Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A kitchen manifesto

Recently I was catching up on the episodes of "No Reservations" I had not gotten to see. If you know me, you know how I'm enthralled and inspired by this show, which happens to be about two of my favorite subjects, traveling and eating. Anyway, in the particular episode I was watching, Anthony heads down to Cajun country (and of course has some truly spectacular and delicious looking food, especially the pork).  He mentions that Creole and Cajun cooking is really the only truly American cuisine.

This got me thinking about the dishes I cook, the dishes I was raised with, and what I want to do with my cooking.  Now, I love my mom with all my heart, and she really is a spectacular cook, I just managed to grow up strongly disliking most of the popular dishes in our area (and house) - things like tuna casserole, meatloaf, Tony Mazetti, taco casserole... basically anything that contained meat and came in a 9x16 pan.  I still can't stand this type of food.  That's my particular weirdness.

What I tend to cook start as international dishes - I'll try to make something very authentic, at least the first time.  I'm realizing now, however, that that is not what American cuisine is. We take things and we bastardize them - and it sometimes results in beauty (I'm looking at you, Chicago deep dish pizza).  And that's ok, as long as the result is wonderful.  That's what all great cooking cultures have done -- Japan didn't have tempura until the Portuguese came; Pho is a wonderful remnant of the French in Vietnam.  It's only too bad that most of what is known as American cuisine is bastardized food from other lands that just adds fat and makes it incredibly heavy (I side eye you Olive Garden).  Yes, there is the whole "fusion" thing, but it seems artificial.  Cuisine should adapt to ingredients available naturally.

I hope in my cooking that I can achieve a balance; I will bastardize, as in my Salt & Pepper Elk (which is quite a way away from its inspiration), but I will try to make the food about balance and not just add a ton of fat.  I will continue exploring new cuisines, tastes, and textures, and adapting them to fit my family. I will travel and gain inspiration from which I will come up with new ideas. I will bequeath recipes to my children and grandchildren in the hopes that they will use them as a base to start from and continue to develop.

Someday we will have an American cuisine, and it will be a glorious bastardized mishmash of all our influences.  Sort of like America itself.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Chicken Quenelles in Parmesan Sauce

This one is being put up by popular demand.  It makes a large (6-8 servings at least) amount of light and fluffy chicken quenelles, and they make amazing leftovers.

  • 2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • 8 oz old bread or breadcrumbs
  • 5 cups heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
Bechamel sauce
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 gallon milk
  • 4 oz parmesan
Top with
  • 4 oz parmesan
You can make the quenelles and sauce in either order, but I prefer to make the bechamel sauce first, and put it to the side while I make the quenelles.

Bechamel sauce:
Heat milk over medium low heat to steaming.  In a medium/large saucepan, melt butter over medium heat.  When butter is bubbling, add flour and stir for about a minute.  Switch to a whisk and begin adding milk a little at a time, incorporating it fully.  Once all the milk is added, contine stiring until mixture thickens, about 10 minutes.  Reduce heat to low and allow to simmer, whisking  occationally, 10 more minutes.  Add parmesan, set aside (occationally stiring to incorporate cheese into the sauce)

If breadcrumbs are hard, soak in milk beforehand.  Combine chicken breasts, breadcrumbs, cream, milk, eggs, salt and pepper in the bowl of a food processor (If necessary divide into two batches). Process until a smooth, fluffy mixture is obtained.  Bring a pot of salted water to a simmer. Use a soup spoon to scoop out quenelles, shape (should be roughly egg shaped; they don't come out perfectly every time, they'll still taste good), and drop into water, about 6-10 at a time (I've done up to 15 at once in a very large pot).  Cook for 6 minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon (to allow water to drain) to a 9"x16" pan.  Repeat until all of the chicken mixture has been used, and two 9"x16" pans have been filled.  Pour Bechamel sauce in even amounts over both pans, and sprinkle with parmesan. If you want at this point the pans can be set aside and finished later, or even the next day if you heat them in the oven before broiling. Put in oven under broiler, with rack in the middle, for about 10 minutes, until top is golden brown.

Serve with a side of fresh fettucini or cheese tortellini and sauteed spinach.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Lifestyle? What does that even mean?

Yeah, this is a pretty awesome outfit,
and I needed a pic to go with
the story.
Photo by Joeri Stegeman (Original)
I really don't like the word "lifestyle." It's applied to so many things; how you decorate your home, the group you identify yourself as a part of, it's even used as a pejorative in cases where people talk about "alternative lifestyles" (usually a euphemism for being gay or transgender -- which is not a "lifestyle choice", it's how you were born -- isn't science GREAT?).

