A quartet of easy recipes! (Or, From one jar of olives, two very different kinds of sandwiches)

Are you getting tired of the same-old same-old for lunch? Had too much holiday leftovers? Here’s a lovely change of pace, especially for all you bread and cheese lovers out there: three very easy and quick recipes for two sandwiches and a soup!

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A plate with half a grilled pimento-cheese sandwich, cream-cheese & olive spread on a Dutch rusk (toast), and a bowl of tomato soup garnished with croutons and shredded Parmesan cheese. In the background are containers of cream-cheese & olive spread , pimento-cheese spread, and a container of Dutch rusks.

 

“Salad olives” is the common labeling (in the US) of jars of sliced green Spanish olives stuffed with pimentos.These olives are great for adding to potato salad, and of course, making cream cheese & olive sandwiches.

CREAM CHEESE & OLIVE SANDWICH FILLING

Scoop some cream cheese or Neufchatel into the mixer bowl, and add half that quantity of well-drained salad olives. Blend well, and spread on bread or crackers.

It’s kind of a given that as a result from the slicing during processing, one ends up with a whole bunch of pimentos that have escaped their green olive rings. And you know what that means? You don’t have to buy a jar of pimentos to make pimento-cheese spread!

PIMENTO-CHEESE SPREAD

Dump about a cup of shredded sharp cheddar cheese (that’s two or three handfuls) into the mixer bowl, and add about a fourth that quantity of well-drained pimentos, about as much mayonnaise as pimentos, and a dash of cayenne pepper. Blend well, and spread on bread or crackers. Great as a filling for grilled-cheese sandwiches.

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A cutting board with diced bread sprinkled with herbs. In the background is the jar of herbs, can of vegetable oil spray, and a loaf of home-made bread with a couple more slices cut.

CROUTONS

I made a loaf of bread the other day, but when I stuck it back in the breadbox, forgot to set it sliced-side down. So my first slice was rather dry. “Croutons!” said I, and diced the bread, then gave the pieces a quick hit of vegetable oil no-stick spray, and sprinkling of mixed Italian herbs. I dropped the croutons into a baking pan into the oven to bake while I made some tomato soup.

TOMATO SOUP

Dump one can petite-diced tomatoes and one can tomato sauce into a pot. Add a dash each of Sriracha and Worchestershire sauces, and half a teaspoon of dried basil (a whole teaspoon of minced if you’re so fortunate as to have fresh basil on hand), plus a dash of black (or white) pepper. Bring to a simmer. Remove from heat, and before eating, stir in a bit of milk. Serve garnished with croutons and shredded Parmesan, as desired.

Tastes Like Spring — A recipe for Scallion Pancakes

“What are they?” asked my son en passant.  “Scallion pancakes; they’re a kind of fry bread.” “Can’t go wrong with fry bread!” he replied, and snatched one to eat before mowing.

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Yes, Spring is here (again), and we’ve gone through our usual winter-spring-winter-summer-winter-spring nonsense. The daffodils are blooming, the grass needs mowing, and the scallions are up. Scallions are the same thing as green onions, meaning ordinary yellow or white onions harvested when young. I have some volunteer onions in the former vegetable patch (soon to be lawn again), and because they grew from rogue seeds last year, and as onions are biennials, this year they will in turn go to seed if not harvested before that point. I woke up the other morning thinking, “Boy, some Scallion Pancakes sound really good!” A dim sum from Shanghai, these fry breads are some of the simplest of the tea-house treats to make. If you don’t have any scallions on hand (or found them withered away in the back of the crisper drawer), you can use Chinese chives (AKA garlic chives or Chinese leeks).

PREPARING THE DOUGH AND SCALLIONS

In a large mixing bowl, blend together:

  • 1 1/2 cups (150 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) hot water —  plus a tablespoon more, if needed

Once the dough is rough and clumpy, liberally sprinkle flour on a clean counter, and knead the dough for a few minutes until it’s smooth and workable. Wrap the dough in a damp cloth or plastic bag and set it aside to rest for 30 minutes (set a timer). TIP: Set the mixing bowl in the sink, and fill with hot sudsy water to soak off the sticky bits. Then I go out to harvest my scallions. When pulling up scallions, knock off the extra soil from the roots, and also strip off the outermost leaf. When onions grow, each onion layer is formed from a leaf; stripping off the outermost leaf removes the thin, dried, dirty layer. In the kitchen, rinse off the scallions (including any soil hiding in-between the leaves), and trim off the roots and brown leaf tips. This recipe only calls for the green parts, so you can set aside the white stalks for a stir-fry or omelette. In a 2-cup (1/2 L) measure, blend together:

  • 1 1/2 cups (325 mL) scallions, chopped small
  • 1 teaspoon (5 g) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon (5 g) salt

TIP: I wear safety / laboratory goggles when chopping onions, as they keep the fumes from my eyes. Yes, it looks doofy, but it’s the best method I have yet to find to prevent the watering-eyes problem.

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A pair of safety goggles set atop a pile of scallions

The scallions need to macerate in the sugar and salt to get soft and tasty, so meanwhile we’re going to do some cleaning up. Remove any clumps of dough from the counter; I use the edge of my square-bladed metal spatula / turner, as I’m too cheap to spend money on an official dough scraper when something else works just fine. TIP: To remove gummy dough bits from the mixing bowl, pour out the suds and use a rubber spatula to scrape off the lumps. Wash the mixing bowl and rubber spatula, plus wash and dry your knife and cutting board, as you’ll need the latter again.

ASSEMBLING THE PANCAKES

Flour the counter, and cut the dough into two even lumps. Take one lump, and roll / squeeze it into a log 12 1/2″ (35 cm) long. Cut the log into five, 2 1/2″ (6.5 cm) long sections. Move four sections aside, and roll out the remaining piece very thin, into a rectangle 10″ x 4″ (25 x 10 cm).

(Yes, these conversions aren’t exact, and that’s okay as we’re going to be further mashing up the dough anyway.)

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Cut log of dough into five evenly-sized sections.

TIP: It’s hard to use a rolling pin to stretch the dough by just rolling it. So after the initial bout of rolling the dough flat, I use the rolling pin to anchor one end and gently pull, then without lifting the rolling pin, lay down the stretched dough and roll the pin over the dough to secure the stretching and flatten it more. Then I roll the other direction to broaden the piece.

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Hold down one end of the dough with a rolling pin and gently pull on the other end to stretch it out.

Now it’s time to fill that piece of dough! Take a tablespoon of scallions and distribute them along the center of the strip, but stop half an inch (1 cm) before each end. (Resist the urge to “supersize” your load; you’ll find out why.)

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A very thin rectangle of dough with a line of chopped scallions going down the middle.

Fold over each of the short ends, and then fold over the top to cover the scallions, and the bottom to cover the top. I’ve never seen any recipe source mention folding in the short ends, but I have found from making burritos and such that tucking in the short end first helps prevent the filling from falling out. Take one end and fold the whole thing over lengthwise (doubled).

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Filled dough showing one short end folded in first, and the bottom and top lengths folded over each other.

Lift from the counter and gently smuush it along its length to make it thinner and longer. Take the end with the original ends, and fold it over a bit.

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An inch of the open end of the doubled, filled dough has been folded over to begin the coiling process.

Then coil up the roll, tucking the outside end between adjoining parts of the ring.

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The filled roll coiled up, with the end tucked into the next loop.

TIP: Don’t even think of trying to use a rolling pin to flatten the coil into a pancake; even using your palm to flatten it onto the countertop doesn’t work well. Instead, dust it well with flour, and use your fingers to palpate the dough, pressing it as thin as possible, all over.

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Pressing the coil thin between fingers to flatten it. In real life, I generally use two hands; here I was taking the picture with the other hand.

Note that some scallions wil pop out of the dough and create a juicy mess here and there. That always happens. Tuck them in, or just use them in the next pancake. Don’t worry your early pancakes aren’t terribly round; they will still taste good.

