pameladean: (Default)
I just took down the 2015 Minnesota Weatherguide Calendar (it does not do to be hasty about these things), the December photograph in which was a lovely one of a snow- and icicle-encrusted evergreen branch in the foreground, with a wave caught breaking in white spray behind it, and snow- and evergreen-encrusted islands on the horizon, somewhere on Lake Superior. The January photo for the 2016 calendar is also of Lake Superior, at Gooseberry Falls State Park, a rocky beach with lumps of ice perched atop the rocks, each one perfectly sized for its perch, as if a wave had come in and instantly frozen. In the background are the lake, looking very cold, and a low but brilliant sun. I read the Phenology section with great pleasure, because it almost always tells you to listen for the "fee-bee" call of chickadees establishing their territories, and the drumming of downy woodpeckers. And even in the middle of the city, I have heard both of these things already, birds not being great devotees of the Gregorian calendar.

Today a lot of house sparrows are yelling their heads off in the neighbors' pea-bush hedge, and occasionally a crow makes a pronouncement about some esoteric matter.

I'm hoping to post more, however mundane the content of the posts is. Here is a bit that I wrote but never posted just before Christmas.

Read more... )

"Today I made vegan cream of mushroom soup, which is quite delicious, if extremely rich; but I didn't make it to be eaten as soup, but rather to be used in a casserole the recipe for which comes from the family of one of my partners. Then I made dinner for Raphael and me (macaroni and goat cheese and steamed broccoli), and now I am roasting some mushrooms, to be followed by green beans and cauliflower. The last-minute roasted vegetables I made for Thanksgiving (turnips, broccoli, and carrots) were so wonderful that I want to have some more at Christmas dinner. Sadly, some people I seem to be related to don't like turnips, so I'm doing these different vegetables. I had more mushrooms than I needed for the soup, and that is how it all arose. I expect these vegetables will still be wonderful, and I also got some turnips to roast later in the week." In the event, the roasted vegetables were very good, and I did roast turnips, carrots, broccoli, and more mushrooms a few days later. Also very good. I was sneaking the leftovers cold out of the fridge as if they were cheesecake.

The day before Christmas was a better day for pie crust than the day before Thanksgiving. All the pies came out fine. David has heroically finished the mince, and both pumpkin pies are still being worked on. I didn't assist the situation much by making two loaves of banana bread and then lugging one all over on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day but never actually getting it out at a party, so now we have to eat all of that too. The horror. It's a good batch. The recipe uses up to six bananas, with enough whole-wheat flour and sugar to hold them together and some rising agents, salt, vanilla, and cinnamon, with optional walnuts. Aside from the quality of the bananas, which is not really under our control, the keys to a good batch of banana bread seem to be increasing the amount of walnuts, toasting them thoroughly, using fresh cinnamon and good vanilla (thanks, [livejournal.com profile] carbonel!), and not under-baking the result. It's also useful to gauge the level of moisture in the bananas and lower the number used if they seem too gooshy.

Christmas dinner was small this year, but we all had a good time. [livejournal.com profile] lydy was gallivanting about the East Coast and David's sister couldn't make it, so it was just five of us. We had lots of leftovers, which was very satisfying. I tried to recreate my youngest brother's balsamic-mustard-maple-syrup reduction for the salmon, but it came out too mustardy. Still very tasty, just not sublime. And the oyster casserole was a great success with [livejournal.com profile] arkuat as a birthday treat. Follow Your Heart vegan cheddar substitute melts like Velveeta and makes a grand cheesy sauce with homemade vegan cream of mushroom soup. I had leftover soup and ended up making more cheesy sauce and putting it over baked potatoes after I'd eaten all the proper leftovers.

This seems to be a very foodish post. I suppose it's the time of year.

David and I celebrated our 33rd wedding anniversary by going to Kyoto All You Can Eat Sushi. My favorite piece was the sweet potato hand roll, but it was all very good. On New Year's Eve Day David had to go deal with a complicated computer project. I made rosemary shortbread that was too dry and crumbly and slightly greasy, and oatmeal shortbread that did not work right at all. The rosemary was demonstrably shortbread, not greasy oatmeal candy like the oatmeal attempt, but it still wasn't right. I think Earth Balance has messed with the formula of their tub margarine so that it doesn't work right for baking, and I will henceforward need to only use the Buttery Sticks for baking. These are sadly no good for just putting on your toast or potato, which is annoying.

