pan.  Place springform pan ina large roasting pan and add boiling water up to appx 1/2 the height of the springform pan.  Bake at 350F until it is set.  I think mine took about 1 1/2 hours.  Allow to cool to room temperature before putting in fridge.

I really increased the amount of filling relative to the original recipe.  If I make this again I will use a 10" crust.  As it was I had a little bit of extra filling which I put into a glass loaf pan and baked.

Anyway, it came out well.  It was creamy but not grainy or heavy.  It was very popular at the potluck.  If I make it again I will up the sugar a bit (maybe 25% more) and also increase the spices.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Gluten Free Banana Bread

I don't normally keep large quantities of overripe bananas around, but got a whole bunch of them on sale last week.  I'm kind of on a sorghum kick, so I went looking for a gluten free banana bread recipe that uses it.  This recipe popped up and sounded interesting, based on the fact that it was relatively light and people gave it good reviews.  Also, it got picked up by Southern Living, although they adapted it somewhat and added dates.  Anyway, I adapted it somewhat and made two medium sized loaves of banana bread.  I took one to the grad students and BikerDude and I ate the other one.
There are prodigious quantities of bananas, applesauce, and eggs in here, and not that much flour. I was worried that the loaves would turn into sodden banana bricks, but that didn't happen.  They rose up nicely, and the bread was moist but not overly so, and not too heavy.  One of the students said it looked like it would be really heavy but was really light.  This may be a result of the fact that the recipe doesn't use much fat (1/4 cup for each loaf).  I also decreased the sugar.  (The first time I made it I used about half as much, and about 2/3 the second time)

Here's my modified version of the recipe.  It makes 2 medium size loaves, or a loaf and 12 medium muffins.  You can divide it in half, or 2/3 if you have a big loaf pan.

Old Biddy's Gluten Free Banana Bread
makes 2 medium size loaves or 1 loaf and 12 muffins

  • 6 eggs
  • 6 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1 cup sugar (you can go up or down here if you prefer)
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 2 tsp real vanilla extract
  • 2 cups brown rice flour
  • 1 cup sorghum flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup melted butter or coconut oil 
Preheat over to 350F and grease loaf pans or muffin pans.  Mash bananas with a fork or a potato masher and add applesauce and sugar.
Combine flours, salt, and baking soda.  Mix well.
In a large bowl, melt butter.  Add eggs and beat until blended well.  Add in the banana/applesauce mixture and mix, then add in the flour mixture.  Stir until blended.  Add any additional ingredients (nuts, dried fruit, coconut, or chocolate chips) if you are so inclined.  (It tastes fine without them.)
Transfer batter to loaf or muffin pans.  Bake until the loaves are no longer wet in the middle (use a toothpick, skewer, or the touch test to tell).  Cool and remove bread from pans.  It takes about 45-50 minutes for the loaf and 25-30 minutes for muffins.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Green Tomato Chutney

I managed to salvage some green tomatoes off the plants before I pulled them out due to the blight.  Sadly, it wasn't very many since most of the fruits were also blighted.  Some went in to the freezer for salsa and I made green tomato chutney with the rest.  I got this recipe off the internet and made only slight modifications based on what I have in house.  I also added fewer onions (the recipe below reflects what I actually did).

(Makes 4 lbs)
3 lb green tomatoes (chopped)
4 oz onions (chopped)
1 lb cooking apples (peeled & chopped)
8 oz yellow raisins
8 oz brown sugar
1 pint vinegar
2 tablespoons whole grain mustard (you could use mustard seed too)
2 teaspoons ground ginger (or use fresh or crystallized)
1 cinnamon sticks (or use 2 tsp cinnamon)
1. Put all ingredients into a large pan and bring to the boil.
2. Simmer uncovered until reduced to a thick mix. Stir occasionally to keep from sticking. It should take 2 3/4 to 3 hours. Test by scraping a wooden spoon across the bottom of the pan. If the pan bottom shows clear for a while before the chutney slowly fills the gap then it is ready. (In other words there should be very little thin liquid sloshing around).  Remove cinnamon stick if necessary.
3. If you're canning, put into hot sterilised jars and seal.  If you're lazy, put it in clean jars and store in the fridge, or freeze in smaller portions. (Not sure if it will freeze well but I'm going to try.)
4. Label when cool. Chutneys improve in flavour if kept for at least a couple of weeks before use.

Anyway, I've never made a chutney before and I was pleasantly surprised.  It smells delicious and the onion flavor doesn't dominate.  I think it will taste good with chicken or pork.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Requiem for my tomato plants

My tomato plants grew like gangbusters during our cool, wet summer.  They had a ton of fruit on them, but due to the weather the tomatoes were slow to ripen.  About a week ago, I noticed they were starting to look funny.  They were dying and covered with big black splotches.  It turns out they have late blight, which I didn't know about but is a big problem on the east coast.  It affects tomatoes and potatoes, and caused the Irish Potato Famine.  It is very virulent, and although it usually dies off during the winter up north, it can survive in warmer climates, which leads to its spread.
Unbeknownst to me, it was spread by some tomato plants sold at Lowes.  I bought one plant there a few weeks before.  I have no way of knowing if I got one of the infected ones or if it just got spread by the wind- it's that contagious.
So I am left with a big empty space in my garden and some green tomatoes.  Those of you who live in the Northeast, I recommend starting your own tomatoes from seed or buying them from local growers. 

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Dear Modesty Movement Assholes: Please STFU!

