Pumpkin Shortage Strikes Close to Home

This year our Thanksgiving has been disrupted by The Great Pumpkin Shortage of 2009.
This year, it turns out, our grocery stores do not look like this:

Instead, where the canned pumpkin should be, there were pre-made pies. Because while there is a shortage of canned pumpkin, apparently the bakery had enough to make pies. I find this to be highly suspicious… Anyways, after searching high and low for pumpkin and finally asking only to find that I was stupid and should have bought my pumpkin a month ago, we thought we’d trick them and go to the organic section.
The organic section of Kroger’s felt like home. Or as much like the Wedge as Kroger’s can possibly feel like. With still no pumpkin in sight, we bought frozen sweet potatoes. (Ironically, the same brand that we would have bought at the Wedge.) The thing is, at my house we are weird. (Previously established here, here, and here.) We don’t eat pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. We eat pumpkin cake. It’s like pumpkin pie met yellow cake and they had a baby called pumpkin cake. It is delicious, especially with cool whip and/or whipped cream on top. Yum Yum Yum. So we couldn’t just buy a bakery pie.
Once at home, we went to two gas stations thinking that maybe they’d have pumpkin. Ok, that’s a lie. Really we went on a walk to several gas stations, bought a paper, and coconut m&ms and also happened to peruse the shelves where they’d keep pumpkin, but no pumpkin was in sight.
So our pumpkin cake this year is a sweet potato cake. Mom’s eaten a slice already and claims it tastes no different. The true test will be tomorrow. The northerner in me says it just can’t be the same, but the southerner in me tells me to give it a try. Now I know though, pumpkin purchases cannot be put off til the last minute.

Why my family is weird: Part 3

My dad emailed me this picture this week. Not for squeamish vegetarians.

If you were wondering, this is what ten pounds of homemade pancetta looks like. And it tastes like heaven. Especially on homemade pizza with lots of veggies and pesto and cottage cheese. My mom has already demanded they eat two of these chunks. I’m hoping at least two will find their way up to Minneapolis… But I think that not many people make their own pancetta and fewer still make 10 pounds at a time for home consumption (and have eaten 1.5 pounds of that within two weeks.)
I love my weird family!

I love salad

My awesome salad of awesomeness
This was my dinner tonight: Mixed greens, hard boiled egg, cheddar cheese, croutons, almonds, pecans, carrots, and raisins. Every once in a while I go through a phase where I am obsessed with salads and eat them at all possible times. This has nothing to do with wanting to be healthy or needing veggies. This past summer it had to do with an abundance of berries (super yummy in salads) and other times it often has to do with finding the perfect dressing. This weekend is once of those times.

Salad Girl Pomegranate Pear Dressing

Yesterday I went to a Green Christmas Gifts Expo with some friends and they had food samples, including Salad Girl salad dressing. While I had tasted it before, I had forgotten about it. I also hadn’t bought it originally because it’s a little on the pricey side. But it’s winter and I was feeling like it was time for a new salad dressing, so I splurged and bought pomegranate pear dressing and mixed greens. And Oh My Goodness. This is the type of salad dressing that you would have an affair with, if you could have affairs with salad dressing (which, thankfully, you cannot). Ben almost had to get out his camera last night cause I had to lick the bowl I tossed my salad in to get all the dressing I could out. That’s the type of commitment I have to this dressing. It is silky and tangy and mixes perfectly with all the other ingredients that were hanging out in my fridge and cupboards waiting to be tossed in a salad. Sadly it’s only available in Minnesota, as it’s a small local company (with a circa 1999 website), but if you’re in the area, check it out. It’s well worth it.

Paper Mode

Crazy Katie – Similar to Paper Mode Katie, but with weirder hair

I’m working on a CHI paper at the moment. Hence my late (2am) nights, crazy days, and lack of response on IM if you aren’t Reid, Loren, or Ben. In the past five weeks I’ve written over 2000 lines of SQL, which isn’t bad given I had written almost none prior to five weeks ago. (For those of you who aren’t Reid, SQL is a a language for talking to databases and getting information out.)

The bad part is that when I’m this immersed in a project I really am THIS IMMERSED in a project. Example: Last night, when I finally went to bed around 2, I was muttering all night. About what? you may ask. Pie crust. I had to work out a sql query to find the best pie crust at the state fair and then make it. So that I could make awesome pie crust cookies. All while helping with a national election. (The election has to do with the fact that when I’m coding and don’t need to think much I turn on West Wing in the background.) So yes. I’m now going certifiably nuts. It didn’t help that I was also incredibly hungry all night cause I was dreaming about formulas for pie crust. I think my queries may have worked too…if only I had remembered them, but alas, no. Perhaps tonight?

State Fair: Animals and Pictures of Food

How can you not love the State Fair? In Alaska, the State Fair always meant giant cabbages and rides and winning blue ribbons. In Minnesota, if I’ve learned anything, it’s that the State Fair means Deep-Fried-Things (preferably On-A-Stick).

