Turnip Time

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There really are not that many things one can do with turnips. Things that involve eating them, I mean, rather than feeding them to farm animals. But I’m trying another new thing, and I think it might work okay. Yesterday I tried to make Turnips (and Carrots) Anna–i.e., arrange slices in a pan, brown the bottom on the stovetop and then bake them–and it wasn’t too bad. I got impatient at the end and burned the ones at the bottom of the pan such that I could not take the thing to the condo holiday party, but it wasn’t too bad. Too much butter, and not enough other things going on, but otherwise not bad.

Today–because of COURSE I have more turnips, though these are Hakurai instead of purple-top–I decided to try it again. I have a ton of carrots from the farm share, too, and I had some kale in the freezer (cooked somewhat already), and I cooked up some onions and garlic as well. So the layers are, from the bottom: turnips; onions/garlic; kale; turnips; carrots; kale; onions/garlic; turnips. (I might have some of the inner layers confused with regard to order, but there are definitely three layers of turnips, two of kale and onions, and one of carrots). I added some liquid in the form of a little butter, apple juice, maple syrup, salt & pepper, and a splash of ginger syrup. We’ll see how this one comes out. I wanted to add some cheese, but I couldn’t figure out how to do it without making a full sauce, which I did not want to do. I can always grate some cheese on it when I reheat it for lunch, which is the ultimate fate of this concoction anyway.

Meanwhile, I’ve started planning the Cheeseland Christmas Cooking Extravaganza. As I have noted in the past, I have been offering to cook the past couple of years, for an assortment of reasons. And, for at least the second or possibly third time, I have come up with a list of options, and Friend cautions that his mother or sister might have other plans, and we shouldn’t get carried away, etc., and then he brings up the list of suggestions and they say “yes” to everything. This year’s food is likely to include:

  • an assortment of pies and galettes (apple, blueberry, possibly something with pumpkin, though I haven’t figured that one out yet)
  • Friend’s gumbo (with no bell peppers and no beans–I’m disappointed in the lack of beans, though)
  • cinnamon raisin (or other filled) whole wheat bread
  • crepes for breakfast one morning (this is becoming a minor tradition)
  • pizzas with a toppings bar
  • possibly some pork tenderloin

We try to come up with food options that allow for people to modify what they’re eating to meet their own dietary desires and needs. The pizzas are the latest brainstorm. I have been using Peter Reinhardt’s pizza dough–it involves a soaker and a preferment, mixed up the day before, and the final dough is very easy to work with–and the recipe makes five moderately sized pies (they can be shared by two for a snack, or a whole one per person is a substantial dinner, depending on the toppings one chooses. Also, though, they bake very quickly–less than ten minutes–and they freeze extremely well. Thus, we can make up a whole big bunch next weekend, with just sauce and a little cheese, and then freeze them all. As they go into the oven for eating, people will be able to add whatever they want: more cheese, some meat, veggies, whatever. We’ll have a variety of options, and the whole enterprise will enable people to customize.

I have other ideas, too, but this should get us through a couple of days at least, which means I have to plan my baking for the next two weeks to get this all done and ready to go.

Training

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One of the interesting bits about train travel–especially when I get a room, which, because I Am Old, I always do these days–is that one ends up in a kind of cocoon. There isn’t any WiFi on the long-distance trains yet, so the websurfing that might occur is eliminated. I do have a cellphone now, which I didn’t always have, though there are probably places where even that doesn’t work, but I don’t have a data plan of any kind. What I do have, or did this morning, is a fabulous view of the sun rising in the mountains of southern Pennsylvania; it was quite beautiful, and even now we’re going through land that isn’t all that heavily populated. There’s still a mist hanging over the fields, and frost on the land, and I haven’t seen a moving vehicle yet.

Anyway.

We’re doing Thanksgiving tomorrow, and I promised to do all of the cooking. More of my mother is falling apart–more of her back, above where her spine was fused years ago–so I absolutely don’t want her doing anything (and good luck with that; she’s already saying she’s making a couple of pies; pumpkin and shoo-fly). In addition to a turkey, we’re having carrots and spinach, I’m hauling a butternut squash for her and me to eat (it had a ding in it, so wouldn’t have survived on my counter), and I think some barley, again probably just for her and me. My sister-in-law was tasked with a salad, and, if I get ambitious and have time, and if there’s yeast in the house, I’ll make some rolls. Oh, and some cream puffs, with regular pastry cream and some pumpkin pastry cream for fillings, and I’ll likely do a caramel for them, too. I might have Younger Nephew as a sous chef, but that remains to be seen. There will also be leftover pumpkin, with which I’ll make some muffins that my mom can freeze. And maybe some crepes on Sunday for breakfast.

