Thursday, May 28, 2009

A story behind every scar

The actual purpose of our visit to California last weekend (pictures and more stories coming soon, promise!), as in the reason we went out then as opposed to any other weekend, was to attend Brian's 30th birthday party. It was a bit different from mine, since it was held in a pub known for its games (board, trivia, and dart). Somewhere between 30 and 50 people were there at points throughout the evening to fete Brian and play games, and I was kind of excited about going because I knew there'd be people in attendance I hadn't seen since childhood. Brian's parents were supposed to come (his dad came, mom got sick) and some other folks from our hometown, including a guy named Tony whose mom was once close friends with my mom. They even started the day care center in town together. Tony has an identical twin brother named Alex (who lives in another state and didn't go to the party), and as we reminisced and reconnected, we realized we had more in common than a shared childhood (Tony and his brother suffered from childhood hearing damage and speech impediments; apparently his hearing is even worse than before and not helped by aids. My ailment isn't hearing loss/damage but auditory processing disorder, but when trying to talk with each other while surrounded by people partying in a pub, we realized that we had the same problem, namely we couldn't understand very well at all). Tony grew up around his sparkly green eyes; even had I not known it was him I would have recognized him by that feature alone, set into an adult face that only somewhat resembles what I remember of his mom.

I was thinking about Tony and his twin, about what it might be like to have a carbon copy of myself, when watching So You Think You Can Dance last night (It's my favorite summer show. Don't judge me.) Two of the flailing tiny-shorted contemporary dancers were twins, and the judges made comments about how different their dancing was even within their well-choreographed routine. I thought about how identical twins start out being the same people and soon split into two, about whether it feels lonely or incomplete to be a twin who has lost your other self, or whether your sense of personhood is completely separate and distinct from that of your identical sibling.

Then, when I read Abby's post today about scars, I realized that those would be a really good way of setting off oneself from one's twin - because no two people are ever going to have the same life experiences that lead to either internal or external scarring. Even if you have a sibling who looks exactly like yourself in every way, even if your personalities match and you like all the same things, the marks on your body and your soul will always be as unique as fingerprints. Abby asked in her post whether anyone else has favorite scars. I don't know that any of my scars can really be considered favorites, but I definitely have some scars with interesting stories behind them.

My earliest scar is a double circle of darker skin on my upper knee area. When I was very young, maybe two or three, my dad decided it would be fun to ride around with me on his motorcycle for a while. Somehow I bumped my leg on the hot exhaust pipe and burned myself pretty badly. My only memories of the event are of sitting on the motorcycle and then sitting in the sink while my mom washed my leg and cried. The scar was originally underneath my knee but the skin grew as I did and now it's above my knee. I think I was young enough that it didn't become regular scar tissue; it's mostly just two circles of darker skin.

On the top of my right foot, just below my second toe, is a circular scar about the size of a dime. The scar is an odd shape considering that the original injury was a scraped foot from kneeling on a skateboard and rolling down a driveway only to try to use my foot top as a brake and getting scraped up. The reason it healed the way it did (and took so long to heal, probably two months) was because I scraped it at the very beginning of the summer, right before swim team practice started. I was in the pool for hours every day that year and the scrape took FOREVER to heal. It healed from the outside in and thus a circular scar.

I have two notable scars on my left hand. At the base of my left thumb is a jagged diagonal line that came from a time when my sister was studying local Native American tribes in fourth grade. She was asked to do a project of a miniature dugout boat from a piece of wood, and, with the help of my dad, burned the wood to form the basic shape and then a chisel to refine it. It was getting close to the time when the project needed to be turned in and so I volunteered to assist with the chiseling. I had been working on it a while when suddenly the chisel slipped and went into my hand, right at the bottom of my thumb where it bent. I could see some interesting gorey bits in there right when it happened (bone? tendon? muscle? who knows!) and it took a long time to heal because of the whole injury-being-where-thumb-bends thing.

The other interesting scar is on the pad of my left thumb. A knife slipped one time when I was staying at the house of a friend's father (a doctor). The parents were out of town and we were all preparing dinner. I think I was chopping lettuce for a caesar salad when the knife slipped and I somehow cut right into the pad of the thumb. The cut probably wouldn't have been so bad if we could have found any medical supplies AT ALL but the best options were cotton makeup pads and scotch tape. In a doctor's house! Of course, my skin started closing up around them overnight and I ended up having to pick cotton out of my thumb. Now my thumbprint has a line running through it.