But seriously, I know many people that need to identify with a "lifestyle" -- and I don't even really get what that means. I know gym rats who look down on people who are overweight, saying that they are choosing the lifestyle of being "a couch potato." I know business people who look down on people who have tattoos, thinking they must be scummy.  I know people that have tattoos who look down on people who don't have them, or don't have the "right" ones, saying they're wimps or posers.  It all comes back to "you're not as good as me because I've decided to follow this one idea that is called a lifestyle and dictates almost all my choices." Of course, there's always someone who feels that they more purely represent a lifestyle than you and are better than you for it.  How many times have you heard that someone was a poser?

I just don't get it.

I mean, yes, I self identify as a nerd, but that doesn't mean that it's my lifestyle and that I have a right to police everyone else who calls themselves nerds -- or even that I can only enjoy certain things and still call myself a nerd.  I identify as woman too, and that also doesn't give me the right to say what defines womanhood for absolutely everyone who is a woman, and I don't let myself be boxed in by someone else's definition of what a woman should be.

I haven't picked a single way of defining myself and  limited myself to that specific definition. I can't imagine how boring that would be. 

I don't have a "lifestyle." I have a life, and I have style, but they are each my own.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Movie theater seats, pt.3

Well, after an extended bout of plague at our house, we finally managed to get the theater seats done.  We drilled holes at the marks and used a counter sink to make sure the bolts wouldn't be touching the floor.  Unfortunately I didn't get an action shot of this.  We then brought the wood back inside and I used carpet glue to... well, glue the carpet on.
I insist on animals being in all my shots.
Once the carpet glue had set overnight, we flipped it over and cut of the corners of the rug, and glued the overlap down.

No books were harmed in the gluing of this carpet.

Obviously we needed some weight to hold the overlap down, but fortunately we have a few books lying around.  Again, after a 24 hr cure, we removed the books and used a screwdriver to poke holes in the carpet for the bolts.  At this point we discovered that the bolts we had purchased were too short (we had neglected to take the depth of the carpet into account) so Josh made a run to ace to get longer bolts.  Fortunately they had them, so we stuck them through the plywood, put some felt pads over them (for extra no-scratch insurance) and turned the whole thing over.  Then we carefully picked up the chairs and lowered (forced) them onto their bolts.  Then everyone took turns tightening.

Duncan ponders doing parkour on the installed seats.
After the bolts were well tightened (I'm guessing we'll have to go back with locktite at some point, but...), we moved the chairs into their new place of honor, just waiting for the next wrestling PPV or Packers game -- a little bit of the Cosmo Theatre in our own home.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The R-word (or, no, you don't need to say it)

When I was growing up I was taught never to say the word "retarded." It honestly still bothers me much more than the "s-word" or the "f-word"... because when you say the s-word or f-word you aren't using a word that is used to hurtfully describe a large number of people.  My uncle was developmentally challenged, my cousin has fetal alcohol syndrome (she was adopted from a rather horrible situation), my grandmother helped found the local Council on Retardation (as it was called back then), my mother was a special ed teacher, I have a friend that has a wonderful son who happens to have down syndrome.  I grew up in an environment where I just didn't say that word, because I understood how it could hurt.

I guess I just don't get why people get so angry about being asked to stop saying the r-word.  Using it instead of another word (obtuse, nonsensical, ignorant for instance - here's a lovely post on alternatives) doesn't help you communicate better, it just makes you look like kind of a jerk.  Now, before someone cries "censorship!" and "political correctness!", I'll say I'm not trying to remove the word from the face of the earth.  If I was going to write a book and wanted to demonstrate that one of the characters was ignorant, I might have them use the r-word.  But the fact is, no one NEEDS it to communicate, and the world would be a nicer place if people didn't use it as a catch-all.

The r-word is just one of many ableist words, and I'm trying to eliminate them from my vocabulary too, so I know how difficult it can be (my tough word is "lame").  Still, I'm trying, because I don't want to hurt people -- both people that I love, and people I don't know.