I've been hearing about conservative Christian types who appoint themselves the modesty police for young women.  This is nothing new, of course, except that now there is a venue for it on the internet, with all the advantages and disadvantages.  Anyway, someone recently posted a blog post ostensibly addressed to the girls on her sons' Facebook feeds.  I'm not going to post the link, but you can view the epic Jezebel smackdown here.   Basically, she went on and on about how the girls were being horrible temptresses corrupting her boys by posting cute selfies on FB, but at the same time she posted lots of shirtless pictures of of her sons flexing their muscles.  Uh, WTF?!?! Anyway, for some reason this really pissed me off, and judging by the amount of response it's gotten, I am not the only one.
I'm a cranky old biddy now and none of my selfies will make anyone get tempted, but there was a time about 30 years ago when I was one of those evil slutty teenage girls tempting the boys.  It was the 80's and I spent lots of time wearing nothing more than short running shorts and running singlets which were mostly mesh with a nylon panel over the breasts.  With no bra. The modesty police would hate that and certainly call me a slutty slut for that.  Fortunately, there was no internet back then, and not very many conservatives out in Northern California. My mother had spent her adolescence getting lectured by the nuns about her clothing tempting the boys (the baggy cardigan story was the funniest - it was verboten simply because it was a sweater.  Oh the horrors!!!)  To her everlasting credit, she never said one word about either my fashion sense or the amount of skin I was showing, and let me make my own decisions about what I wore.  She knew that I was wearing it because it was trendy and I liked it (and I did run a lot back then) and not because I was trying to tempt the guys.  For the record, she did warn me about creepers and didn't let me run by myself and would follow me on her bike.  But it was very clearly described as a matter of there being some bad older guys out there, not that I was luring everyone with my outfit or doing anything wrong.  As a result, I came of age with the shocking opinion that people should wear what they want, and if other people didn't approve, it wasn't my problem.  I still feel that way.  All this slut shaming and puritanism is really making me cranky.
Now that I'm older, I do have my old biddy moments.  Sometimes I catch myself disapproving of someone's outfits, but then I remember my itty bitty Dolfin shorts* and my mom not saying a word, and I STFU.

* There are pictures of me in my shorty shorts somewhere, but nothing is digital, so I will spare you the pictures of me as a dorky braless 14 year old.  

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

An open letter to some internet assholes

Dear commenters on just about any article about the pay gap,
I read a lot of articles about the persistent pay gap between male and female workers.  Shit, there've even been studies show that it starts as early as childhood, which is pretty damned fucked up.  Anyway, I'm a glutton for punishment so I read the comments.  Bad idea.   Anyway, I've got some helpful suggestions for you.
1.  Do not read an article providing data that the pay gap persists even after all other variables are accounted for and then comment that it's only because women choose different professions/work less/take time off for kids.  Nope.  Show some reading comprehension here and read what was written in the article. You're not doing a very good job justifying your extra wages if you can't even exercise critical thinking.
2.  Do not argue that men deserve to get paid more because they do more dangerous jobs or might have to go to war.  You don't get an automatic bonus for the fact that the last draft was 40+ years ago and you're an office worker whose main occupational hazard is a paper cut. Likewise, men and women doing the same dangerous jobs should get paid the same, and there are a awful lot of dangerous jobs that don't pay very well. 
3.  Stop thinking about it in terms of you getting less money.  Seriously.  Think about it in terms of your wife, girlfriend, sister, mother or daughter being able to make a fair wage.
4.  Don't say that your wife makes more than you so therefore the wage gap does not exist.  Nope.  One anecdote does not = data.
5.  Stop saying that boys and men have it so hard these days.  Seriously.  If you are a man, and I assume you are, would you want to switch genders?  I didn't think so.
I could go on, but you're probably not going to get it no matter how much I write.
-Old Biddy

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Gluten Free Pizza Dough

Yeah, I've neglected my blog for the last few months.  Sorry about that.  Between having houseguests for appx 6 weeks, spending time with Bikerdude (including helping him after he had knee surgery), etc, I haven't been writing much.  Those of you who get emails from me know I haven't done much on that either, although I still text as much as ever.
Anyway, in this time I did do some gluten free baking.  Although I still do recipes with custom mixtures of different types of flour, I've also been experimenting with premixed flour blends.  Better Batter is pretty good and can be used cup for cup in normal recipes that use wheat flour.  I've made brownies, pancakes and banana nut muffins with it and they came out ok. 
The day that Bikerdude had knee surgery, I picked him up and he came over to my house for a while so I could keep an eye on him and also so he could get the benefit of my air conditioning.  I decided to make pizza but wanted a dough that didn't have to rise for very long.  I found this recipe over at the King Arthur Flour website, and despite the fact that it sounded totally bizarre, I decided to make it since the reviews were really good. 
I followed the recipe pretty much exactly, except that I used the Better Batter flour and did not add xanthan Gum (the flour mix already had some).  The dough looked like spackle, just as they described.  I put a piece of parchment paper on a cookie sheet, oiled it with olive oil, and smeared out the dough to cover the sheet.  Wetting my hands with water helped but it was tough to get the dough really thin. Since it was hot outside, I didn't want to heat up my house so I cooked the pizza outside on the grill at appx 500F.  I've made it a few more times and have topped it with different things.  The mustard grains/swiss and chicken pizza was excellent, as was the garlic scape pesto pizza.  I've also made the dough in the morning, let it rise, and then stuck it in the fridge and cooked it in the evening.  Regardless of what you top it with, cook it partway and then add the toppings.  Keep an eye on it so that it doesn't burn.
Anyway, it is really good.  In fact, it is so good that I would recommend it even if I wasn't avoiding gluten.  It's kind of a crispy thin crust.  Surprisingly, it tastes really good cold, which is very unusual for gluten free doughs. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Tri-Tip with Awesome Wine-Garlic-Rosemary Marinade

OK, I know I've been very negligent about blogging.  It has been a busy few months.  I started dating Bikerdude, I went to California, I came back for a week, then my dad visited for two weeks, then he went home and my mom visited for almost two weeks.  And I did a ton of stuff in my yard.  Then I had to write a research proposal.  Whew!!  I've been lax on calling people and exercising too.  Anyway, July will be quieter.
As a Californian I feel an obligation to introduce people to the delights of tri-tip and pho.  Bikerdude is no exception.  Anyway, a few weeks ago I made some tri-tip with an excellent marinade. I've been meaning to blog about it but hadn't gotten around to it yet.   I'm making the marinade again for the 4th of July, this time for some little steaks that are tasty but tough. 