Any interesting scar stories to share, internet?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Food on Friday: Party edition

The recipes for the party food I made for last Saturday's festivities have mostly been previously included on my blog: guacamole, hummus. The onion dip consisted of mixing a packet of onion soup mix with 16 oz of sour cream and letting it sit in the fridge for an hour. I made pita chips by cutting up each pita bread into 8 slices, brushing with olive oil, sprinkling with salt and garlic powder, and toasting them in the toaster oven.

The lemon cake was modified from this Smitten Kitchen recipe. In order to modify the original recipe (scaled to fit bundt pans), I decreased the ingredient ratio by 1/3. Here is my version:

MLE's tasty lemon cake (makes 1 9x13 sheet cake or 2 8 inch rounds)

1 1/3 sticks butter
2/3 cup sugar
3 eggs
zest of 4 lemons
2 cups flour
1/3 tsp baking soda
1/3 tsp baking powder
2/3 tsp salt
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla

1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup lemon juice

Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and zest. Sift dry ingredients in separate bowl. Combine lemon juice, buttermilk, and vanilla in a 3rd bowl. Add flour and buttermilk mixtures alternately to butter and sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour. Pour into cake pan that has been generously greased/floured (or better yet, use parchment paper, which we were out of). Bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes or until tester comes out clean. Meanwhile, combine 1/3 cup sugar and 1/3 cup lemon juice in a pan over low heat until sugar is melted. Let cake cool for 10 minutes. Invert onto a plate (or, if you're like me and you can't get the cake out of the pan, leave it in) and poke a lot of holes with a toothpick. Spoon sugar/juice mixture slowly over the cake to allow it to soak in.

I frosted the cake using a basic vanilla buttercream, but you can use anything that sounds good!

For Sunday's brunch, I made a variety of things. The recipes for the Broccoli Slaw and Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble also came from Smitten Kitchen and were not modified (or if so, very slightly). The quiche, however, was my own creation.

MLE's Asparagus, Mushroom, and Turkey Sausage Quiche with cheeses

1 single pie crust (I used a premade frozen one since that seems to work better for quiche)
1/2 pound slim asparagus spears, trimmed and chopped into 1-inch pieces
1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped
4 button mushrooms, sliced
5 turkey breakfast sausage links
5 eggs
1/4 cup milk
1/3 grated cheeses of your choice. I used smoked gouda and Irish Dubliner, which both have a lot of flavor

Preheat oven to 425 F. Sautee asparagus, onion, and mushrooms in a skillet with some olive oil, garlic powder, and a splash of balsamic or red wine vinegar, plus a generous pinch of salt and pepper until veggies are tender. Cook frozen sausages in a small saucepan until cooked through and browned, turning regularly. When done, let them cool and then chop into small pieces. Poke a few holes in the pie shell with a fork and stick it in the 425 oven for a few minutes, then remove it and turn the oven down to 350F. Whisk eggs with milk until thoroughly scrambled, add cheese. Pour veggies, sausage, and egg/cheese mixture into pie shell and bake for 30-40 minutes or until egg is set and cheese is melted. (It helps to put a baking sheet under the pie pan to catch any overflow.) Serves 8 as a component of a large brunch or 4 as a main dish.

The only other thing I did that could reasonably be considered "cooking" was to chop up some red grapes, strawberries, and kiwi and mix it with blackberries for a fruit salad.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Two steps forward, one step back

I've been enjoying this whole "playing on a softball team" experience, as it's something I've never really done before. I did ballet as a child and never participated in any team sports (other than what I was required to do in PE). In high school, I was on a summer community swim team, but swimming is far more of an individual sport than a team sport. I've never been a part of team cameraderie, worn a team shirt, or had the opportunity to care how other people did in a physical activity. But the practices and the games we've had thus far (at least, the 2 I've been able to attend, having been sick last week) have been a lot of fun.

Someone told me recently that adult softball is the sport most likely to cause injury. Yesterday was one of those days where I felt like a newspaper headline come to life. First, a teammate caught a ball with his hand rather than his glove, and the stitching on the ball sliced open the skin between two fingers. He was one of our best players, so it was a real injury to the team. Then, I hit a grounder toward first, ended up avoiding the first baseman and got to first base safely, only to somehow end up doing a partial split and messing up my knee.

At first I was kind of in shock. I couldn't get up. My knee wouldn't move. And then it started hurting. I've never had any knee injuries before (hips, ankles, neck, shoulder, back, and calf, but no knee) so I wasn't sure what I was feeling or what I had done. I iced it until Dan came to pick me up using the bag of ice from the other team's cooler, sitting in a daze, trying to cheer on my team and razz the other team while trying not to think of exactly what a bad knee injury would mean. I'm still getting over a bad cold, have only been to the gym once in the last ten days, my clothes still aren't fitting right and I'm starting to feel depressed about it. And then I go and hurt my knee.