Repeat the rolling, filling, coiling and flattening process with the other pancakes.

You might ask, “Wouldn’t it just be easier to flatten and fill one of those two big lumps of dough, and then cut it into five pieces, instead of doing each piece separately?” Being an efficient sort, I wondered that myself, and tested my dough with both methods. The fill-then-cut pancakes ended up much messier, with scallions popping out everywhere. You can see the results here, with the fill-then-cut on the left, and the make-five-individually on the right:

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Comparing two methods: five of the the messy fill-then-cut pancakes on the left, and five of the tidy make-five-individually on the right.

TIP: To easily remove the dough and scallion gunk off your hands, use warm running water and a rubber spatula to scrape off the dough; be sure any dough bits aren’t left stuck on the sink where they might harden.

Likewise, scrape off your counter, and put your utensils to soak in warm, soapy water. The washing up will be easy to do by the time you’ve cooked and eaten your scallion pancakes.

LAST STEPS: COOK AND ENJOY!

Get a large iron or non-stick skillet and heat up a thin layer of oil for frying your pancakes. (On my electric stove, the ideal setting is somewhere between Medium and Medium-hot, but stoves vary.) Do not crowd the pan with too many. The pancakes are ready to turn over for frying on the second side when lightly browned, and the dough looks mostly white instead of translucent. Once fried on both sides, remove to blotting paper.

TIP: I drape a couple of paper napkins over the pages of an old phone book; the napkins keep the ink off, and the phone book pages provide plenty of blotting ability. Once the cooking is over, I rip those pages from the book and toss them.

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No sauce is needed for this dim sum; just let the Scallion Pancakes cool enough to eat!

TASTY TUESDAY: Proofreader’s Sandwich

Way back when I was an evening proofreader at a newspaper, I grew an avocado tree from a pit. Alas, somebody kept dumping their old coffee on it, and the young tree died. It would also have been nice if this sandwich had occurred to me at the time; it would have been mighty sustaining for long nights when I was making corrections, like “boquey” to bouquet and “expresso” to espresso. (Unfortunately I wasn’t there the right evening to correct “mid-evil” to medieval or “castlations” to crenelations.)
But back to food! The contrasts in flavors and textures in the filling is fabulous! It’s an easy sandwich to make — the only trick is having all the ingredients on hand. (Recipe after photo.)

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Two sandwich halves, one with toasted Italian bread spread with mayonnaise and topped with bacon, artichoke hearts and tomato slices, and the other topped with blue cheese and avocado.

  • section of a French or Italian loaf, about as long as your hand
  • blue cheese crumbs
  • mayonnaise
  • 2-3 slices of bacon, cut in half and cooked
  • one ripe avocado, sliced around, pitted, scooped from the peel, and sliced
  • a couple of canned artichoke hearts (plain, not marinated), sliced
  • Roma or other ripe tomato, seeded and sliced
  1. Slice bread lengthwise; spread mayonnaise on one half, and press blue cheese crumbs firmly into the other half.
  2. Lay slices in a toaster oven or under the broiler, and toast until the edges of the bread become crusty and the cheese is softened.
  3. Lay the bacon, tomato, avocado, and artichoke hearts on the blue cheese slice, and top with the mayonnaise slice.
  4. Mash down as needed to make the sandwich cohesive, and sized for eating.
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The prepared sandwich, with a couple bites eaten from it, showing off the colorful, tasty layers.

Enjoy!

It’s not all strawberry versus chocolate ice cream!

Now, I am a mint-chip ice cream (-loving) person myself, and dismiss vanilla* for being merely useful as an ingredient base for other treats. And of course, I’m entitled to my opinion. In turn, you all are free to express your own opinions about flavours of ice cream, including your total disinterest in eating ice cream.

(* It may be that I lack some kind of flavour receptor[s] to fully perceive vanilla/vanillin, because no matter what sort of sweet or quality of material, vanilla has never seemed to be particularly interesting or tasty to me.)

But there are opinions and there are other opinions, and Patrick Stokes, Lecturer in Philosophy at Deakin University, teaches his students that they are not entitled to have their opinions.

In a recent article, “No, you’re not entitled to your opinion” he immediately acknowledges this sounds a bit harsh, but explains that the point of a philosophy class  is learning how to create sound arguments, instead of leaning on beliefs, emotions, and misconceptions of what we think we know. Although opinions may be owned or expressed, not all opinions are equally valid.

Stokes skillfully distinguishes between the different things that fall under the vast umbrella of opinion:

But “opinion” ranges from tastes or preferences, through views about questions that concern most people such as prudence or politics, to views grounded in technical expertise, such as legal or scientific opinions.

It’s the conflating of being able to express one’s tastes, preferences, and beliefs — and then expecting those statements to be taken as seriously as fact-based, logically-sound argument — that is the major problem.

It is a major problem in everyday discourse, and in heated debates within and between countries, and it is an especially prevalent problem in various media. There’s the tired trope* of “getting balance” by interviewing “both sides” even though there are often more than just two sides (life is messy that way), and the problem that the opinions of both “sides” do not necessarily carry the same factual value (life is reality-based that way).

(* More on the problems with the news media and “balance” in my earlier post, “Both Sides Now”.)

Not all the information one finds or hears is equally valid. As Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, “You’re entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts.”

Stokes further explains:

The problem with “I’m entitled to my opinion” is that, all too often, it’s used to shelter beliefs that should have been abandoned. It becomes shorthand for “I can say or think whatever I like” – and by extension, continuing to argue is somehow disrespectful. And this attitude feeds, I suggest, into the false equivalence between experts and non-experts that is an increasingly pernicious feature of our public discourse.

Wait a minute — can’t anyone have an opinion about anything? Of course!

Can’t anyone express their opinion about anything? Of course!*

(* Although it really helps if people take the time to ensure their protest signs are properly spelled and punctuated. Otherwise much hilarity ensues and one ends up with derisive and/or dismissive infamy rather than being taken seriously.)

But what unfounded opinion cannot do is carry equal weight when discussions require expertise.

Back to our ice cream opinions:  I know that vanilla bean pods come from a variety of orchid, because that’s a tidbit of horticultural knowledge and I am a horticulturalist. Being a foodie, I have long known that vanillin was synthesized as a less-expensive alternative for use in commercial products, and that it is the primary ingredient in the artificially-flavoured vanilla extract sold at the market.

BUT, I cannot be an expert witness or speaker on vanilla.

Likely, neither can the majority of you.

Not on the cultivars, growing, agri-ecology, processing from raw material to diverse flavouring forms, business economics, grower’s social justice issues, distribution and packaging, artificial synthesis of vanillin, culinary chemistry, historical usage, future trends of natural versus artificial flavouring … none of that stuff. Nor anything else that didn’t come to mind, albeit I was able to come up with a longish list just because I have that horticultural background and was able to extrapolate what accessory topics could be included.

You are entitled to have and to express your opinion, but that does not mean it must to be taken as serious fact; pointing that out is not being disrespectful to you as a person — it means that your opinion is insufficient to the case.

‘Personal Opinion’ is not some cloak of factual immunity that one can wear to suddenly become a creditable expert.

(Oh, and speaking of public persons with opinions but who are not experts, guess who came along to comment upon Stokes’ article …)

I’m picking up good fermentations

… but the Woo is giving off bad vibrations!

OhMyGosh the world is full of idiots! Tonight I was stocking over in the health foods section, which is either a great place (for our large selection of gluten-free products for coeliacs) or a magnet for all people woo-stricken.

A woman came to the grocery wanting “bread made without yeast” — I gestured to the big display of matzo (unleavened for Passover), but no, she wants loaf bread, but without yeast so her son “doesn’t get yeast infections”. I tried to explain they’re not even the same kinds of yeast, and it’d be dead after the bread’s baked anyway, but NO-O-O-O…
[facepalm]

Yeasts are a kind of fungus: yeast called Saccharomyces cerevisiae is necessary for yeast-breads, beer and wine fermentation.  For sourdough breads, a variety of wild yeast Candida milleri plus acid-producing bacteria Lactobacillus sanfrancisco that gives the dough the distinctive “tang”.