Grilled Tri-Tip with Red Wine Marinade
Serves 4-6

* 5 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped
* 1 tbsp dried rosemary or 2 tbsp fresh rosemary
* 1 teaspoon salt
* 1 cup dry red wine
* 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
* 2 tablespoons soy sauce
* 1 tbsp honey
* 1 to1 1/2 pound tri-tip (London broil may be substituted)


In a medium mixing bowl, whisk liquid ingredients, salt, and seasonings together.

In a heavy-duty sealable plastic bag combine tri-tip with marinade. Seal bag, pressing out excess air, and put in a shallow baking dish. Marinate steak, chilled, turning occasionally, at least 4 hours and up to 24.

Remove meat from marinade.  Grill until done.  While the meat is cooking, bring marinade to boil a in small sauce pan. Reduce heat to low and simmer 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Serve marinade with meat.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Gluten Free Buckwheat Pancakes

I've perfected my gluten-free buckwheat pancake recipe.  There are a number of good all-buckwheat variations out there - the one from the Hodgson Mill package is nice.  However, having perfected my own gluten-containing recipe, which contains about half buckwheat, half flour, I set out to transform it into a gluten-free version.  It wasn't too difficult.
You can leave out the Xanthan gum if you don't have it - if you're a hard-core gluten-free cook I recommend it, but don't go out and buy it otherwise.  It improves the body somewhat.  If you want to make it with wheat flour, leave out the Xanthan gum and use 1/2 cup white or whole wheat flour.  If you want them to be lower fat, use 2 tbsp butter.

Old Biddy's Sunday Breakfast

1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1/2 cup oat or sorghum flour (or use wheat flour if you don't need gluten free, or a premade gluten-free flour mix)
1 tsp Xanthan gum (optional)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
4 tbsp butter (1/2 stick)
2 eggs
1 1/3-1 1/2 cups buttermilk.

Combine dry ingredients and mix.
In microwave, melt butter in mixing bowl.  Add eggs and beat with a whisk.  Whisk in 1 1/3 cups buttermilk.  Add dry ingredients and mix.  If batter is too thick, add a bit more buttermilk.  It seems to thicken up after a few minutes so it is ok if it's slightly thin.
Cook pancakes.  I find they work better if they are on the small side (4").  You can add blueberries or chocolate chips if you want.  Makes about 3 or 4 servings.  Serve with your favorite pancake toppings.  Unlike most pancakes, they taste really good reheated.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Round 2: No Knead Gluten-Free Boule

I haven't done much baking lately.  I made coconut macaroons last week and they were quite tasty but weren't particularly blogworthy.  My now gluten-free buckwheat pancake recipe is quite good and I will post it soon.
Somewhere along the line I remembered there were some gluten-free recipes in one of my no-knead bread cookbooks.  I've had good luck with this technique and was curious to try. Naturally, I didn't have all the different types of flours required so I didn't make it right away.
Anyway, the basic technique is the same as the other no-knead breads - you make a wet dough and let it sit for two hours at room temperature and then store in the fridge.  When you want bread you break off a ball, let it rise and cook it at high heat.  If you prefer, roll it out and use it as pizza dough.

Gluten Free Boule

2 cups brown rice flour
1 1/2 cup sorghum flour
3 cups tapioca flour
2 tbsp dry yeast
2 tbsp xanthan gum
1 tbsp kosher salt
4 large eggs, beaten
1/3 cup oil
2 2/3 cups warm water
2 tbsp honey (I forgot to add this)

Combine dry ingredients and mix well.  Combine water, eggs, honey and oil and add to dry ingredients.  Mix well and make sure all the dry stuff gets blended in.  Cover loosely and let it rise at room temperature for two hours.  Put dough in fridge.
The dough should be stored in the fridge for at least a day for best flavor.  When you are ready to bake, pull off a ball (I divided the big batch into 3 portions), shape it and let it rise on a piece of parchment paper. It should rise for at least 2 hours, in my experience - it takes a long time to warm up from the fridge.  About 30-40 minutes before you are ready to bake it, heat your oven to 450F.  Use a pizza stone if you have one and let it heat up as the oven is heating.   (If not, just put it on a cookie sheet.) Place dough in oven.  If you are motivated, put a pan on another shelf in the oven and pour a cup of water into it when you put the dough in the oven.  The steam will help the bread.  (I forgot it the second time around and didn't notice much of a difference, though) Cook until loaf is golden brown, appx 35-40 minutes.
For pizza dough, sprinkle a piece of parchment paper with cornstarch.  Pull off a ball of dough and roll out to appx 3/16"-1/4" thick.  Allow it to warm to room temperature, and preferably let it rise for at least another 30 minutes after that.  Add pizza suace, cheese, toppings etc.  Bake in a 450F oven until done.

The bread is interesting. It's kind of dense and doesn't totally taste like wheat bread.  However, it does have a nice yeasty flavor and a good crust, especially when toasted.  It was infinitely better than the gluten free bread I tried on vacation.  In the pizza dough, it actually tasted as good as my usual homemade crust and had a nice crunch which might've been even better if it were rolled out thinner.  It had an interesting crispiness although it was dense, it was not doughy.
It was so nice to have bread and pizza, even though it tasted different. 