We went home and I put my leg up on the couch, took some aleve and iced my knee some more. It started taking a little more weight so I had hope that when I woke up this morning it would be fine. Unfortunately, that is not the case. It's not as painful as yesterday and not swollen, so those are good things. I have it wrapped under my pants and I can walk slowly and with a limp. It hurts the most when I straighten it and put weight on or when I bend it too far. It crunches a little. I'm going to take it easy today, put it up when I get home, and hope for the best. I gotta say, I'm a little tired of sustaining injuries to my limbs prior to trips. We're headed to California this weekend to attend a friend's birthday party and hang out with our friends and our internet nephew, Wombat. Keep your fingers crossed that I'll be feeling OK to walk on it normally by Saturday.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Two parties and a graduation, part 2: Nobody in the world has a mortarboard like this one

When we last left our heroes, one of them was up at 2 AM after his graduation party, expelling all of the contents of his digestive system.

This continued throughout the night. I got up at 7:30 AM in order to prepare for the morning's event, which was a belated Mother's Day brunch we'd invited my family and Dan's parents to (because how often are our moms in the same state at the same time? Not very often!). They were scheduled to arrive at 10 AM in order to have enough time for brunch and also to get to Dan's graduation early enough to get good seats. I baked Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble, and while that was in the oven I prepared everything for a quiche with asparagus, mushrooms, onions, turkey sausage, and smoked gouda/Irish Dubliner cheese. I removed the crumble and put in the quiche, and prepared the broccoli slaw. In between everything, Dan was getting up from the bed to go spend time in the bathroom. He looked like death. I've actually only seen him that sick once before - when he had food poisoning several years ago.

I was in the middle of the fruit salad, after having enlisted Dan's help in moving the furniture around yet again (he also made coffee because I don't know how), getting down and setting out the silver and dishes, and putting the linens on the table, when everyone showed up. They were all dressed up for the graduation. I hated to break the news that unfortunately, the graduation was not going to happen. Dan could hardly even stand, let alone was he up for sitting for several hours waiting to cross a stage. Everyone was really sad, but I took bagel orders and set out toasted bagels. My sisters helped me find glasses for everyone, set out ice water in a pitcher, and the families entertained each other again while I set out the food and finished the fruit salad (strawberries, blackberries, kiwi and halved red grapes).

We all sat down to eat. Everything turned out well, and the conversation seemed to flow, while avoiding to the extent possible the elephant in the room - that the main event everyone had come for was not going to happen. When we finished eating, I excused myself to take a shower and change (having not had the opportunity to do so yet) while people relaxed. When I got out, my sisters were washing the dishes (!) and I served the strawberry rhubarb crumble, which was absolutely fantastic. Dan's parents left with their folding chairs and my family amused themselves by making Dan a mortarboard out of cardboard from the recycling bin, some yarn left over from his sweater, and a black sharpie.

Laurel got tired in the middle of coloring the top of the cap black, so she wrote Black. Then she wrote Negro (black in Spanish). Then she looked up how to write black in other languages and wrote them around the hat part of the mortarboard. My mom finished the tassel and attached it with tape, and we all went into our bedroom, placing the mortarboard on Dan's head and humming Pomp and Circumstance. I think he was a little bewildered, but eventually got the joke and took it in stride. I present to you all, a unique mortarboard made with love.

We pretty much all agreed that the only thing Dan had eaten that other people hadn't in the days preceeding was his meal at Sam's #3 (he had corned beef hash and biscuits/gravy). I called the restaurant to let them know he had eaten there the day before and what he ate, to allow them a chance to pull anything that had gone bad. The guy was pretty much a complete jerk on the phone and told me that it was probably the flu. Um, no. 14 hours after his meal, he was violently ill for hours, after feeling perfectly fine. And then that evening he was significantly better. Not the flu. We'll never eat there again.

My family decided to go back to the hotel and change in order to go on a light hike around the Red Rocks area. We hiked up about 1/4 mile of the trail, just to give them a taste of the mountains (foothills, really) and then went up to the Red Rocks Ampitheatre. Here are a few of the photos I took during the hike.

They drove me home and Curtis and Lissa drove my mom and Laurel to the airport. That evening, they came back over and we went out to eat at an Irish pub nearby. Dan even managed a few bites of soup. We hung out for a while afterward, but everyone was exhausted so they left around 10:30.

I took Monday off. I was completely out of steam and needed a day to recover from my weekend and the extremely stressful previous week. Lissa and Curtis came by to have a light breakfast and say goodbye. Dan felt a lot better, but still wasn't up for eating much. We spent the day being lazy, doing girly errands (he took me to the yarn store and the shoe store! We also stocked up on spices at Penzey's), and I ended up taking a much-needed hour-long nap. It was finally all over. I'm so glad my family finally came to visit after so many years, bummed Dan didn't get to walk in his graduation (and nobody got to see him do it), and so glad that it's behind me.

