Category Archives: Odds and ends

Here’s your heart

There are some days when you’re just convinced that the world is full of asshats. The worst is when one of those people manage to fuck up your evening by being total douchebags. I know I shouldn’t take it personally, but some days it gets to me more than others – when all the cosmic shit going on happens to align just so.

Today did not start as one of those days, but it surely did wind up being one. I still cooked, though.

After putting together the dough for the doughnuts – and more about that fiasco later – I started prepping everything that could be done before the time for dinner actually arrived. One of those things was the assembly of the shrimp cocktails.

I also boiled some shrimp with Old Bay and set aside some to marinate. The latter were sauteed as we were sitting down. Much of cooking for a crowd means getting everything to the table at the same time. This is no easy task if you’re an idiot and completely forget about the asparagus, thus holding everything else and thus letting people start in on the shrimp before everything is ready. But since that was minor and asparagus doesn’t take all that long to cook (nor did the sauce), it wasn’t too bad.

Broiled lobster tails, shrimp three ways with cocktail sauce, ginger dipping sauce, rice pilaf with sundried tomatoes, parmesan, and almonds, and asparagus with a mustard-lemon nappe.

After everyone had eaten all of the food – a bit of the rice was all that was left – it was time for doughnuts. The first batch of dough sucked and I tossed it in the trash, where one of the dogs prompty stuck his snoot in and grabbed a piece, swallowing it down before I could get a word out. Fortunately, while I was kneading the first batch, I realized that it would indeed suck and that a backup batch was in order. I had run out to the store to pick up a couple of things, and picked up some fresh flour as well. It made a world of difference. I knew the flour I’ve been bitching about since we got it was to blame for the bready misfortunes I had been encountering.

The dough had gone through the first rise, was rolled out, and went through the second rise.

While they were resting, I put together the glaze, the ganache, and got the oil heated. Now, most places say 350 for the oil, but I’m convinced that a slightly lower temperature is in order, especially seeing how brown some of the pieces got while frying compared to the lighter, doughnutty color we’re all used to when the oil had cooled a bit. Not that it mattered all that much, since it’s hard not to like fried dough. The Boy handled the glazing duties.

Other people volunteered to handle the sampling duties. Sometimes they go a little crazy while doing that very dangerous, thankless job.

Some had to wait a little longer for their tastes, relying on other species with opposable thumbs to bestow their samples.

The doughnuts turned out very well indeed.

The scraps from the first cutting I kneaded back together, then rolled out and formed into crullers, churros, and vague blobs of doughy things.

I think people were happy.

After all, what’s not to like about doughnuts?

Defenders of the home front

Sometimes, you just can’t help yourself. You might start off small, never intending for things to escalate. and then, before you know it, you have a full-on episode.

Take the humble strawberry. Or, rather, take a humble strawberry. Like this one.

Simple enough. A test of chocolate dipping in a semisweet ganache. Nothing more. But then, quite suddenly, there are more.

And even more, lined up like soldiers.

The supporting troops arrive shortly thereafter.

It’s all fun and games until the chocolate takes over the world, isn’t it?

Every day’s a birthday

Saturday night, my uncle said he’d never appeared on the blog. I told him he’d be first up with the next update. Here he is, hanging out by the ribs.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here.

The Boy turned 21 the other day. When he was growing up, we thought he might never make it that far.

Since it was his birthday, he got to request the dinner menu. Kebabs, he said, and some corn to go with it. We went with that.

I made bread earlier that day, adjusting the recipe so the dough was a bit firmer than the last time. I also rolled it out a bit more thickly than the last time, trying to keep the raisins contained and the dough from splitting

The final proofing.

Much better than the last time.

All four loaves went into the oven, and came out about an hour later, nicely browned and with the hollow thunk that means they’re ready.

Very pretty. I could pick around the raisins and try the bread, but that seems like a lot of work (and bread’s a hard food for me to eat anyway), so I’ve yet to actually taste the bread.

That evening, we had the kebabs. The original plan was to grill them, but Mother Nature decided to give us some winter rain, so they went under the broiler instead. They turned out well.

My aunt also had a birthday this week. Her party – her 29th birthday! – was Saturday.

Way back at the 4th of July party at her house, she’d suggested ribs and shrimp for the party. Since this party was going to be fairly large, we picked up 27 pounds of ribs – six slabs. I brined those for about ten hours, then rubbed them about an hour before putting them on the smoker. Four and a half hours later, the ribs were juicy, smoky, and ready for gnawing.

I carved them into manageable pieces, put out a bottle of homemade barbeque sauce that I’d made the night before…

…and we were set.

There is more to life than smoked ribs, hard as that is to believe. We also had a broccoli gratin.

This disappeared very quickly.

Cole slaw, scratch from the vegetables to the dressing.

We also had shrimp and various munchies. I’d also made a chickpea salad and hummus, and at the last minute decided to make some bread and butter pickles, which you can see peeking in at the bottom.

