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random musings of a crazy cat lady

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Double Broth/Pressure Cooker Marathon

I'm lazy a bit of a pragmatist when it comes to broth.  I make it whenever I have leftover bones or corn cobs, but use canned broth if I don't have any homemade stuff on hand.  I also skip the broth for most vegetable-based soups because I like having a cleaner flavor.
I had never heard about double stock before this week, but happen to read about it when I conveniently had 4 turkey carcasses and a ham bone in my possession.  Basically, you just use broth in place of water when you cook up the bones.  If you're starting with canned broth, use the low sodium kind.  If you've got a lot of bones, just take the first batch of bones out after the first cycle and add the second batch.  This is easy if you're using a pressure cooker or Instapot.
I made two batches of double turkey broth.  The first was cooked sequentially, but for the second batch I just threw twice as many bones in and cooked it once. Both batches came out well.  Surprisingly, the batch that had twice as many bones but was only cooked once had a lot more gelatine.  I'm not sure if this is coincidental or if the act of cooking it twice denatures some of the gelatine proteins or interferes with the extraction.
Anyway, I was very pleased with the results.  It's probably not necessary for creamy soups or stews, but it adds an extra flavor intensity for brothy soups.
We hosted Friendsgiving last week, which is why I am in possession of so many carcasses.  I've been using the pressure cooker practically every day processing the leftovers and making soups. 

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Montreal Massacre 1989

Forward: This post has been sitting as a draft in my Blogspot folder for a very long time.  Ever so often, usually as the anniversary approaches, I think about publishing it.  More and more frequently, a mass killing occur and even before I hear any details, I can make an educated guess about the profile of the killer (alienated white guy, varying only in age) and the demographics of the victims (women or ethnic or religious minorities).  Last week it was a synogoue and a grocery store.  This week it was a yoga studio.  But Montreal, on the eve of my 21st birthday, was the first time that I realized it could have been me and not some abstract person.  College students now have not had the luxury of not thinking about school shootings.  They were just babies when Columbine happened.  Now it is an every day occurrence.

I remember exactly where I was on Dec 6, 1989, when I heard about the mass killing of female engineering students in Montreal.  News traveled more slowly then, so I heard about it in the evening while I was listening to the radio. I was in the Stanford physics department in my dad's office, finishing my grad school applications and procrastinating on studying for finals.  I was thinking about my upcoming 21st birthday, which was the next day, and I wanted the symbolism of sending in my MIT application on my birthday.  I also wanted to have it out of the way so I could party with my friends.  I didn't completely admit it to myself at the time, but MIT was my first choice.  I remember typing in the fill in the blanks part of the form before adding my personal statement.  I pondered the section asking for a photograph of myself and ultimately taped a picture of a frog in there.  Even as an innocent young biddy I didn't want my chances to be influenced one way or another, but it was a atypically gutsy move for me to do for my first choice school. As more and more details came out, I was shocked by the killing and by the fact that the killer targeted female engineering students.  Those women were my peers.  They had names like mine and they looked like me.  At the time, the media made it out to be the work of a mentally unstable person, which, indeed, it was.  But it was more than that as well.
My actions that night  is etched in my brain with surprising clarity, forever reinforced every year on December 6. I have only vague memories of doing my other grad school applications and finals. I did not really think of it consciously for a few years afterwards.  I was busy with grad school and didn't really start spending time on the internet until 1994.  As time passed and mass shootings became more common, I realized how indelible these memories were, because it could've been me.
At 29, I was home sick with chickenpox when the Columbine shootings occurred.  I did not make the connection then.  My memories of that are blurred from fever and acute itching, so it's all a vague blur.  Now I am rapidly approaching 50. Each new shooting happens and is supplanted by another one before we can even process it.  It's not disreprectful of the dead and grieving to make it political - it's disprectful not to use these events to push for increased gun control. 
So on that note, I will just say please go vote on November 6. 

