Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Roast Beet and Goat Cheese Salad

Tonight was supposed to be a simple, easy meal. I had already planned to take the box of beer-battered cod fillets out of the deep freezer and pop 'em in the oven. It cleaned out one more thing from the deep freezer, making it one item closer to defrosting easily, while making dinner easy.

But what to make for a side dish?

Being currently possessed of a troublesome tooth and a Monday dental appointment, I wanted something soft, so roasted vegetables seemed like a good idea. But I haven't roasted veggies in a while, so I wanted a good reminder on sizes and cooking times. Off to the internet! Where a "related recipes" brought me to an idea that sounded utterly scrumptious.

https://www.chelseasmessyapron.com/roasted-beet-goat-cheese-salad/

The only changes I made to the recipe were omitting the nuts entirely (tooth), and the mandarin oranges (never did like them). And doubled the dressing, which it turns out I didn't need to do (but hey, this way it used up the whole orange, and I can use that dressing on other salad. It's good!) I also roasted nine beets instead of six, because I was dubious if I had large or small beets (my first time working with the fresh, dirt-still-on veggie.) And I bout 11 oz of goat cheese because I can always eat more goat cheese. They must be large beets, because I only used about half the chopped beet on the salad.

One person at dinner elected for just beets and goat cheese, and the "feeds 6" fed three people at the table, and I threw in some extra spring mix veggies, extra goat cheese and beets into a tupperware for a fourth person, complete with a little tiny tub for the dressing. And the last 3 pieces of cod, because the ravening hordes plowed through those and stopped just in time to leave a few pieces for AepilotJim.

Dessert was a single large starfruit, sliced and spread in a circle on a platter, and half a pack of raspberries in the center.And people seemed pretty happy with ti, so I think I'll do this again.

...But after an hour of scrubbing, roasting, peeling, chopping, and so on, I'm not sure I can call it an easy clean-out-the-freezer meal anymore!

Monday, April 9, 2018

Rosemary Success

For several years, I have struggled to keep a rosemary plant alive. Okay, about twelve years. Okay, a succesion of rosemary plants. See the part about struggle!

Along the way, I have learned a bush from the mediterannean does NOT like too much water (Tennessee counts) or winter (Tennessee again). In fact, left outdoor in Tennesee, it joined the summer squash in having mold grow on its leaves. In full sunlight. Apparently, in a humid enough climate, mold will grow on anything, anywhere.

Moving to Texas, I never had to worry about overwatering again! On the other hand, I have now learned that if left unwatered for extended periods in dry heat, just when I'd swear it was dead, add cooler weather and water and it puts forth new sprouts. (The mint, too, is thriving for the third year after twice of "Well, finally killed it this time.") Add three inches of ice pellets or heavy frost? As long as you've got North Texas's mercurial weather that'll swing back to merely cool in a few days, it bounces back. 

I have also learned that heat concentrates the oils a plant produces. I knew this in Alaska - we could never really get the peppers as hot as the ones from the Southwestern USA, even using the same seed. Now I'm getting the other end of it - where recipes call for a full sprig, I have to use a quarter that much, or less, or it'll overpower the dish!

Yesterday, though, I achieved a significant milestone in culinary and gardening achievement. My husband was making a chicken and mushroom stew, and held out a spoon to me. "This needs something. What does it need?"

I tasted it, and said, "Rosemary. Use some fresh rosemary."

He looked at the fridge, then looked at me. "Have we got any?"
"Right outside!" And I grabbed the kitchen shears, went out the door, and nipped off a tiny sprig end of the bush, handing it to him. He hadn't cooked with the fresh herb before, so was dubious - but he trusted me enough to let me try that when we had a friend coming over for dinner. (Slightly higher stakes than just us. If we ruin dinner for ourselves, we laugh and decamp to the Mexican restaurant for good food and margaritas to console.)
It turned out excellently, and now my husband may use it in more dishes! Which is, of course, the entire point of keeping a kitchen garden alive - tasty food!

Speaking of, before I even contemplate last post's zucchini, I need to get planters set up for basil. Because the thyme, rosemary, mint, and oregano overwintered, but the basil, alas, never does. 

Saturday, April 7, 2018

And Another Thing!