On New Year's Eve, David and I went to two parties. I actually hate this, and cherish a useless nostalgia for the comparatively few years when everyone I wanted to see attended the MinnStf party. Even then, when I had first joined MinnStf, there was at least one splinter group that had its own party; I just didn't know those people well and didn't care. The MinnStf party was hosted in a really grand fashion with chicken noodle soup, tacos with a vast array of possible fillings, and, it was rumored, a turkey breast; also huge tubs of hummus, interestingly flavored chips, vegetables (including what looked and tasted like heirloom cherry tomatoes of several varieties), and a plenitude of fruit and candy. The banana bread seemed surplus to requirements, so I didn't get it out. I had several pleasant conversations, and the general conversation upstairs was also nice. I felt guilty leaving, but was very glad, at the second party, to see at least six people I always love to talk to and a number of other congenial sorts, as well as two very self-possessed and fluffy cats. This party was also more than well supplied with edibles, so I didn't bring the banana bread out for it either.

We got home before 2, when I realized that I'd forgotten my knapsack with the lonely loaf of banana bread in it, so we had to drive back to get it, David exhibiting remarkable patience at my fecklessness. I am looking after Lydy's cats while she's gone, so there was half an hour of washing food bowls, parcelling out wet food to the healthy in small doses and to the cat with kidney issues in a larger one, refilling waterers, scooping litter boxes and cleaning up the floor where Naomi, the kidney cat, earnestly pees from inside the box. I don't even, but we love her a lot. Then when I got upstairs, Saffron produced a long fussy lecture about my deficiencies in being gone so much and then clattering around downstairs instead of attending to her. She had been quite adequately looked after by Raphael while I was away, but that was not, I take it, the issue.

She was very snuggly overnight. When I woke up I glanced at the clock and thought, 11:09, that's not bad at all. However, a closer look showed that it was 1:09, so there was some scrambling around. However, David and I had agreed that we would get to the Hair of the Dog party after three but before five, and we did manage that. This is one of my favorite parties, and it was really lovely. All but two pieces of the inadequate rosemary shortbread did get eaten. There were goat butter and good bread and goat and sheep cheeses and fava bean dip and Thai hummus and taramasalata and sesame brussels sprouts and fancy olives and six kinds of herring and celery and grape tomatoes and carrots and cornichons and a very chunky guacamole and a gingerbread trifle, which was not at all Pamela-safe, but Beth offered me a bite and it was stupendous. I had a nice conversation with Katie and Magenta and got to hear lemur anecdotes from Karen, and Josh let us look at the portable museums he'd contributed to the Kickstarter for. They are small blocks of lucite in which are embedded very small bits of museumy objects, like dinosaur skin and bone and a bit of tape from an Apollo mission's music selection. I liked the Japanese star sand the best (it's microfossils), but it was all well worth looking at and pondering. I also got to talk a bit to Laura Jean, which almost never happens, and to Tamsin, though most of my conversation with her had occurred the evening before. The general conversation around the museums also included Eric and David, and Beth and Barb J. and Bruce. It was not actually alliterative, though.

Eric and I had decided to just have our date continuing on from the party, so we went back to my house around ten, and I did a bunch more cat work. Ninja helped us make the bed, as usual, with an interruption from Lady Jane, who keeps trying to play with him but hasn't persuaded him to return the desire yet. We read our books and didn't stay up terribly late. Lady Jane leapt onto the bed for petting several times, but didn't want to stay. We had most of our date on Saturday, ending with brunch at the Himalayan Restaurant, a brief stop at the new coop on 38th Street, and a stop to fill up the tank of Lydy's car, which she had kindly lent Eric and me in her absence.

Then I came home and caught up on LJ and had many thoughts about people's 2015 roundup posts, about whether I am remotely a working writer any more and other somber musings. It's easy enough to fix this. Well, no, it's not easy at all. But it's very simple.

Saffron had more to say to me about my various absences, but this week will be normal, so perhaps I won't be scolded so much either by my cat or by my brain.

Pamela
pameladean: (Libellula julia)
I spent the last two hours of my night dreaming that I couldn't go back to sleep after feeding the cats, and that I was repeating the word "redwood" over and over and over again and counting trees rather than sheep. When I woke up I realized I'd been asleep, but one somehow doesn't feel one got the benefit if one thought one was not asleep the whole time.

Around two p.m. I finally got it together to start the pies. I got out the battered, greasy paperback copy of the Betty Crocker pie book, and made the crust for an 8- or 9-inch two-crust pie. During this time Ninja hopped up on the open door of the dishwasher, trotted around the kitchen after a catnip mouse, and chased Naomi downstairs. This was a benign interaction; she invited him, though whether she thought I'd like the kitchen free of Ninjas, I do not know.