Though the trip is kind of a pain–I really wasn’t thrilled about going to the conference next week–I’m glad I’ll get to see the family again. I have the sense that, although my parents both keep chugging along, things are going to deteriorate more rapidly than they have. There’s a point at which things can’t really be patched or cured or even alleviated all that much, and they both have at least two conditions that could be described that way. So, better to spend some time with them while I can.

It’s also an opportunity for them to have a big Thanksgiving dinner without my mom having to do all the work. Sister-in-law isn’t that great a cook–she heats more than she really cooks–but she’s not completely terrible. Nephews aren’t learning much either, though I’m hoping to start changing that a little. My mom would make a lot of the food even if my brother was hosting it, and she’s just not up to it. She’s been in a fair amount of pain (it’s like pulling teeth to get her to say that, of course), and she doesn’t have the energy or strength to make a massive meal, so I’m grateful for the opportunity to do it. It’s something I can give to them.

And, hey, I’ll even get to have a meal with my brother and his family, too. At the party we attended in September, he didn’t bring his sons (do you sense a theme here?), which greatly disappointed the hosts of the party as well as my parents. My mother also read him the riot act about how he treats me, to which he responded that he didn’t think I cared about his family. Which blew me the fuck away. Seriously, dude? When we changed all of our plans so we could see Older Nephew play football? How exactly does that translate into “not caring about your family”? And how many times have you brought your sons to see me? Would that be “never”? Yes!

But there really isn’t anything I can do about it. It’s like losing my job last year. You can’t make someone else want to do something, and I do not want someone to do something because they think they should. Would I like him to visit me? Yes, absolutely. But I want him to do it because he wants to do it. Eh; it’s both very complicated and not complicated at all. Visit or not; it’s up to you. But don’t tell me, or our parents, that you think I don’t care about your family, because that is complete and utter bullshit.

Meanwhile, I’m going to relax for awhile, because once we get to Washington there will be a mad dash to catch two different trains (one to Philadelphia, one from Philadelphia on the local commuter rail line).

Weekend Cooking Report

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Hey, I have to (re)start somewhere.

Given that one cannot live on schadenfreude alone, this weekend I made:

  • spent-grain bread (Reinhart)
  • pizza (topped with mozzarella, frozen venison bolognese and frozen red wine tomato sauces, spinach and garlic from the CSA, onions from the CSA); crust from the Reinhart recipe
  • a german chocolate cake (for a coworker/friend’s birthday today)
  • chard with onions, garlic, and dried cranberries, topped with a little grated parmesan
  • venison steak with caramelized onions and red wine reduction
  • completely awesome blueberry galettes (I reduced a whole lot of blueberries to compote, with some Meyer lemon rind and juice and some preserved rinds and sugar, then added more frozen berries, plus a little cornstarch and sugar; very intense blueberry flavor, which was fab)
  • roasted butternut squash (cubed before roasting; went straight to the freezer)
  • roasted beets (sliced after roasting, then frozen)

I bought a new freezer a month or so ago, and I’ve been steadfastly trying to fill it–one of the first things I made was chicken stock, out of which I had run several months ago. I then proceeded to divest myself of a lot of the baked goods: two apple galettes, a pizza, two blueberry galettes, and some whole wheat cinnamon (and some kind of dried fruit? apricots & dates? cranberries and lemon?) bread, as well as two loaves of spent grain bread from an earlier batch all left with Friend, who is leaving to go hunting. The deer season opens on Saturday. He typically leaves the Thursday prior, (i.e., this Thursday) and returns the weekend after Thanksgiving; occasionally earlier, if he gets something. However, I leave Thanksgiving day–I have to be at a conference the week after, and it’s on the east coast, so I thought I’d spend the weekend at my parents’ first–so I won’t see him until . . . December, basically. So, yes, some missing will be going on.

