Thursday, June 25, 2009

first bean chop salad of the summer

I make a lot of quickly chopped and bean salads in the summer - veggies, beans, and whatever in the fridge needs to be used up. they are quick and mean i don't have to turn the stove or oven on! they evolved because I love tabbouli, and I love chickpeas, and I would make a chickpea-tabbouli. but it's evolved so much that i can't rightly call it anything related to tabbouli.

first bean salad of the summer:
one can chickpeas, drained
one can red kidney beans, drained
half a cucumber, seeded and chopped
about a 1/2 cup raw zucchini, chopped
2 green onions, minced
2 roma tomatoes, diced
handful parsley leaves, chopped fine
palmful of dried mint
salt & pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
couple tablespoons red wine vineagar
splash lemon juice
a splash of the magic ingerdient: the oil/vinegar based salad dressing of your choice

mix well, refridgerate. serve over lettuce if you want.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

american gods strawberries!!

is this turning into a summer of re-reads, again? perhaps. i was in a bit of a book blah, where nothing was keeping my attention. The English Patient? beautiful, haunting, heart breaking, but too depressing to read when i've been in such a good mood lately. Perdido STreet Station? also beautiful, haunting, and a little heartbreaking, but too drug trippy. Dan Brown's Angels & Demons? eh, i recently saw the movie so I know what happens at the end. what to read on a hot summer's day? Gaiman? Manga?

i finished Neil Gaiman's American Gods and love love loved it. I read this book a few years ago, and it is 100 times better the second time around, not in spite of but because you know what's going to happen at the end. in fact, i might go read it again.

I'm still looking for a new Manga series to grab me, so i've been getting the first two volumes of random manga from the library. we'll throw some stuff at the wall and see what sticks.

King of Hell by Ra In-Soo, was suprisingly, a comedy. but not a very good one. lightly amusing, but artwork left something to be desired. Majeh is a servant of hell, and part of his job is to escort new souls to the underworld. Sarcasm abounds, which i appreciated. Soon Majeh is sent on a quest to banish all evil spirits from his plane. much monster fighting ensues. is this manga more than just swordfights?

D Gray Man by by Katsura Hoshino. also a bit of a comedy, but more the dark Trinity Blood type of comedy (as in, not). the steampunk elements of D Gray Man are very cool, and the bad guy, the Millenium Earl is creepily awesome, i shall have to track down some more of this. Main character is Allen, a blonde teenager (who is a carbon copy of Edward Elric, and that is just weird!!) who is an exorcist. Allen has a metal cross burned into his disfigured hand, which makes him a natural adept for exorcisms. after the first 2 volumes i can tell you it's good, but odd. possibly odder than gooder.

Shutterbox, by Tavisha Simons and Rikki Simons. it's by Americans! how weird! Megan just graduated high school and can't decide what she wants to do with her life. work? university? community college? she doesn't really care. When she dreams, she ends up at Merridiah University, a sort of multiverse university for the dead who are trained to become muses. Megan has been chosen to be a "Shutterbox exchange student", where she can be a mortal attending the school (and occasionally wake up back in the real world). A little gothica, a little St Lunatic High, this one's got some potential.

ho ho ho, strawberries!!! went strawberry picking with a friend last weekend, we picked like 12 pounds of strawberries! was so good i might go again next weekend! so husband and i ate as many strawberries as we could in a few days, and i decided to cook the rest up. Here is the recipe i meant to follow:
Strawberries & Dumplings
and since i messed it up so badly, I'm not even going to tell you what i did, I'm just going to say, follow her recipe!

