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November 2005

November 30, 2005

Not the targeted demographic

I've been trying to watch more Food TV lately, including some shows that I normally avoid like avian flu (do we really "avoid the plague" anymore?) and I have some thoughts. One advantage to having a blog is that I can come here and rant instead of just snarking at the television. Add that to my recent dearth of posts and this is what happens.

First, I am clearly not the targeted demographic for the network. I find this really odd because I am a serious cook who works at home and has time to do all sorts of cooking. I don't live near a grocery store where I can buy individually wrapped vegetables, nor would I buy them if I did. I care more about the taste of my food than the 'scape of my table. I think that good food is worth taking a little time to create and never buy something I could make in less time than it takes to drive to the store. (45 min). I have a freezer and am not afraid to use it...for homemade food and bulk purchases, not commercially prepared things.

I have to wonder about editorial staff. Have they nobody to explain to their on-air folk that if you say an acronym followed by the meaning every time you can just skip the acronym. (meaning it's silly to say "EVOO (extra-virgin olive oil)" instead of one or the other). Better yet, how about just "olive oil" and let people get their single bottle of olive oil off the shelf without inquiring as to its virginity, because, really, how many of the people watching that show — you know which one I mean — have more than one kind of olive oil on the shelf? Heck, how many of you have more than one kind of OO (say it with me, "oooooo!") on your shelf? I am a food-nut and I have only two...and both of them are extra-virgin. (I want a bottle of "bit of a hussy olive oil," which doesn't exist but should.)

Can we call off the stereotypes? Alton says grills are about Y chromosomes**, RR giggles and says something about her inner girliness as she talks about tea sandwiches, and there are a few on-air folks that every online discussion about them devolves to "I'd do her" and an accompanying accusation that people (read women) who don't like ____'s show are jealous of her looks. Uh huh. Either that or we don't consider mixing a can of frosting with sugar and rolling it into balls to be candy-making, let alone "sensuous."

Oh my. Ms. Ray just put saffron in something instead of annatto seeds and then called it inexpensive. Uh huh. This from the woman who buys individually shrink-wrapped vegetables.

I think they should change the network name to "I like to watch other people putter in the kitchen making things I'd never actually eat TV" — at least it'd be truth in advertising. (Having written this, I am guaranteeing that my chance at Food TV stardom is ruined, but I just don't think it was happening anyway, what with me being over 30 in both age and weight in kilograms.)

**those being the ones that make people look at things attributed to it and say, "why?"

Magical Elves, the candy

These are pretty much chocolate-covered pop rocks, right? Not being a huge pop rocks fan, I am not so sure I'd like the candy, but it's got a good name and apparently the elves can dance to it. The flash animation with all the elves is worth a look: Tourmaline (the cook) looks like s/he has been in the cooking wine, Santa seems to be a practical joker, and I dont even want to think of what Wulfenite's "musical bottom" is all about!

November 28, 2005

Kiwis and manuka honey

A friend of mine has offered me an all-winter supply of home-grown organic kiwis, which is pretty darned sweet considering my usual source of kiwis is a grocery store where they are shipped in from ConAgra knows where and aren't necessarily cheap. Sure an individual kiwi is inexpensive but this is a fruit you can price per bite based on the per fruit price (2-4 bites per fruit, mostly depending on size...of your mouth, kiwis in the store are pretty much the same size) This limits my usual kiwi indulgences to those occasions when I'm at a store, have a purpose for it, and know I'll use them in the next 24 hours or so. (How is it that the kiwis I buy always go from ripe to bad in the blink of an eye?) Given that I only get to a largish grocery store every couple of weeks, this mostly means I get kiwis seldom...nowhere near often enough, that's for sure.

These kiwis, by contrast, were grown on an island in the Columbia River, right here in the pacific northwet, and when I looked at the vines yesterday there were huge clusters of gorgeous fuzzy globes (that must be the size of some sort of ball, but I can't think what — they are kiwi-sized!) hanging all over it. We guessed that there are probably about ten gallons of fruit — what? calculating fruit quantity based on how many five-gallon buckets it will fill isn't the usual method? I can even say they were island-grown, which sounds ever so exotic.

All this bounty brings a challenge: create a homemade version of Waha Wera hot sauce. I love a good challenge, and this one promises to be a fun one — especially since I've never tasted the stuff. Silly, silly me. Luckily for me I found a local source for the sauce and it's only got three ingredients (kiwis, habaneros, and manuka honey) so how tough could it be to create a reasonable take on it? And how much fun will we have trying?

