Tag Archives: food

I like tea. I like Sherlock Holmes

So when my sister got me a gift certificate to Local Spicery, which sells both spices and tea, I couldn’t resist buying this one.A satisfactory blend, in case you were wondering. I’m also pleased with the others I ordered: Assam, Darjeeling and Brobdingnag tea (an Irish breakfast blend). Though the latter should, of course, have come in a giant size tin.

Due to becoming caffeine sensitive with age, I have to drink all my day’s tea in the morning, which is occasionally frustrating, but better than getting even less sleep than I often do. I’ve begun having a cup first thing in the morning, which lets me squeeze in extra. And I love starting the day with tea, so hey.

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Swashbucklers, past and future, plus other books I’ve read

After watching The Sea Hawk back in February, I decided to reread its source, Rafael Sabatini’s novel THE SEA HAWK (yes, it took a while). I was pleasantly surprised to find it as much fun as I remembered: Elizabethan protagonist Sir Oliver saves his brother Lionel from a murder rap only to have the spineless youth realize framing Oliver for the crime would be even safer; to top it off, he pays a sea captain to have Oliver “trepanned” (shanghaid) and sold off as a galley slave, after which Lionel will pretend Oliver fled rather than face justice.

Fast-forward several years and Oliver is now Sakh el Bahr, the Sea Hawk, a legend among the Barbary pirates. When he learns from a captive that Lionel is marrying Oliver’s faithless fiancee, the Sea Hawk heads back to England to settle some scores … This was a solid swashbuckler with decent characterization and avoids making the Muslim supporting characters into devils. And unlike the film, nobody has to get into brownface to play the Arabs.

THE STAR KINGS has John Gordon, a WW II vet, agree to change minds with Zarth Arn, a prince from a galactic empire 200,000 years in the future. It’s only supposed to be temporary, but when the League of Dark Worlds begins its attack on the peaceful interstellar worlds, the prince’s father has “Zarth Arn” yanked out of his lab before the return switch. Now Gordon has a pivotal role in a fight he can barely understand, with incredibly advanced technology, and a romantic triangle to cope with to boot. This is a fun adventure, and the amoral, manipulative Shorr Kan is a remarkably likable villain. It does show its age in that while there’s a lot of advanced energy powers allowing for FTL communication and travel, the tech uses vacuum tubes.

The Shadow novel GANGDOM’S DOOM by Walter Gibson starts off with a bang when Claude Fellows — introduced as one of the Shadow’s agents in the first of the series — visits Chicago to help a witness turn state’s evidence, only to die in a hail of machine-gun fire. That, of course, brings the Shadow into the picture, but the results are a little too stock — you could replace the Shadow with a G-Man and not have it change much. Like The Shadow Laughs, this reuses crooks from an earlier story; statements that the Shadow never kills his enemies show Gibson was still working his mythos out (that certainly wouldn’t stay true). Competent, but not a standout.

Edward Eager’s TIME GARDEN has the kids from Knight’s Castle preparing for a dull summer at a seaside mansion where obviously no magic is going to find them. Then they meet a talking Natterjack which reveals the mansion’s thyme garden is yes, a time garden, allowing them adventures on the Underground Railroad, in the story of Little Women and to meet their parents as kids (a scene we already saw from the parents’ perspective in Half-Magic). Eager’s writing style is charming and his kids are fun, but as the kids themselves complain, adventures in history aren’t as exciting as the more outrageous exploits of the earlier books.

I picked up BREAKING BREADS: A New World of Israeli Baking — Flatbreads, Stuffed Breads, Challahs, Cookies and the Legendary Chocolate Babka by Uri Scheft from the library when it turned up in the same title search as Breaking Bread. Unfortunately it’s not very useful: Scheft is all about using a dough mixer and I don’t think I can translate “one minute on slow, two minutes on high speed” into hand-kneading. However it was fun to read about babkas, burekas and other popular breads of Israel.

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A book about bread, and then some bread!

So last month I checked the ebook of BREAKING BREAD: A Baker’s Journey Home in 75 Recipes by Martin Philip because I heard it had some excellent sections on bread-baking technique. It does, though I’m not sure how easily I can apply them to recipes from my other bread books.

I actually skipped over most of the text in Philip’s book. A lot of it is food memoir and I don’t care that much about what food recipes mean to him or the nostalgic feelings he has when cooking his family’s traditional dishes, etc. (I had a similar problem with Michael Twitty’s The Cooking Gene, though that was a better read). I was reading for the bread directions, nothing more.

Philip’s technique advice is much more rigorous than most bread books. He recommends measuring flour amounts down to the gram rather than by volume, and says water temperature has to be exact. Dough needs a precise temperature to rise best and morph into the best possible loaf: if the ideal temperature is 76 degrees, for example, and your kitchen is at 70 degrees (normal for my kitchen this time of year), you want water at 88 degrees. That’s a lot cooler than I usually use. He favors folding the dough — stretch it up, drop it back in the middle — several times during the initial rising, without much kneading.

