Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Last Post. Of the year, that is.

The Dollivers, pianist Elton being on vacation until Monday he tells us, union rules, did an a cappella New Year's party, complete with garlic butter and paneer snacks and a nice Prosecco.

 Paneer, made this afternoon and mixed with walnuts and honey highly recommended.

Note the roasted garlic head in the blue bowl, also made this afternoon, wonderful spread on toast.  And I managed to open the Prosecco, despite a semi wonky hand, amazing what determination will do.
Wishing us all a great new year, and good things in 2015, they posed before the ceremonial opening of the bubbly, then after a swig or two each, lost a hat on the way back to sit a little glazed and happy on the sofa. 

Marigold had doubts about their sobriety but ignored it on the grounds that she's been known to enjoy a little catnip now and then.

And they spent some blissful time, see Bette Davis minus hat,  after singing Auld Lang Syne, and Champagne Charlie, and I'll be With You in Apple Blossom Time, getting the seasons a trifle mixed,  deciding on New Year resolutions.  

They resolved that Boud should make them new outfits, that she should arrange a ski trip on the first fall of snow, and that she should have bubbly all the time.  Duncan tested the glass and reared back in alarm at the bubbles, so he's not in competition for it. In fact he went and got under the quilt upstairs so as to be safe from them.

And we all shouted out good wishes to you all!   Since blogistas are celebrating the incoming year at many different times, we struck an average.  The wishes are good for the whole year.  And at 10 p.m. EST we promise to shout it all again!

Happy Hogmanay!  Lang may yer lum reek!   translation: long may your chimney smoke, i.e. long may you live in good health.

Bite Club and Bittman

The current choice of the Bite Club for the January meeting, yay, it's continuing, is Healthy Eating, various books by Mark Bittman.

He's a scream, really.  After many years of cooking and writing a food column he suddenly discovered he was overweight and out of shape, and began to pay attention to healthier eating.  

Fine up to that point but then he does the classic little-kid thing: he discovered healthy eating, assumed nobody else had and therefore he had to Write Books About It!  about the sort of eating a lot of us have done all our lives...but anyway.  

It's the kind of book that appeals to people who already know all this stuff and is probably ignored by people who are not much into healthy food, figuring it's all about green salads.  Like those articles about safety tips, which only the conscientious ever bother reading.  I know about this, I used to write them for mags...

This is in fact quite a useful book, and I did make a great pizza last evening using cornmeal and my own homeground lentil flour.  But he can't resist the sort of advice where he says hot soup is dangerous to carry, gosh I'd never have guessed...but at least when he says to cover the pizza dough bowl with a cloth he refrains from saying a clean cloth. 

I often wonder what cookbook writers THINK you're going to cover your bowl with -- the doormat?  the dog's bed? Yes, I'm guessing it's their lawyers who insist on this ridiculosity, but I still retain the right to roar in annoyance.

Anyway, here's a really good pizza for one, see the book title in the upper pic, and the actual page where I got the pizza recipe in the lower one.   I used my trusty castiron skillet, a nine inch, slightly smaller than his pan, to heat the oil on top of the stove, then pour in the batter and transfer to the stove already heated to 450F.   

He suggests what I think really is dangerous, that you heat the oil in the pan in the stove, then bring it out then add the batter then put it back.  My way made one move, not two, with a hot pan and hot oil.  But that's the advantage of using cast iron rather than a pizza pan, perhaps.

All that said, this pizza is definitely going to be on my regular menu from now on.  I used rosemary, which had been bottled airtight by a friend who grew it and gave it to me, and the scent as I uncapped it was wonderful.  Winter joy.

And the toppings were a mix of tomato paste with my basil pesto, both of which I keep in the freezer, plus bits of Vienna sausage (one can of this goes to a lot of flavoring in my kitchen) and chunks of cheddar cheese.  

I didn't put it under the broiler as Bittman suggests, since it was already in a hot oven, so I just left it in for five more minutes, and that worked fine.  Last evening I had two slices, and today's lunch will be the rest of it.  For some people perhaps the whole thing would be one meal.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Food again!