I didn't have milk so i used whipping cream + water
I over cooked the strawberries
I undercooked the dumplings

bug omg it was delicius. there is one bowl left in the fridge. . . and it is calling to me!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

catching up on the reading

The librarians are probably wondering what happened to me, this weekend i renewed books from one library online, and returned some others after hours at their drop box. I'll have to stop in sometime during the week, just for kicks. Here's what made it from the "out of control to be read pile" to the "finished reading, or am reading right now pile":

Iron Council, by China Mieville (review)
Sackett's Land, by Louis L'Amour
Artificial Light by James Greer
Unintended Consequences of Constitutional Amendments, edited by David E. Kyvig
American Gods, by Neil Gaiman

thoughts on the above:

Iron Council - omg, loved it, review here. Simply put, Iron Council is about a railroad worker's strike, and as city dissidents are inspired by them, the city government fears and wishes to destroy them. but of course, that's not what the story is really about. I love Mieville's take on criminal justice, human rights, and just his commentary on society in general. as i mention at the end of my review, this is not a book for those who are satisfied with the status quo. but if you're not so satisfied? give Iron Council a try. My favorite Mieville novel ever is The Scar, and this one comes in second. As Goto Dengo is Neal Stephenson's most honorably tragic character, Judah Low is Mieville's. Mieville may have his faults, but i keep coming back to him, so he's go to be doing something right.

Sackett's Land, by Louis L'Amour - the opening novel in L'Amour's grand series of the settling of America by immigrants, this novel was just Okay. Set in 1599, Englishman Barnabas Sackett gets into some trouble and can choose possible death, or the New World. guess which he chooses. Honestly, I found most of the novel simplistic and contrived, but I'm hoping L'Amour did a lot of that on purpose, to quickly and easily set the stage for a series that now has over 30 novels in it, following a handful of immigrant families. I'm not going to say this was a good book, but I like L'Amour's style, I was able to finish the book in 3 days, and I do want to read the next few books in the series, because I'm interested in early American history and can't say know to a nicely written historical novel.

Artificial Light by James Greer. eh, it's going back to the library unfinished. Taking place in Ohio in the early 90's, this is the diary of a young woman named Fiat Lux who meets Kurt Cobain and feels responsible for his death. I didn't start listening to Nirvana until maybe 5 years ago (after I realized the guy from Foo Fighters came from Nirvana, actually), but I respect their musical style, and it's too bad about Cobain. it's also too bad that this book really isn't that interesting. Most of what I read was just Fiat's internal monologue about this and that and the other thing, with minimal details, and it just didn't grab me.

Unintended Consequences of Constitutional Amendments, edited by David E. Kyvig Wow, what a title! and a collection of surpriseingly fascinating essays on constitutional amendments that were designed to do good things, but did some not so good things as well. the road paved with good intentions, eh? Beyond the Bill of Rights, many newer amendments that were designed to help people and make their lives easier just ended up pitting faction against faction, increasing government beaucracy, and making things way more complicated and political that needed. I could seriously write a full review on each essay, but isn't this a fiction blog? anyway, I'll be searching out more essays written by some of these same folks.

American Gods, by Neil Gaiman. ahh, the perennial favorite. When i'm staring at my bookshelves, looking for something satisfying to read, i know I can always grab a Gaiman, and life will be good. I've read this book before, so I kind of know what to expect, but I forget what happens at the end. Shadow, recently released from prison to find his wife killed in a car accident, is "hired" by a mysterious Mr. Wednesday, who takes Shadow to meet his mythical friends. This is Gaiman's take on Gods and sprites and mythologies that immigrants brought with them from the old country. but as those immigrants aged, and children and died, what happened to the memories of the old gods? and what about the new American Gods, television, money, technology? I'm halfway through the novel and loving every page.

The perfect pita project, part III

I think the third time is the charm. and maybe finding a better recipe helped too. Nothing against the BReadwinner's recipe, but i think he left out some technique instructions.

my new favorite pita recipe is from Smitten Kitchen. With a few minor technique changes, i was able to fit it to what I had in my kitchen, and what i'm capable of doing. She also gives stove top cooking instructions, which made very tasty flatbread (think Olga's or gyros), but not much pockets.

Pita (makes about 10)

3 cups + 1/4 cup flour
2 tsp salt
1 packet yeast
2 tbsp oil
1 1/4 cups water at room temperature

the day before baking, make your dough:
blend 3 cups of flour, the salt & the yeast in a big bowl. add the oil & water and mix well. knead the dough on a lightly floured surface (or in the bowl, if you're lazy like me) for 5 minutes. it's going to be super sticky, add as little additional flour as possible. cover for 15 minutes and let rest.