I was skeptical, but I must admit the results were impressive. After weeding out several breads with a sourdough starter — I dislike keeping and maintaining starters because I don’t use them that much — I settled on an oatmeal bread. It had a “soaker” which was oats in water, oil and milk, but it was a one-time deal, no starter left on hand afterwards (obviously I could throw out a starter after I’d made the sourdough, but I’m slightly obsessive about not wasting food).

I had to guesstimate the temperature — no thermometer handy — and working with an ebook was frustrating (check recipe steps, flip through to detailed technique instructions, flip back … over and over again. Much easier in hard copy). Regardless, I ended up with a very good-looking and very tasty pair of loaves.Did it taste better than other breads from other books? Not really? Did it taste good? Definitely. And the two loaves rose way more than mine ordinarily do. Not that my loaves are leaden or lifeless, they just don’t rise a lot. Is it just that some loaves don’t rise, or have I been doing it wrong all this time? And if so, which part of Philip’s approach made the difference? I’m guessing it’s either the water temperature or shaping the dough more carefully before the second rising.

If it’s the water temperature, I’m not sure this is a lesson I can apply to other breads. Philip gives a desired dough temperature to shoot for, but my other books don’t do that. At 70 degrees in the kitchen, the right water temperature ranges from 88 to 100 degrees depending on the desired dough temperature. Without a desired temperature to shoot for, I’d be flying blind. Though even 100 degrees is cooler than the water I usually use, so perhaps cooler water will help. Although that flies directly in the face of the usual recommended temperature for yeast, so I’m nervous … but I can proof the yeast in water in advance. If cooler doesn’t work, then I use hotter and try again before adding it to the bread.

If nothing else, the oatmeal bread was great. I copied a couple of the other recipes out; if they work out too, I may just buy the book.

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Food, the good and the bad

First the bad: a week ago the power went out (transformer blew, judging from the sound). Only for around five hours but that’s enough that we had to throw out all dairy products and leftovers in the refrigerator. That’s Earth Balance, yogurt, feta, tofu, Parmesan, hummus and dog food. And cheddar. We don’t eat that much cheese per week, but given the unpredictability of what’s available in the pandemic I try to stock up. All wasted. I spent an extra hundred dollars replacing all that. Bummer.

The good. Some time back I read The Woman’s Own Book of the Home, a 1930s household management guide passed down from my grandmother. The recipes are a little intimidating to modern eyes as they say things like “place in the middle of a hot oven until done,” which isn’t very precise. However you can find translation guides online (“hot” in this context is 400 to 450 F) so I decided I’d try one of the bread recipes. I scaled it down by half — it’s the kind of thing you’d make for a farm family of six — and gave it a shot. Despite the lack of detail (no suggestion how long to knead it for, for instance), I had no trouble following it. Perhaps not surprising as I’ve been baking bread for around forty years, but I was actually surprised it came out well.It’s a basic whole wheat bread, nothing fancy, but satisfying. And as a translation of the recipe, an accomplishment I’m proud of.

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The refrigerator didn’t use to be this crowded

But the Trump Virus fridge is another story. It’s difficult to find space when our latest deliveries arrive. Even with sliding shelves, it’s often difficult to get stuff out.It didn’t use to be like this. The fridge would be packed Friday night or Saturday morning when we made our shopping trip to Whole Foods or Sprouts. Then it would slowly open up during the week. Now, though, I keep slightly more milk, kefir and cheese on hand, among other things, just in case there’s a shortage. Which isn’t being overly cautious either — things I expect to buy sometimes turn up unavailable from Amazon or Target. TYG loves grated Parmesan and eats a lot of it on pasta, so we need a lot of it on hand (ditto feta, which is behind some of the items on top).

Another factor is that TYG is cooking quite a bit. She’s whipped up her own recipe for marinated grilled veggies with tofu, and so there’s always a big container in the fridge either marinating or grilled. Plus I cook my stuff, which TYG sometimes eats, but not always (depends on her schedule). The aluminum foil covers an apple pie, for instance.

Plus we both put in food orders rather than make one weekly shopping trip, so that sometimes leads to excess. Even with the pantry holding a lot of extra food, we’re almost at capacity. I may give some thought this weekend to seeing how we can rearrange things for better use of space.

But yes, this is a trivial problem to have these days.

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I’m not planning to make this a weekly food post, but …

But I don’t have much to talk about this morning (let’s face it, I’m not traveling much), so here’s a photo of the maple oat bread I made last week.I’ve no idea how I stumbled across this online recipe because with a dozen bread books, I don’t usually go looking unless there’s something specific I want to bake with and don’t have recipes for. But this one turned out well. It’s a no-knead bread which made it easy: mix, leave it to rise, then dump it into a pot heated to 450 degrees in the oven. It came out great, though the maple isn’t as strong as I’d expected; the baked flavor of the crust drowns a lot of the sweetness. Toasting it, however, amplifies the maple taste a lot. So does eating it with cheese. I also tried eating it with something spicy but that didn’t enhance the flavor.