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Tricia is demonstrating the proper excitement to show about “Cheese on a Stick.” And who can ignore the draw of “Fresh Fried Fruit On A Stick”?

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But the mandatory pictures of every single thing we ate were not on my camera, so I cannot share that with you today.
The Star Tribune gave out Bacon Balm Mmmm tasty!

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Sadly this was instead of the map of the fair on a stick with the best food (and newest food-on-a-stick) identified. The lack of such a map made food finding much more difficult than prior years. But the bacon chapstick eased the pain.

I’ve been to the MN State Fair three times before, but I’ve never really looked at the animals before. This time I was looking through the eyes of Simon. Alpacas!

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Sheep are stupid! They eat their cages.

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The lamb lead, it turns out, is a lamb showing competition crossed with a fashion show. The lamb in the foreground is wearing several necklaces. The girl made her own wool dress. She’s 13.

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This is some breed of chicken called a silkie. I found online where the breed is described as “An oddity of oddities of the poultry and pet world.”

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And this breed of chicken looks like a teenager who’s refusing to cut his hair.

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This rabbit looks like my old Himalayan cat.

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Join us next time for art and butter at the Fair! Or food. Which ever comes first.

Edit: I’m trying out new blogging software, so for the moment, you can’t click on the photos and see larger versions. They can be found in this picasa album. I’m still not sure what I think of the software. I’m looking for a better WYSIWYG editor than blogger provides. Ideas? Anyone?

Container Gardening

I have WAY too much growing on our tiny little communal balcony. Here’s a glimpse:


Tomatoes (large), yellow cherry tomatoes, yellow pear cherry tomatoes, Kentucky Wonder beans, Zucchini, leaf lettuce, spinach, basil, and carrots

Plus we have two orphan tomato plants and two of the neighbors basil plants. Mmm. Can’t wait for some veggies.

What I’m reading

These days I’ve been doing a lot of reading about food. Checked out from the library I have Food Matters by Mark Bittman and A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg. In addition, I’m also in the process of reading In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan.

A Homemade Life is a collection of stories and recipes. The stories are memories and the recipes are the associated tastes and foods of those stories. Molly started as a blogger (http://orangette.blogspot.com) though due to the book and her husband’s pizza restaurant, hasn’t been blogging much lately. But reading her stories today made me go back in the archives, and, following a couple of links, I found this gem: Shortbread Waffles. I’m making those this weekend FOR SURE!. Mmm.

A Homemade Life, in some ways, could be my story. She sees things very much the way I do, so while my family, friends, and obsession with a country may be different (her’s France, mine England-where food is not the forefront mostly) our ideas about food are much the same.

Here are some passages from the book:
“Like most people who love to cook, I like the tangible things. I like the way the knife claps when it meets the cutting board. I like the haze of sweet air that hovers over a hot cake as it sits, cooling, on the counter. I like the way a strip of orange peel looks on an empty plate. But what I like even more are the intangible things: the familiar voices that fall out of the folds of an old cookbook, or the scenes that replay like a film reel across my kitchen wall. When we fall in love with a certain dish, I think that’s what we’re often responding to: that something else behind the fork or the spoon, the familiar story that food tells.”

“Every girl needs a little incubating from time to time, especially when she’s about to become someone’s wife. She needs ten days with her mother, a solid supply of baguette sandwiches, some well-aged cheese, a lot of chocolate, and some old-fashioned, fat-rippled, devil-may-care eating, which, for future reference, is immensely fortifying.”

How could you not love a book like that? Especially when each chapter is attached to a recipe like Custard-Filled Corn Bread or Vanilla Bean Buttermilk Cake with Glazed Oranges and Creme Fraiche. Molly even manages to make her recipe for Stewed Prunes with Citrus and Cinnamon sound appealing…and that’s a feat.

Go find a copy and immerse yourself in it. My copy came to me courtesy of the public library, but I may have to go and buy one soon. It’s back to the book for me though, I need to read about pickling. And then it will be on to my next tome: Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn. I need to get some pancetta or bacon made this summer to participate in Ruhlman’s BLT challenge.

Obsessions

I’m a strange person. For many reasons, but one of them is the way I treat new things. If I download some new music on iTunes, say the semester of choir music, I almost instantly become very attached to one of the pieces. I listen to it multiple times in a row, multiple times a day, for a few weeks. Then I’ve worn it out and go on to a new thing.

The thing could be a book, a piece of music, a musical artist or composer, a food, a blog, or a tv show. Recently some of these obsessions have been the song Popular from Wicked (music), Unicornis Captivatur by Ola Gjeilo (music), chocolate milkshakes, Hungry Monkey by Matthew Amster-Burton (book – but his blog Roots and Grubs is a previous obsession), and The Girl Who Ate Everything by Robyn Lee (blog).