(sticky dough means high moisture content. high moisture content means you'll get more water vapor during baking, thus more puffyness)

knead the dough for another 5-10 minutes until it is smooth and elastic, again it's going to be insanely sticky, and this is a good thing. add as little additional flour as possible. put some oil in the bowl, and roll the dough around in the oil. cover with greased plastic wrap, and set in the fridge for at least 8 hours, and up to 48 hours.

one hour before baking, preheat oven to 475 and put a cookie sheet (or whatever you're going to bake them on) on the bottom most rack. cut the dough into 8-12 pieces. working with one peice at a time (leave the others in the bowl, covered with plastic), shape it into a ball, and then press into a disk. let rise on 10"x10" peices of lightly floured parchment paper for 20 . next time I might try greased parchment paper, espeically for any pitas that i want to cook on the stove.

put another peice of parchment paper on top of a disk, and roll it into a flat circle about 1/4" thick. it should be about 8" to 10" across. let rest uncovered for another 10 minutes.

when you're ready to bake, do a test pita first. lifting by the parchment paper corners so you don't disturb the bread, put one pita on the baking sheet, and bake for 3-4 minutes when it should be completely puffed. do NOT open the oven during the baking time. if the pita doesn't puff, you don't have enough moisture in the dough. spritz the remaining pitas with a little bit of water, and wait 5 minutes before trying again. Once you've got the moisture thing down, bake as many as will safely fit on the baking sheet at a time. remember not to touch the dough itself while transfereing to the baking sheet, just pick it up by the corners of the parchment paper.

I had minimal success cooking pitas on the stovetop, i think because the dough was so sticky that i couldn't get it off the parchment paper without disturbing the rise (thus the thought of using greased paper next time!). preheat a pancake griddle over medium high heat, and spray with non-stick cooking spray. turn heat down to medium, then slap down one pita, and watch all thsoe crazy bubbles form! flip it over after about 20 seconds, and let cook on 2nd side for about a minute. see it puff up all cool?? flip it over again, and let cook until it's completely puffed up, then remove to cool.

my stovetop pitas tasted incredible, and looked beautiful, but even though they puffed on the stove, there wasn't much in the way of useful pockets.

of my 7 oven baked pitas, only one was a complete disaster, the rest were pocketty and tasty. see!

I'm not sure if my husband is totally sick of pitas, but there might be another try for more perfect pitas next weekend. just for kicks.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Perfect Pita Project, Part II

Made Pita again, with mixed results. Same recipe as before, same timing for rises.

Good Stuff: No Sticking! did the 2nd & 3rd rises on parchment paper, and when I was ready to bake, I just slipped the parchment paper right onto the cookie sheet.

Bad News: got pockets in less than half the breads, and the taste was a little blah, probably due to the little bit of flour i sprinkled on when the breads were rising.

What have I learned? maybe this recipe isn't the best, and i'm thinking the author of the cookbook left out a few steps that he probably thought were intuitive. damn it, that's what i have the internet for. After looking at about a dozen recipes, my recipe seems to be lacking the following:

- dough rolled out really thin before baking
- baking stone or baking sheet needs to be preheated inside the oven
- spray the breads with water right before they go into the oven

The best recipe and technique advise seemed to come from Smitten Kitchen, so I will be trying their recipe as soon as I can. Also, her recipe says the dough can rise overnight in the fridge, meaning i can do it the night before, and only need to fuss with the bread for an hour or so in the morning.

friday bread baking? here I come!

Friday, June 12, 2009

the perfect pita project, part one

ohh, nice alliteration!

Pita bread has so much going for it - tastes good, smells good, and you can fill it will just about anything, hot or cold! i ask you, what other kinds of breads are as versatile? yeah, i didn't think so!

now, if only i could get the pocket thing to happen right. I made a batch this morning, which although very tasty, had more the consistency of very tender dinner rolls than being hollow in the center. i tore out the centers, ate 'em, then filled 'em with tuna salad. was very tasty.

the plan is to try again tomorrow on Sunday and see if i can't improve my technique.

I'm pretty happy with the recipe, so that's not the problem, as far as I know.

