Monday, January 31, 2011


I am an insane religious fanatic about lotion.  Today as I was busy applying with fervor, I wondered, what did women do back in prehistoric days before lotion?  And of course the answer quickly hit me: they didn't bathe.  Done!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Almond Cybilla Soap

So I really thought I was going to confine all my soap related posts to the Soapmaking Database but now I realize that I like to babble about stuff and soap is not exempt. I'm not sure Ferret would really care for my ramblings in the Database so perhaps it's better if I do it here. So this soap is a half pound batch of my usual recipe. After my tremendous (in my mind) success with the Lemon Castile Soap (Recipe 2), I saw no reason to mess with a good thing. The process was same as before; with less water initially, the soap mixture reached light trace quite fast and once I dumped in the milk I hit trace instantly really. I'm making a mental note to add the fragrance first and then the milk next time, because it really got thick so so fast. I love it. Now about the fragrance, I used the almond cybilla fragrance oil from Brambleberry's sampler kit and nearly died the second it went into the soap. Almond makes me think of clean and cream and that's completely what this smelled like. Swoon. This is certainly going to be a fragrance I use again. My whole house is still permeated with it even though I've stashed the box into my laundry room.

(Please note the gigantic amount of coconut oil in the background.  I bought 7 pounds of the stuff from Brambleberry for a really good price and was startled to find it in that baggie thing.  Once I put it in the microwave for a couple of minutes though, it came out of the spout quite easily without muss or fuss).

And now the box. I think several posts back I might have mentioned harvesting other people's trash from the recycling. This box was one of the things. Look how completely perfect it is! Not only is it adorable, but it serves a completely legitimate function in my crafting enterprises. Tomorrow after the soap is set I'll snap the lid down and let it cure away.

Since my soaps are now reaching real trace I think I'll reduce my curing time from 6 weeks to 4.  I used some 4 week soap recently with no irritation.  I do like having texture in my soaps though, so I think next time I'll use a little foresight and have something ready to add in.  Or not.

Update (2/6/11): Over the first few days the soap darkened first to a pleasing almondy color (tan) and then to an alarmingly brown color.  The scent is still fantastic but I'm dubious about the color.  It looks like fudge, rather than anything like almond...I'm not sure if it was the fragrance oil reacting or if the milk had anything to do with it.  Although when I think back, my lemon milk soap never turned such a dark brown so I think it must be the FO.  Here is a picture, I tried to make it appear vaguely artistic.

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Happiness (Number One)

I have a lot to be grateful for in my life, it often amazes me how much I have and how lucky I am.  One lucky break is being born with a naturally happy temperament.  I'm grateful I can find pleasure in almost anything and can generally see the good side (or at least the funny side) of trying situations.  Anyway, I am starting a new series for myself, of happy things.  The first thing (this will not be ranked in any way, just whatever comes to mind) is:

Food.  I like cooking it, shopping for it, eating it, reading about it, dreaming about it, everything!  The variety is endless, it pleases all the senses and captures imagination.  Food probably gives me the most pleasure because it is associated with so many of life's events.  There's nothing like eating with those you love or just celebrating with it.  At the same time, when you walk in your own apartment after a long day, there are  few things better than that quiet meal, carefully made, eaten with your own thoughts.  As I mentioned in the past couple of posts, I've been re-reading MFK Fisher and finding fresh joy in her writings on food and people.  I like being a ghost in her life, mapping out the turns by her meals and memories of the meals.  It makes me  think back to the dinners I've given for people and what I served and then I think, I should do that more.  There aren't enough excuses for people to gather and know each other better, so I should create one.  And then memories of the food I gave and the happy festive feelings attending the food will reside in those who were present, I believe even after the party is over.  This of course, assumes the dinner was a good one to begin with, with the right people and etc.  