So that's the story of two parties and a (non) graduation. The unexpected happened, the parties went over well, and on Friday I'll write about all the food I made.

Two parties and a graduation, part the first.

It was Thursday night. I was unable to sleep, because I knew Dan would be pulling an all-nighter after an entire week of little sleep (for him, because of his final projects; for me because of my terrible cold) and I just couldn't get my brain to turn off. Had I remembered everything I needed to do? Could I get everything done on Friday? Would Dan make himself sick by staying up all night? (It's a good recipe for a migraine, for him.) I think I finally passed out sometime after 1 AM and woke up again at 6:30 when Dan's alarm went off; he'd actually gotten to bed sometime around 4 AM.

* * * * * * *

I started my preparations on Friday first thing after eating a bowl of cereal. I'd taken the day off work in order to do all the cleaning and cooking and shopping and other things that needed to be done for the party on Saturday and for my family's visit, and while the house was relatively clean it was not Relative clean. If you know what I mean. I spent two hours on the living room and moved on to finishing other rooms, wondering all the while how Dan was holding up during the presentation of his final project. By the time he got home, I realized I hadn't eaten anything else and hadn't had any water. I sat down and made a list of what all still needed to be done, what was needed from the various stores (Target, grocery store, liquor store), and our menus for Saturday night and Sunday morning for easy reference. Dan made me lunch.

After lunch, we headed out for Target and Queen Soopers and managed to cross everything off the list despite both of our exhausted states. We went back and forth across the store a few times rather than picking up our items efficiently as we normally do, but considering how overly tired we both were, I'm just glad we didn't forget anything. Rather than having to cook, we unanimously decided a $5 rotisserie chicken, some spinach salad, and a heated-up demi batard of multigrain bread would work just fine for dinner. Upon our return home, everything was put away and Dan continued with the cleaning while I spent an hour finishing up a project about which I will not talk on this blog. It had a deadline of 4 PM, and I managed to get it in by 3:30, so I was proud of myself for that.

We cleaned more. We organized more. Eventually we ate our dinner and then I went back in the kitchen to start on the cooking projects: hummus, pita chips, mango salsa, and lemon cake from a slightly modified Smitten Kitchen recipe. (I asked him what kind of cake he wanted for his graduation party. "Lemon," he told me, "because I always pick chocolate and I want something different this time.") The hummus-making revealed a broken piece on our food processor, so it was made in the blender instead (a far more annoying process, because it makes more mess and takes longer). The mango salsa-making revealed that the mangoes I'd bought were somehow rotten on the inside despite feeling slightly under-ripe on the outside. So no mango salsa. I managed to toast 6 pita breads into 48 pita chips in between steps of cake-making and when the cake was finally out of the oven I washed up all of the cooking dishes. The house was mostly in order, with only two rooms still needing significant work. It was after 11 PM and I'd received a text from my sister saying their plane was going to be late. After doing some mental calculation, I realized my family wouldn't get to their hotel until around 2 AM. I tried to fall asleep, but I was so overly tired that sleep wouldn't come for quite a while. I kept expecting my phone to ring.

* * * * * *

The phone never rang, but I didn't sleep well, knowing my family was in the state but nobody had called me. I texted my sister to tell her to call me when they were up so we could make plans for the day, and we got to work on the final cleaning projects, scrubbing the kitchen floor and final touches on the rest of the house. I never ate any breakfast and scarfed down a thing of yogurt at 11:45 when we were about to leave to go meet everyone for lunch while on the computer ordering the catering order for the evening's party (Papa John's had some sort of special deal - 5 specialty pizzas, 30 wings, 3 sides, 4 2-liters of soda to feed 20 people for $110).

We drove down to meet my family and ate at Sam's #3, near the Convention Center. Dan and I ordered breakfast food and everyone else ordered lunch, and as we ate we discussed what everyone wanted to do for the rest of the day. Ultimately, it was decided that my mom and Curtis and Dan would go see Star Trek (Dan's second viewing, as we saw it last weekend) and my sisters and I would go shopping. Then I'd go home to do more party prep and everyone else would show up early to help with last-minute setup.