If anyone is interested, here is a list of words that could be considered ableist. Now, not everyone agrees on the words in this list, including people with disabilities.  Still, it makes for interesting food for thought, and has helped me try to pick my words more carefully.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Best crappy mac n cheese ever

Short post.  Today I made myself crappy boxed mac n cheese for lunch (I know, I know, the horror, the Yellow #5, etc) - forgetting we were out of butter.  Well, except for the truffle butter I had in the freezer for a special occasion.  But hey, beggars can't be choosers.  Oh, and I happened to have home grated parmesan in the fridge.  And sriracha (insert plug for To Your Health Market, as the sriracha was probably the healthiest thing in there).

Turns out if you add truffle butter and parmesan and sriracha to crappy mac n cheese, it tastes pretty good.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Movie theater seats, pt.2

So we got a little (hey, my husband is still recovering from pneumonia!) done on the movie theater seats.  Basically we got them put in the right spot on the plywood and marked the holes where the bolts will go.

They look much better sitting up, I think.

I marked all the holes for the bolts.  We're going to be using tapered head 1/4" x 1.5" machine screws.  Hopefully tomorrow we'll get to the drilling and countersinking stage; then we have to glue the carpet on the top, cut the holes through, glue the carpet on the back, make sure the holes also go through that, put the bolts in, and put the seats on the bolts.  So a LOT yet to be done.  Still, a little progress is better than none!

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Movie theater seats, pt. 1

So we got four awesome, original seats from the Cosmo theater in downtown Merrill. These are the original art deco seats, refurbished about 10 years ago, so they have drink holders now.  With the size of our family, of course we could always use more seating, and with the history of this set it'll be awesome in our living room.

The seats

The problem, of course, is that movie theater seats are meant to be bolted into the ground.  So we've had to come up with an alternate solution: a nice big piece (4'x8') of plywood.  The seats themselves are 7 feet wide and two deep, so we'll be placing them near the center for balance and comfort.
Why are my animals always in my shots?
We're going to drill holes at the appropriate places, counter-sink the back so that the bolt heads with be flush with the plywood, and then add carpeting to both sides so we don't scratch up the floor.

Thanks to Menards we got a nice 12'x5 carpet remnant for 18 bucks for the top, and we've got some leftover grey felt/carpet in the garage to put on the bottom.  I'll update later with pics of the project in progress and hopefully the final result!

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Judging people

I'm trying to stop judging people. For me this is a personal thing. I don't like being judged for being a woman, for how I'm dressed, for...whatever.  I'm ok with being judged for my ideas, my kindness (or lack thereof)... but I really dislike it when people judge without talking to me.

That person doing 50 in a 65 zone?  They're having car troubles.  The very overweight person in very small clothing?  They have a hormonal problem and can't afford new clothes.  That woman who's using food stamps to buy steak and talking on her iPhone? The steak is a special once a year treat for a birthday, and the iPhone was gifted to her.  That fast food employee striking for a raise? They worked in manufacturing and were able to support their family on that wage, and the place closed, and they don't have the skills for a different job.  That woman with tattoos?  She is a wonderful mother and volunteer for the humane society on a regular basis.  The woman in a business suit without tattoos? She loves punk and spends her weekends welding.  The man with six kids at the store, five of whom are screaming?  Half of them are adopted, two are foster children, and one is his stepdaughter - and he's holding down the fort while his wife works.

These are the thoughts I'm trying to keep in mind these days.  That how someone looks, or the situation they are in, are not necessarily what they seem.  That I should not be one to judge.

But still, when someone's doing 40 in the left lane on Hwy K.... it gets hard.

Friday, August 30, 2013

My new love: Bonny Doon Banana Slug Roussanne

Bonny Doon Vineyard has had an interesting time in the last few years.  Going from a mega-company to a small producer (selling off its Cardnial Zin and Big House brands in the process - you can now get Big House as a wine-in-a-bag-in-a-box!) that is trying to focus on terroir in their wines (vin d'effort vs vin de terroir - vin d'effort expressing the winemakers intentions, vin de terroir expressing the characteristics of the site where the grapes were grown and the qualities of the grapes themselves).

I'm not sure where the 2010 Banana Slug Roussanne lies on the vin d'effort vs vin de terroir scale.  No, it does not contain banana slugs -- the name derives from the mascot of UC Santa Cruz, where 100% of the profits from this wine go. It is a fruity, off-sweet wine with not a whole lot of minerality, but it is incredibly delicious.  The nose reeks of citrus and bright, sweet flowers (almost lily of the valley).  The flavor is as I said, just off-sweet, and is fruity and citrusy and creamy and beautiful - a nice change from my normal go to white, a grassy sauvignon blanc (which I still love, but choices are wonderful).  The finish is spectacular and long; there's something about it that reminds me of a really good German hefeweisen - one you'd get at a German restaurant, from the tap.  It's eminently quaffable, and begs for rich, delicious food to go with it (runny french cheese, good charcuterie, Thanksgiving dinner).