The slaw, assorted crudites with fresh dip, and nuts to snack on.

No birthday is complete without a cake – carrot cake, requested by my aunt and made by my mom.

And no birthday cake is complete without candles…

…which then have to be lit.

Eventually, the fire is put out.

And then, it’s time for the goodies. This is just a sampling.

Let the games begin!

A lot of people showed up for this fiesta.

Continue reading Every day’s a birthday

Ride ’em, cowboy

Flipping channels tonight while waiting for some damn server thing to finish, I stumbled across Cowboy U. Take eight people, put them through the motions of being a cowboy on a working ranch, and one of them gets $25,000 at the end (at least that’s what I think they said). I’m not one for reality television in general, but this one caught me.

Signs of the times

Someone left a comment in the Savannah entries about that fuzzy plant: a chenille plant. Thanks very much for the information. I can say with some happiness that it has not been at the forefront of my mind, so I’ve not been dreaming of strangely-colored fuzzy caterpillars while I pondered the genus of that plant.

A piece of of spam in my email – 136 out of 138 new messages in that particular mailbox were spam – had the subject “Better life, well-alphabetized”. That brought a smile to my face and reminded me of the very strange family from The Accidental Tourist, bettering their life by alphabetizing their canned goods.

And a few signs that say perhaps charitable donations of dictionaries are in order:

“Congradulations Class of 2006” – on a church marquee. This stayed there almost the entire month of June.

“We celebrate our dependance on god” – the same church, switching to a strange patriotic-type message for July.

“OPEN DAILEY SALES” – a small place I pass on trips to the NOC. According to the painted sign on the building, it’s an auction house.

Self-imposed exile

I spent my Saturday in a bit of a self-enforced “vacation” day. That is to say, I did virtually nothing work-related all day. Since Saturdays are historically slow support days anyway, this is not a huge blow to the ticket system, and although there are always numerous systems-related things I need to get done, nothing so urgent that it couldn’t wait a day. And since my right hand (wo)man is going on vacation this coming week, better for me to take that break now.

Instead of working, I spent the day out and about. First up: the local farmer’s market.

For those who may be here but who have never visited the market, it’s not really a “market” like they have in some cities, with multititudes of booths and a tremendous assortment of good. This is, after all, Jacksonville. However, there is a good opportunity to get some great produce, and you might just find yourself holding up a strange vegetable and asking yourself just what the heck it is.

I went to the market with my mom, as she wanted some silver queen corn, and a lot of it. She likes to shave and freeze it, for those dead of winter nights when you need a touch of summer in mind. This allowed me to introduce her to some things that she’d never seen before in their unprepared state (and in some cases, had never seen before, period): jicama, chayote, yucca, tomatillos, cactus, dried chiles like guajillos and chiles de arbol, tamarind pods. Of course, there were all the other things we know and love, too: tomatoes, beans, canteloupes, vidalia onions, mangoes, papayas, cherries, and quite a bit more.

One of the best things about going to the market is that you can ask the seller exactly where the produce originated. The corn? Ocala. The watermelon? Jesup, Georgia. The beans? Lake City. I can’t think of anything we saw that actually came from this city other than the shrimp ($6/pound, head on), which was from Mayport. I stuck my head in the guy’s cooler to give it the smell test, and it was like breathing in ocean air: fresh and briny, so we picked up a pound as it was only going to be us for dinner.

The rest of our haul:

Clockwise from the left, we have fresh snap beans (pole beans), over a bushel of silver queen corn, raspberries, sweet potatoes, fingerling potatoes, and sugar plums.

Left to right, we have pickling cucumbers (as my sister ate the last of the bread and butters last night and made a request for more), canteloupe, raw orange blossom honey, regular cucumber, fresh vine tomatoes, mango, and blueberry honey (from NJ).

And some cherries.

Missing photos: the shrimp and the watermelon. All of it is fresh, all of it smells wonderful, and it’s dirt cheap – the most expensive thing we purchased today was the corn: $12 for that huge bag. The honeys were $5/each, and the rest? So inexpensive as to be laughable. The only thing we missed were the peaches. We arrived at around 10:30, but because the market opens at 6 AM, the peaches were long gone by the time we arrived. Next time, an earlier visit is in order, to ensure we’re able to get some of those. I was tempted to buy a 30 pound bag of vidalias, and bunches of chiles, but decided that I should figure out a place to store them first, then bring them home. For the purposes of our Challenge, the market will work out well. Since we’re heading into high summer, it’s a great bounty to be had, and if you’ve not checked out your local market, you should.

Next up? A trip to St. Augustine.

Continue reading Self-imposed exile

Claves a la victoria

That means “keys to victory” for those of you who don’t habla. It could also mean that you’re watching too much Copa Mundial.

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been waking up off and on (more on than off lately) in the early morning hours with a horrible burning sensation around my sternum. With or without puking, it typically goes away within a couple of hours.