For our confused customer, the yeast infection [mouth, digestive tract, vagina] is from an entirely different fungus, Candida albicans.

If you’re curious, the fuzzy black stuff that grows on bread is a mold, Rhizopus nigricans. Molds are another kind of fungus. Yummy blue cheeses [Maytag blue, Dana-blu, Gorgonzola, Roquefort, Stilton] are made possible from the mold Penicillium roqueforti or Penicillium glaucum that were naturally present in the [naturally cool] caves where the cheeses were made & aged. (Nowadays the cheese wheels are injected with the appropriate mold). A few people with Penicillin antibiotic allergy may have a reaction to blue cheeses, but the quantity of the material is so much smaller in the cheese, it is rarely a problem.

I almost mentioned yogurt as a source of probiotics  — I was “this close” — but refrained. Trying to add bacteria to her mental mix of Bad Things We Can’t Pronounce & Must Avoid would have been too much for the both of us.

Related to fungi (well, related just in the sense of small organisms helpful to food), are bacteria. Most of the bacteria that exist in the world are neutral to humans, and many are beneficial.  Only a relatively small number are responsible for bacterial infections.  Truth be told, we NEED bacteria, because they are responsible for the fermentation processes that turn raw food items into different, processed food items that have better/different flavor, are more digestible, and store for long periods of time.  Some examples of these great bacteria include: Read the rest of this entry »

Speak More Kale

This was a major WTF moment when listening to the news today [transcript this link]: the Chick-fil-A chain is suing a Vermont tee shirt maker for copyright infringement. Their slogan is, “Eat Mor Chikin” and his is “Eat More Kale”.

Now, Bo Muller-Moore’s design uses:

  • a different font,
  • correct spelling,
  • a vegetable instead of an animal,
  • and no cows in his design.

Obviously, the design on his tees is nearly identical to the fast food chain’s! </snark>

The Vermont state Governor, Peter Shumlin, formed “Team Kale” as a fundraiser for legal fees to fight this absurd suit. After all, the Vermonter has been making these (and other) tee shirts for ten years, and this is how he makes a chunk of his living.  (Progress on the individually hand silk-screened tees is apparently getting a bit behind due to sudden demand, but there are also big green stickers for a 50-cent donation.)

The phrase “Eat More ____” sounded vaguely familiar, and some googling around quickly showed that it has been used throughout history!

vintage "EAT MORE MILK" advert for Cadbury's Dairy Milk chocolate

WWI Canada Food Board poster, "Eat more Vegetables! SAVE Meat and Wheat for our SOLDIERS and ALLIES"

"Eat MORE FRUIT" poster, Victorian Railways, Australia

WWI poster, U.S. Dept. Agriculture: "Eat More Cottage Cheese...You'll Need Less Meat...A Postal Card Will Bring Recipes...Cottage Cheese or Meat? Ask Your Pocketbook!"

There are other current usages of the phrasing, such as”Stay Healthy. Eat More Bacteria” for a dietary supplement. (After all, one shouldn’t discriminate between biological Kingdoms!)

If you do a visual google search, you can find an antique billboard on Route 66 that says, “Watch Your Curves. Eat More Beef.” from the Beef Industry Council. Apparently, in an earlier incarnation it was the Texas Beef Council, which also offered up quite an absurd pin-up girl (she’s ostensibly changing a tire, but without any cattle in the picture whatsoever). I mention these simply because they are the humorous antithesis of the “Eat Mor Chikin” cows.

BTW, kale is really tasty lightly braised (PLEASE, don’t cook the hell out of it — that just makes it bitter and stringy). Take your gently-wilted kale and sprinkle with some balsamic vinaigrette, or chop and mix into mashed potatoes (with bacon and onions, if you like), or add bite-size pieces in soups (miso soup with udon and kale sounds REALLY good this time of year).

What makes kale so great is that not only will it over-winter (meaning, you can get it from local farmer’s markets or CSA just about year-round, or else grow your own), but also that it has lots of iron, Vitamins A & C, calcium, and fiber.

Tasty Kale 'Curly Leaf'

Many kales are also quite ornamental as well — not just the frilly pink sort (grown for pretty more than nutrition), but also the tall green or purple-tinged sorts, which are often used for cold-weather plants in outdoor container arrangements.

The ornamental Kale 'Redbor Hybrid'

Kitchen HazMat: Allyl propyl disulphide

My daughter stopped and looked at me, puzzled.

Safety goggles,” I explained.  The elastic strap was losing its spring, so the limp tail ends hung down past my ears as I worked.  “Because I couldn’t find my chem-lab goggles.”

I continued to trim the tops and tails off the onions and slice them up with the mandoline.  “These are really loud onions,” I added.

She walked past me to the refrigerator and suddenly exclaimed, “Omigod, they just attacked my eyeballs!”

A few minutes later my son-in-law walked by the sofa, making a small snork noise at my incredibly nerdy appearance.

“I heard that!”

“I  didn’t ‘say’ anything!”

“Hey, four pounds of onions is a lot of onions!”  Apparently the pungent Allyl propyl disulphides had not yet diffused as far as the living room.

Later he came by to ladle up his French onion soup from the big stock pot, and found the pong to still be strong.  I opened the kitchen window a crack, mumbling, “Just imagine what it was like when I was slicing them up fresh!”

I don’t care how the goggles look – they are excellent for making onion-slicing painless.  (Well, at least for the cook.)  They’re now sitting on a kitchen cabinet shelf, since I cut more onions than I do lumber.

Take with a grain of salt

(I’m abed with a virus, but meanwhile–)

The pancakes smelled -at first whiff- yummy.  But then, scorched.  Kind of.  Not the pan’s-too-hot-scorched, but overly browned.  I nibbled on a corner of one left unfinished in a puddle of syrup.

“Did they seem kind of … salty?”  I asked my daughter.

Yes.

Ah-ha.  “You know, baking soda tastes salty, and aids in browning — that’s why pretzels are dipped in baking soda water before baking.”

“The recipe did say to add baking soda,” explained my son.

I read his scribbled index card, and snorted.  “Next time, use one of our general cookbooks.”

“I’ve used that site before …” he protested, annoyed with his normally reliable resource.

“Don’t believe everything you read on the Internets — take it with a grain of salt.  Not 3 1/2 TABLESPOONS of baking soda!”

4011 IF EAT THEN SIT

My hungry 9-month old grandson is being a wiggle-worm.  He wants his banana now, and like Prot, is trying to eat it whole, peel and all.

“Come on lad, let Grandma mash this up for you – no, we don’t eat the peel – here’s your high chair -“

Much squirming and complaining, “NANA NANA!”  (I’m not sure if by “nana” he means banana or some pet name for grandma; I’m usually the one who brings home the bananas from the market, and the one who feeds him an evening snack of “happy smile fruits” — our code name for the nosh of choice, especially if we’ve run out.)

“Ow no let go of my glasses, Grandma can’t feed you until you’re in your chair-”  This operation of Insert Boy B Into Chair C almost takes two women.

I revert back to child-training using simple commands. Given enough repetitions, it will sink in, just like “OPEN” [mouth], “NO BITING”, “TOUCH GENTLY” [flowers, cats], “STILL” [stay in place for diapering], “REACH UP” [un/dressing], and all those other thrilling conversations.

“IF eat, THEN sit!”

The lad was sufficiently startled by this novel command to pause a split-second, thus allowing us to plop his tuchis on the chair and snap on the tray.  We’ll be using the IF-THEN logic construct for the next few years, along with FIRST-THEN.  (There’s nothing like reinforcing order of operations, whether mathematical or procedural.)

Now I can finally start spooning mashed banana into the lad’s mouth, and he’s thumping his feet and smacking his hands on the tray with delight, exclaiming a pleased, “Nom-nom nom!”  (Seriously.)