Turns out, the next Star Trek wasn't until 2:30 PM. Dan still went. The party was supposed to start at 5 (and knowing his relatives, we'd have company at 5 PM on the dot). My sisters and I found dresses and shoes at Cross Dress for Less and Payless, tried to get pedicures (but were told they had no more appointments available), and then Lissa went to nap for a while at the hotel while Laurel accompanied me on the walk home while I told her about the buildings downtown, took her to the mile-high marker on the Capitol steps, and stopped at the liquor store for round one of purchases. Having reached our house, Laurel vegetated while I made buttercream and frosted Dan's cake, cut up veggies for crudite, made onion dip, made simple syrup for mojitos. I went to 7-11 and hauled back 30 pounds of ice. I went back to the liquor store to get the rest of what we needed. I iced down the beer, started moving furniture, and there was a knock at the door - Dan's parents had arrived with folding chairs and another cooler filled with ice. I quarantined the cats into the small bedroom and moved the chairs to the backyard, along with our big coffee table.

Two minutes later, some friends of Dan's family showed up. I wasn't ready, hadn't had a chance to change, and Dan wasn't even there yet. Dan's mom and Rita helped me finish setting things up, putting the appetizers out on our dining table along with paper plates, napkins, plastic forks. More people showed up. Dan finally arrived having gone to the store to get firewood only to find that his sole option was those fire log things (he'd intended to set up the copper fire bowl we got as a Christmas present, but after pulling out all the parts he realized the directions were missing. No fire bowl.) He entertained people while I finished getting things ready, and my family arrived, and suddenly our house was absolutely full of people!

(Then, I remembered suddenly that I had forgotten to make the guacamole. So I made that, along with making mojitos for those who wanted them. I did not sit down at all.)

* * * * *

The pizzas arrived at 6:30, and I put them out along with salad greens and dressing in the backyard. Our apartment is really not set up to have many people in it, and we don't have any rooms that can hold more than about 10 people, max. Somehow everyone managed to figure out where to sit and people seemed to have a good time, and people were going in and out, some spending time outside with others mostly staying indoors. It was a perfect evening, temperature-wise, and while we had quite a few no-shows, everyone who did come seemed to have a good time. Dan was feted by his family and mine, and everyone ate, drank, and made merry. Dan got presents and cards and was thoroughly happy to be surrounded by loved ones.

Eventually, I poured champagne for everyone and we had a toast. Along with champagne, there was the lemon cake I made. It looked like this:

Luckily, Dan thought it was funny as Laurel and I had. The cake was delicious, family stories were swapped, and finally around 10 PM everyone was gone. Luckily, due to planning well, there wasn't a ton of mess to clean up. I vegetated on the couch with a mojito and a terrible movie. By 11:30, I was about to fall over, so we went to bed.

* * * * *

The vomiting did not start until 2 AM.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Boulder or Vegas?

Despite it being late spring and the weather having finally (FINALLY) warmed up, somehow I managed to come down with someone's nasty cold (no idea who, but tons more people at work are sick too) on Saturday and spent Sunday and Monday feeling like utter shite. This is not a good time for me to be sick, as I have a lot of actual work to do at work (!), a bunch of side stuff going on (like volunteer stuff, softball team, etc.) AND this weekend is Graduation weekend. In which my family is coming to town (my mom is the only one in my family, besides my cousin, who has visited since I moved here in January of 2003) to attend the multiple parties and the graduation, and we'll have the largest gathering of people in our house ever (20+!) and I have a brazillian things to do before everyone gets here.

I highly doubt it's H1N1, aka the swine flu, since it's essentially a bad cold plus fever. (Although I just looked at the CDC website and I have at least half of the symptoms of H1N1. Yay?) I have only had the actual flu (influenza) 2 or 3 times in my life and it completely wipes me out beyond functioning. This is just a bad cold.

But it got me to thinking about, you know, Steven King's The Stand and the possibility of a huge portion of the world's population dying and if that happened what would I do? (Assuming I survived, of course). I'm not a huge fan of King's work but I really like The Stand, especially the extended edition. I hated the made-for-TV movie version (don't see it, it's TERRIBLE) when we got it from Netflix several years ago, but I re-read the book every year or so. Since I live in Colorado, I'm pretty familiar with the terrain for a good chunk of the story, as (for those who haven't read it) survivors of a manmade superflu end up congregating in either Boulder (the good guys/luddites) or Vegas (the bad guys/techies). I won't get into how it happens or why, but there are some memorable scenes that take place in well-known Colorado locations (a scene at the Eisenhower tunnel always flashes through my head whenever we drive west on I70, for example).

Every time I re-read the book, I think about what I would do in a similar situation, dealing with the deaths of most of (if not all) my friends and loved ones, figuring out how to survive the urban jungle, and would I be a good guy or a bad guy? I know I wouldn't want to go to Vegas in particular; it would be too hot and dry to try to get there via bike or on foot. Boulder's only 35 miles to the Northwest. I'm far to lazy to bike or walk all the way to Nevada. Boulder it is. Guess I'm a good guy by default.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Iron Chef MLE presents - A Picnic

It is a warm spring day, and nothing but blue skies and lazy breezes await. In the feast you are about to consume, I have done my best to embody spring as an ingredient, whenever possible using produce appropriate to the season.