Getting back to normal health, and food has reappeared in my kitchen.

Here is a weird dish, the kind of thing it's best to live alone to cook, no need for comments from roommates (!) which consists of what was originally going to be sausage and mash, Vienna sausage, that is, and potato flakes.  Not enough energy for more elaborate food prep, aside from wrist still out of action which precludes a lot of things such as peeling, chopping, etc.  

Anyway, turns out there wasn't enough in the potato flake box, after I'd boiled the milk, always make it with all milk, so I added in some orzo, and here's the second day result, using up the leftovers.  Few chunks of sharp cheddar on top, and finished it in the oven.  I heart my cast iron pans now developing a great nonstick surface and making wonderful crisp outside to this kind of dish. Top pic shows the start, before the cheese began to melt in.

 Second picture shows right before it went into the oven.  You'll see a lovely crust developing underneath it.  It made a very interesting meal, despite the unpromising start.  Ketchup on the side.

Then my dear friend G. came over a couple of days ago with my regular supply of curry leaves, along with a great helping of some spicy veggie dish of her own cooking, which vanished before I took pix, oh well, and I have to tell you that since she's introduced me to them some months ago, curry leaves are now my secret weapon.

Any place you might use a bay leaf for flavoring, I use curry leaves, a sprig of them.  The flavor is wonderful, deep, interesting in vegetable dishes, no wonder vegetarian G uses it a lot.  Kardi Patta in Hindi, in case you have a local store where you might find them.  G. always gives me them since the smallest quantity they come in is too large for her small family, but works for both of us.

So here's the fastest soup in the world, perfect for a day, of which I've had a few lately, where you just can't be pestered to cook seriously.  I use very few canned goods, but in winter I do get diced tomatoes, not worth using those red bullets in the stores, and I do like canned chickpeas, though I  cook them from scratch when I remember the day before I need them.

Anyway, rinse the chickpeas very very well, add one can chick and one can tomatoes to pot, rest a twig of curry leaves on top, heat to boiling, turn to simmer and let it do that for a while, to let the curry leaves work.  I happened, this is unusual, to have some Swiss Knorr chicken bouillon cube things, and crumbled part of one of them in, with about a cup of water at the outset. 

Then after it's simmered for a while, remove about half the soup, blend and return it to the pot. You take out the curry leaves and discard them before serving, and this makes a really good soup.  Thick enough to be interesting, but with whole dice and chickpeas in it for nice texture.  Enough for two days for one person. Highly recommended. 

And when I don't put in the chicken bouillon, this is a soup I can share with G. who is a religious vegetarian, very careful about it.  I like in winter to leave her a little pot of homemade soup to come home to after her brutal commute, so she can have an instant hot meal, and share with husband R.  Just a little friendship thing.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Pansies and Russian Sage stepping up

I noticed, finally noticing stuff outside, must be feeling much better, that my winter pansies are still blooming happily, but a bit far from the window to really see.

So I hauled them to the outside of the patio door, Little Match Girl style, to look in at the lucky indoor plants, and remind the indoors that they'd better grow or they'll be outside...

And here's the cut down Russian Sage, from the front yard, getting a bit scruffy looking out front, but doing nicely in this group of dried flowers out back, the ones I failed to make into a wreath (!) and still smelling strongly of sage, even at this season.  It will spring up again out front, and meanwhile it looks a bit better out there now.

The birds love the dried flowers, and I've seen Carolina wrens swinging from them and pecking at what I suppose are seeds still in them.  So I imagine that if I'd manage to make a door wreath using them, the birds would have played it to bits in no time.

In the background you see in the ground the new one I put in this year, in the corner near the fence.  Not big enough to warrant cutting back, since it's sheltered from wind anyway.

What with the sage out back, and other herbs, and the spice bush in the other corner, I'm going to have a very scented garden in a few months.  A couple of Adirondack chairs might join them, too, from across the street, looking for a new home.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Party's on.Come as you are 6WS

Time to plan ahead.  Which I think is a silly expression, because unless you live in some alternate universe, you can hardly plan for the past, but I digress.

