Belated Mothers’ Day Celebrations

Last night I made a belated Mothers’ Day dinner, and David and Clare joined mum and me for dinner. Mum requested a stir-fry, so I made a Beef & Broccolini Noodle Stir-Fry. I thought it was OK, although nothing special (I think it would have been improved with a bit of chilli), but David and Clare both liked it enough to request the recipe. I think they liked that it was a relatively straight-forward recipe with left-overs that would reheat well for lunch the following day.

For dessert I made Lemon & Prosecco Cake from the most recent issue of delicious. I substituted cheap sparkling wine for the prosecco, and I thought the resulting cake was a little rubbery – perhaps I over-cooked it? Clare used the remaining cheap bubbly to make mimosas, which she served wearing appropriate glasses.

Carrot Overload?

Somehow, we ended up with a lot of carrots in the house. I think it was Boston Organics‘ fault – lots of bags of baby carrots.

Carrots in wheelbarrowOn Thursday night, we waged war on the carrots – making soup and cake. Of course, there was plenty of leftovers, so I took cake and soup to work yesterday, and I might have eaten a few slices of cake today, too. I expect to see (ha!) improvement in my night vision!

Today I bought a bike pump – in theory I can just use the compressed air at my local bike store, but it hasn’t been happening. I feel I should I add “biking places” to my list of things to do in Cambridge this summer.

Recent forays in the kitchen

Sticky Date Pudding: Mum sent me this recipe, which she found in The Australian. I made it a few years ago, and it had languished since then. By the time I dug it out again, the fax paper it was copied onto had deteriorated to the point that it was difficult to read. This version of the recipe (made with the incomparable dates from Whole Foods) wasn’t nearly as dark as I remember the last attempt, but it was still delicious, I suspect largely because of the sauce that’s poured over at the end of baking, and again before serving. Sadly, we fed some of it to a guest who really didn’t like it that much – he told us he didn’t really like sweet things. I’m not sure we’ll be feeding him again! Everyone else seemed to like it just fine, though.

Kheer: I’ve used this recipe from Jo I-don’t-know-how-many-times, always with delicious success – I love the cardamom – but when I last tried it I ended up with something more liquid than I’ve had in the past, even after I threw in a little cornstarch. The only thing I did differently was to use non-fat rather than full-fat milk – could such a small thing make such a big difference? I noticed a similar effect when I made tapioca pudding a few months ago. Can I test this hypothesis by adding heavy cream to the next batch of kheer I make? Maybe I need to try a different recipe? Perhaps something that incorporates an egg?

The King Arthur Flour Baker's CompanionClassic Buttermilk Waffles: From The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion. Rachel and I were both pleasantly surprised at just how good these waffles are. We didn’t have “real” buttermilk on hand, so I used the dried kind for the first time. I’m never going back! No more half full container of buttermilk in the fridge that I’m trying to find a use for, and no more running out in the middle of making something to buy a carton of buttermilk. Of course, I have no idea if the waffles would have been even better had I used the non-dehydrated variety, but I’m perfectly happy with them as they were.

Pappardelle with Mushrooms and Spring Vegetable Sauce: Another recipe from an aunt (albiet a different aunt), this is quick and easy, tastes delicious, and is vegetarian. It’s good week-night fare.

Coconut Quinoa Porridge: Mum made this for Christmas brunch and it was really delicious, although certainly not low-fat! Rachel and I made it when we got back to Boston. We may have made it slightly lower-fat by using light coconut milk, but I think it really is a loosing battle. Rachel and I also didn’t bother making the syrup – we just used maple syrup that we had on hand. It’s not nearly as heavy as you might think it would be – the quinoa keeps it light, I think – but it’s certainly filling, and keeps you going for a good portion of the day.