Nightshade Counter

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Despite the frequently mentioned farm share, I still schlep to the farmers’ market regularly. Sometimes I just go to the Sunday market within walking distance of where I live, but nearly as often I trundle downtown to the market in my old neighborhood. It’s bigger, and has way more fruit and vegetable vendors (though my cheese monger is actually in both markets, so if all I need is fresh mozzarella I can do the Sunday market). Today I augmented my farm share eggplant with more eggplant, and augmented the tomatos with more tomatos (meaning I had a counter full of nightshades at one point). I also got some broccoli, which I”ll roast soon, and still more honey (they had some buckwheat today!) and soap and candles from the honey vendors, and a dozen ears of corn.

So I’ve been doing stuff with all of it. First I cobbled together this lemon thing. I used the oat crust from the KAF Whole Grain book (throwing in some barley flakes and some flax meal), and parbaked it, then took the strawberries and blueberries that Friend had brought over (frozen in previous years) and spread the fruit around and put it back in the oven so the fruit would cook and soften a bit. Meanwhile, I started making the lemon curd from pastry school, but it would NOT get thick (I subbed honey for sugar, plus included the juices from the frozen fruit that had come out as it thawed). I finally gave up when it got a little thicker–it was a lovely orange-pink color–and just put it on top of the fruit and crust, and baked it for awhile. Normally the curd only takes a few minutes to set, but this baked a good half hour, but it’s pretty yummy.

The eggplant I cut into cubes and tossed with lemon juice and rind (I apparently ended up w/ some Meyer lemons two weeks ago), a couple of sprigs of rosemary (purchased two plants today, to see if I can keep them alive), a little olive oil, two thinly sliced onions, a bunch of crushed garlic, and a little salt. I’m roasting that now, and I’ll add it to the tomatos and cheese I’ve been having for lunch every day. When that’s done, I’ll throw the broccoli in.

Dinner tonight is going to include two weeks’ worth of kale, some onions,whole wheat pasta, some venison gyros meat that Friend grilled today, and probably some chevre. Oh–and fresh sweet corn. It hasn’t been that big this year, obviously, because of the drought, but I love it. I’ll cook all dozen ears, and then cut the leftovers off the cob and throw that in my lunch bowl, too.

Which means the only thing I have to get moving on in the refrigerator is the asston of herbs (chives, chives, basil, chives, basil–and I have five huge plants on the back porch, too); kohlrabi (which will keep a few weeks if need be), and cabbage (which will also keep). There are tomatos, of course, but they’ll be gone by Tuesday.

Aside

I am constantly searching for breakfast items–I want something that is tasty, that has a blast of fiber, that is portable, and that doesn’t require fuss–where “toasting” or “microwaving” = fuss. I have eaten cold pancakes, and cold oatmeal (and heated both up, and, in the latter case, actually cooked it in the microwave), but even these require more effort than I usually want to manage. Thus, my search for the perfect breakfast muffin–or, really, A perfect muffin, because, given my relationship with recipes, even when I find something that approaches perfection, the chance that I’ll be able to reproduce it exactly is less than my chances of winning the lottery. It’s not that I don’t like recipes–yesterday’s adventures began with this recipe from King Arthur for blueberry flax muffins.

So what did I change? I doubled the recipe, for one thing, though I reduced the butter by a tablespoon or so (for a doubled recipe) and I only had three eggs instead of four; neither of those are particularly big changes in a recipe this big.

I more than doubled the amount of blueberries, but I took a bunch of them (from the freezer) and cooked them into a compote, thereby increasing the blueberry-ness of the enterprise, adding a little candied lemon peel and the lemon sugar syrup instead of plain sugar. (Meanwhile, I was melting the lemons, because they had crystallized into a solid mass in the fridge.) I replaced the flax seed with barley flakes (partly because I forgot I had flax seed–and flax meal, and flax flour, and flaxseed oil, for that matter–and partly because barley flakes have become my go-to item for adding fiber–there’s something like 14 grams of fiber in 45 grams of barley flakes), which I soaked in some water and then mixed with the still-hot blueberry compote to soften the flakes further, and I let that mixture cool a bit. I used flax flour instead of flax meal (KAF’s “bake-Omega” flax flour, which worked well). I cut up some dried nectarines that have been hanging around and put them in with the compote and barley. I used powdered buttermilk (again from KAF), and, as I mixed the whole mess, I added water in what seemed like appropriate amounts–no idea how much I actually used, especially since I had used water in the barley flakes, and the increased fruit probably added some liquid, too.