Old biddy's advice on obituary writing

You may've heard about the kerkuffle surrounding the Yvonne Brill obituary in the New York Times.  If you haven't, I'll summarize in a nutshell.  She was a rocket scientist who invented some pretty cool stuff.  The NYT obituary opened by describing her beef stroganoff making skills, how she was a great mom, and how she said a good husband was harder to find than a good job. It then described her career.  They have since edited it to make it less sexist. It's a lot less offensive but I'm still not thrilled.  Needless to say, a lot of people (including me) got pretty offended by the sexist spin on her life.  Predictably, the author had no clue this was offensive and said he just wanted to humanize her. 
I was all set to post a blog on it last week, but then noticed that a grad school colleague of mine had taken the opposite track and proposed we needed similar obituaries for men.  I'm all for human interest, so I had to stew on that for a while. I got my answer when I read the MIT chemistry newsletter.
A few days prior to Yvonne Brill's death, another badass honey badger scientist, Emily Wick, passed away and her obituary was published in the Boston Globe and included in the MIT Chemistry department newsletter.  There was plenty of human interest in this one, minus all the annoying sexism.  Yes, her life does reflect the times in which she lived, as does Brill's, but it is possible to describe it in a way that does not rile people up.  If my (male) PhD advisor passed away I would hope to see something similar, although I would not necessarily expect it.  Note to NYTimes - it's not really that hard to do.


The following obituary appeared in the Boston Globe on March 26, 2013.
"Emily L. Wick died peacefully of old age in her home in Rockport, Massachusetts
on March 21, 2013. She was 91 years old. Aunt Emily, everyone's favorite aunt,
has left behind an interesting and unusual life. She was born on December 9, 1921
in Youngstown, Ohio, daughter of James L. Wick, Jr. and Clare Dryer Wick. She
attended Mount Holyoke College where she earned a BS and MA in chemistry. She
went on to MIT and earned her doctorate, also in chemistry. After working for the
prominent firm of A.D. Little, where she discovered the chemistry for foods we take
for granted such as Miracle Whip and Campbell's soups, she joined the faculty at
MIT in the Department of Food Technology where she developed food systems for
the newly formed astronaut corps. She became the first woman to rise through the
ranks to achieve tenure at MIT and was also appointed Associate Dean for Student
Affairs. As the first woman member of the MIT Corporation, she was very instrumental in early efforts to assure that women students and staff played an equal role in the life of the university and had the same opportunities as men, as well as in developing a gender blind admissions policy. In 1973 she returned to Mount Holyoke as Dean of the Faculty and later Special Assistant to the President for Long-Range Planning.
After thirteen very happy years at Mount Holyoke, Emily retired in 1986 and returned to her beloved
Rockport. Emily's true love from the age of ten until her last days was sailing. She spent her first summer in Rockport in 1937. In the 1940's she and her sisters bought an O Boat called "The Little Urchin". Subsequently, she became a winning skipper of a Star Boat, a Jolly Boat, a Firefly, and ultimately a Bullseye. Until very recently she could be found every weekend on the water. Even when she became too old to skipper a boat she loved to go out in the committee boat or watch the races from her house on the edge of the harbor. We all remember the excitement in 1954 when the North American Star Championships were held in Rockport; Emily was very much a part of that project. In 1988 Emily became the first woman Commodore of the Sandy Bay Yacht Club and helped move the club toward a modern professional operation. She was very interested in ensuring that membership in the club be affordable for everyone, especially teen-agers. She is widely remembered among club members, and the committee boat has been named for her. Somehow Emily also found the time
to be an active member of the Appalachian Mountain Club and was a life long birder. She had binoculars in her car and in several places in her home as well as a spotting scope. She loved opera and listened every Saturday to Maine Public Radio broadcasts of live performances at the Metropolitan Opera House. She was the kindest of people and never, ever said an ungenerous word about anyone, not even politicians.  Emily leaves behind a nephew Jim Wick, of Shelburne, VT, and four nieces, Laura Hallowell of Rockport, MA, Louise (Dan) DeSantis of Somersworth, NH, and her children Peter and Madeline, Emily W. Schaff of Youngstown, OH, and Anne Schaff of Portland, ME, and a long list of friends. Emily's family is grateful for the superb and loving care of her helpers and nurses from North Shore PRN and Hospice of the North Shore. A memorial service with reception following [was] held at the First Congregational Church of Rockport on April 20. Memorial contributions may be made to the Sandy Bay Yacht Club Sailing Program.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

So Nasty!

Once tasted, some things can not be untasted.  Such was the case with the gluten free sourdough bread that I made last night/ this morning.
The recipe is from Bob's Red Mill, but they got it from somewhere else.  It called for a sourdough starter (made from yeast, water and rice flour), and included eggs, cottage cheese, and dried milk powder, as well as their gluten free flour blend.  I was intrigued by the high protein content of the bread.  Unfortunately, I never had the flour blend before. The main ingredient is garbanzo bean flour.  I love garbanzo beans and hummus, but for some reason I don't like the flour. It also had fava bean flour. Maybe it would be fine in things with a lot of spices/sugar, so that the beany flavor is masked.  It wasn't fine here.
I made the dough as directed, let it rise, and then poured it into pans for a second rise overnight in the garage.  It didn't overflow the pans or collapse, so that was good.  It even smelled good as I baked it - not like sourdough but more like a butter roll or brioche.  The loaves darkened up quite a bit, probably from all the sugar.  Fortunately, I decided to eat breakfast early rather than wait for them to be done.  That turned out to be a wise decision.

Upon cooling, one loaf collapsed and the other maintained its shape.  After they cooled most of the way, I cut them open.  The one that maintained its shape actually had an air pocket running the whole length of it.  The texture was moist, sort of like a sourdough, but the flavor was just so wrong - too sweet and eggy, but the brioche like nature was completely ruined by the beany taste of the garbanzos and favas.
I fed one loaf to the crows.  The cats are sitting out there guarding it. I'm saving the other loaf to see if it tastes better after being in the fridge, or as french toast.  I kind of doubt it will improve with age, though.  I have had a few baking disasters in my life, but they are usually things that get burned or recipes that have the wrong proportion of things.  I would have to say that this is the first that was just completely wrong. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Tasty Slow Cooker Tapioca pudding

I bought some medium size tapioca pearls last week.  Although I've made tapioca pudding before, I've never used the large, non-instant type.
I also didn't want to make anythin.g that required a double boiler, lots of stirring, or folding in beaten egg whites.  I found a recipe from Alton Brown that used a slow cooker.  That was good enough for me. 