Generally, I like that I get hungry on a regular basis throughout the day.  Mostly because each time I am hungry I have a  fresh opportunity to eat something delightful and maybe new and maybe familiar.  Happiness!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Quiet Weekend

Whenever I'm away for more than a couple of days, Tony loses his mind and grows fat. I think he's a stress-eater. Anyway, he is usually delirious with delight when he sees me again, which means that I put up with several days of poor sleep, because a hysterical Tony likes to butt my face and paw my face and lie on my face to show he cares. To combat some of this, I've taken to stalking him a little bit during the day and prodding him awake when I see him sleeping, in the hopes this will encourage him to sleep through the night, the way I would like to. Yesterday I gazed around the apartment to do just this and spotted him comfortably napping in my dirty laundry. It was too cute; I gave him a couple of minutes of respite and then whipped out my camera to wake his ass up.

It's nice to finally be home for a spell after being away on so many trips. I did a lot of cooking and grocery shopping this weekend, mostly because I've missed it. It sounds weird to a lot of people when I tell them I have happy dreams about grocery shopping (wandering down the aisles, contemplating different brands, planning menus in my head...) but it is quite true. Despite my love for wandering aimlessly, when I do go to the store (Safeway these days), I do tend to be pretty disciplined. I have my list and only pick up little extras if my load doesn't look too heavy. Ok, whatever the load, I usually end up snagging one off-list item at least. Today for example, I saw a couple of lamb shoulder chops on sale and snatched them up for my freezer. And I bought an extra bottle of wine because I'm an alcoholic. One note: all wine in Oregon appears to be perpetually on sale. Why is that? And doesn't that just make it the regular price?

Yesterday I was all kinds of productive and did out-of-home types of things (lab, movie, grocery, coffeeshop) so today I was a vegetable at home. I don't think I changed out of my pjs until about 4pm. I DID however, make 47 more pork and leek dumplings and baked a loaf of bread (ok my bread machine did it, all I did was measure out ingredients. That counts!!) and then I made this delicious delicious dish. It's a chicken and chorizo rice dish and the recipe is from Ferret's Lydia. So easy and quite good. The recipe can be found at the database, I completely recommend squeezing a bit of lemon over it all, nom nom. A glass of white wine made everything go down quite easy...

Now I have some Chinese style soy sauce beef cooking away in the pressure cooker so I think I'll be pretty well stocked for the coming week. I notice I am better able to stay at work if I have something to eat at around 5 so I did a lot of cooking this weekend with this idea in mind. Should be good for productivity and general emotional well-being. Cooking is an act of love, even if it's just for me!
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Friday, January 21, 2011

A Friday Night at Home

After being hit by a tremendous headache I decided to peace out of work earlier than usual (5pm) and make my way home.  This turned out to be a huge mistake because while catching the bus was easy, wending down the hill was not.  I'm not sure if all that traffic was typical but I made a mental note never to leave at 5 ever again.  I kind of have no patience for traffic.

Walking into my apt brought an immediate alleviation of headache and the feeling of being pain-free was soon augmented by the purring feeling of being full (see previous post about pizza).  I then sunk into my bathtub for a soak in criminally hot water (with liberal sprinklings of homemade lavender bath salts), doused myself in lotion and flopped on the bed for a while to be vegetable-like.  One note about my bathtub: while it's nice to be able to stretch out, I think I would actually prefer a smaller, but deeper tub.  I want to sit in it with my knees folded up and water to my chin.  Do they make bathtubs like this?

After coming out of my coma, I browsed through my recipe books and decided on the honey cake from Joy of Cooking.  Mostly because it was the only cake recipe I had all ingredients for.  My plan to make the Japanese kasutera cake was foiled by a lack of milk in the house.  Anyway, cake was mixed and baked and is supposedly now cooling but hungry me decided to remove two wedges and enjoyed them vastly with a mug of tea and the man repeller.  All is well in the world...

The rest of the evening will be spent with MFK while waiting for the laundry to dry.  It's certainly nice to be home.  

Another Pizza Post

Ok so I think I am getting ever closer to that perfect crust (well, as perfect as one can manage with a home oven and a lack of such things as pizza stone or peel).  It is really a small adjustment of my original recipe, but measuring the flour by weight gave me a dough that was extremely sticky (really, untouchably sticky) and leaving it for more time in the fridge made a chewy-ish but tender dough.  Very very good.