All portions of your repast were packed in appropriate sealed containers with blue ice in an insulated picnic bag.

Spread upon the ground is, of course, a classic red and white gingham oil tablecloth. What better way to set the scene of a picnic? To your great surprise, this tablecloth has the additional power of keeping the insects away as you seat yourselves under a newly-leafed tree, with just the right amount of shade and sun.

You will begin with a light snack of freshly made hummus with vegetable crudite and pita chips. To drink you have a cooled sun tea made from Celestial Seasonings' Red Zinger, lightly sweetened and with orange and lemon slices, brought to the picnic in a Lexan plastic bottle and served in plastic tumblers that came with the picnic bag.

Your appetite is only lightly whetted - you need something a bit more substantial. Luckily, in the picnic bag is a container with teriyaki-marinated chicken satay on wooden skewers, and alongside you find a small covered bowl filled with fresh peanut sauce. The ever-so-classy white plastic plates provide a convenient place on which to place your chicken and pour out your sauce for dipping.

You have noticed that your picnic bag has an attached insulated bottle holder. Inside you find a chilled bottle of medium-dry mead, with notes of both spice and honey. You pour yourself a glass of mead into the plastic wine glasses you find in the bag and propose a toast to Spring.

But what else is in the bag of mystery? Why, it's a fresh pasta salad, made with bow tie pasta, freshly white wine-poached salmon, feta cheese and red grapes. Your spork makes this far more fun to eat, since parts of it stick to the fork and other parts get scooped up by the spoon. You detect hints of dill and balsamic vinegar as you hungrily consume this dish.

You're now ready for the main event, and find in your bag some toasted hoagie rolls, citrus-marinated pork tenderloin medallions, freshly-made barbecue sauce, and a kohlrabi and cabbage cole slaw. The tangy sweet citrus notes of the pork and the deep smoky chipotle flavor of the barbecue sauce cry out for the pungent freshness of the slaw, and you assemble your sandwich to great delight, using the provided plastic serving utensils.

After a while, you realize there is still more in your picnic bag of wonders. Reaching in once more, you find an airplane-sized glass bottle of absinthe and alongside it is a packet of almond-anise biscotti. A little note details the steps in the process of your first dessert, and you drip a small amount of absinthe over each biscotti before biting in.

Just when you think you can eat no more, you decide to dig down into the bag to see if there is anything left. And there is! A strawberry rhubarb turnover made with browned butter pastry, singing notes of Spring itself. It can be held in one hand, yet packs a deliciously sweet-tart punch. What a way to end such a grand outdoor repast!

1 can garbanzo beans (also known as chickpeas), drained, reserve some of the liquid
5 cloves fresh garlic
1 tbsp tahini (sesame seed butter)
juice of one lemon
1/2 medium tomato
a few dashes crushed red pepper
salt & pepper to taste

Crudite - jicama, snap peas, baby carrots, red bell pepper strips, English cucumber (peeled)

Pita chips - Brush pita bread with olive oil and sprinkle with garlic powder. Cut each pita bread into 8 wedges. Toast on medium in toaster oven. Remove from toaster oven; cool.

Chicken Satay
1 chicken breast, cut into thin strips and marinated in your favorite teriyaki sauce
then skewered and grilled on stovetop or Foreman grill. When chicken is cooked, chill until ready to eat.

Peanut sauce for dipping
1/2 cup chunky natural peanut butter
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp rice vinegar

Heat all ingredients in small saucepan and stir until everything is well-mixed. Thin with water as necessary to reach desired consistency.

Salmon, grape and feta Pasta Salad

Bowtie pasta, cooked to al dente (2 cups cooked)
1/2 pound salmon fillet
1/2 cup white wine
juice of 1/2 orange
2 tsp Penzey's fox point seasoning
1 cup red grapes, halved
1/2 cup feta cheese
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp fresh dill, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Rinse salmon fillet and rub with fox point seasoning. Poach in medium frying pan in white wine and orange juice until flaky. Remove from pan, refrigerate. When fish is cool, remove skin and cut into bite-sized pieces. Toss pasta, fish, grapes, and feta together in a bowl with olive oil, balsamic, dill, and salt & pepper. Refrigerate for at least one hour or up to overnight to allow flavors to meld.