Winter this year is like a moody hormonal teenager who desperately wants to get the last word in and make a dramatic exit with slamming doors, but hasn't reached the end of the argument. So there's A shout of cold, a finality, then they come storming back in with a deep frost after a day of terrible wind that blow all the warmth away, yelling "And another thing!"

I guess it's just as well that I didn't get the square foot garden materials acquired yet: last night put a frost on all the wilting new leaves on the bushes. Fortunately, it's a strong north wind trying to bring winter storming back down from Calgary, so the just- transplanted rosemary, oregano, and sage on the south side of the house, snugged up against the brick wall, are relatively sheltered.

Alma Boykin of Cat Rotator's Quarterly and I were discussing gardening, and I revealed my cunning plan to her: There's a small section of yard hemmed in on two sides by fence and the third by house, shaded for most of the day, severely unwatered because of the overhanging eaves, where nothing will grow except a few goatheads and a mesquite tree that laugh at my weed treatment. Well, If I plunk down a weighted tarp to keep the mesquite from from getting any sun, and to keep the goatheads from growing, I might as well make it a little 1.5 sq. ft garden, right?

But with such heavy shade and need for watering, It'll have to be something that I will enjoy if it lives, and won't care too much if it dies. Sounds great for a tough vegetable plant. Since we're doing fairly low carb in this household... why not zucchini? I object to paying for the stuff anyway, after living places where it appears in your car if you leave the doors unlocked - and nobody seems to do that here.

Alma thought about it for a moment, and declared, "You need an intervention."

Monday, April 2, 2018

Brigid's back!

Brigid has re-opened Mausers and Muffins, and is posting again!

And today, she's letting guys in on the secret of why women spend so long in the bathroom. Hilarious, and true!

https://mausersandmuffins.blogspot.com/2018/04/why-women-take-so-long-in-bathroom.html

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Decatting the keyboard

I have found a lovely way to distract the cat, and free up my lap and right arm from demands for lap time and lots of attention - much less my keyboard and laptop!

I sacrificed a large chunk of my desk surface to a fluffy towel straight out of the dryer, free of any cat fur.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Spring snacks for cats

Yep, spring has sprung. The day before the mulberry tree started putting out leaves in earnest, I woke up to the sound of crickets outside the bedroom window. The mint has once again defied predictions of "I think I really killed it this time", and even the sage managed to survive the "It's dead, so no point in watering it."

The cats have gone from complaining that a closed garage door is an abomination unto Bast, but hurriedly changing their minds upon it being cracked, to wanting to spend hours in there. I was a little stymied - after all, we didn't change much over the winter (it's cold in there.) And there's no kibble in there, and Ashbutt tends to orbit the food dish like a growing kitten.

Did I mention the crickets are back? Ashbutt brought one back in from the garage to share with us, but when we weren't interested enough, he had the crunchy snack himself. 

*sigh*

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Kicking a Ball

So, I have a house. (This is a good thing.) It has a guest room, with bed - because my darling man and I wanted to put up guests as they came through. I may have had to explain "I gotta repay my couch karma!" to my husband, but he definitely agreed with the plan and the principle of the thing.

I also have an office, large enough for the queen sized inflatable mattress Gay Cynic left. (He, being a mischievous man, was prone to calling it the "blow up... mattress" with a waggle of the eyebrows that rarely failed to elicit a giggle.)

Together, they managed to host friends and their small kids this weekend. The jury is still out on whether the chocolate ice cream stains / chocolate sauce stains will come out of the pillowcase on the first round or not. That two year old's reaction to her first taste of Blue Bell almond mocha fudge ice cream was... enthusiastic. Chocolate everywhere, from diaper to dress to hair, and then a food coma right on top of her brother. And the 4 year old managed to make his disappear so fast that he had plenty of time to hold up the bowl with big huge eyes and a poorly enunciated "Pwees?"

I also have a backyard. Because I like to wander out barefoot or sandal-shod in said yard, I put a lot of effort into killing fire ants, and I also pay good money to make it free of goatheads, thistles, and many other sticky stabby thorny varieties of plant. I miss fireflies, but I do not miss tweezing plant weaponry out of my skin.

Said backyard was just put to its highest and best use yet, and the time and effort spent on its grassy state repaid, with a simple phrase. "Your sister isn't done eating yet. If you're done, you may put on your boots and take the ball out into the back yard."