“That’s a good boy,” cooed his mum, “Listen to Grandma’s Boolean logic!”

Ah, the great moments of geeky family life – gotta love ‘em!

P.S.  4011 refers to an imaginary line of programming code, and also to the grocer’s PLU number for bananas.

Distress Data Diary

Dear Diary,

Wait a minute, this is a migraine diary; useful and important, but not such a “dear” topic.

Dear Diary,

Today I had another migraine.  The symptoms included:

As mentioned, I’m putting together a diary of migraine details for an upcoming appointment with a specialist. The other week I had one so bad that my son had to take me to my GP for a Toradol injection, to be taken with a fresh dose of Imitrex — “fresh” in both meanings, because earlier I had taken my last and slightly-expired pill.  I’d planned on asking the pharmacist to order a refill, but of course, had been unable to go into work at the grocery!  (The irony.)

“Have you made an appointment with a neurologist?” asked my doc.

“Headache speshlist; don’ remember whom.”  I held my wallet in front of my nose and squinched one eye open a millimeter to pull out the correct business card.

“Oh good, that’s just the person I wanted you to see.  Takes forever to get an appointment, though.”

“In April,” I mumbled.

“Yeup; takes forever.  Okay, I’ll have the nurse come in with the injection, and I’m writing you a ‘script for some more Imitrex.”

” ‘Ank-you.”

When I do get to see this new specialist, I want to be armed with a good data set so we can maximise the efficacy of our first appointment.  But to do that, I had to figure out what kinds of data would be needed.  This in turn meant researching the various types of headaches, migraines, and symptoms.  I got to learn lots of great new words!

If the headache is bilateral (both sides of the head), then it’s a regular tension-type headache.  I’ve had some intractable ones that linger for a couple-three days, despite various medications.

Unilateral headaches (just one side of the head) are the migraine sort.

There are the icepick migraines that feel like someone just stabbed you in the head.  Although intense, they are mercifully brief — just a minute, though there can be several repeats throughout the day.

Migraines can be temporally divided into three stages:  the prodrome or early-warning symptoms, the migraine itself, and the postdromal after-effects.  If I wake up with a migraine, then I don’t have the benefit of prodromal symptoms to alert me to take some medication and stave off the worst effects.  However, one of the benefits to keeping data sheets is the ability to suss out what sorts of symptoms are prodromal, so I can have better self-awareness.

A persistent tension headache can turn into a migraine (ugh).  Eating much wheat also seems to be a trigger for me; a small cooky isn’t bad, but a couple slices of pizza will do me in later (not to mention digestive hoo-hahs as the gluten works through my kishkas).  Barometric pressure drops — especially those that bounce back up from a swiftly-passing storm — are notorious for making my ears and head hurt.

The cognitive and mood factors can be less obviously related to migraine prodrome: brain fog, depressive state, insomnia, or light sensitivity.  You might think these would be pretty obvious, but the problem with chronic pain (from hypermobility+osteoarthritis+TMJ, especially combined with 11-13 hour work days) is that one gets into those viscous circles of pain-sleep problems-depressive states.  Throw in everyday hyperacussis and UV-sensitivity, and sometimes it’s hard to sort out what is which.  “Ain’t we got fun.”

Once I started researching various migraine symptoms, I had a much better means of both identifying and describing the various symptoms I experience.

One thing that quickly became apparent was that like snowflakes, no two migraines were precisely the same.  This is interesting from an objective point of view, but it also means that I have to spend a bit of effort to verbally identify the symptoms I experience during each migraine, and then shortly thereafter note them.  Although a cognitive task that I cannot always perform throughout the entirety of the experience, it does afford me the opportunity to detach part of my consciousness to that objective state, which gives me one step of remove from the intensity of the experience.  (My research background is useful in so many ways.)

An Aura can include visual disturbances such as:
Scintillating scotoma the classic flickering/shimmering/sparkling arc, zig-zag or castle crenelation effect;
Drifting phosphenes phosphenes are “stars” you see if you stand up too quickly or sneeze; phosphenes can also refer to the geometric patterns that happen when you press on your closed eyes;
Diplopia just the fancy word for double vision;
Oscillopsia when objects appear to oscillate, vibrate or bounce;
Photophobia “the light, augh! too bright!”
Allodynia pain from nothing in particular, or something that wouldn’t normally cause pain, “augh the sheet’s touching my arm!”;
Osmophobia “the smells, augh! too overpowering!”
Olfactory hallucinations smelling things that aren’t really there;
Phonophobia when even the clattering of dust particles falling is too loud;
Hyperacussis I startle overmuch at sudden or sharp noises — well, even more so than usual;
Auditory hallucinations hearing things that aren’t there, nor are related to my tinnitus;
Synæsthesia Feeling sounds, and other odd cross-sensory effects;
Paresthesias tingling or numb feeling like “pins and needles”, or like someone is yanking on my kneecaps or tendons;
Vertigo, nausea, vomiting, chills or clamminess;
Ataxia a “lack of order” or bad muscle coordination;
Disarthria / aphasia disarthria is trouble speaking clearly, and aphasia is problems with speaking and understanding, or making sense of reading things.

Once all that is over, there is the postdrome, or “migraine hangover”. I’ve no idea how one compares to a drinking hangover — I’ve never drunk that much! But it is something like having the flu: weakness, generalized muscle aches, laterality confusion (right v left), fine-motor difficulties, exhaustion, lack of appetite, intense thirst, intermittent strabismus (wandering eye), temporary dyslexia / reading comprehension, auditory processing lags, concentration problems, or once in a while, feeling energetic — “wow, I’m no longer in pain!”

Then of course, the was the issue of creating a useful data sheet, one that was both complete and easily used — and this is where my dual backgrounds in behavioral research and typography+layout blend well.

As with any sort of biological data, it is important to note the frequency, intensity and duration.  In addition to those classic factors, there are also the sorts of factors that one more often considers in ecology: the type, season (if any – only a data set of more than a year can determine that), and the extent, in this case, the extent of the disability that results from migraines.

I’m sorted the pain and disablement into three levels:
1 annoying pain, workable
2 moderate pain, reduced work
3 severe pain, incapacitating.

With the diary, I can then sort out the frequency, intensity and duration of the issues. So far I’m relizing that it’s much more of a problem than I had realized. It’s not so much that one gets used to pain, but that one gets used to being in pain, to headaches as a way of life.

Damn, but April’s a long ways off.

“Attention grocery shoppers!”

“We have a special going on in our natural foods aisle, right now!  You can get your specialty questions answered by our very own over-educated scientist-grocery stocker!  That’s right, weekends and evenings only, over in our natural foods aisle!  And THANK YOU for shopping your local supermarket chain grocery!”

Oh, boy.

It’s one thing to be helping someone find the curious location where the grocery manager decided to stock the barley.  No, not with the rice and beans — that’d be too easy; it’s with the bouillon.

And it’s another thing — but I get ahead of myself.  (Alas, when I do that I’m likely to trip over my own feet and sprain an ankle, but that’s hypermobility for you).

One evening, every other row of fluorescent lights was off, as was the canned music.  Apparently they were filming a commercial or some advertising stills. Whatever, we had a couple hours of bliss.  Why can’t the store be so calm and pleasant all the time?  Because the people who study customer behavior say that noise and lights are important.  Or maybe the grocery industry just thinks that noise and lights are important.  Or maybe old research suggested such.  Or maybe stores are following some historical misinterpretation of behavioral research. Hell if I know.  As for me, the canned music just adds unnecessary background noise, aggravating my Auditory Processing Disorder.  Did someone just page Manager to the Customer Service Desk or Andrea to the Customer Service Desk?  Did my boss just page me to dial 14 or aisle 14?  “Oops, sorry, mis-heard you with all the background noise,” I apologise to an older gentleman, as I lead him away from the [recycled paper] brown plates to the bran flakes.