Anyway, Wednesday is New Year's Eve, and those of us whose celebration consists of a nice glass of something sparkling and then off to bed long before the year actually comes in, might want to party together.

So here's the idea: you're invited!  All you do is raise your glass of whatever you drink, at 10 p.m. EST on Wednesday December 31st and wish us all a Happy New Year.  You can point your glass in any direction, since we're all over the planet. That's it.  My sort of party!   fun for introverts.  Post a comment to let us know you took part, if you can.  

Blogistas in far-ahead-of-EST time zones are welcome to toast us five or six or seventeen hours ahead, whatever is your 10 p.m., and let us know! that would be very cool. You get to be our virtual first-footers.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Survivors and Rescues

Two shots of the remaining lovely birthday flowers. There are always survivors continuing to look fresh and lively long after other plants have gone their way.  

And yesterday Handsome Son found the plant stem outside on the step, evidently left there by a  neighbor for me to do some magic with, he has great faith. No story on how it came to be separated from the parent plant, but I suspect that the two resident little dogs are involved. And I'm not sure what the name is, but any blogistas who can tell me, please do.  It's a pretty common houseplant, name escapes me.

So I'll give it a chance, and put it, in water, among the other houseplants.  I think plants like to be in a community of plants.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas, Cool Yule, y'all

This has been one of the lowest key Christmas seasons ever around here, which is saying something, since it's always low key, not being a shopper or a ritual keeper or anything of that kind.

But I've decided it's fine.  It's enough. Son happy, coming over tomorrow with cooked food to heat and eat, my wrist not yet up to food prep, nice cheerful fake fireplace thing going, no more lugging wood, and the ficus playing the part of Christmas tree again.  

On order is a lovely DVD of old Alec Guinness favorite movies for  winter watching pleasure.

The Dollivers are not pleased about the lack of attention to the Great Them, but they did get a look in at the tree pix, and will make a comeback soon, at least they threaten this.  Elton says even pianists get vacation time now, and he closed the lid and is sitting out the season.  And note the new frilly bear which has joined the company.

Good wishes to us all!  if you celebrate Christmas, have a merry one, if the Equinox is your time, enjoy, and all of us can look forward, at least in this hemisphere, to longer daylight.  The houseplants are already cheering up and putting out new leaves.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Life improving daily

To the point where I have laughed at two jokes:

What did the zero say to the number eight?  Nice belt!
thank you eepy!

There are 10 kinds of people in the world, those who understand binary and those who don't.
thank you Marlise! 

And I have to insert the first knitted piece I ever made from yarn I'd spun.  Shroedinger's Mouse.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Belated Birthday and Turning a Hard Page

The last couple of weeks have been a bit challenging as they say, what with a flu bug that hit suddenly, caused a faint that left me with badly bruised and useless left hand and black eye and bent glasses and various other woes.  

Mostly fixed now, but it will take a while for my face to recover, and my general energy to return.  It takes a lot of energy, I've found, to recover from injuries at the same time as the flu.  Much help from neighbors and Handsome Son, too.

However, glasses now straightened and operating correctly, completely with message sent via son from optho:  remember to eat and here's your glasses!  and wrist now functioning about 75 per cent again, and eye looking better, down from my entire right face bruised and ghastly looking, now it's only a black eye.  Arnica and Aspercreme have been my friends.

So, resting, bored, unable to stitch, or do anything requiring two hands, typing okay for a few minutes, can't hold Kindle long, can't play recorder, and realizing this is going to take a few more days to come back from, I've been lying about lazy and making Plans for When.

For one thing, I realize I will not be doing studio art again any time soon, if ever.  I've moved into textiles, happy there, and now I need to empty the studio of unused materials and tools and bits of spontaneous furniture.  It's holding me back having all that personal  history lying up there.  Lesson plans for drawing workshops from long ago, that kind of thing.