Yep, the weekend included kicking a little inflatable ball left over from physical therapy for the kids, and watching the hobby horse be "fed" the grass as it was ridden around, and the kids digging for dinosaur bones in the bare patch under the mulberry tree (the important part is keeping a straight face when presented with a twig that does, if you kinda apply a little imagination, resemble a bit of pterodactyl wing, or a piece of marble that must clearly be a T-rex "toof.")

I may not have kids, but beyond producing veggies and giving puppies a place to run, that's clearly what backyards are for, sure as guest rooms are for guests.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Sudden Feline Revelation

Today, I built a cupboard. First, I took all the pieces out of the box, and made sure they were all there. Then, I removed the cat form the shipping box, and put the styrofoam spacers in. Then, I started unpacking pieces from the plastic wrap, one at a time, as needed, and laid them out on the floor. Then I removed the cat from the shipping box, and threw the plastic wrap in the box. Then I removed the cat from the parts I was assembling, and screwed the first pieces together.

Then I removed the loose screws from the cat, and made sure they were tucked in the plastic bag where they couldn't be batted elsewhere. Carefully following directions, I built the left side of the cupboard, then leaned it against the wall and built the right side. Then I removed the cat from between the panels and the wall, so I could stack them a little closer for more space while building the doors.


All was going well (aside from the dirty looks from the cat about the shipping box filling up with not-cat objects), until I reached the magic moment, putting on backing panels, when the cat realized he was no longer looking at a stack of strange-smelling objects, but... A BOX.



The Sudden Feline Revelation meant that work slowed dramatically.


Monday, February 5, 2018

Social positioning and puffed spelt with truffles

"A great many women," I observed to my husband as we sat down to a meal, "hate to cook."

"Well, a lot of them can't cook. They live cooped up in the cities with no kitchens, or in row houses with only one kitchen at the end. There's no place to cook, so they have to eat out." He replied, digging into the steak I had purchased from a vendor in individual vacuum-sealed packaging months ago, and just now thawed, dusted generously with twists from the salt and pepper grinders, and seared in an enameled cast iron pan with virgin coconut oil. (Coconut oil has a very high smoke point, which in a kitchen with inadequate ventilation like mine, is a hefty consideration. I hate washing walls.)

I shook my head. "Reversal of cause and effect. A lot of women have always hated to cook. A lot of them have always been mediocre at it, because it's hard to improve on something you hate doing. But prior to the advent of industrial canning, and especially prior to refrigeration available as a mass commodity, most women and many bachelors had to cook to keep body and soul together unless they lived in a city where they could eat out, or hire a cook. You can see it in the cookbooks from antiquity up through the early 1900's; the vast majority were "Here's how to do that thing you hate well. Or at least well enough to keep body and soul together. And a lot of recipes were bland not just due to the lack of available ingredients, but because they tended to the foolproof 'boil it to flinders and it'll be edible and uncontaminated.' Or otherwise didn't expect that women would go out of their way to get fancy equipment, exotic spices, or techniques. Because many women out have always found it a chore that gets in the way of everything else they have to do."

"Go on." Peter applied himself to the steak, and speared a few baby Brussels sprouts served straight from the steamable microwave bag. I should have taken the time to put them in a serving bowl and dress them with infused olive oil and balsamic vinegar, but I had popped them in as an afterthought while concentrating on the experimental side dish and the steaks. They were quite edible, just not amazingly delicious like they could have been.

"Once we had refrigeration in the stores, women and men alike flocked to the TV dinner as a way to avoid doing a chore they hated. The only people who continued to cook, en masse, were the traditionalists, the very poor, and the people who loved it. For two generations, there were women raised deliberately ignorant of how to cook - because having to cook was now a social stigma, and the ability to microwave everything  was seen as a marker of social status. The new feminists would deliberately raise their daughters ignorant of how to cook, because they wanted their daughters to climb the social ladder and become doctors and lawyers and engineers. So they crippled their ability to choose to be home-makers."

I tasted the experimental side dish, and decided that it was best balanced with the slightly bland brussel sprouts - together, they were an excellent combination. "Go forward thirty years, and what do you get? Cooking shows. We now have people flaunting their social status by having a skill that the middle class doesn't - cooking - and their ability to take the time to do it, and spend money on exotic ingredients. And you see it in the cookbooks - we now have a lot of them with 'How to cook exotic ingredients into elaborate dishes.' But even most of those spend a fair amount of time on how to boil water and fry an egg, because people don't have the basic skills.