3 1/2 ounces large pearl tapioca, approximately 1/2 cup
2 cups cold water
2 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup half and half or cream
1 egg yolk
1/3 cup sugar
Pinch salt
1 tsp vanilla

Place tapioca in a medium mixing bowl along with the water, cover, and let stand overnight.

Drain water from tapioca. Place the tapioca into a slow cooker along with the milk, heavy cream, and salt. Cook on high for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolk and sugar. Temper small amounts of the tapioca into the egg mixture until you have added at least 1 cup. Then add this back into the remaining tapioca in the slow cooker.  Cook for an additional 15 minutes, stirring at least once. Transfer the pudding to a bowl. Add the vanilla and stir to combine. Cover the surface with plastic wrap. Allow to cool at room temperature for 1 hour and then place in the refrigerator until thoroughly chilled.
The tapioca pearls had to be soaked overnight.   I would suggest letting it go a full 24 hours - it was still a bit tough after 12 hours. I also added about 1/2 cup more than called for.  BikerDude, who is a new OKCupid guy, called right after I put everything in the crock pot, so got distracted and forgot to stir it for the first hour and a half.  Not a problem, I think the stirring isn't that important until the end.  But your crockpot may be different so give it a few occasional stirs just to be on the safe side.
Anyway, it was totally delicious.  It was extremely rich and creamy, and not grainy at all. It was ultra decadent and even gluten free.  If I would make it again, I'd use the recommended amount of milk/cream but may use a whole egg or two yolks just to see how it turns out. 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Gluten Free, "Magically Moist" Almond Cake

I've started reading about gluten free baking and have begun accumulating the various ingredients.  From what I can tell, it's not a simple one-size-fits all replacement for wheat flour.  People seem to use different blends for different purposes, although one can buy pre-made mixes.
I haven't ventured much beyond making things that are normally gluten free and the recipes on the various flour packages.  The all-buckwheat pancakes came out ok, but weren't nearly as good as my usual ones.  Today's buckwheat and sorghum pancakes were a lot better.  I'll post a recipe when I have optimized everything.
On the back of a package of Bob's Red Mill* almond flour, there is a recipe for "Magically Moist Almond Cake".  Despite the cheesy name, which makes me think of the movie Magic Mike (yes,  my mind is in the gutter), it sounded really good - almond meal, coconut flour, eggs, butter, milk, vanilla, and sugar.  The coconut flour is the only concession to gluten free.  It otherwise seems pretty much like a flourless almond cake.  I added a bit of almond extract for good measure.
The batter tasted great but the cake was just so-so, when it was still warm.  After it had cooled completely, it improved greatly.  It's very moist and almondy; indeed, you could describe it as magically moist, but given the ingredients the moistness seems pretty obvious.   Perhaps magically delicious would be a better description.  It would be great with berries and whipped cream.  I'll definitely make it again.  It was too tempting so I ended up taking most of it in to work for the grad students.  I hadn't planned on taking them of my gluten free experiments because the ingredients are more pricy, but I had to get it out of the house.

Tasty Gluten-Free Almond Cake

1 1/2 cups almond flour (or grind your own)
1/2 cup coconut flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup butter
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp almond extract (optional)
1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350F.  Grease a 9" x 13" baking pan.  Mix dry ingredients together.  Cream butter until fluffy.  Add sugar and mix well.  Add eggs one at a time and beat well.   Add milk, vanilla, and almond extract, then stir in dry ingredients and mix.
Transfer batter to pan and bake for 30 minutes.  Cake will be golden.  Allow it to cool completely, preferably overnight.

*Bob's Red Mill, I love you!  Not only do they have a ridiculous assortment of weird-ass gluten free flours, hot cereals, etc, are reasonably priced, and have good recipes on the back of the packages and on their website,  Bob (yes there is a Bob) gave the company to his employees when he turned 81.

Sunday, March 10, 2013


When I was in grad school, my advisor had a butt-ugly pair of bright green pants which he wore often.  He would pair them with either a shirt in the exact same shade of green, or, when his wife was out of town, he'd wear a bright raspberry colored shirt.  He is tall and skinny, and was in his mid-40's at the time.  It was not a good look for him and we were kind of amused by it.  I suspect he knew this and did not care.   Green was his favorite color.
Now that I am almost the same age, I kind of understand the motivation behind the green pants. I went to the outlet mall today.  It is my excuse to take a drive along the lake.  Anyway, I needed a new pair of jeans since my favorite ones got threadbare and developed an embarrassing rip at the crotch.  I wasn't too thrilled with the ones I tried, but on a whim I tried on a pair of purple micro-corduroy jeans from the sale rack.  I bet you can figure out where this is going.  Sure enough, they fit well and I liked them.  A lot. I don't think I would've paid full price for them, but they are fucking awesome.  I'm going to wear them to work and I know the students are going to be amused by it and I do not care.  Yes, it's true, I am turning into my PhD advisor.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Gluten free update