Only 600 cases were made of this wonderful wine, and I have two of them, so if you want to partake in this delectable drink, get some soon.  Too good.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Our Inukshuk, pt. 1

When we drove to the Arctic Circle and beyond to Inuvik, we discovered a wonderful and welcoming Inuit tradition: the Inukshuk.  They dot the landscape - figures of unworked stone that traditionally mean "you are on the right path."

Our Inukshuk near the Dempster Highway

We absolutely loved this wonderful, welcoming, helpful, and friendly idea, and we decided that we'd like to create a large Inukshuk outside our house - to let people know that they are welcome here, and are on the right path. We do this in the full respect of the Inuit people, and hope that our Inukshuk will be seen as a tribute to their wonderful, welcoming culture. We will be working on this as we find appropriate rocks -- and we'll probably use rock epoxy to keep it together considering how some people around here like to tip over art and sculpture (and gravestones, ugh). Wish us luck!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The thing about Fight Club...

Here's a pretty random post.  Now, I enjoy the movie Fight Club.  It's stylish, got a great soundtrack, good acting, good plot twists.  It is filled to the brim with Gen-X angst about the meaning of life, the meaning of being a man, and the meaning of IKEA furniture.

Tyler's arch enemy.
The movie posits two options; one where you are consumerist cog in a machine that is designed to just perpetuate more consumption, the other where you totally reject consumerism and become part of something larger.

And here comes my problem with the movie.

Actually, my problem isn't with the movie itself (well, I could go into how it is sort of odd that only men are allowed/need to fight and in the end are portrayed as easily led by the nose, but).  It's with how many people interpret the movie.  I know many friends who think Tyler Durden is right on.  That everything he says is right.  Now, I get what they're saying to some extent - consumerism and the mindless purchase of "stuff" is a serious problem, and people need to get value out of their lives beyond "stuff."

But what I don't hear from these friends is the fact that Tyler is setting up just another system by which people are doing what someone else says they should do - where they are just (really) mindless cogs in a machine.  He's just replacing one type of servitude for another - and the men who follow him are blind and more than a little gullible.  It seems to me that the movie (and its more evident in the book) is saying that Tyler is no better than the forces of consumerism that he's trying to replace.

So when people tell me how much they love the movie and how great the ideas that are presented in it are, I want to shake them and say - if you don't want to just be a consumer, then... don't!  Do your shopping at Goodwill! Ask your friends if you can borrow something you need!  You want blue glass plates with little bubbles proving they are handmade?  GO FRIGGIN LEARN HOW TO BLOW GLASS.  Make something with your hands.  Build something.  Learn to fix your car.  I never saw someone who knew how to fix their own car wondering if they were enough of a man (or woman).  Want to fight?  Go ahead.  But if you want to feel like you're doing something worthwhile... even if you know you're going to die someday, that you're not a special snowflake, that you're still the same decaying matter as everything else... make something. Figure things out for yourself.

Just don't stop doing what society tells you to to start doing what some jackass tells you to.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Watch this. Just watch it.

This is going to be a short, quick entry.  Go watch this movie now.  Then make everyone you know watch it.  Just remember, the US has more prisoners both per capita, and in total, than any other country in the world.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Coffee table, pt.1

So we managed to get a pretty decent oak coffee table for 30 bucks.  Of course, I'm not happy to leave well enough alone, so I'm going to be making it into something a little.. different.
The table now
The plan is, (and this is going to take a while, and will be a bunch of posts by the time I'm done), removing the tabletop and stripping the varnish, bleaching the wood to remove the stain and make it more blond, and then using thermo-sensitive film (the stuff in a mood ring) of several temperature sensitivities to make a sort of decoupage on the top; we're also going to get the legs replaced with something cool by Fillmore Metal Crafters.