As with any social status commodity, though, it's quickly made available to the masses, where people still don't have time to commit. So the market is focused on offering both convenience and exotics, for ultimate extraction of middle class money.

And that is why we're eating spelt with button mushrooms and truffle shavings tonight; I wanted to see if the boxed side dish was worth it as a backup 'I need to make dinner within 30 minutes' option."

Personally, I'll probably go back to bulk-bin couscous flavoured with stock and whatever I have on hand that compliment the main dish. The price per serving, and small amount per box, is not worth it when I have sufficient skill and options - but if I were living alone, didn't have a pantry, and were trying to impress a date, it's a nice change from rice-a-roni as a side dish.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Can I count to five?

Game shows are a great example of ordinary people, some of whom are very smart, making less than stellar decisions under intense pressure. I'm afraid I can't point and laugh too hard, because I resemble that remark; in flying, it's why I like my checklists so much.

In the gym, it manifests as a really hard time counting to five. Yes, five. Like the number of fingers on one hand, five. No, I can't move my fingers to track - they have to stay gripping the barbell, because my work set is, by design, the heaviest weight I can handle.

And when my entire focus is on completing this barbell movement, in perfect form, with the heaviest weight I can manage, straining the limits of my ability so I can force my body to adapt to an even heavier weight... it gets really hard to remember things like "Is that the third time I've accomplished it, or the fourth?"

This leads to technical errors, like sets of 6 where I'm so exhausted I flirt with injury as my form gets sloppy... because I was supposed to stop at 5, and lost count. (I default to more reps instead of fewer reps, in a "When in doubt, assume you have more work to do." Fitting right in there with assuming fuel burn is higher than estimated, there are no tailwinds ever, weather is worse than forecast, repairs will end up at double the cost and the time estimated, and there are never enough Eno's fruit salts to cover the whole crew*, it's a good way to make sure you don't get caught short. Some people call it pessimistic; they also tend to wonder why life is fond of hitting them out of the blue with unforeseen problems.) 

I will feel really, really silly if I end up getting a coach again, just so she can stand there and count to five for me. Maybe I'll bribe my husband instead...


*South African advert: "Is the bottom falling out of your world? Take Eno's fruit salts, to stop the world falling out of your bottom!"

Monday, January 22, 2018

Dust storm

Many, many years ago, Peter was dragging me through the hinterlands of the United States on a campaign to convince me where we should mutually relocate upon marriage. Oh, and we were seeing friends, too.

Fresh from coastal Alaska, with its glacier-capped mountains dropping into the sea, days of soft sunshine and weeks of rain, and its taiga in dramatic sweeps of gold and green, moss and lichen and fern, I found northern Texas to be flat, dusty, arid, flat, dull and dun, flat, choked with unfriendly and uninteresting mesquite thickets, dry, dusty, and did I mention flat? Not a fan.

But it did have awesome people. I met LawDog, and then while Peter took a nap, I went out and helped him tear out a ceiling and do some remodel work. Polite and social greetings can't compare to actually working with folks to get to know them, and he was (and remains) really good people, while his lady is just awesome.

When tearing the ceiling out of an old house in Texas, one has to deal with dust. Not like Alaska, where you're thinking of the health hazard and abrasiveness of volcanic ash and glacial silt... no, in Texas, the procedure was to pry a section of ceiling loose, and run. Because as soon as the ceiling came out, the dust that had built up above it came pouring down like a red-brown waterfall. We stood on the porch outside the open front door, breathing the fine fresh air of Texas, and waited for the billows of dust to stop issuing forth before going back in to take out another chunk.

Texas grew on me - even if it's not Alaska, it also doesn't have seven months of winter. It's not the unbearable heat and humidity of Louisiana in the summer, and I'm not increasingly allergic to every blooming thing, like Tennessee. So we moved back here in the middle of their version of winter, and I noted it was just as achingly flat, dry, and choked with mesquite thickets as I'd seen before, but not nearly as bad after exposure to the rest of the Lower 48 alternatives. And it has great friends, which makes up for far more than just the flat and heat.

I forgot about the dust.

Until yesterday, when I had the windows open at work, celebrating a beautiful day in the 60's after a week of freezing cold. And looked up from a task, only to find the beautiful blue skies had turned distinctly dun, and the distance was rapidly closing and getting rather... misty.