Not so yesterday, where it last well into the night. About noon yesterday, if I’d not known any better, I’d have thought I was suffering a heart attack because the pain just would not go away. But I wasn’t, and it did, eventually. However, it also resulted in a grand caloric intake of one cup of formula. Today, faring slightly better with no food to speak of yesterday, I’ve managed three cups. Which is likely more calories than I usually take in by mouth, so that’s good, but which means no solid food today, so that’s bad.

The dietician thinks it is likely reflux, but it’s quite strange: I don’t eat for a few hours before going to bed, and when I do wake up with the pain, it’s always a few hours after that. So we’re talking about six hours, generally, between the last time I eat and when the pain starts. It only happens after I’ve gone to bed (no pain any other time), and it’s still happening even though I’ve added a couple of pillows to raise myself up a bit so as not to lie entirely flat – visions of my recliner-sleeping days, although not such a severe angle.

This brings us around to adding yet another doctor visit next week. I really have to get my cholesterol checked again, since I’ve not been taking the lipitor since last year, and we’ll have to see about this reflux issue. It’s a strange issue, and only really started in the past couple of weeks – coincidentally, when I started eating out again, and usually after a certain combination of foods. We shall see what happens as we move into The Challenge and the eating out takes a back seat to eating in.

Speaking of eating in, I’m pushing around ideas in my head about things to cook. If you have any special requests, feel free to send them along or post in the comments. I’ll see what I can do.

And yes, I am working at taking care of myself. The lectures, they don’t stop…

For Saturday: a trip to the farmer’s market and a journey to Le Creuset, as I could really use a dutch oven (French oven, I suppose, since it is, after all, Le Creuset). Braising, you know.

A sleep, not so sound

Ever since I can remember, I’ve had trouble sleeping. That’s an all around problem: not only have I had trouble getting to sleep, but also trouble staying asleep. This leads to a rather vicious circle, really, since I will eventually get to sleep, then wake up a couple of hours later, feel like going back to sleep, and then have issues falling back into slumber. It can lead to some rather interesting days if the previous sleeping sesssions have been particularly bad, as it’s a bit akin to sleepwalking through a fog on a path that isn’t very well lit. Most of the time, I can get about four hours or so of actual sleep – even though it may take me six to get there – and that will be fine for me.

I’m not entirely sure just when it all started. I know I’ve never been much of a sleeper, unlike my siblings, who would happily sleep their way through a dozen hours. There is no real rhyme or reason to the cause: it isn’t dietary, it isn’t stress, it isn’t any strange phobia. I can say that throughout radiation and chemo, I slept longer and better than I can recall ever sleeping. Not that I would want to have that be my method of getting decent sleep time in, mind you – certainly that would be a bit of an extreme just to gain a few hours of naptime. but it does solidify for me the thought that to get a “normal” sleep, I have to be totally exhausted. Once that exhaustion is assuaged, though, my sleep pattern goes directly back to what it was.

Someone once asked me if I dream at all when I sleep. Sure I do. My sleeping dreams, like my waking imagination, are quite vivid and I do recall most of the details. The same person asked me if I had nightmares on a regular basis. No. It’s quite rare that I’ll experience a nightmare, in fact. So my insomiac-like behavior can’t be blamed on that, either.

Right now, I can feel myself reaching that point of exhaustion that might actually allow me to sleep through the next five or six hours with minimal interruption. My eyes are crossing as I type this, and I have to close one eye in order to finish. Since the work I was doing (moving two gigantic accounts between servers) is completed, this is as good a time as any to test just how tired I am and just how quickly it will take me off into downy sleep.

To write, perchance to not edit

A bit of a metaphysical chat with a friend tonight, touching on the topic of writing.

I always wanted to write. Since I was young, my head has been filled with the byproducts of an overactive imagination. For the past dozen or so years, I’ve been carrying around ideas that would, were they to be formed, make themselves into novels.

So why, one might ask, do I not write? Good question, and one I ask myself over and over as I berate myself for not doing just that.

My internal editor will not shut its yap. I hear that little voice saying the same things over and over: that writing stinks. That piece is too private, too personal. That section over there is an idea that’s been rehashed forever, can’t you be original?

And there is the other side of writing, too, the side that wouldn’t be for publication necessarily, but is more an exercise to stretch one’s wings, to let the words flow about whatever topic is uppermost in the mind. A friend of mine tells me that I’ve not posted anything personal in some time, and this is true. Even my insertion of some personal details in the midst of a larger post are incidental. That same little voice yammers about how personal stuff should remain just that way, how deeper thoughts on subjects make me sound like a pretentious git, and how someone else has already said it – better – before I ever got to it.

So what’s the solution? Hell if I know. I’m just typing a stream of consciousness thing here, trying not to edit as I go along. It’s incredibly difficult, and for someone like me who is generally in control all the time, frustrating not to be able to control this as well. At times it almost feels like a failure of character not to be able to spit out the things that are stuck in the brain cells under my skull. I feel like I am awash in words that will never be written, in things that will never be said. I can’t decide if that’s a trgedy or a blessing.