Sometimes a customer will ask for something not on the shelf, so I helpfully zip down to the back room to see if there’s any in backstock. Usually, there isn’t, because by definition, backstock is the overflow that won’t fit on the shelves.  Alas, if I’m in a distracted mood, I will forget to make a mental note of what the customer is wearing, and upon my return, will have that panicked second when I realise that they have moved onto another aisle, and I am supposed to find them.  Oh, the perils of being faceblind: I can’t remember people!  Were they alone, or with another adult, or children?  Did they have a large or small cart?  Do I have any idea of whether they were male, female, or some overbundled or indeterminately-coiffed gender?  Were they were pink- or brown-skinned?  Hat? Fancy purse?  Team jacket?  Why can’t everyone be as distinctive as the fellow who dressed like Eddie Izzard’s less-chic sibling?

My other problem of course, is that I actually answer the questions about the things we sell.  Some day, someone is going to get annoyed.

Once in a while I stock groceries over in the natural foods section.  It’s pretty much like stocking groceries over in the unnatural foods section, except that omitting artificial coloring makes food more expensive.  That and the aisles are narrower, so I have to park the flatbed down at the ends of the aisles and lug more cases.  One day I forgot my knee pads, and realised with a heavy note of irony that stocking all the arthritis treatments was making my knees ache.

“Um, where do you sell the sugar?”

“The sugar?” I repeat, buying a moment’s time while I re-engage my customer-conversation scripts, and activate my mental map of the store.

“Yes, I want the sugar without any chemicals.”

Omigod.  Aside from bottled water, the bags of sugar are probably one of the purest chemical resources in the entire store.

“But sugar is just sucrose; it doesn’t have any added chemicals,”  I manage to shut my mouth before going onto explain that sucrose is a disaccharide of glucose and fructose.  Nobody cares … “Here are our organically-grown sugars on this shelf.  And we also have sucanat and turbinado, if you’d like.”  (These latter two are less-processed forms of cane sugar; they have varying amounts of tasty molasses impurities that also make them brown.)

Honestly, a “chemical” is simply a substance with a defined composition.    You already know what H2O is.  Sucrose is C12H22O11 – there are 12 Carbon molecules, 22 Hydrogen molecules and 11 Oxygen molecules.  Of course, just knowing how many atoms of each element isn’t enough – other sugars such as lactose and maltose also have the same formula.  The differences are in how those atoms are arranged.

And if you’re shopping for plant fertilizer, a nitrate is a nitrate is a nitrate, and they’re all NO3-. The plant doesn’t care where the molecules came from, nor can it tell the difference if the nitrate came from an organic (naturally-derived) source or an artificially-manufactured source.  That said, organic fertilizers are more expensive and less concentrated, but are less likely to result in a build-up of salts atop the potting soil.

But please, don’t ask me for anything “chemical-free”; the only thing that is “chemical free” is an absolute vacuum.

I retrieve random things left on the shelves, where someone has left a box of Big Name mac & cheese amongst the organic mac & cheese, a shopping list, a wee sample cup given out by the guy flogging new flavors of hummus, and a box of Airborne.

“What does that do?” asks the other grocery stocker, gesturing at the colorful box that proclaimed, “Created by a school teacher!”

“Nothing.  There’s no research evidence to support it at all.  A grade-school teacher is not the same thing as a compounding pharmacologist.”  Were I in charge of ordering, we wouldn’t waste shelf space for nonsense like that, or for things like Bragg vinegar that is supposed to “help remove body sludge toxins”.  Body sludge toxins, what nonsense!  (I suppose it’d help the lime buildup in my sink drain.)

“Excuse me, where are your all-natural gummy candies?”

Because you know, gummy candies are so natural. Wow, I’d love to have a shrub that produced gummies, especially the cherry and liquorice sorts.  Does the soil have to be aerated by gummy worms?  I hope it’s not thorny …  “They’re over here, on the top shelf.  Is there anything else for which you’re looking?”

“Attention grocery shoppers!  Are you looking for holiday candy and merchandise?  You can find it all over in aisle 14, where we have a wide selection of holiday candies in Fun Sizes, all your same favorites as the last holiday, but wrapped in this holiday’s color themes!  Don’t forget to get some holiday-themed merchandise for your loved ones, and holiday-themed party goods as well. And THANK YOU for shopping your local supermarket chain grocery!”

Schrödinger’s snack

It’s Christmas and of course we’ve been eating all day, but for some celebratory reason, we’re always hungry anyway.  Come evening, my son-in-law stumbles blearily downstairs, through the living room, and into the kitchen.

“I thought you were taking a nap?”  enquires my baby-bouncing daughter.

“I am.  I can get something to eat, can’t I?”

Fridge door opens, shuts, man lurches back upstairs to bed.

I nodded to her, “You-know.  It’s like the physics cat … he can either be asleep or awake, but you don’t know until you ask him.”

Gone Bananas

A few weeks ago …

“4011 !” I exclaimed to my daughter.

She looked up from her Mac where she was composing her latest essay. “What?” she asked in confusion.

“They started me on cashiering today at the grocery.  4011 !”

And then we both broke out laughing.

“4011” of course being the PLU (Price Look Up) code for bananas.

shipping cartons full of bananas

shipping cartons full of bananas

When she started as a grocery cashier the other year, my daughter had commented in amazement at how many people came through with bananas.  So many in fact, that she too had learned that number the first night, just from sheer force of repetition.

I would have thought that apples would be the most-commonly purchased fruit.  But no, endless bunches of bananas came through.

Not only bunches of bananas, but also bunches of people with similar behavioral patterns, which I found to be rather interesting:

  • People with a large bunch of greenish bananas.  (I wondered if they were feeding a lot of people, or simply don’t care about the stage of ripeness when eating them.)
  • Customers trying to balance their fruit bowl with a couple each of greenish and yellow bananas.
  • Parents herding several small children, with bunches of bananas that had the requisite number of stickers for each child to have one. These were difficult checking assignments — not because of the parents, but because as a cashier I was also trying to keep track of the assorted tots with regards to alerting their adult to their safety, or asking their adult if the candy or toy items coming down the conveyor belt were approved purchases.
  • People with bunches of the organically-grown bananas (PLU 94011; all the organic produce starts with a 9).
  • Tired working folks picking up a sandwich from the deli, a banana, and an energy drink for their meal.
  • Frazzled parents rushing through with bananas, applesauce and bread. ( = “BRAT diet”: bananas, rice, applesauce, toast, a menu for dealing with diarrhea via dietary intervention.)
  • Frequent shoppers with just a few yellow bananas — I heard a lot of apologetic explanations about not being able to plan ahead for weekly menus and shopping lists, and wondered why some people felt the need to explain their purchase choices, unbidden.
  • A few elderly shoppers who explained that they couldn’t carry many grocery bags, or used frequent shopping as a means of getting out of the house.  After a while, I realised that such explanations were probably a curious form of chit-chat.

Although I began to develop my own “scripts” for appropriate cashier dialogs, I found that cashiering is a more challenging position than I had anticipated.  This is because there are a number of different kinds of simultaneous cognitive demands, involving spatial handling, operational sequencing, data entry, calculations, communicating in a noisy environment despite my auditory processing issues, struggling to identify numerous coworkers despite faceblindness, and socialising with the appropriate amount of eye contact and proscribed chit-chat.

Cashiering doesn’t just mean scanning groceries and making change.  I am not only trying to scan accurately and quickly, but also:

  • performing subtle security checks to make sure that no one is walking off with unchecked goods on the bottoms of their carts or pocketing the candy and other small goods near the register racks;
  • sorting the goods as I move it down towards the bagger courtesy clerk in whatever organisational method that person prefers;
  • querying the customer about coupons and whether they wanted the gallon milks bagged and if they want candy and greeting cards handed to them instead of bagged
  • explaining discounts and how gift cards work;
  • looking up endless PLU codes for the numerous types of untagged produce;
  • watching out for children’s safety;
  • greeting the next customer in line so they didn’t feel neglected during the wait;
  • trying to remember who the manager is that night for when I need to call them to void a mis-scan;
  • and of course, bagging while I check when the regular courtesy clerk has switched from my lane to another with greater need.