Completely unrelated to the kitchen:

  • Seeing the Invisible: A New York times article on schlieren photography, with some very cool pictures. My favorite? The firing of an AK-47 (I’m not sure what this says about me).
  • A poster for your favorite physicist.
  • I went to see The Corn is Green last night, which is playing at the Huntington Theater. Not quite my favorite Huntington play of the season (I really liked Rock ‘n’ Roll) but still very good. I turned out that we were there on the night that they had sign-interpreters (which was not nearly as distracting as I thought it might be – much more distracting was the huge head in front of me), and I think that all of deaf Boston must have been at the play. At the end, when the actors acknowledged the interpreters, a huge portion of the audience raised and shook their hands to thank them. I have to admit to finding the last bit of the play to be a little over-the-top and contrived, but that’s not the fault of the Huntington Theater Company.
  • I’ve been enjoying this week’s New Yorker. In memory of John Updike, there’s a huge section of excerpts of his work (including my favorite: Happiest I’ve Been), as well as some really lovely photos.

New Slippers

I bought new slippers this week, and I can’t tell you how happy they make me. I always had Ugg boots as slippers growing up, and while in high school and in university, but I gave them away when I moved to the US. I’m not sure why. Probably because they didn’t fit when I packed everything up. When I went to buy them, I shuddered a little at the price, and then embarked on an effort to find something that looked like them, but wasn’t so pricey. I don’t think such a thing exists – everything I found that was cheaper looked less well made and less sturdy.
Ugg Slipper

Ugg Slippers: The Source of Much Foot Happiness

I ended up buying my ugg slippers from Campmor. Another thing I love: the speed with which Campmor ships. I’ve ordered a few things from them now (they’re always very cheap), and whatever I order is generally on my doorstep within a couple of days. Fortuitously, my new slipper arrived just as the temperature in Boston plunged (again). My old slippers weren’t so different from what I have now, but they’d become too loose on my feet – so they were constantly coming of – and the sheepskin lining was beginning to remove itself from the shoe. The new slippers are much better. Combined with my fingerless possum gloves, they keep me toasty warm when I’m working at home.

The New Best RecipeRachel and I made a reasonably spectacular pumpkin pie recently. I have the Cook’s Illustrated recipe book out of the library, and we used the recipe from that. Generally speaking, I’m not a huge fan of Cook’s Illustrated; I find their recipes a little bit fussy, and this one was no exception. It was, however, good. The reason that it is good is that you basically make a custard filling (complete with heavy cream) that just happens to have pumpkin in it. We used pumpkin from a can (which is a curious American phenomena), and the recipe has you bring it to a sputtering boil to remove the taste of the tin. I have no idea if this really works or not, but it’s Cook’s Illustrated’s claim.

Aside: this is the other thing that irritates me about Cook’s Illustrated. It’s often pseudo-scientific. They rely completely on tasters, which I guess is better than nothing, but I’ve no idea if/how chemicals from the tin are leaching into the pumpkin (I really hope they’re not, though – I actually suspected that the “canned” taste comes from preservatives, rather than from the can), and if/how heating the pumpkin purée would fix that, and Cook’s Illustrated never tells you. It’s not like they uncover any new science in the quest for better recipes. Sometimes they regurgitate stuff that’s already known, and sometimes they speculate, but they never do uncover new science. They just make it sound scientific.

Pumpkin from a can bothers me a bit, probably because I didn’t grow up with it. However, I’m the first to admit that it makes baking pumpkin pie a million times easier. In any case, for all it’s fussiness, and despite the use of canned pumpkin, the recipe makes great pie – easily the best pumpkin pie I’ve ever made. And since I missed out on pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving – I completely neglected to make sure we’d have some at my Thankgiving dinner – it was nice to finally have some in the house. In fact, it was so nice that:

  • I ate a slice before I went to bed;
  • Uncharacteristically woke up at 3 am in the morning, thought a lot about pumpkin pie, and eventually snuck out to the kitchen and ate a sliver;
  • Ate pumpkin pie for breakfast;
  • Worked from home and ate pumpkin for lunch;
  • And then declared that I really had to leave the rest of the pie for Rachel. And I did.

Home-Cooked Food

After a generally lethargic day, I decided that decent food was in order. Since returning from Australia and California I’ve eaten at home very little, and I think it was beginning to take it’s toll. The meal I made was simple: chicken sausages from Trader Joe’s, with sautéed apple, chard/silverbeet, and beet(root) greens (the chard and beet greens were both from the Union Square farmers’ market) but it was just what I needed. Afterwards I taught Rachel about the magic of chocolate self-saucing pudding. Yum! I actually think I’d put it on my list of favorite comfort foods. The added benefit of all this cooking is the left-overs: my lunches may be a little more nutritious. Since then, I’ve made my first roast chicken without parental supervision (courtesy of bills food – I can’t tell you how much the missing apostrophe bothers me) and a berry and peach crumble (the key here is frozen fruit: no coring, no peeling, no washing – hooray!). Home-cooked food is definitely worth the effort.

