Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Known, An Unknown

I return to cooking and baking. The baked good, I have already mentioned: the Lemon Rosemary Zucchini Bread from Simply Recipes. The cooked good involves famous Heidi's Magic Sauce, but more on that later.
For now, Zucchini Bread. Having failed in acquiring a good used grater, I had to resort to using my Microplane grater to shred the zucchini, which is really supposed to be used for grating, you know, nutmeg, not sawing off whole zucchinis. But, the recipe was on my list; its number was up, come hell or no grater.
What I learned was that repetitive motion of the tricep variety is very tiring. WOW. After 13 minutes of intense concentrated grating, it didn't look like I had enough for 3 cups, so I scoured the fridge and... parsnip? Why not. Sweet enough for the sweet quick bread, and also an oblong-ish vegetable. I did the zucchini the night before, the parsnip the [early] morning of. My triceps needed to sleep on it. This is what the end result looked like going into the eggs and sugar mix:
Yeah. It reminded me of Spinach Souffle, Stouffer-style, which used to be one of my incongruent favorites growing up. Go. Figure.
Anyway, don't worry about that. It blended in. What you do want to turn your attention to (and why you should make this recipe on a nice, gloomy, rainy day) is the SMELL.
Think about it: Lemon. Rosemary. Sugar. Baking.
Dry ingredients above (herbs just crushed with mortar and pestle), fragrantly beaming.
All of it blended together below, looking like a spinach-ricotta singalong, but never fear...
We're in the clear! They baked up quicker than Elyse's did, but that's usual for my oven- I have to check everything about 2/3 of the way through to ensure no burning, drying out, or collapsing. I took one in to work that day and it was fell apart a little, but not in a dry way. Not sure what's behind that. Flavor was good, subtle and pleasant. Also, I noted that contrary to common sense, the metal pan appeared to have cooked the bread faster than the glass (they were taken out at the same time). Isn't it supposed to be the reverse?
Now for the unknown. You didn't know that I had cooked up Heidi Swanson's Magic Sauce to stow away until the right occasion. But I did. It was lying in wait for the right occasion, as I said, so of course the right occasion came along. It's called Oven-Minor-Explosion-Wiring-Mess-Landlady-in-Europe-Handyman-Slow-to-respond-I-Can't-Use-My-Oven-Until-Further-Notice. See? Perfect!
I decided to use a third of the stowed-away sauce to punch up a barely-there meal. Bottom of a package of supermarket Broccoli Slaw for precut vegetables, frozen yaki soba noodles for Asian grocery, and Magic Sauce. Plus I used a little bit of the yaki soba flavoring packet instead of adding salt. It was great! I though I'd get 2 servings out of the effort, but no, it was too good. I wolfed it down. Ya gotta move fast in my house.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Osmotic Pressure and Metaphorical Me

"Osmosis is the movement of solvent molecules through a selectively permeable membrane into a region of higher solute concentration, aiming to equalize the solute concentrations on the two sides."

Often I speak in metaphors which may seem out of place in the current conversation. My brain likes to dig up particularly esoteric or far-fetched descriptions for me to use when I am trying to better convey a certain feeling or state of affairs. This happens frequently at work, and while I register the lack of comprehension, I'm somewhat at a loss to replace my outlandish metaphors with more down-to-earth descriptions. Heave forbid I come off prosaic.

So here is my metaphor from today. I could feel the osmotic pressure of my Within and my Without this morning- the tug and swirl of the happiness experienced through self-discovery and creative effort over the weekend (Inside), contending with the lack of challenge and inability to focus on a long-term goal of the mundane Monday (Outside).

I just sort of floated along with it, letting myself be happy with the former rather than obsess over the latter, and you know what? About 2/3 of the way through the day, my brain started engaging and firing on different pistons, enabling some more cogent contributions to be made to work conversations. Good. Keeping the mind nimble and adaptable. Although- I am thinking maybe the forever-going-around-from-hobby-to-hobby to keep my interest in and mood up is disguising something deeper... but let that go for the moment.

What has been captivating me for the past week or two? All the old hobbies, come back in glorious technicolor: runs on Sundays and yoga on Tuesdays and writing for the novel and baking for friends and cooking for myself. Plus, a new dance course! A style called sean nos, which seems less glamorous but more accessible maybe than step dancing. We'll see. Two classes and I'm already enjoying the improv parts!
And here's a fun video that shows some of the inheritors of sean nos in the Carolinas...