For the flour, I used up a little white spelt flour I had hanging around, and used up the rest of the white whole wheat flour, and made up the rest of the flour amount with all-purpose. I reduced the sugar by about a third. I had a handful of strawberries from last week’s farm share, plus the frozen blueberries, and they all went in the mix, too. I ended up with 46 muffins, and I could easily have added just a bit more flour and water to get the extra two muffins. As they came out of the oven, I spooned a little of the (newly uncrystallized) candied lemon peel and sugar syrup onto each muffin. And then I ate two of them, and they were very very good. I will most certainly be making these again–though of course I’ll end up changing five other things! But they did work extremely well for their desire function, and now I have a freezer full of little two-muffin baggies.

Speaking of freezers, I need to get a new one. I have a little stand-alone freezer (5 cubic feet), and when I was vacuuming behind it in last week’s cleaning marathon, I noticed that a gasket or something appeared to be crumbling, and there was rust and some dampness around it (it’s the big hose that connects the freezer compartment and the compressor unit). I emptied out the freezer, turned it off, and emailed the people at GE.

Did they piss me off?  Of course they did.

First off, they addressed the return email to “Mrs.” Me. I have never gone by “Mrs.,” and I never will. If others choose to use that, go for it; I find it problematic in oh-so-many ways, but it’s everyone’s choice. More to the point, the word “Ms.” was created precisely for situations like this, where the person addressing me does not know my marital status and does not need to know–and does not need to guess. Instead, this person guessed, and pissed me off.

Second, the person responding had no clue what might be wrong; she suggested I call their repair department. I looked it up online, and it would cost me a minimum of $85, just for the call, plus $85/hour in labor and whatever the parts cost. The freezer is out of warranty, but less than 10 years old. Why the fuck would I spend all of that money to repair something that failed before it should have failed, particularly when I can get a larger, brand new freezer–and it will NOT be a GE, I guarantee you–for about what the repair would likely have cost? This time around, I think I’m going to get a chest freezer, though I’m trying to figure out where exactly to put it (the one I have in mind won’t fit in the space between my breakfront and the wall). Once I sort through that, I’ll order the new one; the appliance store I use (Abt) is fabulous–they deliver for free, and they’ll haul the old one away.

Anyway. I’m very glad that summer is here. There’s a very tiny sort-of lull right now–I only have four things on fire–but that will change soon; we’re a small department, and the yearly audit is apparently a huge drain, as the auditors want lots and lots of paper. We’re also trying to hire someone, which always takes time and energy. I find that I’m tired a lot, and I think it’s the past couple of years kind of catching up with me–hell, the last, what, seven or eight years, really. In that time, in no particular order, I changed careers twice, I’ve had four jobs (five if you count the freelance copyediting, and more than that if you count the various promotions at the last place), from one of which I was encouraged to leave, I went to school for six months, I got married and divorced, and I bought property. Oh, and my parents have had some fairly major health issues. Is it any wonder I sit and stare out the window?

It’s not bad, mind you–even though there were some very unpleasant/unhappy bits in there–it’s just a lot of stuff and it kind of makes my head spin a bit.  Whatevs.  Today it’s back in the kitchen to cook up this week’s lunches, and sitting in the sun room reading. Or maybe the back porch–wherever the breeze is nicest.

More Blue

Weekend

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I spent the past two days recovering from yet another long, tedious week–one that included an office move, becuase, hey, why not. It turns out that I am once again in a cubicle, for the first time in 15 years (I was originally supposed to be in an office, albeit one with no window, but it turned out they need to cram more people into the space). i am a bit embarrassed how annoyed I am by it, and I’ve been trying to avoid whining to people who can’t do anything about it (e.g., my boss’s boss, who had to coordinate the whole thing), but it does tick me off. The thing that makes it most annoying is that it wasn’t a necessary move.

However, I finally got around to seeing “Up in the Air” last night, and I was really struck by it. There were the triggery bits, of course–all those people getting fired was just hard to watch. I found a really like the movie, though: I particularly liked that it didn’t turn into a typical rom-com. For one thing, it seemed more . . . reality-based, for lack of a better phrase.