I've been gluten free for three weeks.  It is going ok. I'm trying not to be too vocal about it other than in here and to my closest friends.   It hasn't been particularly difficult when I am cooking for myself (which is most of the time). I no longer eat bread with meals, but I probably did that less than half the time when I wasn't watching what I ate, or less than a third of the time when I was being careful.  This is a habit left over from when I lost weight following the "Zone" diet.  I have also been avoiding all the work snacks, which is not an insubstantial amount, since 'free carbs' seems to be the modus operandi of the department.  I have neither gained nor lost weight, since I've been indulging myself as a payback for my dietary changes.  That will stop soon.
It was somewhat more difficult when I was on vacation.  The resort was good about labeling stuff and providing gluten free options, but it was definitely harder when there was good stuff available that I wanted to try.  Meals at the airport were a bit of a challenge, but not too bad.
The biggest issue is actually baking.  I miss it.  I've made some almond macarons and sesame candy for myself, as well as various permutations on gluten-free pancakes, but I'm still accumulating all the supplies I need for hardcore gluten free baking.  I'm not sure how much I'll do, but it will be entertaining to learn a new baking skill set.
Anyway, I noticed a big difference in how my knees felt when I first started, and seemed to debloat a bit.  I then proceeded to beat the shit out of my knees on vacation, and then once I came back the ongoing presence of deep crunchy snow and ice and the omnipresent stairs and hills haven't helped matters.  I might be tempted to abandon my experiment, but I have noticed that my skin looks a lot less ruddy and I look younger.*  Sure enough, a quick Google search revealed that some people with rosacea have noticed an improvement upon going gluten-free.  For now, vanity wins and I will continue.  However, I will probably still eat sourdough bread when I go to California in late April, knees and skin be damned!

* I had noticed the same thing,  to a lesser extent, when I was following a Zone diet and eating very little gluten.  I assumed it was from eat fairly low carb, but that's not the case now, so I'm going to assume it's the gluten.

Friday, February 22, 2013

OKCupid "What not to do" of the week

A few days ago some guy looked at my profile on OKCupid but did not send me a message.  So of course I looked at his profile, decided "Meh", figured he was also "Meh" about me since he didn't send me a message, and forgot about it.  The next day he sent me the following email.

Would you give it one more chance ? I may be 'The One'. Please read my profile. I hope you find whomever you are looking for .

Um, ok, dude....I don't seem to recall him sending me an email before that.  What is this one more chance business and who sent the memo that it is ok to not send me a message and then get butthurt that I don't send one?  If I were on the fence this would definitely make me not be into him.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Gluten-free old biddyness

I went in for my annual physical the other day.  Because my former physician has moved on, I have a new one.  She is a 60-something, slightly crunchy granola/stereotypical Ithacan.  Anyway, I mentioned that my knees have been achy for no apparent reason.*  She instantly suggested I try going gluten free for a few months.  
I'm dubious, but will try it. I know that I felt pretty good when I was rigorously following a low glycemic, Zone-type diet, which is fairly low gluten.  Although I'm not rigorously following the Zone nowadays, I've kept some of the habits I developed, so  I don't eat a whole ton of gluten - maybe equivalent to two slices of bread per day or less.  Nonetheless, I do like baked goods.  This is going to be tough - not as tough as giving up dairy would be, but still tough.
I'll give it a shot for three months, as suggested.  I'm not going to get my panties in a bunch about homeopathic levels of gluten, but will cut out wheat/barley and see what happens.  Sometimes all the dietary advice I get contradicts itself.  Soy and cruciferous veggies are good, except if you have a thyroid condition and then they're bad.  Low fat or low carb?  Is coffee good or bad?  Is dairy good or bad?  What about artificial sweeteners?  Inquiring minds want to know.  It's frustrating.  I'm normally a fan of moderation and common sense, so this is something different for me.

* Some other causes might include my knees getting tweaked from the appx 30 flights of stairs I climb every day, or the two cats who sleep on my legs every night, me wearing unsupportive snow boot too much, or my thyroid med prescription being too low. 

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The things I do to get blog material/Losers of OKCupid part 57

By this point I should know better than to write back to anyone who messages me on OKCupid whom I'm not interested in, but no...There is a part of me who never learns.  Anyway, Mr FullofHimself wrote me.  He's in an open marriage.  Here's part of his message.

I just switched my billing from "married" to "available" tonight. Something's changed in my open marriage in the last couple of weeks. I don't think we're headed for splitsville, but let's just say it's become even clearer to me that the marriage isn't and shouldn't be my only avenue for love. What I have to offer may be somewhat low in quantity but very high in quality. You say you're looking for someone single so this talk may be a turnoff. But if you don't mind me being blunt, do you want to trade e-mails so I can send you a picture? 

I know you'll find this hard to believe, but sometimes I'm just too nice for my own good, so I sent him a fairly polite brushoff letter instead of just ignoring him. I added the booty call part since pretty much everything about his profile and message screamed booty call and mid-life crisis. 

Anyway, thanks for your honesty. You seem like a cool guy. However, I'm looking for a relationship, preferably long term. I'm not averse to having a friends with benefits situation in the meantime, but I have recently come to the conclusion that if I do that it should be with someone who actually wants to be friends, not just a booty call. I prefer not to go after married guys, even those in open marriages.
Best of luck with everything. 

Old Biddy

Mr FoH wrote back promptly to tell me I'm a rude prude, or perhaps a rude slut.  I'm not really sure which.  Perhaps both. Apparently I offended his sensitive new age male sensibilities.  Or perhaps he is this rude to everyone who tells him "no thanks" due to the fact that he is married.

Thanks for your reply. You misinterpret me severely if you describe me as aspiring to a mere "booty call." That phrase bothers me, especially if you're distinguishing it somehow from something you call "friends with benefits." One advantage of a situation such as mine is that this love and relationship terminology, or philosophy, can be much more fluid. I actually am finding my heart has more, not less, love available to share now that my marriage is open. I found this marvelous list in the book Opening Up, by Tristan Taormino. She says intimate relationships

"may encompass many elements, including love, friendship, closeness, emotional intimacy, recurring contact, commitment, affection, flirting, romance, desire, erotic contact, sex, and a spiritual connection."