The music obsessions are the easiest and are usually cured with $.99 on iTunes and about 4-8 listens per day, usually on the bus. The blogs are the hardest because I can spend whole weekends going through archived posts. The book obsessions are odd, because usually I’ll only read the book once, but then I’ll reference it a lot and tell other people about it. Or, in the case of Hungry Monkey, I read it, then cook from it, tell people about it, AND watch all the press about it. (Tonight I made Yeasted Waffles with candied bacon a la Joy the Baker)

But one of the interesting side effects of this is that encountering the obsession at a later date brings back strong memories of the time of the obsession. Hearing Stan Rogers or Da Vinci’s Notebook brings me back to my dorm room in college, Gordon Lightfoot and the Cambridge Singers remind me of my parents’ house, and Kate Rusby of spring break in 2004 wandering around Europe. Nachos and ice cream sundaes are spring semester Senior year of college. Madeleine L’Engle with the spring of Junior year of High School when I read 30 of her books in a month for a “research project” at school.

So that’s a little insight into me…

Rogue Rice Pudding

I haven’t died, nor have I written the promised Bible post for y’all. But I did have a talk with my mom about how she thinks I should write higher quality posts instead of apologizing all the time. So here’s a short one for my mom.

I just got home from choir. I was excited because I had found myself a ride to the Amtrak station at 7am, saving myself 30-45 extra minutes on the bus or waiting around downtown. But Ben appeared to not be home. Then I heard clinking and cluttering in the bathroom, but the lights weren’t on. Ben insisted that he didn’t need the lights to brush his teeth. Then he kept dropping something, so I switched on the light. Then he dropped his toothbrush into the toilet, making it the second toothbrush since April to fall into the toilet.

That as a stand alone incident isn’t that funny, really. But then the microwave started beeping at me and I got mad at it and went to take out the rice pudding that I’d heated up. It was in a nice 1 cup ziploc container. Somehow the rice pudding JUMPED out of the container and ended up on the edge of the microwave half fallen out. So what did I do? I ran to the rescue of the rice pudding. I grabbed it in my hand, ran to the cupboard and threw it into a bowl. It was burning my hand. Then Ben came in and I explained that I had just thrown the rice pudding across the room to save it. Hysterical laughing from both parties ensued. Not so random aside: the rice pudding was made in under an hour from dry rice in the rice cooker. It worked out well, if you ignore the crunch in the currents that expired 1.5 years ago.

Now we are using video chat across the room. It makes funny echo noises.

I really shouldn’t keep writing my conference paper tonight. I should obviously go to bed. Or pack. Or something. But to keep the conversation going, I will ask you this: What would you do with rice pudding gone rogue?

Yogurt

As I write this, it’s 81 degrees in my bedroom, which is significantly cooler than, what I imagine is at least 10 degrees cooler than the study and about 5 degrees cooler than the kitchen. Outside I imagine it’s about 5 degrees and very windy. [Editorial note: This was written last night. Today at church the boilers weren’t working and so the sanctuary got it’s first glimpse of heat an hour after I got there. I was suddenly missing my tropical condo.] 

But that’s not what I’m really writing about. Recently I’ve been doing a lot of cooking. I guess I take after my dad a bit in that writing is somewhat soothing and relaxing for me. This does, I know, make me weird. I actually banned myself from cooking this week in order to get some work done. That was a successful move, so I may have to repeat the ban in the future.

The first of my recent culinary adventures was yogurt. The recipe that inspired me was a blog post by the folks at White on Rice Couple They had a recipe for Vietnamese Yogurt which made yogurt making seem easier than it had seemed before. They use sweetened condensed milk which made the yogurt a bit too sweet for my tastes, but nice and creamy.

If you’re really interested, you can go to their site, but the basic gist is mix sweetened condensed milk and water. Then mix milk and live yogurt cultures (translation: already made yogurt). Then mix them all together. In the mean time, heat up water in pots and heat up canning jars (I ended up using 9 half pint jars). Then pour the yogurt into the canning jars and turn off the heat to the pots. Then place the jars in the pots (uncovered) and fill the pot til the water is higher than the yogurt. Then place a cloth over the pot and wait until the water cools (this will take FOREVER…as in 2-3 hours) Be vigilant. You don’t want the water to be cool for too long. Then put the heat back on and heat the water. Then turn it off again. And wait, again. When the water is cool, the yogurt should be mostly set. So you put the lids on the canning jars and throw it in the fridge. (Well, not literally. That would be super messy.) They’ll set up more in the fridge.

So that’s it folks. That’s how you can make yogurt. At least one way. For future adventures, I probably won’t make this recipe, since I prefer my yogurt a little less sweet. It was really good mixed with pomegranate since the pomegranate increased the tang while needing the extra sugar. I also mixed in some cranberry-orange relish that I’d made pre-Thanksgiving. If that hadn’t had sugar in it, it might have been perfect too. I’m a big fan of cranberry. I bought three bags of cranberries a few weeks ago. I made scones and muffins and relish and froze a bag. Delish.

So folks, that is my story about making yogurt. Sometime I’ll write about making bagels, but not tonight.