BBQ Pork tenderloin sandwiches with kohlrabi coleslaw

Hoagie rolls, toasted

1 pork tenderloin
3/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp dried thyme
1 clove minced garlic
dash salt

Marinate pork tenderloin in other ingredients overnight.
24 hours before picnic, cook pork tenderloin on a charcoal grill over low flame, turning meat frequently, until meat reaches internal temperature of 160 degrees F. Chill tenderloin in refrigerator overnight. The morning of the picnic, slice into 1/4-1/2 inch thick medallions and keep cool until ready to assemble into sandwiches.

BBQ sauce
3/4 cup ketchup
1/2 cup cider or red wine vinegar
1/8 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/8 cup soy sauce
1 canned chipotle pepper, finely chopped
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 tbsp dry mustard
2 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
1 clove minced garlic
1 tbsp vegetable oil

Mix all ingredients and cook in a medium saucepan over medium heat until sauce comes to a simmer. Makes about 1 cup.

Cole Slaw

1 medium red or green kohlrabi, shredded
1/2 medium green cabbage, shredded
2 large carrots, shredded
3/4 cup mayonnaise
several large squirts spicy brown mustard
1/8 cup red wine vinegar
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp granulated sugar
1 tsp salt

Shred all slaw ingredients and toss to mix. Make sauce, adjusting levels to taste. Toss slaw with sauce and refrigerate.

Almond-anise biscotti

1 cup plus 2 tsp all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
3.5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 large eggs
1 tablespoon absinthe or other anise liqueur
1/3 cup whole almonds, toasted, coarsely chopped or sliced almonds

1 egg white

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Sift flour, baking powder and salt into medium bowl. Mix sugar, melted butter, 1 egg, and absinthe in large bowl. Add flour mixture to egg mixture and stir with wooden spoon until well blended. Mix in almonds.

Using floured hands, shape dough into 2 1/2-inch-wide log. Transfer log to prepared baking sheet. Whisk egg white in small bowl until foamy; brush over top and sides of log.

Bake log until golden brown (log will spread), about 30 minutes. Cool log completely on sheet on rack, about 25 minutes. Maintain oven temperature.

Transfer log to work surface; discard parchment paper. Using serrated knife, cut log on diagonal into 1/2-inch-wide slices. Arrange slices, cut side down, on same baking sheet. Bake 12 minutes. Turn biscotti over; bake until just beginning to color, about 8 minutes. Transfer to rack and cool.

Strawberry rhubarb turnovers in browned butter pastry

1.5 cups strawberries, hulled and chopped
1 cup rhubarb, chopped
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp cornstarch

Mix ingredients and let sit, stirring occasionally, while you make the browned butter pastry.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp powdered sugar
1/4 cup (half a stick) butter
enough ice water to make dough stick together

Melt butter in saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly. When butter has started to brown, continue to stir until butter is the color of brown sugar. Remove from heat and refrigerate until butter is solid again. Meanwhile, combine dry ingredients using pastry blender. Once butter is completely solid, cut into flour etc. until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add ice water a few drizzles at a time and toss with a fork until the dough holds together OK. Transfer dough to a floured surface and divide into two balls, then gently press each one out into a flattened circle with your hand. Roll each pastry out until about 1/4 inch thick, then add 1/2 strawberry rhubarb filling to each circle. Fold each circle in half over filling and press closed with a fork, poking holes in the top to allow steam to escape. Bake for 20-30 minutes at 375F.

Friday, May 08, 2009


Life suddenly got busy.

I am playing on a work softball team. We had two practices and our first game was yesterday evening, wherein the mercy rule was invoked after the 4th inning (this is when one team is up by more than 20 runs) and after that we just played for practice, but I got an RBI in the 5th! And another hit after that!

I am voluteering with an organization that my cousin is involved with. The main purpose of the organization is a focus on women's rights in countries where that is not always easy, and my responsibilities are primarily to help facilitate ESL-type communication via chat room between women in Afghanistan and native English speakers in other countries (most of whom have ESL or EFL teaching experience).

Dan is finishing up final projects for school and will be graduating on the 17th of May. Because of this, I'm planning a graduation party for him for Saturday the 16th and because my family will be in town for his graduation I'm planning a belated Mother's Day brunch the morning of the 17th in honor of my mom and his mom. That's two parties and a graduation in one weekend. Hold me.

My Iron Chef battle #2 is underway. This time there isn't a theme ingredient but a theme theme, and the theme is PICNIC. There are a lot of restrictions on what we can do (no cooking at the picnic site, have to assume a significant amount of time between food preparation and consumption, etc.) so I am finding it to be challenging. Interesting, of course, but challenging, especially since so many typical picnic-type foods don't involve a lot of cooking or recipes. I myself am fond of simple things on picnics: breads, cheeses, fruit, and wine. But I have some ideas and will post them like I did last time when they are finished. My deadline is tomorrow (Saturday) at midnight my time, so if anyone out there has suggestions for picnic foods that are interesting or unusual or just even want to tell me your favorite things to have on a picnic, I'm all ears. Or eyes, since this is primarily a written form of communication.