And what am I going to put on here?  Well, it'll look sorta like this:
Yes, that's a Mucha inspired April O'Neil and lots of other nerdy references.  Here's a color coded one; the lightest color is the one that is sensitive to the highest temperatures, etc.
I'm not sure when I'm going to get to this, but, this is my start.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Steampunk house numbers

Just a quick post.. I was at Menards and saw a couple of different kinds of house numbers, and I thought... you know, it'd be pretty cool to combine those and get a gear for the 0. I was lucky enough to have a friend with a rusted up old bike that had a gear exactly the right size.  A little bit of work taking the gear off later, and  I screwed our new steampunky house numbers to the wall.
 Mission accomplished.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Lightly steampunking our chandliers.

So when we got the house there were quite a few chandeliers.  Now, the one in our dining room is original to the house and is beautiful; the ones in the living room are Walmart specials with plastic "candles" and flame shaped lights.
Not exactly our style.

Since we're going with a retro-future/art nouveau/art deco/steampunk thing, the octopus-ish shape of the actual brass didn't bother me; but the (much more brown with age than the ones shown above) "candles" and flame lights... ugh.  Fortunately, the tubes happened to be standard 3/4", which happens to be a size that copper pipe is available in.  I took one of the plastic "candles" off, measured it, got a 6' copper pipe from Fleet Farm, and cut 20 of these little beauties (pipe cutters are cheap and easy to use):
Cat not included.
In order to make them fit correctly I had to ream out the burr made on the inside of the pipes by the cutter, which I did with my good camping knife (good steel doesn't have much of a problem with copper).

Then all I had to do was take off all the light bulbs and plastic "candles", put the new copper pipe where the plastic used to be, and replace the bulbs with odd, interesting, period-style bulbs (a couple of the ones I'm currently using aren't as period as I'd like, but as period bulbs are 'spensive I'm dealing with the cheapies for now).  Here's the result:

Now, I'd still like to replace the hanging chain with something older/heavier/more nautical/bronze, and I really want to cover the awful plastic power cord with fabric to make it look older too, but it's not a bad start.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Back at it

So we're mostly settled in at the new house, many things in life have settled down (but not everything, of course, or it wouldn't be life, would it?), and I've decided I need to get back to blogging our projects and  thoughts on design and other things.  I've got a couple of projects I'm working on right now that I'll do posts and take pictures of and keep you informed of the progress on (and hopefully that'll keep me motivated to finish 'em!)  What projects you ask?

  • Remaking brass "candelabras" into something more steampunk and (hopefully) a little less tacky
    Walmart special.
  • Creating a steampunk entertainment center starting with the bottom of an old treadle sewing machine
  • Making a lifesize TARDIS to keep our dvd's in
  • Using thermo-sensitive film to create a nerdy art nouveau top for our coffee table
  • Attaching our newly acquired, original art deco movie theater seats (formerly of the Cosmo Theatre) to a carpeted base for more awesome living room seating. 
And I'm sure there will be more projects coming up- and I'll also post our house numbers (which I'm pretty proud of).

More coming soon...

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Musings on divorce

Feel free to skip this if you don't want to read about personal angst.  This post isn't about blame or shame or anything like that. It is about how much divorce hurts -- but how it can be the only way to heal.

It has been four and a half years since I fled California and the terror that was my state there.  I haven't spoken to many people about what really went on (and almost no one in California has heard anything from me since I left).  With the support of my husband and my family I'm finally starting to move out from the fear that has dominated me, and I feel like I should talk a little bit about what happened.

I won't be getting into any detail or naming any names or even blaming anyone.  I will be talking in an extended (and perhaps labored) metaphor for what my previous marriage and life was like.

To me, the marriage turned out to be a large, rough granite boulder with many sharp spikes, to which I was anchored firmly by chains attached to hundreds barbed fishing hooks of all sizes pierced through my skin.  At first it seemed like I could count on it to anchor me and provide a haven.  As time went on, the hooks dug deeper into my muscles, the rock points rubbed me raw, and I was crying and silently screaming several times a day*. Eventually the raw sores and deep hooks became infected.  I did some very foolish things trying to make myself comfortable while still being anchored, including attempting to bash my head into the wall hard enough to make myself black out to escape the pain* - and things even more damaging and asinine.  Finally, four and a half years ago, screaming, crying, I pulled myself away while the hooks ripped out of me.

I hurt, I bled, but away from it I could finally start to heal.

My husband, Joshua, has been absolutely essential in my healing.  He helped me remove the last of the barbs that stuck in my flesh, helped me bandage and treat the wounds.  Today, I am scarred, but I am healing - and when the nightmares come and the panic attacks start, he's there to hold me.

*This last bit isn't metaphor.
*Also not metaphor.