The after action report for this mornings batch:

1. Made dough, followed recipe to the letter.
2. 2nd rise was on a floured baking sheet. instead of sandwiching balls between wax paper to roll out, i floured them and a rolling pin and rolled out that way, shaking off excess flour when i was done.
3. 3rd rise was on a lightly floured kitched table. BAD idea!! after it rose the last time, the little balls of dough stuck to the table and i had to "pizza peel" them off with a large spatula. it was not pretty. i think this was what killed the pockets.
4. Baked following recipe instructions. Most pitas rose beautifully in the over, looked pillowy and perfect. smelled great too.
5. sliced one in half to find no pocket inside. :(

the plan for next time: do third rise (final dough balls) on small squares of parchment paper, so i can just lift via the paper onto the baking sheet. also, might flour the dough balls more when i roll them out. you can always shake off excess flour later.

supposedly, if i've done this right, the flattened dough with poof up in the oven (the air pocket filling with hot air & expanding) and then collapse as it cools. the ones I made this morning never collapsed, because they were pretty solid inside.

stay tuned for part two of the perfect pita project!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Oh China Mieville, how do i love thee?

Shortly after my recent post about how weird I thought Chabon's Gentlemen of the Road, I finished it, and let it percolate through my brain for a few days. It took about a week, but now that i've read the book and thought about it, it's weaknesses have mostly drained away, leaving the wonderful, if bittersweet end. Review to be posted soon.

And maybe I just have a thing for stories about girls who dress up as boys to save the world. Oops, did I just spoil the story for you?

Girls who dress up as boys to save the world . . . . Gentlemen of the Road, Revolutionary Girl Utena (although there is never any question that Utena is a girl!), Mieville's Iron Council. . . yup, looks like that calls to me. Gender issues? Power issues? I'm leaning towards the latter.

Oh China Mieville, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Perdido Street Station had major issues but The Scar made up for all of them. Un Lun Dun was adorable genius and King Rat was wonderfully gruesome. You put the fantasical back into fantasy, you give me the white knuckled imagery I crave along with the Lovecraftian horrific descriptions and consequences of getting everything I asked for, you give me characters who have been destroyed, deformed, enslaved and turned into monsters and they are more human than I am. I'm nearly done with Iron Council, when is your next book in the Bas Lag universe coming out?

Iron Council had a rough start. We've got a small group of rebelious misfits leaving the metropolis of New Crobuzon to find the possibly mythical “Iron Council”, to protect the council from the city militia. No one is sure who they can trust, so dialogue is vague and full of code words. Great for the characters, not so great for the reader. We've also got a group of rebels inside the city who believe if they assassinate the Mayor, they will be able to take over the town and stop the war with the neighboring Tesh.

Judah Low, a middle aged (but he must be older than that!!) member of the group looking for the Council is a golemist. I adore Mieville's fanstical sciences. Golemists are trained to make golems out of clay, earth, mud, water, whatever. a little like Earth-bending. Sure, fans of high fantasy are welcome to call this "magic", but Mieville treats it as an academic, university driven science. When Mieville goes into a multi chapter flashback of Judah's life and how he ended up where he is, i stop caring about anything else that happens. May this flashback never end, I just want to know about Judah.

nearly done, and I hope the end is as good as the middle. Sure, Mieville tosses some of his personal politics into it, but as I can't find anything i disagree with yet, politik away! reading this makes me want to read The Scar again.

In quickie manga news:

Et Cetera volume 1 - cute, but not that good. Taking place in a sort of Wild Wild west, Mingchao's inhertance is the magical Eto Gun, which is powered by the essences of animals of the zodiac. Hoping to get to Hollywood, she ends up travelling with Baskerville, who claims to be a priest, but surely isn't, as his "bible" is full of blueprints of the Eto Gun. This was too slapstick for my tastes.

Nodame Cantabile volumes 1 & 2 - or as my husband calls it No Damn Catbile. ewww! it's not that bad. Shinichi Chiaki is a top piano student at a music university. He's excellent at piano, but really wants to be a conductor, and transferring into that program won't be easy. After meeting his next door neighbor Nodame, Shinichi starts to learn that maybe the world doesn't revolve around him and what he wants. Again, a cute story, and i really, really appreciate all the music stuff, but this will be returned to the library unfinished.

back to the library with you Et Cetera and Nodame!