1 tsp yeast (note adjustment)
3/4 cup warm water
pinch of sugar

219 grams flour
1/2 tsp salt

Add desired toppings and bake at 500.

I'm actually going to make another batch of dough tonight so it can be left in the fridge to percolate for a few days. That's how very good it is.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Random This and That

The first thing:
I got off the bus today and walked down the block and crossed the street as I always do.  Sometimes I cross to one side, sometimes to the other.  It depends on the light and incoming traffic.  Today I dashed across on the side I was already on even though the hand sign was madly flashing.  There was a group of 6 men just huddled together in two clusters of three and I thought it best to avoid walking directly by them if I could.  This turned out to be an extra wise move, because I had not taken more than a few steps when I heard quite a bit of ruckus coming from that group.  Looking across, I saw that a bunch of men with POLICE written on their jackets had hopped out of a red van and was busy holding out guns and shouting.  This was not unnaturally fascinating to me so I stopped in my tracks and gazed on the ensuing scene for several minutes.  At one point it did occur to me that there may be stray bullets and perhaps I should move a bit further on, so I did that and kept looking.  If you must know, all men were successfully rounded up, handcuffed and put into the van without too much ado, and I went on my way home.  I imagine it was some kind of drug related thing, but who knows.

The second thing:
I have 4 minutes left to go on my pizza but I have a few thoughts on pizza generally.  Actually, I think I think about pizza quite a lot, because it is one of my favorite foods in the world.  One thing that makes it so wonderful is its versatility.  Tonight I snatched up another third of the dough I made last night and patted it out flat into my pan.  For topping, I spread the last of my butternut squash and walnut bruschetta topping and then covered it all with shredded mozzarella and a dash or two of salt.  And voila!  Pizza.  Everything is smelling quite fine right now and I'm looking forward to eating it and maybe having a small glass of wine.

Such is life, you go from drug bust to a tasty dinner.  I'm not sure there is much to connect the two, unless you happen to be in an indie flick.  I've got MFK Fisher on the brain recently so I think it is time to revisit some of her writings and take fresh inspiration from her life and thoughts.  Goodnight.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Another cushion to round things out

All week I would look at my sofa and think there was something missing and I finally realized it needed a spot of bright color somewhere.  I like my colors to be neutral and serene for the most part, but touches of something red are a must for me to feel happy.  Fortunately, I'd acquired some rosy fabric from Joann's when I was in San Diego over Christmas and it was just the thing.  I thought I had enough fabric to make two covers, but alas there was only enough for one.  In the end, I think that's ok because two might have been too many for one sofa.

I also acquired an ugly end table from the sidewalk yesterday.  I only dragged it home because 1) I needed an end table and 2) I needed one that was narrow enough for the space between sofa and window.  My lamp had been sitting on the windowsill since I moved in and it's nice to have it on another surface so I can close my blinds.  I have to sort through my available fabrics to find something to cover over it, until then, no photographs!
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Pizza Dough and Sauce

When it comes down to it, pizza may be my favorite food.  It's a complete food, meaning you don't need accessories like rice or noodles and it is hot and cheesy and the toppings are infinite and all good.  You can go upscale or street-style and each is wonderful in its own way.  The only pizza I can't care too much for is deep dish, but I'm willing to give it a go on occasion, why not?  Homemade pizza is another style I fancy, ever since I figured out how to make a pizza with crispy bottoms.  As mentioned in my previous posts, I use a little cast iron pan and that makes a nice personal sized pizza just for me.  Today I tried out the Pioneer Woman's pizza recipe and it made a pizza with a light airy crust.  I didn't follow the directions perfectly unfortunately, because my oven was at 450 instead of 500, but it came out nicely, though not quite what I was used to.  I think I'd like a chewy crust, but I don't know how to make that yet.  Here is her recipe:

1/2 tsp yeast
3/4 cup warm water
2 cups flour (250 grams)
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/6 cup olive oil

Mix yeast and water together, set aside.  Mix flour and sugar together then mix in olive oil until incorporated.  Mix in yeast/water until dough comes together.  Best after rising in fridge 3-4 days.

