Monthly Archives: July 2010
…and somehow, in the past day or so, the numbers have clicked over so that there have been 20,000 visits to my blog since its inception about 15 months ago.
Wow. I sorta find that cool. I mean, it doesn’t exactly matter matter, it’s just…well, sorta cool.
Another in my series of experiments with my “berry easy muffins” recipe…
I used up all my sugar making plum jam, but I wanted to bake to take some hard-working choir members munchies to break up their long morning. So I looked up how to substitute honey for sugar in a recipe: turns out up to a cup, you just substitute honey for sugar in a 1:1 ratio. More than a cup and you start reducing the honey a little, because it’s actually sweeter than sugar. You are also supposed to reduce the other liquid in the recipe by about 1/4 cup per cup of honey added. You also add 1/2 tsp baking soda per cup of honey, to counteract the acidity; I didn’t bother with it in this instance.
So, this is how this recipe turned out:
Honey Cake with Berries
In a bowl, mix well:
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tbs water or milk
- 1/4 cup oil
- 1/2 cup honey
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
Mix in until just blended:
- 2 1/2 cups pancake mix
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon (optional)
Mix in 1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen berries. (I used mixed berries this time)
Pour into a 9×9 baking dish and bake at 400 degrees about 30 minutes; if berries are frozen, it will probably take up to 10 minutes longer.
VERDICT: The best version of this cake yet. The honey is a really nice addition and adds great but subtle flavor. I might try it sometime using black coffee in place of the milk; I think that’s common in honey cake for Rosh Hashana, and it’s just sort of a variation that might be fun…
One needs to be careful of the honey since it browns more quickly than regular sugar, and I was just a little on the safe side of the center not being quite done even though the top looked nice and brown. But it’s fine. (40 minutes, frozen fruit.)
Yummy cake. My choir will be lucky if they get any.
Over on the Green Phone Booth is my post reviewing the copy of The Art of Preserving the publisher sent me…check it out, and then go get the book, because it’s a good one! Functional and fun, the kind of thing that sort of makes one feel like one dares give this jam-making business a try without being too intimidating.
So, just to see what it was all about, I got my new-to-me hot water canner and my cookbook and 3 lbs of plums and made a batch of Plum-Lavender Jam.
I didn’t go in totally cold—we had a few overripe plums a couple of days ago, and I sort of did a very casual tiny batch first, only just under half a pint, to see how it worked and whether I could pull this off. As I indicated on the Booth, that jar was gone within 24 hours, eaten with a spoon. I also hadn’t let it jell quite enough, so it was more of a preserves-y consistency, but it was still delicious. And it gave me courage to try the Real Deal.
So I got my plums: I honestly wasn’t prepared to spring for the organic ones, and I’d read on one of the Dirty Dozen sites that while imported plums come in at number 18 in terms of pesticide residue, the ones grown in the U.S. Only come in at 34, which is better. So I washed the skins good (using soap! Water doesn’t get the residue off; otherwise, every time it rains, farmers would lose the dubious protection the nasty toxic chemicals give) and rinsed them, cut and pitted and quartered the plums.
Aside: Now, I know it’s theoretically possible to get a plum pit out without wasting any fruit. I’m just not good at it. However, I took a different approach: after getting most of the plum off the pits, I dropped the pits into a jar and then poured brandy over them. After letting them sit for a couple of weeks, I will probably have some really lovely plum-infused brandy. Which I might or might not share with my husband.
I put the plums in a big metal bowl, poured what seemed like an obscene amount of sugar over them (II think it was 3 cups for 3 lbs of fruit, necessary for the jam-making process–it’s all in the chemistry) and let them sit in the fridge for what amounted to two days, because the following evening when theoretically I would have made the jam I ended up exhausted and just couldn’t make it happen. By then, instead of a bowl of cut up plums with an obscene amount of sugar, I had something that looked sort of like plum soup. (And which tasted really delicious, by the way…)
Then came the hot steamy part—I put the canner on to boil that water, which took forever, and put the plums on another burner (with the half cup of lemon juice suggested in the recipe, I presume to increase the fruit’s acid content, help the pectin do its thing, and keep us from getting botulism) to cook them down to lovely Jamminess. It took a helluva lot longer than the 10 minutes suggested in the recipe, more like 30, but that could be because I didn’t have the right heat going or the extra night between cutting up the plums and jamming them caused more liquid to come out of them. I also put a teaspoon of dried lavender flowers in a little muslin bag almost the whole time I boiled them, as the recipe suggested…During all this I boiled my jars and lids too. I then took them out of the water…one of the things I didn’t get about the recipe book was that it said the jam had to go into dry jars, but it also said to leave the jars in the boiling water till it’s time to put the jam in. I’m like, okay, which do you want? So I compromised; they were still plenty warm when I put the jam in.