Ah, dust storms. Fortunately, not as bad as sandstorms, but yech. When the sun is a pale white disk in a brown sky, and the distance is rapidly dwindlingfrom 40 miles to mile and a half or less by blowing dust, the air not only smells of dirt but tastes like it, too, when you open your mouth...

Well, this explains where all the dust came from on that remodeling project!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Ball? Ball? Ball?

So, passing through the kitchen, I turn on the electric tea kettle and walk away. It'll take a while to heat, and instead of standing there, I head over to the doorway to my husband's office, to talk to him.

Kili sees me, hops off my husband's lap, and comes around to the base of the chair. When she sees I'm watching her, she crouches down, does a full wiggle-butt followed by a leaping pounce onto my right foot. Before I can even react, she runs between my legs, and off. I turn, going "What in the world?"

...and find her sitting, facing the garage door, looking back over her shoulder at me.

"All right, cat, I got it." I walk over, and let her into the garage. As I shut the door, I hear the kettle click off, so I walk back into the kitchen...

and find Ashbutt sitting patiently at on the floor right in front of the tea kettle, with his latest string toy. He looks at me, looks at the toy. Looks at me, looks at the toy, bats the toy tentatively... and looks back at me.

"All right, cat, I got it. But I'm making my tea first." So I do, and then I play chase-the-string-toy for a minute or two. Then I let Kili back in, as she's satisfied everything in the garage is still in order, and head back to my computer. I sit down, sip my tea, and hear a thump.

In the doorway to my office, and there's a great mass of black fur, two bright eyes, and a red string toy...

Yeah, dogs don't have a monopoly on "Out? Out? Out?" or "Ball? Ball? Ball? Ball?" at all. Excuse me, I need to go play chase-the-string. Again. And again.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Hot Toddy Time

Peter and I are down sick, and the house is slowly devolving into that "We'll clean it later" state. Right now, I don't care. (In fact, caring about that will be a great sign that I'm getting better!)

In the meantime, in between making a dutch oven of chicken soup and sleeping, there are naps, hot tea, and hot toddies.

The non-alcoholic version:

Take a mug, add about a teaspoon of honey to the bottom. Add a squirt of lemon juice. Top up with boiling water. Stir. Breath the steam deeply, and it will feel and smell wonderful. When the drink is cool enough to sip, it'll taste good and go easy on the throat, too. Stay warm and hydrated!

The alcoholic version, and the "you're sick, so make this easy" setting:

Do as above, but leave enough room for a small dose of whiskey, bourbon, or rum (your preference.) Drink, and after blowing your nose in copious quantities after your sinuses unblock, go back to bed and sleep some more.

Either way, if you have really good honey, this is the drink that will really make the honey shine. Peter's gotten several bottles of sourwood honey from Killer Bees Honey, and it makes the best hot toddies! If you're already sick, use what you have on hand - but if you're stocking up against future sickness, I highly recommend the Sourwood Big Red.


Monday, January 1, 2018

New Year's Resolutions?

This is traditionally the day for taking stock of the year gone by, and deciding how to tackle the next one. For a lot of folks, starting the new calendar is a way to make a clean break and start afresh - but Peter's deep in the latest novel, typing away and trying to get it wrapped up so he can get it out to alpha readers. He's not exactly up for clean breaks and starting over right now, thank you.

Later today, we'll see if the predictions that our gym doesn't get a new year's crowd rush are true - but being a dedicated black iron gym, with lots of weightlifting racks and almost no aerobic equipment, it's not exactly aimed at the planet fitness crowd. When I went in twice last week (I admit, I skipped working out on Christmas), most of the usual crowd was there as well - it doesn't suffer the post-Christmas desertion I'm used to.

But we won't be starting afresh; Peter & I have workout logs and training plans. They've been working pretty darned well in the last 6 months, so we'll keep on keeping on.

Okay! I finally found a place to take stock - just organized the pantry, tossed a couple date-expired things, and made an inventory so I can plan meals to use up the oddball little things that have made their way home. (sundried tomato pesto? Goat cheese filled cherry peppers in olive oil? apple cider confit with calvados? Four boxes of bagged black tea... okay, that'll all be drunk. But clearly I looked in and said "Only one box left" a couple times too many!)

May you all have a wonderful, happy new year! Hope you get the things you want to accomplish done, and make plenty of happy new memories!