When bagging, bananas are a tricky item.  I can put vulnerable loaves of bread atop the fragile egg cartons, but aside from soft packs of sugar, toilet paper or maxi-pads, there are few items that will co-exist happily with bananas when packed in limp plastic bags.

Given that bananas are nutritious, don’t require refrigeration or heating, and can be eaten quickly, they have recently filled my lunchbox, er, meals-box that carries both my lunch and third meal.  I drive directly from one job to the next, with just 10-15 minutes for a snack to tide me over between 11 a.m. lunch and clocking out again at 8 p.m.  (I usually have a fourth meal when I get home; call these breakfast-lunch-tea/supper-dinner or whatever, but the third meal is usually rather minimal.)  So what’s the best way to transport a banana safely?  I drop it into a tall plastic drink cup.

Thankfully, I spend most of my time at the garden center end, rather than endless hours of checking. But in this latest addition to my repertoir of work roles, I have literally gone bananas.

Smaller than a breadbox

Some Day,

Some day, some blessed day, when we have a departmental staff meeting or a district staff-development event, I hope there is something to eat besides  doughnuts-bagels-pastries-muffins-cinnamon rolls-deli sandwiches-pizza-pretzels-cake-cookies-brownies or pie.  Oh sure, when the school had a holiday luncheon for the staff, the caterer also brought a green salad in addition to the lasagne, spaghetti, breadsticks and cake. But gluten-intolerant woman cannot live on iceberg lettuce and a bottle of flavored water.

If I’m lucky on the days of these communal-noshing events, Read the rest of this entry »

Out of the frying pan

Totally light-weight news here, while I take care of tonnes of paperwork and finish another post:

Dr Graham Clayton and other scientists at University Leeds used gas chromatography mass spectrometry to determine the components of French fry / chip aroma:

chip aroma is made up of butterscotch, cocoa, onion, flowers, cheese and …

ironing boards.

Diggout From Inder

That title was a typo, but I decided I liked the twist on “digging out from under”. So here I am, finally with computer issues sorted out and a HEAP of blogging buzzing around in me head, so without further ado, let’s start with:

IN RATHER A JAM

Last week was National Pollinator Week. Yes, I missed it, but Bug Girl didn’t! Pollinators include not only honeybees, but also solitary bees, bumblebees, various species of wasps, flies, butterflies & moths, bats, and birds. Honeybees are not native to the Americas, but are vital to the production of other equally non-native crops, such as most tree fruits, bramble fruits, tree nuts, herbs, seeds for vegetables and herbs and flowers, the clover and alfalfa consumed by our non-native livestock, cotton, even wine grapes. As Bug Girl points out, the estimated value of all this pollen-transfer is in the billions (with a B) of dollars for the US alone — it is multiply times larger when you consider all the crop production in the rest of the world, such as tropical crops like neem, coffee, tea, and chocolate!

The reason why I have the nearly-empty jar of jam pictured is because pollinators are not only vitally important for anyone who likes to eat (or wear cotton et cetera), but also because Colony Collapse Disorder is creating great losses of honeybees. According to a recent release by the USDA, honeybees are responsible for the pollination of 130 major crops, at a value of $ 15 billion annually. Beekeepers lost 31% of their hives in 2006, and then 35% in 2007. Not only are food prices rising due to a number of other factors (drought, flooding, fuel costs), but also from the reduced production of produce due to honeybee losses. Do your part to protect pollinators by using any pesticides only when necessary, and following the directions carefully — for example, Sevin is toxic to honeybees, and if you see honeybees around, they are likely someone’s livestock. (You wouldn’t stop by a field and start shooting cattle, would you?) I made a large batch of fantastic blueberry conserve with lemon last year, but this year berry production has dropped, so the quarts of produce are just too dear (expensive). When this jar is empty, we have No. More. Left.

“BLAST THE CRUSHING FORCES OF STUPIDITY!”

In other topics, the Carnival of the Elitist Bastards #2 has just been posted, and the ship returns to dock full of stories. Not familiar with this new carnival? Their description asks of you, Read the rest of this entry »

Andrea Knows Noodles

“Luck is like having a rice dumpling fly into your mouth.”
~ Japanese proverb

So. The eldest is in town for spring break and loves any sort of dumpling, so tonight I made cheese pierogi. This requires making the noodle dough, which after resting gets a few pressings through successively thinner bands in the pasta roller (the hand-cranked machine is not necessary, but it does make the job a little quicker). Of course, once an eighth of dough has been properly flattened, it has to go someplace safe and the countertop is full of other stuff, so I hang the two-foot long sheets over the backs of the dining chairs.

The sheets of pasta are then cut into circles (my official dough cutter is an old tin can with both ends cut off), filled with a bit of cheese mixture, folded and sealed shut, and then boiled for a few minutes before being served all slippery in butter. Somehow there are never any the next evening for dinner, because a pieróg (or two) sounds like the perfect midnight snack. Or breakfast. Or second breakfastes. Or brunch. Or lunch. Or a tea-time nosh.

After we stuffed ourselves with pierogi, to the point that we know to quit because our tummies are saying, “Enough already!”, contented sighing ensued, and after a while I got up to put away the leftovers.

And then I discovered a forgotten sheet of pasta draped over the back of my chair. Having leaned back against my chair, the dough was now stuck to the slats. “Why didn’t someone tell me there was still noodle on the chair?!” I asked incredulously. (What a waste of perfectly lovely noodles.)

Hubby indicated that he’d seen the dough there, but didn’t think I would actually sit on it. As if!

“There’s some stuck to your jeans, too …” added the eldest. I twisted around to look at my tuchis, and peeled more pasta off the waistband. ::sigh:: If you’re one of those people who has trouble with figures of speech, I will explain that is not really what they mean by food that “goes straight to your hips”. Cheese pierogi are fattening, but they are also dense, so there’s a limit to how many you can eat in a sitting.

Make these for your family. Heck, share the fun and make these with your family by having them help roll out and fill the dough circles — just keep an eye out for stray dough pieces. Like so many things, they take longer to make than to eat, but they’re not really very difficult. The sour cream dough is not only delicious, it’s also more tender than traditional egg noodles. Pierogi are Polish dumplings; I’m not Polish, but like our eldest, I never met a dumpling I didn’t like.

PIEROGI WITH CHEESE FILLING

(“Pierogi” is plural; one dumpling is a Pieróg)

DOUGH
5 cups flour
4 eggs, slightly beaten
2 cups sour cream
1 teaspoon salt

FILLING
1 pound Farmer’s cheese, grated
1 egg
2 tablespoons minced parsley (optional)
black pepper, to taste
melted butter

Mix together the flour, eggs, sour cream and salt to make a dough. Remove to a well-floured board and knead until the dough is smooth. Cover and let rest in the fridge for half an hour until rolling out.

Tumble together the cheese and other ingredients. Cut dough into eighths for more workable quantities. Roll out an eighth as thin as possible, cut out a circle, put 1-2 tablespoons of cheese filling to the side of the center, fold over and crimp shut.

Cut any leftover bits of dough into long noodles and add them into the pot to cook. Gently drop pierogi into a large pot of boiling water, and let cook until they have been floating at the surface for a couple minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and lay in a heated platter, drizzling with melted butter; you can garnish with some more fresh parsley.

Bread and Circuses

Just a couple of quickies here while I’m busy preparing for some new classes.

Firstly, the 77th edition of the Skeptic’s Circle is up at WhiteCoat Underground, with a rather humorous post by PalMD, “The Overmedicalized Edition“. I love reading these circus posts because it’s a good way to find great new blogs!