Eventually my jam got all syrupy and boily, passed the “wrinkle test” (when you put it on a plate and chill it for a couple of minutes, and if you poke it it wrinkles on top), and got 5 half pint jars (one less than the recipe said I should get) of jam out of it. This time, by 24 hours later, it had set up beautifully and was exactly the consistency jam is supposed to have. And that satisfying little “ping!” I heard when I took the jars out of the boiling water after their 10 minutes were up was very satisfying. The seals all look good. (If you want to know more about how to can, and don’t have an awesome cookbook, check out PickYourOwn.org–they have a boatload of good info.)
I’m working through this stuff with a spoon too, though I may take my mom a jar when we go to visit her.
So, that’s my first jam-making adventure! It was much easier than I thought it would be, and aw man the end result is so much tastier than anything I’ve gotten in a store. Just…wow.
I might as well confess it: my garden is giving me bupkiss this year. The plants are spindly, the cukes are shrivelled, the tomatoes are few and far between, and I got about 15 green beans total, enough for one batch of potato salad. The eggplants seem to be doing nicely, and eventually I might get some zucchini, but even that’s looking kinda sad…
On the other hand, my herbs are doing beautifully. I have a nice healthy rosemary plant on the patio, and my basil is kicking butt. Serious butt. So I finally made pesto. Checked out a bunch of recipes and in the end, as usual, sort of made up my own.
Now, just to give the disclaimer: I was not trying to make a lowfat or particularly healthy pesto here. I figure, hell, pesto’s one of those things you use maybe a teaspoon or two at a time, so why not make it count, in all its flavory and textury niceness? Why skimp on the olive oil? Or parmesan?
So, here it is:
Easy Basil Pesto
Add the following to a food processor, pulsing after each addition:
- 3-4 cloves garlic. If you really really love garlic, maybe make it 5. If you get too crazy and make it more like 6 or 7, because you think you love garlic so much that it’ll be awesome, be aware that your result will be better titled “Garlic Basil Pesto.” Don’t ask how I know this. (It’s still awesome, though.) Pulse till basically ground/almost pureed.
- 2 cups basil leaves. (To measure, pack the leaves down pretty well in the cup. It takes a lot of basil leaves to make two cups packed.) Pulse again till kinda pureed. (From here on out there’s very little grinding; don’t figure on chopping the basil more later…)
- While pulsing, dribble in half a cup of olive oil.
- 1/2 tsp salt; 1/4-1/2 tsp ground black pepper; 2 tbs. lemon juice. Pulse to mix in
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese; 1/2 cup lightly toasted pine nuts or walnuts. Pulse till you like the texture. (If you like more chunky pesto, only go a few times; if you like it smooth, obviously grind till it’s smooth. Seriously, maybe a couple of seconds might be enough.)
That’s it. Easy as pie. (A hell of a lot easier, actually. Pie is a pain in the tail, IMO.) This recipe makes a little over a cup of pesto, which goes a long way; I froze it in half cup containers to thaw as needed.
The secondary recipe:
Pesto Yogurt Dip
This is exactly what it sounds like: mix maybe 1/2 cup plain nonfat yogurt with a couple of tablespoons pesto (to taste). Delicious for dipping veggies or crackers or whatever. And lot healthier than most other dip recipes you’re gonna fine.
It’s not a bushel of tomatoes to can and make sauce from, but as the fruits of the garden go, it’s something…
Thanks, AJH, for this lovely and…erm…appetizing link…
I have way too many cookbooks. I mean, way too many. I read cookbooks like most people read novels or magazines. And, honestly, I know how to cook. Not everything, but many things, and I can probably figure out how to cook those things I can’t yet.