There were two things I thought were missteps, though: when she goes to the wedding with him (because I really can’t see how she pulled that one off, and it doesn’t make any sense for her to do so), and when he leaves in the middle of his speech to go find her. I think the wedding scenes served two purposes: to enable us to connect with his family, and to serve as a kind of shorthand, showing how well the two characters got along together. The former scenes could have worked fine without her, and the second purpose could have been served by showing them in more settings rather than in something as emotionally loaded as a family wedding. And I just can’t see him leaving a speech in the middle. I can see him struggling a bit to get through it, and then going off to find her, but leave in the middle? No way.

All that said, the scenes of all those people losing their jobs gave me some food for thought, too. We all end up putting something of ourselves into our jobs; it’s nearly unbearable otherwise. But the older I get, the more unbearable it becomes for me to put too much of myself into my job. I work hard, I try to do a good job, I know I have something to contribute to this particular organization; that’s all fine. But the last place burned out what little enthusiasm I had left. I’m tired. I’m extremely grateful to be employed–I can’t begin to say how grateful–but I have so little patience for the petty politics that seem to subsume so much work.

This whole move is a perfect example. Without going into detail, senior people became convinced that my boss needed to be in the other building (the main building, about 4 blocks away from our building). Okay, fine. Except there are very few departments that can move into the extra building, because the offices are not ADA-accessible, so noone who sees customers can be located there, and a whole lot of people see patients. What that means, in practice, is that a small number of people are moving into our (relatively large) secondary space, and a large number of people are moving into that small space left vacant. Three of my coworkers in another department are sharing an office–at least one of them spends a fair amount of time on the phone, and one of them is over six-and-a-half-feet tall. I no longer have a place to have confidential discussions about salary, or a place to put a project officer on speakerphone so I can also find things on the computer. None of my immediate colleagues is any better off. It’s just stupid, and takes no account of what people’s actual work needs or work flows are. In other words, the move is motivated by the bigshots’ desires, not by the needs of the people doing the work.

Yes, I know, same as it ever was, except we have fewer than 200 employees, fer chrissakes; it’s not like it’s some big company. Also too? A number of the people being crammed into shitty spaces are the middle managers and directors who actually do the fucking work. Explain to me how fucking with that group of people is a good idea.

That’s the part that makes me tired. It makes no sense.

So I spent the weekend taking care of my own stuff. Yesterday I cleaned a bunch of stuff. Today I baked a bunch of stuff–a batch of sourdough bread (with barley flakes and oats that sat overnight in water) with a ginger syrup glaze; a batch of “pancakes” (no eggs, though), again with some of the barley/oats mixture, and they’ll serve as breakfast; and a batch of molasses muffins, with flax replacing a lot of the butter. I haven’t done anything yet with last week’s farm share; I think that’ll happen on Wednesday, after I get this week’s share. What I should do is blanch the spinach and kale; I have a bunch of both, and I think I’ll be getting more this week.  And I spent some time with the cat, who has been feeling abandoned, I suspect; lots of ear scritches and a lap.

Green

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The new CSA season has started already and my CSA (www.tomatomountain.com) offers three 12-week seasons, and I went ahead and did all three seasons, and again did the medium share, which is supposed to feed at least two and up to four people. I could probably make do with the next smaller share, but I like getting the abundance of the stuff I like, even if it also results in more goddamned turnips than I really want to eat. Amazingly enough, I have managed to get through the vast majority of the stuff I froze in December. What’s left right now are some beets, some broccoli florets, a chard, a kale, two packages of butternut squash (one of which got used today), and one lonely little package of turnips, which I put out of its misery today as well.

This week’s share featured a lot of Asian greens, so I caramelized that last onion in the fridge, added some garlic, ginger, and some venison ring baloney and wild turkey, and then threw in the greens and the butternut squash. I haven’t decided whether to do quinoa or rice with it, or just leave as is and eat the loaf of sourdough that’s in the freezer. I also took advantage of the nearly-empty refrigerator to clean it out a bit. There was a bag of spinach in the share as well, but that will keep so I didn’t use that. So–lunches for the week and a clean refrigerator!