Secondly, there’s the “December Pain-Blog Carnival” at the How to Cope With Pain blog, also run by a physician blogger.

And for the “bread” part of this post, here’s a recipe that was a big hit last week, home-made waffles! Yes, it’s a bit more work than buying the frozen sort and throwing them into the toaster, but I guarantee that these tasted a helluva lot better than the frozen sort. The guys couldn’t even tell they were gluten-free, THAT’S how good they were! (All the frozen GF waffles I’ve ever tried were as dry as Styrofoam.)

Because I’m an ADHD-forgetful sort of cook and clumsy and somewhat arthritic, this recipe comes with assorted tips, including some in case you’re not used to making home-made waffles. Read through directions for tips before cooking.

WONDERFUL WAFFLES (GLUTEN-FREE)

Special equipment: waffle iron, mixer to whip egg whites, and if you have one, a blender and a towel. If you don’t have a blender you can use the mixer, BUT beat the egg whites before mixing the other ingredients, so the beaters are clean and dry for the whites.

  1. Inspect the mixer and blender to ensure nothing has fallen into the bowl or pitcher, that the bottom is securely screwed onto the blender pitcher, and that you have the lid to the blender.
  2. Make sure you have all the ingredients on hand before you start cracking:
  3. 4 large eggs, separated
    1 ½ cups milk (360 ml)
    ¼ cup oil (60 ml)
    1 1/2 cups GF flour mix (about 150 g, depending upon blend)
    5 teaspoons baking powder (25 ml)
    1 tablespoon sugar (15 ml)
    1/2 teaspoon salt (2 ml)

  4. Find the no-stick spray to use on the waffle-iron plates, even if it’s supposed to be a “no-stick” surface. If you don’t have no-stick spray, pour a little vegetable oil into a drinking glass, and use a clean 1.5″ (4 cm) wide natural bristle or heat-resistant barbecuing brush, as synthetic bristles may melt or scrunch up — YCIHIKT (You Can Imagine How I Know That). I put the oil into a drinking glass so I can stand the brush upright in the glass, rather than having it constantly fall off the edge of the wee bowl of oil, thus making another mess for me to clean off the counter.
  5. Clear some space on the kitchen counter, and plug in the waffle iron for it to heat up while you’re doing the mixing. The plates should be shut while it’s heating, for safety and efficiency.
  6. Crack 4 eggs, separating them into yolks and whites. The yolks go into the blender, and the whites go into the mixer bowl. Fresher eggs have “bouncier” yolks and separate more easily (just so you know; it’s not like you’re really going to have both fresher eggs and older eggs sitting around). Eggs will crack in half more easily and neatly if you knock them on a sharp, thin edge (table knife) than a wide, blunt edge (rimmed bowl). TIP: if this is an iffy task for you, then crack each egg over a small (separate) bowl so you can fish out the bits of shell before adding to the other yolks and whites. There are also egg-separater gizmos one can purchase — get one that you do not have to hold onto to use.
  7. Use the mixer to whip egg whites to soft peaks. I like my KitchenAid stand-mixer because it can do its own thing without me holding the mixer up in the air (vibration is hard on my joints). Yes, the beast cost more, but it has outlasted three hand-mixers, and it kneads dough, too! It’s worth buying something like this because it enables more cookery.
  8. Use blender to mix the milk, oil, egg yolks, and dry ingredients. If you put the wet ingredients into the blender before the dry ingredients, the batter is less likely to end lumpy. I still have to stop and scrape powder off the top edges once during the blending, but that’s pretty minor. TIP: to reduce the awful blender racket, put a folded towel between the blender bottom and the countertop; this reduces the cabinet-as-acoustic-chamber for the motor vibration.
  9. [Remove the mixer bowl from the stand.] Pour batter from the blender down the side of the mixer bowl so it slides underneath the egg whites. Tilt the bowl to a comfortable angle, and use a rubber spatula or spoon to fold the ingredients together. “Fold” means to stir the ingredients together slowly and gently in vertical circles; the batter will have the consistency of almost-melted ice cream.
  10. Spray both plates of the waffle iron with no-stick spray just before pouring in the batter. Re-spray before cooking each waffle. Even if your waffle iron is so miraculously non-stick that you didn’t need to do this for traditional waffles, you will need to do it for GF waffles; YCIHIKT.
  11. This is enough batter to make several waffles. Pour in just enough batter to fill the bottom plate, and then wait several seconds for bubbles to start forming before closing down the top plate. This allows the batter to partially “set” so you won’t have a bunch of goo oozing off the edges that will have to be scraped off later on; YCIHIKT.
  12. Bake until the signal light shuts off (if your iron has one) or until the waffles are appropriately crispy. TIP: our family likes to warm up the syrup(s) so the waffles don’t cool as fast while we’re eating them.

You can also sprinkle some cinnamon into the waffle batter, which is nice if you are topping them with apple stuff. Some people like to add a teaspoon (5 ml) of vanilla extract; I keep forgetting to do this. I’ve also tried almond extract, which made the waffles taste like holiday cookies, but hubby prefered traditional waffles.

TIP: if you want to add blueberries to your batter, use either fresh ones or still-frozen berries — thawed blueberries will “bleed” and turn the batter a pale teal-green color; YCIHIKT. They still taste good, but …

Resolved

I want to find a local coffeehouse / restaurant / pub that is quiet, damnit! Not whisper-quiet, simply quiet enough where my hubby and I can talk and both hear and understand each other.

I want to find a place that does not employ the latest design conceits of noise magnification: “Hey I know! Let’s eliminating the ceiling tiles to show off the HVAC ductwork. Let’s add lots of sheet metal and concrete floors and other hard surfaces. Let’s have the kitchen open to the dining area, so they can hear the staff yelling at each other, and doing all that food preparation. Let’s eliminate any room dividers, and skip curtains on the windows. Let’s put on loud background music or several televisions — maybe even both!”

It’s one set of issues for me to feel overwhelmed by overly-sociable waiters who want to play “best buds”, or to flinch at the inevitable crash of the broken glass du jour, or pick through menus that are dietary land-mines, but it’s quite another when the two of us have to spend the evening recursively repeating, rephrasing, lipreading and periodically abandoning lines of discussion just because it’s too f—ing loud! (Pardon the cussing; been watching Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant shows.)

Does the general public really think that the background has to be loud for them to have fun? When even the ordinary people can hardly converse without yelling at each other, that means the noise level is too much.

Please. We would be glad to spend our rare dining-out money on a nice cozy place where we can enjoy our food and chat with each other. Good heavens, we might be persuaded to linger long enough to bother ordering a bottle of wine, or some desserts and coffee. We would even want to come back — with our friends.

(Oh, and while you’re at it, could you install some hooks somewhere so I can hang up my hat instead of balancing it on my knee all through dinner?)

Favorite Things

The weather for the past few days has been absolutely dreich, with fog, snow, freezing drizzle, more fog and sleet. Three of us have had migraines this week, possibly related to such. There’s nothing worse than waking up to a migraine with the blinding blue snow-glare piercing one right through the eyes to the brain, or the sleet-magnified echo-chamber effect of having a Boeing jetliner come grinding down the street and then going by again and then OMG going by a third time (jeez, it’s the bloody snow plow scraping off the ice), and let’s not forget crickets that suddenly mature to start chirping (STFU!), and lamp timers that develop annoying rattles (my apologies to recent house guests).

Even worse, the weather’s bad enough to make driving dangerous, but not bad enough to cancel school — teh suckage!

Meanwhile, today I’m snugged down at home, and have just made up some lentil soup (a vegetarian Indian recipe) in the crockery-cooker, so recipe at end of post (apologies to folks down-under who are contemplating summer fare).

But there are the very good parts, including family in town for an early Christmas, and being also blessed with necessities like warm homes, full larders and effective medications. We also have a number of little things that not only delight us in small ways, but even make life just so much more pleasant, and reduce our stress loads. As usual, “you don’t appreciate something until you’ve lost it” so we often don’t realise just how much these mean to us, and how supportive they are, until we’re away from home. Here are some of my faves, which fall into two categories: technology that enables me to do things, and creature comforts.