I mixed the flour and salt together and went to get the pastry blender out of the drawer it lives in with the rolling pins and English muffin forms, in apparent harmony. It wasn't there. David was having his lunch in the dining room, so I opened the swinging door and said, "I can't find the pastry blender." David obligingly got up, saying, "I know where I think it's supposed to be." He then checked the dish drainer, which I had looked in, and the most miscellaneous of the utensil drawers, which I had looked in; and then he checked the rolling-pin drawer, and it was there. On top. In plain sight. "I don't say," said David, "that it was there when you looked, but it's there now." I had been so astonished that I failed to shut the door to the dining room, which is part of the cat-free zone. Ninja zipped past me and went to ground under the sofa. The major breakable items are still put away from when we had visiting cats, so I just shut him in and went back to the pie.

I made the pie dough and rolled out the bottom crust for the mince pie, which cracked all around the edges but did consent to peel neatly off the waxed paper and go into the pie plate with a minimum of resistance. I opened the jar of mincemeat, with some effort, and was scraping it into the bottom crust when Ninja uttered the most piteous sound known to catkind. I have heard it before, but it was still concerning. I opened the door to the dining room and called Ninja. He marked David's chair and the leg of the table and the sofa with his face, and ran under the sofa again.

I rolled out the top crust for the mince pie, which cracked around the edges and refused to be circular, even though I know how to roll pie dough in a circle and was doing just as I had with the other crust. Ninja made the most piteous sound known to catkind. I opened the door and called him, and he ran under the sofa. When I came back into the kitchen, there was a tremendous rattling and crunching from the hallway, right outside Lydy's bedroom, where she was sleeping after having worked all night. I looked around the corner. Arwen was lounging sulkily on a paper grocery bag. She wanted to flatten it, but the bottom was quite stiff and stuck up in her face, so she was leaning her head on it and looking sulky. I calculated that removing her from the bag and taking the bag into another room would result in more noise than letting her crunch and rustle the bag. She has a Siamese voice and often sounds like an outraged goat.

I arranged the irregular crust on top of the mincemeat, pinched up the edges as best I could, poked holes in it with a large fork, and put it into the oven. Ninja made the sound. I opened the door, and he ran under the sofa. I came back into the kitchen and set the oven timer. The paper bag crunched and rattled. I looked around the corner. Nuit was trying to get into the bag, but the top part with the opening was very flat and would not oblige her. Since Nuit's voice, while notable, is not usually used to object to everything one does, I moved the bag into the media room and tried to open it up for Nuit, but it was stuck somehow, and she was affronted and had gone into Lydy's room; at least she did that quietly.

I washed the flour and shortening off my hands, went into the cat-free zone, and captured Ninja in the solarium, where he was standing on the radiator. It was too cluttered in there for him to jump down easily, so I was able to grab him while he was deciding what to do. Or, possibly, he was bored but didn't want to admit that he wanted to come back to the populated areas of the house. I returned him to the kitchen, a defeat that he took quite cheerfully. I set the timer app on my phone, which crows like a rooster until you tell it not to, and went upstairs and had some lunch.

When the roosters crowed I went downstairs and took the mince pie out of the oven and put it to cool on a rack on the dining-room table. Then I made a second batch of dough for an 8- or 9-inch two-crust pie. The paper bag crunched and rattled. I looked around the corner. Naomi, or somebody, had returned it to the preferred spot outside of Lydy's room, and now Naomi was also trying to sleep on it. I reflected that at least Lydy didn't have to work on Christmas Eve, so if the cats did wake her up, she could just sleep later.

I rolled out the bottom crusts for the pumpkin pies. This batch of dough, made from the same recipe and the same ingredients in the same kitchen, and by the same person, and with all the same utensils and in the same bowl, behaved very well in the rolling-out. One crust let itself be pinched up fairly uniformly. The other one balked and dropped bits of crust all over the counter for that fashionable somebody's-been-chewing-on-my-pie look. I put both crusts in the dining room and went upstairs, where I washed the blender, dumped two boxes of silken tofu, a cup and a half of sugar, a teaspoon of salt, two heaping teaspoons of cinnamon, one heaping teaspoon of ginger, half a heaping teaspoon of nutmeg, and two teaspoons of vanilla into it, put the lid on firmly, and turned it on.

When it was all blended, I took the blender jar downstairs, stopping to collect two cans of pumpkin from the steps, where I am trying to learn not to keep random groceries. I mixed the pumpkin and the tofu blend together in a bowl and divided the results between the two waiting bottom crusts. I had forgotten to preheat the oven, but this doesn't take very long with the smaller of our two ovens in the nice new stove downstairs. I decided, however, that two pies on a cookie sheet were too difficult to get out of the little oven, so I preheated the big one. When I opened the door to put the pies in, I saw that the top rack was in the wrong position for these pies, in addition to having been put in crookedly. I pulled the rack out, and Ninja came to try to see into the oven. I got the rack in properly, but since I was in a hurry and trying to elbow the cat out of the oven, the potholder slipped and I burned my finger. I put the pies in, muttering, set the oven timer, and ran cold water over my finger. Ninja got into the sink to assist in this process. I removed him, absently petting him as I did so, put him down, and went upstairs to sit down and not think about pies. I recovered in about half an hour and went back downstairs, where I wrapped most of my presents for everyone. I got through almost all of them because the pies were clearly not done after the requisite 45 minutes, nor after 55, nor after 65. I took them out anyway lest I be scorching them in some invisible way. The edges of the crusts were at least brown by then, and there were a few cracks in the top of the filling.