Now as far as the more usual theme for this blog (FOOD), I'll leave you readers with some encouragement. "If you make it, they will come" turned out to be true for me this week:

red wine chocolate cake --- afternoon tea on Saturday with Jess
grilled corn salsa (salad) --- Sunday luncheon with Kim and Juan
and tomato-shallot Tarte Tatin
lemon rosemary zucchini bread --- brown bag lunch with coworkers (I hope- that'll be tomorrow!)

So now I'm off to grate my zucchini with my only pertinent instrument- a microplane!- to make it easier to bake tomorrow morning! :-)

And let me know: do you want more Scotland or more food? I've got both at the ready...

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Truth in Advertising, Installment #4

When I first started blogging here, I had a few examples of cooking recipes that turned out looking amazingly similar to the pictures in the books (I like cookbooks with color photos!). I called these "Truth in Advertising" installments, and it was just a fun way of documenting that I could actually achieve what looked like it took 3 photographers, a stylist, and one of those special light umbrella thingies to achieve. Go, me!
A similar thing happened on the trip to Scotland. I had been researching, pining, yearning... you get the picture-- to escape to Scotland since I bought my plane ticket back in March. This left considerable time to browse photos, think about what I wanted to visit with my limited time, etc. Many of those photos ended up as desktop backgrounds (what can I say, I'm a daydreamer!), such as the one to the above- beautiful, non?
Well, it's a picture of Glen Affric. Sorry to the person who took it whom I am not crediting right now- let's just say I did substantial Google Image browsing, which I don't need to repeat.
Anyway, the image must have sunk deeper in my consciousness than I realized, because I went and took the same photo!

The light was very different, we had different-shaped fog hiding the full mountain, and I was a bit further back, but there is that same stand of trees, jutting out into the water. Truth in advertising- it was gorgeous, and I'd go back to explore more in a heartbeat.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Peaty Bog

Here's another peek from the vacation in Scotland:
Where I Found a Bog, Or a Peat, and almost Lost my Shoe!

I had a million+one ideas about what to spend my time on, but a lot of the decisions came down to travel time. I decided against a long-and-involved train day in favor of a morning outing to Glen Affric (where the above video was taken). And against a day trip to the west coast in favor of going inland to see Stirling Castle and the Wallace Monument. I don't regret either decision.Glen Affric was my favorite part of the trip, and Stirling gave me some good history about the only castle I visited while there!
The peaty bog, as I've taken to calling it, was brilliantly colored in reds and yellows and greens and held a whole lot of moisture. At one point I strayed from the path for a different vantage point and delighted in stepping carefully to see how much water I could push out of the moss with my weight. It was pretty fantastic.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

De - Tension

I had never thought of the root or origin of the word detention before this morning. It was a hated word, not worthy of being examined. It represented a feared and loathsome experience in grade school, and so I conveniently forgot it when I left high school.
But I woke up this morning thinking about my exposure to Judaism growing up. It started with the U.S. Open, which 2 people I knew were attending this weekend, who were both Jewish. Then I thought of my first memory of meeting a Jewish person (at a Catholic school in a small California town, this was an event). Then I thought of a friend in high school whose family was Jewish, and what I most remember about her, besides that we shared a penchant for wearing bell-bottoms, was that we got in trouble in Biology for dropping a piece of paper. The ensuing detention was a traumatic event for me, as a goody-two-shoes at the time.
This is usually how my thoughts work, but if you're lost already already, it's ok. My trains of thought often go off-track, and I'm lucky if I can preserve the links before I forget how I got to the end!
Anyway, I started thinking about the word detention, and liked that it sounded like 'De - tension.' I could use some of that right now!
Since I got back from Scotland, it has been a rough two weeks for me. I had to right away take the reins for a big work project from a coworker, we DC-ites had an earthquake, then I got a bad cold (from the air travel I suppose), then we had to prepare for a hurricane, which meant I had to leave on Saturday morning for a Sun-Tues work retreat (in order to make sure my flight would not be cancelled), leaving me with no weekend break, then I had to struggle to stay present with the cold and the altitude, ...
it's all been a bit much. So I am very content to have a 3-day weekend to recover.
I have been able to edit down my Scotland photos, but my first foray into online photo management was disappointing: Flickr is made by Yahoo, but not part of Yahoo, like Google and Gmail are, so there are more hoops to go through. Plus, it segments its accounts into 'free version' and 'paid version,' thus limiting the photos you can put in a 'set,' and send to people. I almost made it- 10 photos and 10 videos did not make the cut. So I'll include a couple of those here, with some explanation. :-)
This first clip was filmed at a free music concert housed in the National Museum of Scotland, located in Edinburgh. There was a pair of talented musicians in to perform some traditional and some contemporary music. Here the lad is enjoying the breakdown of a certain song- I recorded a part right between two choruses, so it may be hard to tell, but can anyone guess the tune?