But this cookbook by Mark Bittman has gotten a lot of really good press, and I may have to check it out, despite my vow to Not Buy Any More Books…it’s $35 (okay, $20 on Amazon), which is more than I’d usually spend on a single volume anyway…so I’m a little hesitant.
But this is intriguing: the iPhone app for How to Cook Everything, the “portable version” of the big $35 cookbook, for only $4.99. I wouldn’t be able to read it like a novel or magazine, and it has no pictures. (Cookbooks need pictures, it’s part of what’s fun.) And you can’t print the recipes, which honestly I don’t do anyway–I run back and forth to my computer and look things up as I cook, which is easy since I’ve co-opted our dining room to be my “office.” I could just bring my iphone into the kitchen and do everything there. And it says it even has a built in timer in the app–not crucial, I guess, since I’d just as soon use the one on my stove, but still a nice touch.
I think I’d still rather have the book…but since I also still have $7.97 left from an itunes gift card in credit with the iTunes Store, this might be a nice thing to spend it on…that way if I decide it’s fabulous, I can get the book later.
We’ll see. Anyone already have it? What are your reviews?
I currently work from three–yes, three–different computers in various parts of my life. There’s the 8 year old Dell Inspiron laptop that won’t hibernate and which, whenever I run into the letter “L”, I have to work much harder to get to work. There’s my 5 year old bought-used Toshiba netbook, which still works fairly well but which appears to have a toasted sound card, a component which on this particular model is integrated with the motherboard and which thus would be much more expensive and wasteful to replace. And the battery lasts only about 15 minutes unplugged at this point. And there’s my work desktop, which is ancient, slow, and takes literally 20 minutes to boot up in the morning.
There is a new computer in my future somewhere, hopefully not too far down the line.
Thing is, I’m actually managing quite well with what I have, it just takes a little more creativity and memory. I have to remember to go to the Dell when I want to listen to anything and/or work on my music notation software. And not to get into anything that can’t be easily shut down, because the Dell won’t hibernate and it just runs nonstop, which is a waste of power and hard on the motor. For most work, including blogging, I use the Toshiba, because it’s smaller and quicker and types the letter “L” with greater ease, essential especially whenever I refer to the “public library” or other such entities.
My work computer–well, what can I say? I spend enough time at my desk there that my boss and colleagues know I’m there and can find me to chat about things and discuss what’s going on, to answer and return phone calls. But I save most of my serious computer work for home, because the dinosaur on my desk is just sort of worthless.
None of the above is all that relevant, I guess, but I wanted to mention it to sort of explicate the reality that while we sort of have a tendency, when something doesn’t work “right,” to go, “Okay, this needs replacing!” I’ve been limping along with this situation for the past year or so, and my productivity has been just fine, thank you.
The other reason I’m not replacing yet, though, is this new technology on the fairly visible horizon: it’s geek-name is “Pixel Qi.” (Very geeky, but a good name!) It’s a trans-reflective computer screen that combines the e-book’s ability to use very little power with a standard back-lit computer screen for use in other environments. You can use it outdoors in direct sunlight, you can turn the backlighting way down for lighter indoor use, and you can use standard back-lighting like we all have now.
The first product that seems to be making its way to market is the Notion Ink Adam, though it’s not here yet. A few people have tested the prototype and can’t stop raving about it; unfortunately, the release date keeps getting bumped to later and later–first it was April, then June, now November. And a bunch of other manufacturers are working on a similar product, so they’d better get their butts in gear if they want to beat out the competition in the Christmas rush. But this device sounds really nice, and hopefully will change the computing landscape the same way the iPhone changed the smartphone landscape.
I’m waiting. Patiently. We’ll see.
Okay, I know this is turning into the Week of the YouTube Video on my blog–but seriously check this out:
This article showed up on MNN, and it’s honestly fascinating, though not too surprising. I’m going to show it to my very commercial-influenced children…
There’s actually a lot of press out there about this issue: check this out, where you can see side-by-side pictures of the commercial vs. the reality.