For some time now I’ve wanted to be able to synchronize my iCal calendar at home with my Sunbird calendar at work. To make matters more complicated, I wanted to be able to edit entries, regardless of which computer they were created on, I wanted to synchronize my to-do list as well as my calendar, and I wanted to do it for free. For some time now, I’ve synchronized my two address books using Plaxo, but Plaxo’s calendar synchronization isn’t set up for Mozilla. After a late night of searching, I can report that there is a free solution that works reasonably well: The Chandler Project. So far as I can tell there’s just one bug: if you include a list of attendees for an event it becomes impossible to edit that even in iCal. This, however, is a bug I’m willing to live with.

Rachel convinced me to buy a student season subscription to the Huntington Theater Company (this turns out to be very reasonably priced. To be honest, Rachel didn’t have to do much convincing), and our first play for the season, How Shakespeare Won the West, was this past Saturday. Sadly, I wasn’t particular impressed. The acting was fine, it was the play itself that disappointed me. Despite being just an hour and a half long, it dragged several times, and felt directionless. There were some very funny parts (and it is supposed to be a comedy), and I thought the staging and costuming was excellent, but that wasn’t enough for me to really enjoy the performance. I’m a little concerned about what I’ve got myself into. Corry, Josh, and Rachel all assure me that the plays were generally much better last year (when they also subscribed), so I’m feeling optimistic. In other subscription news, I recently bought a BSO College Card – an amazing $25 for up to 25 performances! I’m looking forward to the start of the BSO season.

I watched Once recently, with a mixed reaction. Basic background: Set it Dublin. Street busker (guy) meets Czech immigrant (girl) who happens to play the piano. They hit it off – she supplements his songs with keyboard and vocals, completes lyrics to pieces he’s written, etc., etc. The inevitable happens (ie. they are attracted to each other). The movie is full of cliché (although not at the end), and if the busker guy had said “Cool” one more time in the movie, I might have attacked the screen in an effort to strangle him, but I enjoyed it anyway, I think because I liked the movie (sort of soft pop, but that’s OK), which really was central to the film. No big name stars, no flashy effects. Also in Once‘s favor: unusual enough to keep it interesting. I don’t think it breaks any barriers or sets any new standards, but it’s a fun film.

A Week Late for Easter

When I was growing up, my mother made hot cross buns (usually without the cross) all year round. She’d put them in our lunch boxes, cut in half and spread with butter. Because I was an ungrateful child, I’d swap my delicious fruit bread rolls for all manner of junk food with other children in my class. Interestingly, I never had trouble convincing someone to eat my home made roll in exchange for their packet of chips (which my mother would never have dreamed of including in my lunch box).

I had every intention of making hot cross buns last weekend (when it was Easter), but like seemed to conspire against me: I couldn’t find yeast in the supermarket, I found myself spending much more time at work than I had planned, I was busy most evenings… I was determined to make up for it this weekend.

I looked at a lot of recipes for hot cross buns, and decided to go with something British (the American recipes I found seemed a little strange to me) – I ended up going with this recipe from Delia Smith. I made a few changes, mainly because of an inability to source ingredients: I used golden raisins (aka sultanas) instead of currants (as the daughter of a currant producer who can’t find sell his crop due to a world wide glut, it astonishes me that I can’t even find them in the US), and a I substituted a blend of equal parts cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and star anise for mixed spice (it may, in fact, turn out that it’s possible to buy mixed spice in Boston – I didn’t actually try. We have such a well-stocked spice collection that I assumed we’d have some – and we don’t). Because it wasn’t Easter anymore, I didn’t bother with a cross.

While they’re a little mis-shapen, these fruit buns were delicious. They came surprisingly close to recplicating the fruit buns of my childhood – and I actually think I prefer the sultanas to currants. I really wish I had time to make yeast-leavened breads all the time. As I don’t, the occasional weekend cook-up will have to do.