My bet is that the manuka honey — which I've also never tasted — contributes a bit to the specifics of the sauce's flavor profile. Luckily, this is also available online. (Isn't everything?) I am really curious about the flavor of the honey; there's a lot of information available about the medicinal properties of manuka honey, but precious little about the flavor.

The only downside here is that I have to wait for multiple shipments of goodies to arrive before I can get started on the sauce. Given that it's the start of the Consumer Holiday season, this may take a while. sigh In the meantime, I'd love to hear from anyone who has tried either the sauce or manuka honey...make me drool with anticipation. Go on, I dare you!

November 21, 2005

Thinking out loud about Thanksgiving dinner

After the party last weekend--which somehow grew from not-quite 36 hours to about three days--I find myself blinking at my not-quite-recovered house (and my very not recovered self) and wondering why someone scheduled Thanksgiving for his week. My feet still hurt from the last orgy of cooking and my creative juices seem at an all-time low. Somehow I doubt this will be a convincing argument for why I am serving sandwiches on Thursday. (Oh relax, I am only kidding.) But you know, with an alter ego named kitchenMage, one can't exactly afford to slack off on the greatAmericanEatUntilYouDrop day.

Continue reading "Thinking out loud about Thanksgiving dinner" »

November 18, 2005

Getting ready for a party

I apologize for the odd layout. This post is from a time when screens were narrower and center columns were much thinner and it shows.

My place is the scene of a reunion of sorts, a handful of no-longer kids who've known each other since they were actually kids have converged for a couple of days of network games and food. I asked what people wanted and was amused to see how specific their memories of my food are. Determined to relax once people arrive, I've spent a couple of days in the kitchen and just had to take pictures before the hungry hordes descend. Click below to see what I made.

Continue reading "Getting ready for a party" »

November 16, 2005

Dinner at the Herbfarm (part 1)

The fire in the Herbfarm's parlor fireplace danced as we escaped the misty rain into its warmth. In one corner Carrie, one of the restaurant's owners, explained the various herbs that would be used in tonight's dinner while guests passed around scratch-and-sniff sprigs including rose geranium, english thyme, and sage — both green and tangerine. We found a spot in the back of the group, next to the dining room doors — closed at the moment, but not hiding a couple hundred small candles, dangling in mini-lanterns from old-fashioned candleholders set on each table. The half-dozen wine glasses at each place reflect the flames until the entire room glows. As Carrie wraps up, people turn towards the closed door and murmur with a bit of anticipation.

A dark-haired man perches on a stool in a corner of the dining room and picks up a guitar, the doors open, we're seated...right next to the guitar player! someoneElse, who is an excellent guitarist as well as the oh-so-wonderful person who invited me to this dinner, quickly suggests that we sit so that I am facing the kitchen while he's facing the guitarist. I can see the entire place from my comfortably uphosltered perch — this is going to be fun! A smiling man offers a selection of herbs from a basket of plants, we're to pick one to infuse our sparkling wine. One of us had rose geranium, and I can't recall the other — which is sad because it was mine. I think it was lemon something, maybe verbena...maybe thyme.

That was 7:00. I turned on my cellphone to check the time when we got into the car. It was 12:35. Between those two dots on my personal timeline: nine courses, six wines 12:35. Five and a half hours, nine courses, six wines, a dozen or so staff on each side of the kitchen counter around which they all gathered to plate and serve each course, two cookbooks (I bought), one classically trained guitarist (who had slipped in at least one Led Zepplin tune by the time dessert and the 90 year old madeira arrived).

As you might guess, this is a story in several installments. Especially since I am being descended on by a horde of twenty-somethings for a multi-day reunion in a couple of days and have lots of prep work to do.

But here's my single photo (sorry, this was a romantic dinner — no cameras allowed) to hold you over until part 2. Our post dinner treats, which we — and quite a few others brought home and ate later.

Clockwise from upper right:
chocolate-hazelut macaroon
lavender-dark chocolate truffle
raspberry gel
orange-thyme madeleine
lemon-geranium white-chocolate truffle

As an idea of the size, the macaroon was maybe an inch across, yet somehow I managed to make it into several bites.

(to be continued)

November 12, 2005

WCB: Get Well Clare

As you've probably heard, Clare of Eat Stuff is in the hospital recovering from a rather unfortunate series of events. So this week's Weekend Cat Blogging is being hosted at masak-masak and folks are showing up with yummy things to eat, flowers, and adorable cats of all sorts.