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Too Good for Half the Senate Smoked Bean Soup

I distracted myself from stressing about the Kavenaugh hearings and did some cooking today.  Joe was smoking turkeys in preparation for Friendsgiving, so I decided to smoke some beans for soup.* We've smoked chick peas for hummus before, but had never tried doing it to white beans. I cooked a pound of dry beans in the pressure cooker, then we put them on a cookie sheet with a few cloves of garlic and put them on the smoker for about two hours. They dried out slightly and picked up a nice smoky flavor. Then I cooked them up into bean soup with an onion, some carrots, bacon and kielbasa. Totally coincidentally, it's essentially a smoked version of Senate Bean Soup, which is a basic bean soup made with ham hocks. 
It came out really well - way too good for at least half the Senate.  The smoke flavor really improved it, even though I didn't use a ham hock or pre-made broth.  You could probably use a few drops of Liquid Smoke or some smoked paprika to approximate the flavor.

Too Good for Half the Senate Smoked Bean Soup

1 lb dry white beans, soaked and cooked and drained (or 4 15 oz cans, reserve liquid for soup)
1 qt water, broth or liquid from cooking beans or reserved from canned beans
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
4 oz bacon
1 lb kielbasa or smoked sausage, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
1 tbsp vinegar
salt and pepper 

To smoke the beans, put them on a cookie sheet and put the sheet on a smoker for two hours or so, stirring occasionally, until they pick up a nice smokey flavor.

In a large dutch over, fry the bacon.  Remove the bacon, chop and set aside.  Saute the onions and carrots in the bacon grease until they are slightly browned. Add the sausage, garlic and reserved bacon and saute.  Add the water, broth, or bean liquid and the smoked beans.  Cook until soup has thickened and carrots have softened.  Taste and add salt and pepper to taste.  If desired, add vinegar to brighten the flavor.

Quick version: Use 4 cans white beans and carefully add a little bit of Liquid Smoke or smoked paprika.

* We were originally going to smoke chick peas, but didn't have any so I decided to experiment.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

On coming of age as a woman in the 80's

Forward: This post and several others have been written and rewritten many times in my head over the last two weeks.  I will likely continue to formulate it after it is posted.  Many others have written similar articles recounting their experiences, and I have gleaned insight from those essays as well.  I'll add additional posts later, but this one just deals with the 80's party culture and my own personal experience.

Like many Generation X women, and women and girls of all ages, the last few weeks of Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court confirmation hearings have been rough on me, and have brought up a lot of repressed memories and prompted me to reexamine my high school and college years.
I have been very lucky.  I have never been raped or experienced any sexual violence beyond cat calls, butt grabbing, frotteurs and flashers.  As most of you know, I was a geeky kid in high school and did not go to parties.  In college, I was still geeky and mostly went to dorm parties, with the occasional frat party thrown in for good measure.  The dorm parties typically had lots of alcohol but also semi-attentive RAs who made sure there were non-alcoholic drinks and kept an eye on things.  I surrounded myself with my brotherly gang of male buddies, and typically had one or two drinks.  Once I started hanging out with graduate students (senior year) I began to drink more and didn't bring my undergrad buddies with me. In grad school and beyond I partied more.  It turns out I like drinking and hanging out with interesting people.

For years my official interpretation to myself is that I was a geeky late bloomer who didn't find high school/frat parties that appealing.  There are elements of truth to that, but the last few weeks have made me realize that I was hiding from the 80's heavy drinking culture because I suspected it would not be kind or welcoming to people like me. At best I would be excluded and laughed at and at worst I'd be raped or worse. I grew up in the same culture as Kavanaugh and his peers. As a tween, I watched the same movies and I internalized the same messages that they did as teenagers.    Like most of my peers, I grew up watching the Benny Hill Show, and read Mad Magazine and my brother's copies of Playboy and Penthouse.  In junior high I snuck into Porky's with Missy and saw "Revenge of the Nerds" and "The Last American Virgin" with my brother.  I still have a fondness for crude slapstick humor. I laughed at all the gags and was so steeped in the culture that I barely remember the voyeurism and rape scenes.  The only bit of pop culture that actually creeped me out enough that I remember it was watching a Woody Allen movie when I was at a sleepover when I was 9 or 10.  My conscious radar wasn't completely broken, but it was severely dulled from the murky messages that I was getting all day, every day from the dominant, Baby Boomer, male-centric pop culture.* Subconsciously, though, I was reading these messages loud and clear, and I was scared and repulsed.
When I got to high school, I didn't party at all.  In my sophomore and junior years, as my neighborhood friends started to party more, I withdrew into an eating disorder and isolated myself from the party culture.  At the time, I would've said the timing was coincidental and that people weren't inviting me to their parties, but now I'm not so sure.  It was just easier to retreat into myself and not deal with it at all. Once I was no longer starving myself, I remained a homebody until I got to college.  At first I was kind of judgemental about people partying, until I realized it was actually fun.