Son's Christmas gift to me, I always ask for services and time, not stuff, will be to help box, sort and clear what's up there.  He's already claimed my clay tools and parts of a stacking bookcase for his own use, yay, and will help me recycle and generally move on items that should be in the hands of other artists, not mine, so they can be used.  

He'll help me unframe many pieces of finished art which have done enough for me, so I can either use or give away the frames, that kind of help that I simply can't do with one good and one wonky hand.

And today, speaking of service gifts, he came over to celebrate my birthday belatedly, cooking me a wonderful dish of chicken, garlic, mozzarella and toasted bun things, with enough for leftovers. 

 Bringing all the ingredients and tools, doesn't trust my wooden spoons.. And Ben and Jerry joined us for dessert, Cherry Garcia to be exact.

Then another difficult page turned: Karen's house is to go on the market, open house today, with it all painted and bright and lovely ready for its next life.  

This was hard, yet a good thing, and her sister, seen in the last pic showing to a possible buyer,  allowed me to make pix for your benefit so you can turn the page along with us.  

The work to get to this point has been unbelievable, mostly on her shoulders, some small parts done by me, and has impelled me to clear out my own studio as one task done before I move on (!) 

Next week I realize is Christmas.  Since I can't do food prep yet, Handsome Son will organize a lovely takeout Christmas lunch for us, so nobody has to cook.  This is a great idea of his and will make it so much easier and more fun all around.

And I've had time to think about my no good very bad horrible day last week in the middle of all the flu and injury stuff, when suddenly my phone ran out of minutes.  I'd been in too much of a blur to realize it was time to refill. No other phone available.  So I tried refilling minutes at the wireless website as usual.  And my credit card was declined.  

Neighbor across the street most unusually home on a workday, lent me her phone to get HS on the case, after I staggered over there, first time out in days. He went off and bought a card of minutes, refilled the phone, picked up my glasses to get them fixed, another neighbor meanwhile brought me his housephone to use to call the credit card company.  They found no problem at all, they were baffled as to why the wireless company had refused their card, etc.  Checked next with my bank account and found I was locked out of it, their website not operating normally.  

Glasses fixed and returned by son, I could now see to call the bank, spend half an hour punching in numbers and being cut off before finally getting a snippy operative who finally unlocked my bank account, no apologies, no explanation.  

They heard about it when they sent me an evaluation.  Amazing contrast between the kindness and helpfulness of the Chase card rep., and the high speed brush off approach of the Bank of America person.  Son meanwhile got onto the wireless service and they were unable to explain what the problem was, couldn't promise it would work next time, etc.  No reason at their end, they claimed, for the decline of the card.  In the end it was the Chase people who figured out that there was a corrupted file at the wireless site end, causing fake declines.  I heart Chase.

So at the end of the day, literally, all my high tech life was back in order, and I now see what first world problems these all were, upsetting as they were at the time.  And despite having been very ill, what luxury to be able to stay home until I get well.  Food in the house.  Friends and son available and willing. Another friend insisting on being put on the A list, on son's phone, to be called on as and when.  Good to remember all this.

It's the Equinox, light will soon return, and optimism, too. In fact I think it's starting already.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Hippo Birdies to me!

Struggling back to health, and getting there.  But meanwhile, lovely birthday greetings from blogistas and neighbors and HS and here's what just arrived from sister dogonart, aka Irene:

 I'm blessed!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

I know, but I've been sick 6WS

Another of those jokes that few people other than self find funny:

Elephant meets with mouse, looks down and sniffs, hm, you're very small, aren't you? mouse looks up and says, well, I've been sick.

And I have.  Completely out of commission for several days, not back yet but hopeful.  Bigger than a mouse, though.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Meanwhile, back in the kitchen and across the street and all over the place

Today was supposed to be the onset of a nor'easter, one of the days-long storms we specialize in at this time of year, but beyond a bit of rain and cold, not much happened.