And here is my old recipe:

1 tbs yeast
3/4 cup warm water
pinch of sugar

1 3/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt

My favorite pizza is one made with pesto, grape tomatoes, goat cheese and extra sharp cheddar, but these ingredients are not always in my house so then I like to employ pizza sauce and spare vegetables from my bin.  Here is the sauce I usually use, because tomato paste is easy to have around and the other things I typically have on hand.  Note: the original recipe called for some minced garlic and parmesan cheese but these are things you can just add directly to the pizza in my opinion.

Pizza Sauce (adjusted bc I lacked many ingredients)

1 can tomato paste (6 oz)
6 oz warm water
1 tbs honey
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried basil
pinch ground pepper
2 pinches salt

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Ino's Butternut Squash and Walnut Bruschetta

Ino was one of my favorite restaurants in New York and my first boyfriend and I would go there on a pretty regular basis. It helped that a good friend of his worked there and would sneak us delicious free dishes that sometimes were not on the menu. My favorite items were their truffled egg toast and their bruschettas (I pretty much enjoyed all of them, but their liver pate bruschetta, which was not on the menu, was my favorite. Oh but the fig one was so good too...). Anyway, this was one of them:

Butternut Squash and Walnut Bruschetta, Ino

3 cups butternut squashed, 1/2 inch cubes
3 tbs olive oil
3 tbs honey
3/4 tsp chili flakes
~0.5 cups coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted
3/4 tsp sea salt
some pepper

Mix these ingredients together and spread in single layer in a baking pan.  Bake at 400F for 10 minutes, stir the mix and bake another 15 minutes.
Cool to room temperature and eat on baguette slices or if you're like me and don't have baguettes around but do have some homemade bread around, toast up a slice.

Spread the cooled mixture atop the bread, cover with a little shaved asiago cheese (or parmiggiano reggiano in my case, bc I always have this around) and a little walnut oil.  Enjoy!

Mixture before baking

One second before devouring, the first of two slices
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Friday, January 7, 2011

A Manly Dinner for a Girlish Monkey

Sometimes (not often) a girl just wants a nice steak.  This is easily done when said girl has a shit ton of beef stored away in her freezer from the pre-Christmas sale at Safeway.  I'm trying to eat out of my pantry and freezer whenever I can, because what's the point of buying food and never eating it?  Visiting my mom always brings this truth to the forefront of my mind so I'm planning meals around basic things I already have.  Fortunately, I buy what I like so this has not been too hard.  Dinner tonight was a quick affair (once the meat was thawed): steak with some kosher salt and crushed black pepper pressed against the sides before searing and a little white potato mashed with milk and mixed with petite peas.  Some wine in my french cow glass (meumeu, a gift from Mr and Mrs Tort)

Note: For the longest time I couldn't stand to eat peas; I'm sure some kind of traumatic childhood memory was the underlying cause of this, but it's been too long for me to remember the details.  Ferret brought me back to peas because he was forever cooking up a little dish of them to go with his main entrees.  He always bought the petite pois from TJ and I realized that these snappy tasty spheres were a far cry from the mushy vaguely metallic green horrors of my distant memories.  In any case, tonight's meal is one that Ferret would appreciate, so in honor of Ferret and peas here is a picture of my tasty, manly din:

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Tomato Egg

When we were small, my mom used to cook this dish all the time. It would be one of the many little dishes she would cook for dinner or lunch and even now I like it best with rice and a side of some kind of salty-ish soy-sauce based meat. I have been casting a worried eye at my 4 little plum tomatoes these past couple of days without coming up with any feasible idea of how to use them without having to run to the grocery store for additional supplies. Originally, they were destined for hotpot, but when the napa fell through (see pork and leek dumplings), I meant to eat them as tomato melts, but completely forgot to buy cheese. This is all very fascinating. Anyway, tomato-egg was Bunny's very favorite vegetable dish and I think she was really the reason we ate it so much. I didn't much like it at first but as time went on, I became increasingly fond of it. Tonight I had it over brown rice and fixed salmon with soy sauce on the side.