People ask why women go to parties if they know they might get raped.  Even asking this question, rather than telling men not to rape women or not to go to parties, is a flaming bag of conservative shit, but I am going to answer it anyway.  I know the answer, since I have done the experiment.  Parties are fun, even for geeky introverts like me.  Hanging out with old and new friends is fun.  Drinking is fun for many people, including women.  When you go to a party, no matter how much due diligence you do, you have no way of knowing in advance if things are about to go south.  And even if you never go to parties and don't drink, things can still go south.  This is not a "Just say no" or "Don't give in to peer pressure" thing, despite what my mother thinks.  I'm very good at doing both those things, but it came at a price.   I missed out on a lot of fun and probably delayed my own social development by avoiding parties in high school.  To those of you who knew me in high school or freshman year of college, I'm sorry for the times I was judgemental.

I bellieve Chrisine Blasey Ford.  I believe Debbie Ramirez.  I believe all of my friends and acquaintances and strangers who are now coming forward with their own stories. 

* We didn't have a TV at my mom's house when I was a tween/teen, so my TV watching was limited to when we stayed over at my Dad's place or at friends' house.  Perhaps this made me less subject to pop culture, and I am kind of shocked by how much I did absorb.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

RIP Ghost Cat, 2004 (?) - 2018

I was the angel of death for Emma, aka Ghost Cat, today.  I caught her and put her in the cat carrier, and then drove my parents when they took her to the vet to be out to sleep.  I held her as the vet injected her with the medications.  Prior to that, I was the one who gently told my dad that she seemed to be in more pain and in worse shape than Luna or Rugrat ever were, and tried to nudge him towards the decision to put her to sleep. I feel kind of guilty, although I think I did the right thing.
I first met Emma sometime between 2004-2008.  I don't really remember when.  She was a ghostly presence on the fence.  At first I'd just catch glimpses of her, so I started to call her Ghost Cat.  She was off-white with a lot of grey in her coat, and was an odd combination of torbie, siamese, and possibly a trace of ragdoll.  She was somewhere in between a long and short haired cat.  Emma was beautiful and funny looking at the same time, but I didn't get a close look at her for many years.  Once she became slightly less shy, she became Luna's bete noir and Luna kept her out of the yard. 
After I moved to Ithaca and my dad moved into my Sunnyvale house, Emma had the yard to herself.  Free of her nemesis Luna, Emma (short for nemesis) became my dad's outside cat and eventually his inside cat.
Rather than being a ghostly presence, Emma was a strange, quirky, talkative cat who was a complete flea-magnet.  She hated other cats and loved my dad, who spoiled her.  Once she warmed up to us, she also became fond of me and my brother and liked to sleep on my bed and keep me awake with her scratching.
Emma was old and her kidneys were failing.  In the last two months she developed a large growth on her neck which interfered with her breathing and eating, and this week she seemed to be a few days away from complete kidney failure.  I won't go into the details, but even in the few days I was here in CA she went downhill a lot.  I recognized the behaviors and symptoms I had seen in Luna and Rugrat in the last few weeks of their lives.  I did not think she had long to live, but Emma was a tough little honey badger and might've lived another day or week.  It was hard to see her suffer like that.
RIP Ghost Cat, forever haunting my yard.