Now I grant you it's amazing, and lucky, to find all those wonderful things with one other person: that's the monogamous holy grail. And the monogamous point of view also implies, don't you go looking for any of those goodies with anybody else. But as I look at that list, my feeling is that you only need any one or two of those items with any one person for that relationship to be rich and worthwhile, on either a short- or long-term basis.

Of course, none of this talk makes me any less wed, so perhaps it's fruitless. And I'm sure you didn't mean any insult, but perhaps you'll accept a gentle observation that your communication could show more grace. I'll be glad to discuss further if you're so inclined:  

Seriously, WTF?!?  You want graceless - I'll give you graceless.... He unleashed some major "negging" on me for my sugar-coated and relatively inoffensive email.  Let me call the wahmbulence for the married guy who gets offended that I implied he was looking for a booty call.  What, do I hear the sound of the nanoviolins playing?!?!? The male privilege, it astounds me, even as an old biddy who is pretty cynical already. Don't get me wrong - I'm not going to go after married guys, but if I were I'd definitely prefer the simple booty call ones to the ones who are so self-righteously full of themselves.  
I was very tempted to write back and rip him a new asshole, but I know that would be just feeding the troll.  So instead I blogged about it here.  The one good thing about all this is that if it keeps up like this I'm going to look forward to being a crazy old cat lady.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

My iPhone is ruining my sex life, or, the strange tale of Mr. Bear

While I was still hot in the throes of my sexting and occasional in-person messing around phase with Mr. Cub, Mr. Bear contacted me on OkCupid.  Mr Bear is in his 50's and divorced.  I was kind of aloof since he seemed like a player and lived in the Syracuse area, but nonetheless we ended up eventually switching from OKCupid emails to texting.  He was witty and entertaining and I had nothing else on the horizon so the texting continued.  He tended to be a bit too suggestive, considering that we hadn't met.  I like a bit of joking innuendo but nothing more until I have met the person behind the texts, so I would deflect it back to the stage that I was comfortable with.  He asked me to dinner but then bailed, claiming something had come up with one of his kids.  I thought that was the unofficial brushoff and decided not to go out of my way to pursue him, but he continued to text frequently and occasionally be suggestive.  He asked me if I wanted to get together this Sunday.  I agreed.  Today he texted me that he had met someone that he would like to try being exclusive with, which is fine.  I know these things happen and I can't even claim my pride is injured since we never met in person.  Nonetheless I am cranky about dealing with so many losers and weirdos these days. Seriously, I don't care if I was the backup plan or not but it's not like I was initiating any of the texting or sexting.  WTF was he doing continuing to try to get me to sext with him all the way up to yesterday?!?  Ugh.
I like to text, and once I've met someone I also like to sext, but I am seriously thinking about instituting a no texting policy until I've met someone in person. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Purple Extravaganza: Sweet and Sour Purple Cabbage with Tofu and Purple Rice

It is butt cold here.  Not as bad as in Minnesota or even Michigan, but still it's around 0F now.  My original plan to have a salad for dinner tonight just did not sound very good and I wanted something warm.
A few weeks ago I saw a recipe for purple rice topped with sweet and sour red cabbage  and tofu. Purple rice is sometimes called black rice, or, more poetically, forbidden rice.  It is black when it's dry but cooks up purple.   I was intrigued since I had some purple rice and liked all the other ingredients, so I made it tonight.
I'm feeling lazy and am not going to put the recipe here - go look at the recipe link if you're intrigued.  It was easy and looks quite beautiful and purple, and was very delicious.  In fact, it looks more purple than in the picture since I spread it out on a plate rather than cover up all that nice purple by putting it in a bowl. If you've ever had sweet and sour red cabbage (German style), just imagine it a bit crispier, with Asian flavors and not quite as sweet.   Molly the cat did not approve of this completely vegan dish - I think this was the first time I've even seen her refuse to clean my plate, although she did go after the tofu right out of the package.
For the science geeks out there, the color in the cabbage and rice is due to compounds called anthrocyanins.  They are highly colored compounds and the color varies from pink at low pH (acidic), purple at around neutral pH, and green under basic conditions.  My purple dinner didn't have that much vinegar in it - just one tbsp.  I played around with a little and added some vinegar to it.  The juice turned pink, although the cabbage and rice retained their purple color - a lot of the anthrocyanins were still trapped within the cell walls.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Adieu, Mr. Cub

I bid adieu to Mr Cub tonight, via OKCupid email.  It wasn't going anywhere, so it was for the best.  For those of you who've talked to me or read the earlier posts, Mr Cub was my sexting buddy with whom I occasionally met in person.  We messed around a few times but did not have sex.   (He was very upfront about wanting to sext/Skype, etc, but was sort of weird about actual intercourse.) I hadn't heard from him in more than a week, and I had already decided it would be better if I cut things off.  He was entertaining and I liked him a lot but realized it wasn't working for me.  I would prefer to be in a relationship, but am not averse to having a friend with benefits on occasion.  I had thought that Mr Cub would be a good friend with benefits, but it did not work out that way.  My experience with him made me realize that it needs to either be with someone I already know, or someone who wants a casual friendship and not just pseudo-sex, or at the very least a player who is interested in sex and is up front about it.  Mr Cub was too complicated and too busy. 
I am a little sad, but I am glad that I was a proactive honey badger about it rather than participate in a mutual fadeaway.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Grated Beet, Carrot, and Raisin Salad

I was reading my LoseIt buddy Debi's blog recently (Hi Debi!) and she posted a recipe for a carrot and beet salad.  This sounded good since I had a bunch of rainbow beets and carrots languishing in the fridge.  Of course, I didn't have cilantro, ginger, or lime, or a food processor, so I took a lot of liberties with the recipe.  I decided to grate the beets and carrots, so that made me think of carrot and raisin salad, and to that I added some sesame oil to the dressing.  It came out well and is more interesting than my usual carrot and raisin salad.  It's a good thing I like it, because I have a ton of it.