Tomato Egg (the way my mom made it)

2-3 scallions, cut into segments (maybe 3-4 segments per scallion)
a few cloves of garlic chopped
4 plum tomatoes, cut into large chunks
2 eggs, mixed up
pinches of salt
pinches of hondashi
pinch of black pepper

In a little oil, stir around the scallions and garlic. Add the tomatoes and some water. Clap a lid on it until the tomatos get soft (shouldn't take too long). If there is no more water at the bottom, add more. You want there to be a layer of liquid there so when you add the eggs, the eggs stay in soft curd-like pieces. Let the eggs set a bit before stirring around with spatula. Add salt and hondashi and pepper to taste.
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Tuesday, January 4, 2011


This is my new pet axolotl, Manuelo. The odd thing about both my pets is that I was not the one who named them. The people I was living with at the time in college gave Tony his name while I was out buying cat food and Manuelo was named by Tortoise. I thought it suited him since axolotls are also known as Mexican Walking Fish. Manuelo is translucent and is living in my largest vase, a gift from Pug. Tony is currently blissfully unaware of Manuelo's existence and since I'd like to keep it that way, Manuelo is living on one of my bookshelves.

I think I'm going to maybe get some smooth rocks or gravel to line the bottom of his vase and make it homier for him. Hope he likes living with me...better than dead I guess!
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Hobbies Include Cat and Food

When I went to Uwajimaya with lab-friend a while back I made sure to acquire some seaweed wrap and frozen eel for future sushi-making. The future came last night and I had an easy and tasty dinner using recipe and methods from my previous post here. I wish there was a way for the wrapper to stay fresh and crispy instead of rapidly turning soggy and chewy, but I guess there's no avoiding this with homemade sushi. Next time I think I will add a smidge less salt to the rice bc the eel is already salty. I've already eaten a few pieces for breakfast this morning, oops.

And here is everyone's favorite cat, lounging on Martha Stewart's quilt.

And finally, last night I took the plunge (not really a plunge because it wasn't like I was at all hesitant or anything) and bought 5 packets of seeds from seeds of change. Even though I had sage and thyme seeds already, I left them at Bunny's house a year ago and she stored them improperly outdoors where they all got soggy, so I doubt they will be any good to me now. So I bought more sage and english thyme, some cilantro seeds that are supposed to be slow to bolt, genovese sweet basil and catnip (so I can make some toys for the little cat). I still have to buy some pots and planters and things to set up in my balcony, but I think I will have a lot of space to grow what I want to this year if I make full use of the balcony fence. After I come back from the conference next week I will take the plunge (this is used properly here because I'm feeling ick but also excited about this) and buy some red wrigglers for my compost bin. With any luck I'll have usable compost by the summer!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Resolutions for 2011

Last year I made a happy long list of resolutions but two weeks into the new year I realized I had to abandon them to focus on the three main important things in my life at the time:

1) Graduate
2) Find a postdoc
3) Move

With all of that successfully behind me, I am looking forward to making some less weighty resolutions. So far, I've got:

1) Go running at least once a week once it gets warm (no way I'm stepping out in this 25 degree weather. Did I somehow bring East Coast weather with me to the West Coast? Is this my fault?)

2) Start a new garden on my new balcony! (yayayayyayaya, can't wait!)

3) Make homemade cards all year (I've made two already so I'm totally successful so far).

4) Finish the quilt already.

5) Start vermicomposting (try not to be grossed out by the worms).

6) Learn to drive and join zipcar.

7) Ride my bike around when the weather gets nice.

8) Update my blog regularly.

9) Learn and memorize all of Bach's Two Part Inventions.

10) Speak louder.

Living Room Decorating

When I was in LA for a day over Christmas holidays, I asked my mom to turn out her fabric stash for me. She'd acquired a bunch of random fabrics from an Indian neighbor of hers who moved away. I turned the numbby velvety blue stuff into fresh sofa cushion covers, which is a nice update from the red ones I'd made ages ago. Now it doesn't look so matchy matchy with the red file cabinet that I'm using as an end table and the red wastebasket.