River is working the perimeter and heard there might be dogs hiding in this box. Evil, scary, barky dogs who must be stopped.


And I am shaing the kitty love with my favorite two year-old who gets this cat-covered shirt this weekend.

This week's roundup is over at masak-masak, you really should go see them.

November 11, 2005

fog valley photo and a happy mage

Ahem, I'd just like to respectfully say, "Neener, neener! I'm going to the Herbfarm for dinner tomorrow night and you're not!"  (Unless of course you are, in which case we should meet!)

And today's occasional fog valley photo.


November 08, 2005

Baking Tips and Musings

I've been baking a lot lately — figuring out how to make a couple of things and developing my own versions of a few others — and while I'll be writing about those soon, I am not quite ready. Until then, let me offer a few things I've learned along the way.

Those thin plastic "cutting boards" that you can pick up in multi-packs for a few dollars, although far too flimsy for my cutting needs, are a baker's dream. I've been using mine as rolling surfaces lately. It's easy to figure out how to roll out dough  — I just do the math to figure out what size empty border I need and go for it. (It's really easy to eyeball a one inch border, whereas figuring out 11x13 on an empty counter is tough!) I buy mine in a threepack and need more for those days when I have a ton of baking going on. You can even stack them with dough on them for resting periods so you free up counter space. If you use them for rolling dough, remember the untextured side sticks less. I even used one to roll out a danish dough that gets folded several times with alternating resting periods in the refrigerator. When the dough needs resting, I roll the plastic "board" around the dough, slip it all in a plastic bag, and slide it onto a shelf in the fridge. It's so easy! 

Pizza stones radiate heat that can be used to give rising bread a kickstart. I discovered this recently when I had a coolish kitchen, too many stones in the oven (I stack two 18" square unglazed floor tiles on a rack and leave them in almost all the time.), and bread that was being slooooow. After I pulled the stone out, I placed a wooden rack on top of the stone and the pan with bread doug on top of that. It was apparently the perfect distance, the dough rose perfectly and was oven-ready in about 45 minutes.

Sourdough starter makes anything better. Yeah, yeah, this is a duh. I've been working on an english muffin recipe this past week or two and, while I haven't gotten to the "great big holes" stage...yet, I have improved the taste greatly with the addition of sourdough starter. Next on the sourdough list is pitas. Stay tuned.

Made some of these almond danish the other day and have a few thoughts. First, I am not so impressed with the dough recipe. Don't get me wrong, it's tasty and reasonably flaky for the blitz-style dough, but I ended up adding 15-20% more flour to get it to resemble dough rather than mush and it took five turns to get it pastryable. I was still adding bits of flour on the fourth set of turns! I am not sure if it's me or the recipe —  it's a Nigella and I've not been so impressed with the reliability of her recipes — but next time I am just going for the real thing with a layer of butter. It can't possibly be that much more work and I really do have to master the technique. Also, the recipe calls for all bread flour, which strikes me as just plain wrong. However, even given all of that, the danish were really good. They rose to about two inches at the high spots and were reasonably flaky, the filling was good, and if I'd bought them at a neighborhood bakery I'd have been okay with it. But my standards for my own baking are high so I'm still working on this one too.

And while I've been busy in the kitchen, River has been busy too. Remember the tethermouse? Look what she can do!

November 01, 2005

Books, bread, and buckets of rain.

Don't you just love "odds and ends" posts? If not, why are you here? (Uh, nevermind, don't want to drive away all three of my fans!) I've got a number of accumulated things to write about; today's random accumulation is brought to you by the letter B.

Let's start with a bit of trivial cuteness. River staring balefully at the buckets of rain. More on that later.


On my list of life's small pleasures, there's not much better than a new cookbook. Even better is free cookbooks. Today, I've got a slim new volume titled Very Pesto, which I won over at Cooking With Amy—see, all that trivial herbish information does come in handy! Although I've yet to make a recipe from it, I am having fun deciding where to start. One thing I really like about the book is that it has recipes that can be made in most seasons. (Meaning it's not all basil, which I love, but Nov. is not the time for it.) There's fennel pesto, which sounds like it would be amazing on salmon; thyme and/or oregano pestos; and a sage pesto that I am thinking about for a condiment at Thanksgiving. So much fun and I haven't even started cooking yet. Thanks Amy!

Continue reading "Books, bread, and buckets of rain." »

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