I got to the library to stock up on Father Brown DVDs, never having seen them and thinking that would be good for a stormy day. Then I came home, made yogurt, hummus from scratch i.e. involving chickpeas soaked since yesterday then boiled for ages, cut up and froze the bread I baked yesterday, and made chickpea/tomato soup, using the remaining chickpeas.

Then in the middle of doing some serious stitching on my current artwork, C., Karen's sister, texted to ask me to cross the street if I was interested in yet more freecycling. Cookbooks.  Boxes and boxes of them.  

Sorted many many books, into cook and other, friends summoned to choose what they could use, I put in an email to local libe to see if they'd like some boxes for upcoming sales, these being books in perfect, unopened condition.  Then I freecycled one box of them, and brought home four more, which are now in process.

As you see.  ALL those boxes are full of great cookbooks, longing for a new home.  Even nowadays there are collectors of cookbooks, despite the internet recipe availability.  Which makes me wonder if there are collectors and there are cooks.  Karen, the original owner, rarely cooked but had a worldclass collection of books!

Not bad considering I'm officially on the sicklist, coughing helplessly  and  all congested.  Oddly I feel okay, though, but annoyed by the endless coughing and I hope it doesn't keep me away from my two meetings tomorrow.  

And then again, it might be socially responsible to reconsider whether to go there at all.  I'll see how it goes overnight.  I wonder if I picked up a little cold at my party on Sunday.  Oh, if you want to know more about that, the party, not the cold, go here.

While I was in the freezer looking for soup ingredients I found my frozen lemon slices, which was great, so I made a large amount of lemonade with hot water, great for coughing and congestion. Must remember to take some to bed with me, too, for night application.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Weather plans and food

Since a nor'easter is on its way, with the usual high winds, shrieking rain, possible sleet and snow and wintry mix, where M and Ms and peanuts and raisins fall all over you, it's a good time to be thinking about cooking.

And I'm happy to report that the cast iron pans are proving to be as good as promised.  They are beginning to be really nonstick, and give a lovely browning and flavor that Teflon just doesn't.

I've been faithfully scrubbing all three pans with kosher salt, and coating with oil and so on, and they're responding now very nicely. At this point I only need to wipe out the pan with a paper towel, leave it with a film of oil, and it's good to go for next time. Definitely worth the trouble of working with them at first.

So here's a cheese omelet, turned over from each side and see that lovely netting of browning.  Served with a toasted hot biscuit and a glass of Merlot, Yellowtail, if you wondered,  nice supper while I peruse cookbooks.

This omelet was a quick meal because I couldn't think what to cook. Two eggs, some milk, fresh ground white pepper, pinch of nutmeg, pinch of kosher salt, even smaller pinch of cumin, extra sharp cheddar grated in, and that was it.  Really good.  

I have a batch of bread dough rising at the moment, and that will bake this evening, warming the house as it goes. Tomorrow I'll probably make yogurt and maybe more soup or something. We'll see.
Currently I have boxes of cookbooks to go through and pick what I'd like before putting a lot of them onto Freecycle, to continue helping to disperse Karen's household.  These book are all in mint condition. 

She was a collector rather than a cook, though she did love the food I gave her in her last weeks, carefully chosen to be very digestible and easy to swallow, nice soups, that kind of thing. she was a foodie who appreciated flavor and ingredients but didn't actually cook!  

So passing on her cookbooks is nice, since they're in beautiful condition, unopened, and many are classics.  I'm hanging onto The Joy of Cooking, latest edition, though, and a couple of Marthas, and the original Moosewood books. But others I'll peruse then pass on.  There are, at last count at least ten more boxes, after all the boxes I already processed..however, I have found collectors of cookbooks who will be thrilled to take them.  

And as one freecycling person said, who took a bag of brand new, still with labels attached, clothes, to donate to a parish in Trenton, and a huge bag of bears, they will be presents now, just as they were probably going to be if she'd had the chance.  The freecycler is buying gift boxes so that the people who get them really get a nice boxed present, rather than a handout.  I like this.