It’s also quite a large loaf, which is good as I go through my homemade bread very fast. Or bad, because when I have a huge loaf I often wind up eating that much more.

I think for my next loaf I’ll try something more demanding, with kneading, before I get too lazy.

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Thanksgiving was … different

Not the food. Eating at Café Parizade’s big vegan banquet, we found it delicious, as always. Here’s one of my dessert plates. Why yes, we did eat a lot. And enjoyed every mouthful. And they have some neat little figures outside the restaurant too.

But it was the first time in god knows how long that I’d had a day where I didn’t feel the need to do anything. It was a holiday. We didn’t have any errands to run Thanksgiving morning, nowhere to be until lunch, so I just lay around, read, petted dogs, took a walk … it felt fantastic. Even when I’m not writing, I structure (and sometimes overstructure) my time; when I give myself a day off from work, I usually use it to clean or something.

I think I need more days like yesterday. I’ll have Christmas and New Year’s Day, but I definitely need to find space for more truly lazy days in the coming year.

As for the rest of the week, it went fairly well. I got started on the next draft of Sexist Myths, did several Leaf articles and got a couple of thousand worlds on Oh the Places You’ll Go. I also sent in a revised proposal for Space Invaders to McFarland to see if they like it better (it’s tweaked to their specifications, so maybe). I submitted two short stories. And I spent some time thinking about what I wanted to accomplish next year.

Oh, and once again I had to work my schedule around contractor visits due to a plumbing problem. Not as disastrous or expensive as I’d feared though. But Plushie was exceptionally discomfited at having to be caged in with me so he couldn’t interfere with the work.

And here we are at December. Fingers crossed, I will wrap up the year with a productive bang.

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Would you like some cheese with that wine?

I have to drink red wine to boost my good cholesterol. I don’t particularly enjoy it, but I do like some of the labels:

Names too. What’s not to love about calling your vintage Banshee wine (though I don’t see where that bird image represents a banshee at all) or, like Gnarly Head (totally!)?

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My goodness, this looks good. And it was, too.

So last weekend I got out 100 Great Breads and made an English recipe called farl bread, or bottom bread (because it’s made on the bottom shelf of the oven). It’s a simple white bread recipe with the top slashed so that as it rises, you get deep cuts in the loaf.

I think it came out looking good, yes?

I’m pleasantly surprised by the results. I bake a lot of breads that have some sort of slash on the top (irish soda bread traditionally gets a cross), but they rarely shape up this well in baking. I don’t know if it’s the recipe, or the solidity (it was a very firm dough) or just random chance, but I’m quite pleased with myself. Tastes good too; just a basic white bread, but the texture is distinctive.

I shall make another bread with slashes soon; if I’m actually getting better, I should be able to do it again, right? Wish me luck.

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A cute photo of a puppy, then my week in review.

Here’s the puppy, a corgi I met at Petco last weekend:

Now, the week. It’s part of a two week stretch with no Leaf to write, and it went well, despite the dental visit Tuesday and some extra dog-walking.

I submitted three stories to various markets.

I found an artist (my friend Samantha Collins) for the cover of my soon-to-be-self-published Questionable Minds.

I heavily reworked Chapter Three and Four in Sexist Myths (I’m also considering Lies That Sexists Tell as an alternative title), lumping “Feminists hate men” and “feminists won’t let men be chivalrous heroes” into one chapter (the latter was my original chapter four) and other “feminists destroy society/families/the government” in another. I think it works. However Chapter Four (feminists destroying stuff) needs a lot more information and examples than I’ve provided so far. Doable, but it’ll take work.

I didn’t get as much fiction done as I’d hoped, but I got quite a bit. I reworked The Schloss and the Switchblade yet again before submitting it to a movie-themed anthology. I did another draft of Death is Like a Box of Chocolates and it’s really showing some improvement now. And I finally took a second look at one of my older stories, Oh, the Places You’ll Go. When I read it for the writers’ group, the reactions were that I needed to explore the concept (people being able to time travel via antique maps) more and give it a stronger plot. They were good criticisms though I didn’t want to give up the core of the original short story, which was the family dynamic. After giving it some thought yesterday while the dogs were in day care (as I’ve mentioned before, having dogs on my lap is too distracting to just think or outline or brainstorm), I came up with a tentative outline, some ideas about the “traveling” community and various ideas to give it more plot. I don’t know how long this revised version will be (several people said I should make it a novel, but I don’t know if that’s the right length) but I’ll let the story play out and see.

Overall nothing earthshaking, and nothing actually finished (sigh), but a week to be pleased with nonetheless.

To wrap up, here’s a blackberry goat cheese tart that I made last week. Very tasty.

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