And then there’s Domino’s pizza, which is on the one hand (good) sort of pulling back the curtain on pizza commercial tricks…but on the other (not as good), still producing a sort of carboard/boring/processed product.
Homemade is so much easier…because even though even ethically produced beef is pretty hard on the environment, and those burgers should probably be pretty rare visitors (no pun intended) to our tables, homemade pizza is one of the easiest things ever–either make some of your own pizza crusts and freeze them for later use, or heck, plunk some sauce and veggies and cheese onto almost any bread product you can find–naan bread, flatbread, pita, muffins, bagels–it’s gonna be a lot cheaper and healthier than Domino’s.
He’s a fabulous actor. And kind of a hottie. And he’s now the U.N. biodiversity ambassador. (I’m not exactly sure what that means, but if it draws more and more public attention to the fact that we are collectively befrigging the earth and helps turn the tide of public opinion, I’m all for it.)
I mean, I thought he was a fabulous actor and kind of a hottie before knew about his passion for issues of greenness…but this just makes it better.
As the Queen of Rationalization, I had to work out my reasoning and justification for this purchase quite a lot. And just to be clear, the decision was about 3 months in coming, so it was anything but an impulse.
I have done a lot of reading about e-readers in general and whether they are a good or a bad thing for the environment. For example, while it’s easy to say “Hey, look at all the print books that aren’t being made, and the trees saved, by reading e-books instead of buying print ones,” that doesn’t take into account the resources that actually go into making a Kindle (or a Nook or a Sony Reader), nor how many books you’d have to not buy in order to make it all break even. In my case, it’ll take a bloody long time, because about 2 years ago I basically Stopped. Buying. Books.
No, really, I did. We have way too many, we don’t have room for what we have, and we discovered the local public library. And I don’t have time to read very much. Then there’s half.com, ebay’s used book site, where almost any book you could buy new at Borders or Amazon can be purchased used for half the cost and no new tree extermination. So that reasoning doesn’t really work for me.
You know why I got it? Seriously? Because of my schoolwork. I’m getting another Master’s degree (yeah, I know, it sounds very hoity-toity when you put it that way, but dammit I’ve worked my butt off for this thing), and I’ve found that once you’re past the more simple textbook undergrad work, the reading tends to come more in the form of miscellaneous articles scanned in from books in pdf form. I’ve got piles and piles of photocopies articles from my first few years of study, from before the teachers could scan them into the computer and have us just download them. And I get headaches reading on a backlit computer for more than half an hour or so.
I’ve also found that what does come in books, at least in my case, quickly gets transformed into a nicely organized outline I can use to locate and study the material without having to wade through so many scholarly words. (What’s with the scholarly words, anyway, and why this need to use them? I find the exercise of consciously elevated language and vocabulary to permeate the field of academic discourse and praxis in a manner which may or may not be crucial to the author’s endeavors but which nonetheless is almost paradigmatic in its exercise…:-) ) (In my outline, that sentence would read, “Academics use big words because they want to sound academic, not because the words are necessary.”)
But I digress.
Anyway, did you know that Kindles, in addition to being able to read the Amazon proprietary .azw files, can also read pdfs and Word files, among other things? They can also convert Mobipocket and other standard e-reader formats (though I think “epub” is one they lack, which is a bummer). Every Kindle user has a free Kindle email address, and all you do is attach whatever document you want to the email and it will automatically convert the files to the .azw format and email them back to you. Then you can use the USB cable to transfer them to your Kindle. (You can also email them directly to the Kindle for a dime apiece, but, I mean, why?) PDFs that were created from live documents (as opposed to scans) this works for too, which makes them easier to read. Scanned documents are just treated as pictures, and they are a bit tougher to read, but it still works.
Then there’s all the public domain material available on the internet–anything old enough to pass out of copyright is likely to be found on a website somewhere for free, easily copy-able to a Word document that can then be converted to .azw. I have a lot of that too. And now that I’m studying for comprehensive exams, the papers I wrote during the course of the degree and which I now need to study from–yup, they are on my Kindle too.
For me, having a Kindle means being able to get all my various computerized study materials into one portable and easily studied place. It is, so far, a real godsend.
Your mileage may vary. But I so far can’t bring myself to regret this one.