The wall above the sofa (which looks gray here but is actually a very pale sea-green) is also super big and kind of curved so I'd been at a loss for what kind of wall hanging would be most appropriate without breaking the bank. I finally recalled a white Ikea frame I'd had lying around forever and thought that several of these sprinkled across the wall would look nice. It's not evident from this photo, but the frame is quite deep and has a nice 3D aspect to it (although technically everything in real life is 3D). I will fill them with various fabric swatches for easy decorating. This is just the first one, filled with fabric from my mom's Indian stash.
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Sunday, January 2, 2011

Birthday Card

Perhaps science is not really my calling after all since I've spent this entire weekend crafting and cooking. Here is a card I made for a friend's birthday, with some of the cardstock I got on sale at Joann's. The paper looks white but is actually a pale silverish gray, very pretty I think. One of my resolutions this year is to be better at sending cards and to only send homemade ones.
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I had horchata for the first time a month ago when I visited the Bunnies for Thanksgiving. It was the perfect complement to the fish tacos at Palomino and overall a refreshing and light drink. This version is not quite the same as Palomino's but it is quite tasty all the same, and very easy to throw together.

1 1/3 cup long grain white rice (uncooked)
2 cinnamon sticks
2 cups water

Combine above in blender and blend until coarsely ground (1-2 minutes).

Add another 2 cups of water and blend again. Leave in fridge overnight.

The next day, strain into a pitcher and add:

1 cup water
1 cup milk
heaping 1/3 cup sugar

Shake it up and enjoy!

Soapmaking Database

Ferret and I have started a soapmaking blog here. Soap experimentation posts will now be located on that site although stray thoughts and comments may still make its way here. For those who have tried my soap, feel free to leave your feedback at our new soapmaking blog!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Pork and Leek Dumplings

I took the basic recipe from my post on Pork Dumplings and made the adjustments I thought necessary after that first trial. I think this is the optimized recipe for now! I ended up going with leeks because the napa cabbage I saw at the grocery store was extremely sorry-looking. Now, I'm pretty sure I prefer leeks to the napa.

For excellent pictures on making wrappers and wrapping dumplings, see use real butter's remarkable post here.

1 leek (finely chopped, green and white parts, cleaned well and spun dry in salad spinner)
1 pound ground pork
1-2 tbs finely grated ginger (I lean toward 2)
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbs soy sauce
1.5 tbs sesame oil
a bit more than half an egg
2 dashes ground white pepper
2 pinches salt (pinched with thumb, index and middle finger if that helps to define "pinch" at all)

Mix up the filling first and then turn toward your dough. Combine:
2 cups flour (I've been weighing out flour, so this is 250 grams)
3/4 cup hot water

Knead until smooth, adding a little flour at a time when the dough feels sticky. Kneading time is probably about 5 minutes. Form ball, place back into bowl and cover with damp towel. Let the dough rest about 15 minutes.

Then divide the ball into 4 pie segments and store three back in the bowl under damp cloth to prevent drying. With the fourth, make into a fat cylinder with hands and cut sections off. I got 6-8 wrappers from each quadrant. After each cut the cylinder will flatten a little so turn it 90 degrees between cuts. Take each little section and push a little so it looks like you cut it out of a cylinder (not with the flattish ends) and then press down to form a disk. Dust both sides with flour and roll the edges out (roll a little edge, then keep spinning your disk and rolling until you have a flat wrapper).

Knowing how much filling to put in will depend on the size of your wrapper and personal experience. Too little filling is a bummer when you eat it and too much is impossible to wrap. You'll figure it out. Wet half the circle with your finger dipped into water and crimp the edges closed.

To fry:
Heat a little oil in a nonstick frying pan. Place dumplings into oil and cook until the bottoms are brown. Quickly pour in enough water so that it comes up to about 1/5 or 1/4 of the dumpling height then clap a lid on that pan and wait for the water to steam away. When the water is gone (a clear lid helps to gauge this), take off the lid and let the dumplings dry up so the bottoms get crispy again.

For the sauce I like:
Equal amounts of soy sauce and rice vinegar (I probably tilt the balance toward the vinegar)
Generous spoonful of chili garlic sauce