Carrot, Beet, and Raisin Salad

12 oz carrots
1 lb beets
1/4 cup raisins
2 tbsp whole seed dijon mustard
juice of 1 large lemon
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp maple syrup (or honey or agave syrup)

Peel and grate carrots and beets.  Add raisins and mix.  Whisk together remaining ingredients and add to carrot/beet/raisin mixture and mix.  For best result, allow the flavors to mix for at least a half hour before serving.  I had stripy beets so it's not as red as if I had normal red ones.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Molly and Luna: BFF's

Molly and Luna have bonded a lot since Luna passed away.  Not that they weren't close before, but now they're total BFF's.  I'm not surprised by this, but am sort of surprised that the bigger and older Molly gets, the more Lucy loves her.  Usually adult cats are less patient once their kitten buddies grow up.  Lucy did the reverse.  They really started bonding once Molly was big enough to wrestle with Lucy, and now that Molly is bigger than Lucy it's just a total lovefest.  They wrestle, but the main goal seems to be to pin the other one down and lick their ears.  Sometimes they skip the wrestling and just groom each other.  It's cute, except when they wake me up in the middle of the night.
It is funny - between the two of them they have most of the traits and quirks of their predecessors, Luna and Rugrat, but it's not a straight Luna-to-Lucy and Rugrat-to-Molly distribution.  Lucy's my quirky one-person alpha cat, as Luna was, but she is also my little hyper cat, like Rugrat.  Molly's my sweet cuddly talkative Maine Coon, as Rugrat was, but she is also my mellow confident big cat, as Luna was.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Kickass Mashed Potatoes

I have been the unofficial mashed potato maker for the last 35 years or so. Somehow my childhood fascination with the potato ricer ("it squirts out worms!") meant that it became my job, and if I didn't do it, no one else would.  I really like mashed potatoes, so as a result, I am pretty good at it.
While I was in CA over break I visited Judy.  She had an ultra-rich mashed potato recipe she wanted to try. I made the potatoes while she made the main course. For 5 lbs of potatoes, it had an 8 oz package of cream cheese, 2+ sticks of butter, and some half and half.  Yeah, that does sound good.  I made a half recipe.  It was quite tasty, but somehow it did not live up to the promise imparted by so much butter.  (Perhaps we did not add enough butter?  I didn't exactly follow the recipe, and added less butter than they called for, since we ran out, but it was still a lot and I added proportionately more cream cheese to make up for it.)  In fact, I realized I like my mashed potatoes better, even though they're practically diet food compared to that recipe.  Unfortunately, they're not really diet food so I don't make them for myself that often.
My recipe is neither CI-compliant (oh noez, I didn't roast the potatoes and then mash them!!!), nor over the top food-blogger compliant (what - only 3 tbsp of butter!?!? you didn't roast the garlic?), nor diet food blogger compliant (OMG - too many carbs!).  But it is easy and good, and you can feel good about not paying $8.49 a lb for pre-made mashed potatoes at Wegman's or Whole Foods.  However, if you are feeling lazy I will be happy to sell them to you at that price.
Anyway, my secrets are not so secret.  I cook the potatoes in broth, and then use mostly the brothy potato water when I am mashing them, rather than milk or cream.  I add some butter and milk or half and half, but not too much. I used to use more milk/cream/butter and less broth, but one time when I made them extra light I got lots of unanticipated compliments.  Lastly, I add peeled garlic cloves to boil with the potatoes and mash them right in.  If I'm bringing them for a Thanksgiving dinner I'll increase the amount of butter and use half and half, but even then they're not super rich. 

Big bowl o' mashed potatoes (intermediate richness level, amount of milk and butter are estimated)
2.5-3  lbs russet potatoes
32 oz broth (chicken or vegetable)
3 garlic gloves, or to taste
1 cup milk
3 tbsp butter
salt and pepper
reserved potato water

Wash and peel potatoes.  Cut into chunks and add to soup pot.  Add broth, garlic cloves and enough water to cover potatoes.  Boil until potatoes are tender.  Scoop out potatoes and a bit of the liquid and mash -I use my stand mixer, but a ricer or potato masher is fine too.  Add butter, milk and enough potato broth to get them to your preferred texture.  I like them moist and fluffy so I add a lot.  Add salt and pepper to taste.   You can make them in advance and then reheat in the oven or microwave.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Butternut Squash Ginger Soup

Am I in one of my clean out the cupboards/freezer phases?  Yes.  Did I have a massive butternut squash in the basement?  Yes.  Was it a snowy Sunday and thus the perfect time to make soup?  Yes.  I looked at a few recipes.  They all seemed to be too fussy or too caloric, but I did see a few that used a combination of ginger and coconut milk, which sounded good.  In the end I improvised my own and skipped all the fussy steps, as well as the ubiquitous onion.  I used light coconut milk so it's light but the coconut flavor comes through.  It came out pretty well, all things considered.  I ate it with steamed spinach and a turkey burger that was also part of the freezer cleanout. 
Obviously, this is just a guideline.  If you have a smaller squash you might want to decrease the amount of liquids.
It's orange.  It looks like butternut squash soup.  I am not posting a picture.

1 large butternut squash (mine was 4 or 5 lbs.)
4 cups chicken broth (1 box) or water
1 can light coconut milk
3 tbsp ginger, peeled and chopped.
1 tbsp green curry paste (or improvise with other flavorings)
grated nutmeg (I would probably leave this out next time and use more curry paste)
salt and pepper

Peel and chop squash into 1" cubes.  Chop ginger.  In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, combine squash, broth, coconut milk, ginger, and curry paste and cook until squash is tender.  Carefully puree mixture and season to taste.  I didn't puree it too long so there were still some tiny little pieces of ginger which added zing to the soup.

makes a massive amount of soup - I am guessing 8-10 servings.