I'm in the middle of judging the scholarship applications for the 6th year in a row. It's going more slowly than in previous years; perhaps I'm jaded or maybe I'm just too far out of high school to be impressed by some of the accomplishments listed by the kids.

Also, there is some work stuff. I won't get into it. Maybe later.

This weekend, I will be:
Preparing my Iron Chef submission
Cleaning/organizing/purging the house
Party prep/planning for the graduation party and brunch
Sleeping (I hope)

Dan and I are heading out pretty soon to go see Star Trek. If you haven't been reading his blog this week, he's been posting some Star Trek- themed Top 5 lists. Go check them out!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

3 successes, one EPIC FAIL

Today was my work softball team's bake sale. I decided to go all out and bake a whole crapton of stuff, because I really wanted to help but also because I like an excuse to bake stuff that I won't end up eating. After I decided what to bake and took stock of our supplies, I sent Dan to the store with a list and got started on my first project, dark chocolate cupcakes.

When I had finished mixing the cupcake batter I realized I had enough batter for twice as many cupcakes as I had planned, and only one muffin tin, so I decided to bake the rest of the batter in a regular round cake pan. This was perhaps not the best plan, especially since I'd already put the cupcakes in the oven, but I didn't want the batter to go to waste (and figured I could come up with some way to dress up a single layer chocolate cake to make it desirable for bake sale patrons).

I also made rice krispie treats (had to look up how to make them, since it had been so long!) and found a great recipe for lemon bars on Smitten Kitchen. I hand juiced and zested the lemons, and I think that made a big difference in how they turned out.

The cupcakes came out just fine (and I made some tasty buttercream frosting to go on top), and the lemon bars and rice krispie treats turned out great as well. The cake, not so much. First, I must have way overfilled the pan, because it overflowed. Second, it took a lot longer to bake than I expected. Third, I think it must have been a little underbaked or maybe all the oven opening got to it, because when I tried to get it out of the pan a huge chunk stuck to the bottom. I thought maybe I could fix it with a crumb coat and then frost with the rest of the vanilla buttercream, and had reserved a little bit to turn a different color (to make stitching and write our team name on it, making the cake look like a softball) but I ended up needing all of it just to get the top of the cake to stick together. And it looked like absolute shite. I was out of butter so couldn't make more frosting. And it was late and I was burnt out. Plus, we were out of red food coloring. Ultimately I made the call to just skip the cake and bring the other stuff.

The goodies I baked ended up being a big hit today, and we made $160 toward our league fees. Hooray! (And at home there is a supremely ugly but probably very tasty dark chocolate cake. At least it's a small one this time.)

Friday, May 01, 2009

Cake? or death?

Dan asked for chocolate cake, so I decided to look for a chocolate cake recipe I hadn't made before (I'm always up for a challenge!) I turned first to my favorite recipe site, Smitten Kitchen, because I knew that rather than a buttercream frosting I wanted to do a chocolate ganache. So I put that search term into her seach engine and found a recipe for Chocolate Stout cake. Dan likes chocolate, and he likes beer, so I thought this sounded right up his alley. I did make a few changes to the recipe, so here in all its glory is my version of SK's Chocolate Stout Cake.

Chocolate Stout Cake ala MLE

1 cup stout (I used extra stout Guinness)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Dutch-process)
2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/4 cup sugar (her recipe called for 2 cups; I thought that was a little much so cut the sugar)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2/3 cup nonfat greek yogurt (her recipe called for sour cream; I think nonfat greek yogurt works just as well in most cases)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and sugar (I use sugar instead of flour for dark cakes) two 8 or 9 inch cake pans. Bring 1 cup stout and 1 cup butter to simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and 3/4 teaspoon salt in large bowl to blend. Beat eggs and yogurt in another large bowl to blend. Slowly add stout-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and stir just to combine. Add flour mixture a bit at a time and stir until completely combined. Pour batter into prepared pans. Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 20-25 minutes. Transfer cake to rack; cool completely in the pans, then turn one cake out onto plate for drizzling ganache.


6 ounces (3/4 cup) good semisweet chocolate chips (plus I added a bit of 82% dark chocolate we got at Target, I think it's Ghirardelli brand)
6 tablespoons whipping cream
1-2 tsp Irish whiskey for flavoring

Melt the chocolate and cream in the top of a double boiler over simmering water until smooth and warm, stirring occasionally. Add whiskey. Drizzle in between layers and over the top of cooled cake.