  • The internet. It’s hard to imagine life without this font of information, fun and community. Howdy to you all out there!
  • My MacBook. Years ago I got my first personal computer with word processing, and haven’t looked back. I store my music on it, create PowerPoints to show pictures and illustrate methods in my gardening classes, keep track of my calendar, use it to download and modify and print pictures, play games, and of course, write and store all sorts of documents.
  • To take all those fun pix I have my digital SLR. No more 35 mm film to load and get developed or slides to scan! I can shoot over 600 photos before downloading, which means plenty of shots to get just the Right One, and I can play around with interesting angles.
  • My New Beetle beeps to let me know I’m low on fuel, and furthermore, will beep again the next time I start up the engine to remind me that now I really need to fill the gas/petrol tank. It also has heated seats which sounded like a ridiculous frill until the first winter, and then I realised that I could get myself warmed up by the end of the first kilometer of driving, rather than by the time I’d reached my destination.
  • My microwave that gives me a reminder beep a minute later, when I’ve forgotten something in there after the finish beep. This is fabulous for the AD/HD brain! Sometimes it takes that second reminder beep to penetrate past the hyperfocus to alert my consciousness.
  • And since I have that extra small microwave from when I had a second home in my campus apartment, I now keep it in my bedroom where it’s invaluable for also warming up my Rice Sock. The rice sock is simply a tube sock filled with 1 lb (1/2 kg) of dry rice, and knotted shut. I warm it up for a minute or two in the microwave, and then drape it where-ever I’m cold, stiff or sore. Unlike an electric heating pad, it eventually cools down, so there’s no risk of burns, and it conforms to my body much more nicely. It’s even nice in the summer, when I keep it in the freezer to cool down by draping it over my neck or forehead. Any time of year it’s great for draping across my eyes to shut out the light. Everyone needs a rice sock!
  • Shearling slippers for the chronically cold feet; thankfully these things “wear like iron” (last a long, long time) as I wear them around the house for all but the barefoot months of the year.
  • My mug warmer, a small electric hot plate that keeps my coffee or tea Just Right for however so long.
  • Old, soft 100% cotton pillowcases, ironed blissfully smooth (bonus if the bed linens were dried on a clothes line and smell like sunshine). Cotton also feels cooler in the summer time.

“A few of my favourite things” is the theme for the next Disability Blog Carnival, being held right here on the 13th. You can submit one of your blog posts by using this page, or posting a link in the comments section here (if you can, please send in links by Today-Monday or Tuesday). More links to Disability Blog Carnivals can be found where Penny L. Richards has posted them on this page of the Disability Studies, Temple U blog. They’re great reading!

Here’s that soup recipe, for some chow to go with all that reading:

MYSORE RASAM

2 tablespoons melted butter
3/4 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 cup yellow lentils (toovar dal)
1 teaspoon turmeric
15 ounce/ 400 g. tin tomato sauce
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground red chillies
1 teaspoon salt

Sauté the mustard seeds in the butter. Add to the lentils and spices, plus 4 cups water and simmer for 35 minutes, until the lentils are tender. (Or cook in crockery-cooker for several hours.) Mash or puree the lentils, and simmer 15 minutes more. Soup may be strained for a consommé.

Comfort Time

Today’s post includes a recipe. It’s a really quick recipe, “quick” in the real-world sense, not quick in the warped cookery-book sense that means standing at the stove for 45 minutes. It’s also from scratch, so you can adapt it as necessary to fit your own dietary requirements. The ingredients are common pantry things, too.

On days like this, I need comfort food. It’s a long day at work, as working with 28 students who have emotional & behavioural issues can be. I’m tired of the temper tantrums (teenagers being like toddlers with hormones), and hearing the “F-bomb” tossed about. I’m especially tired of a trio of acting-out 8th-graders who collectively are the BD equivalent of acid+base+catalyst. Two of the teachers/staff are off sick, which means that they’re death-warmed-over sick, unlike several of the present teachers/staff members who are among the walking sick. I’m in the second category, and get to spend all morning crunching spreadsheet data, which given the way the students have been, was something of a blessing despite the fact that number-crunching is hardly my fave activity. The teacher has a substitute (of sorts), but of course there are no subs for paras, so we’re short-handed.

I have the intense desire to go crawl into a hot bath after work, but get home and discover that the kid has beat me to it, having spent yesterday at home sick and then dragged through a school day. So I get a snack and find that somehow we’re missing a couple gallons of milk that I’d bought at the grocery two days ago. Cuss. I go out to the garage and find them still in the trunk/boot of my car, where we’d missed unloading them. Gingerly set the two warm jugs of milk into the rubbish bin. Go back in the house and then my sock squishes into a puddle of cat-gack that one of them barfed up. Everybody has things that absolutely cannot stand; I can deal with blood and gore just fine, but wet socks absolutely gross me out. This pair of socks has one heel that’s getting threadbare, so I simply toss them into the rubbish as well. I clean up remains of cat-gack that my foot missed.

Retrieving the cleaning-up materials from the kitchen yields the discovery that for some unfathomable reason, one of the cats barfed onto a stovetop burner. I’ve no idea why any of them would be up on the counters, and querying the quartet of felines produces nothing but blank stares, Hear no evil, See no evil, Speak no evil, Eat no evil. As if! Someone was gnawing on the spider plant! (Chlorophytum comosum ‘Variegatum’). I go fetch my slippers for my cold feet, and then start dismantling the stove-top for cleaning.

Days like this call for comfort food — quick and easy comfort food, the sort you can eat with a bowl and spoon. I pull out a bag of gluten-free spiral pasta and a couple tins from the pantry. I zapped some Romano green beans in the microwave for a side dish because we had some in the freezer.

PASTA PARMA ROSA

Some shreds of Parma ham would be fabulous in this sauce, but who has that just sitting around? But even without it’s still tasty. Quantities are rough guides; use what you have. Depending upon your ability to multi-task, this takes about 15-20 minutes to make.  Chunky pasta shapes work better than slippery spaghetti.

  1. Start a pot of water to boil for the pasta.
  2. If you have some on hand, mince half a small onion and a couple cloves of garlic. If not, dig around and find a couple tablespoons of dried onion flakes and/or 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder.
  3. Open a 14-ounce / 400 gram tin of chopped tomatoes, and set them to draining. Or, dice a couple-three fresh tomatoes.
  4. Open a tin of condensed milk, or measure out 2 cups half-and-half / half a liter of single cream (or dairy substitute).
  5. When the water is boiling, start pasta to cooking; don’t forget to set the timer!
  6. Cook the onions, garlic and tomatoes in 2 tablespoons of olive oil or butter, on medium heat. If using dried, add them at this stage so they will rehydrate in the tomato juice.
  7. Give the pasta a stir so it doesn’t cook into a big noodleblob.
  8. When the tomato mixture no longer looks very juicy, stir in a couple tablespoons of flour (wheat or GF rice mix). Add a sprinkle of pepper (white pepper if on hand) and half teaspoon of salt or to taste. Pour in the milk. Turn heat down so the sauce doesn’t scorch.
  9. Stir pasta again. Turn strainer upside-down and whack it inside the sink if the bits of tomato stuck to it offend you. Rummage around and find a big serving bowl and spoon.
  10. Toss in a handful (about 1/4 cup if you’re a measuring person) of shredded Parmesan cheese into the sauce, and a handful of minced ham if there’s some around.
  11. Drain pasta when done cooking. Dump the pasta into the serving bowl, pour sauce over it, and put the rest of the Parmesan on the table for adding atop individual servings.
  12. Nest the cookpots in the sink, tossing in the cooking spoons, along with a squirt of dish soap/ washing-up liquid, so the sauce doesn’t harden while you’re eating.

Go eat your food while it’s still hot!

 

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