I put the pies to cool in the dining room with the mince pie and went upstairs. Raphael was just heating up a bowl of soup, so we discussed when we would order Chinese food this week and decided on Saturday. The strainer from the sink was lying on the floor next to the dishwasher. "Why is the strainer on the floor?" I asked, once we had settled the question of takeout. "I was going to ask you that," said Raphael. "When it was in the sink," I said, looking at it more closely, "it had some bits of tofu in it from when I rinsed out the boxes." The strainer looked very clean. "Well, somebody with four feet," said Rapahel. "And probably orange ones," I said. Cass has white paws, and she can't jump very high. Saffron's adoption page, somewhat grimly, remarked that she could jump high. She can, too. "But who ate it," said Raphael, "once it was on the floor?" We don't know.

I looked up vegan whole-wheat crusts on the internet and found a recipe that didn't make me shake my head or laugh incredulously. Did you know that one recipe, quite ordinary in most ways, wants you to put the ingredients in a plastic container with a tight-fitting lid, or a large zippable plastic bag, and shake it for three minutes? And then add the water and do it again? I don't think so. I found a more conventional recipe and made it. At this point Ninja stood up on his hind legs and put his front paws on my hipbone, and I looked at the clock and decided that Lydy wasn't going to wake up soon, and fed the downstairs cats. When I rolled out the whole-wheat pie crust, it behaved pretty much as the bottom crust for the mincemeat pie had, but since this one was made from whole wheat, I knew ahead of time that it would do this. I crammed it into the pie plate, pinched up the edges, patched up the cracks, and put it into the oven. While it was baking I wrapped more presents. When it was done I put it to cool in the dining room.

While I was cleaning up the mess from making a lot of pie crust and David was wrapping his presents in the dining room, Eric came over to borrow Lydy's car, and remarked that I did not look too harried. I did not feel too harried, so that was all right. Eric gave me a hug and went on his way. While I was still cleaning up the mess, Lydy came home from what she called a fool's errand to buy yarn on Christmas Eve, having gotten up and gone out in David's car when I was upstairs, and we had a nice conversation. She said the paper bag had not woken her up.

I rinsed out the blender jar, took it back upstairs to its base, and put another box of silken tofu and a teaspoon of vanilla into it. When this was blended, I took it downstairs, and then irritably went back upstairs and got the chocolate chips out of the refrigerator. I melted these in the double boiler and then ran cold water over the outside of the bowl to cool the chocolate off. I should have done the chocolate and let it cool while blending the tofu, but cooking on two levels at once tends to confuse the order of events.

I eventually got the tofu and chocolate mixed together and into the baked pie crust. Then I put the chocolate pie and one of the pumpkin pies in the downstairs refrigerator, covered the mincemeat pie and left it where it was (it is actually vegan, and so contains no meat at all and does not need refrigeration), and took the second pumpkin pie upstairs and put it into the upstairs refrigerator. Cassie and Saffron met me at the top of the stairs and escorted me and the pie into the kitchen, and when I looked the clock I saw that they were somewhat overdue for their dinner. And that it had somehow taken me seven hours to make four pies.

I still have four presents to wrap.

If you celebrate Christmas, I hope you enjoy yours this year. If you are having troubles, I hope they may resolve soon. If you don't celebrate Christmas, I hope people who do are not driving you crazy.

Pamela
pameladean: (Default)
The mince pie is in the oven. The dough for the crust did not behave well -- it wanted too much water, the indulgence of which desire can lead to cardboard in the guise of pie crust; but I have had far, far worse doughs to cajole. I remembered to cover the edges of the crust with aluminum foil. When the mince pie is out, I will make the vegan pumpkin pie. I'm unlikely to kill the new blender, I just made the filling for Thanksgiving and am unlikely to unwittingly substitute ground mustard for the ginger; and the crust is unlikely to be worse than that for the mince pie. While the pumpkin pie is baking, I'll make the apple crisp for those who dislike or are allergic to pumpkin or mince. I do not have a migraine. I do have goats-milk fudge, very very kindly provided by [livejournal.com profile] mrissa.

Chance of Doomed Pies: 25%. Without the fudge: 35%.

Pamela

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