Thursday, February 24, 2011

Portland Snow

The people in Portland are really funny about the snow. Once snow is predicted for the area it's all anyone can talk about. It would make sense if this was Boston, but the "snow" we get here is mostly the non-sticking variety and the little that manages to stick is hardly enough to inconvenience a rabbit. But for days people will mull over whether to come in to work or not, whether to drive or not and the public transportation system will start posting alerts on alternative routes etc. Having lived on the East Coast for a number of years this all amuses me, but since I really enjoy talking about the weather with other people I'm an active participant in all of this discussion. It makes me happy and has generated lots of elevator exchanges with random folk, I like that. Above you can see what it looked like this morning from my house; while there is still snow coming down, that thin layer has melted already.

(Note: my only worry is that the MAX rail will be frozen to the tracks again tomorrow morning. This happened the last time I had to go to the airport and created tremendous amounts of stress. I'll be leaving preemptively early but I really hope it doesn't happen!)
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Best Baguette

A couple of weeks ago when I was on my quest for oxtails, I took myself off via #9 bus to Fubonn Market. It's about a 40 minute trip but the time passed by quickly as I daydreamed about this and that and talked to the voices in my head. I'm not sure if I would have had the dedication to go to Fubonn if I hadn't also wanted to go to Best Baguette to try their banh mi sandwiches. I read about Best Baguette in the nytimes and it sounded both cheap and delicious. And notably, when I mentioned the words "banh mi" to my labmates in Portland they usually returned with "Best Baguette mmm" so I knew I was on the right track. Fubonn was a delight of a store; much more eclectic than other Asian supermarkets I've visited in the past, which tend to be predominantly Chinese or Japanese. I sensibly restricted myself to what I could carry, mostly by repeating this mantra: I will come back, I will come back.

After 1+ hour of wandering around in Fubonn and picking up a couple of pineapple buns at a nearby bakery (I do not recommend this place), I finally got myself a banh mi. I chose the grilled pork and got some fresh sugar cane juice too. The beverage actually cost more than the sandwich. And, having had sugar cane juice in Singapore and Taiwan (I watched muscular ladies squeeze the juice out of the canes for me) I have to say that Best Baguette's was disappointing and tasted weird, like they thinned it out with oj or something. Their banh mi sandwich though, was very tasty. The bread in particular was wonderful: crispy paper thin crust and a soft but flavorful middle. I will most certainly continue to plan my Fubonn trips in conjunction with banh mi sandwiches in the future so I can try all the other tasty looking ones from the menu.
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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Taking Care of Pets

The sun was out this weekend and since this is not something you can take for granted in winter Portland I made excuses to be outside to take full advantage.  My first task was to drop things off at the goodwill.  I had a whole foods paper bag occupying space in my living room for months now and I had been gradually adding things in or pulling things out.  Things finally reached some kind of equilibrium so yesterday was the perfect day to drop it off.  Goodwill was a lot of fun overall because things were sort of hapharzardly thrown on the shelves and it was amusing to poke through the different items and dream up possible uses for the stuff.  In the end, I only came away with a perfect little bowl ($2) for Tony's food.

I'm not sure how Tony feels about it yet, but I for one, am totally sold.  I also saw a little pet shop and decided to pop in on a whim to see if they had any fish things.  Over the last few weeks, the difference in size between Manuelo and Javier has grown even more marked and I wasn't sure how I could help Manuelo get a little bigger.  I ended up getting him a bottle of new food and something to condition his water, in case the Brita filtered water wasn't good enough.  And I've started setting him by the window sometimes so he can have a bit of sun.

And then I popped into Fred Meyers for the first time and was impressed by the vastness of the store.  I'm not sure it'll be my regular grocery store since it's a tad far, but it might be a nice excuse to go on a walk from time to time.  I picked up a bag of oranges and some strawberries.  Winter strawberries make me feel guilty but they smelled like the meadow and were on sale so I had to get a box.  I also got a bag of potting mix so I can start planting seeds when I return from Israel.  I'm a little concerned that the fruit flies might mess with my seedlings though so not quite sure what to do about that...

Vietnamese Pho with Oxtails

I first stumbled onto this recipe back in my temping days, during college.  This was quite some time ago, back when investment banking was still lucrative and they could afford to hire people like me to format their powerpoint presentations and documents.  I usually worked from 4pm to 2am or noon to midnight and since I never remembered to bring food and also was too cheap at the time to order in, I was usually manically starved by the end of my shift.  There was usually a lot of downtime too, so I would browse recipe sites and email recipes to myself.  This was also when I was first starting to cook for myself and everything seemed incredibly possible.  Since then I've made this soup many times, always to soul warming results.  A weakness for noodle soups dovetailed nicely with my second weakness for chili garlic sauce.  Last weekend I made a batch and found that my current soup pot wasn't quite enough to accomodate the volume of water.  I ended up overcompensating a bit a the end so the flavor of the soup wasn't as deep as usual, but it was still thoroughly enjoyed.

Vietnamese Pho

5 tbs peanut oil (I eyeball this and use vegetable oil)
3 1/4 pound oxtails, dry
2 large onions, chopped roughly
1-2 carrots, chopped
3 stalks lemongrass, chopped (I've actually never found this so never added it, I should try it sometime)
2/3 cup slice ginger
8 garlic cloves, chopped
7 whole star anise (extremely necessary!  do not omit!)
1 tbs black peppercorns
12 cups water
7 cups beef broth (I use about 4 cans)
3 tbs fish sauce

Sprinkle salt and pepper on oxtails and brown in oil in batches.  Transfer oxtails to a bowl and add onions and next 6 ingredients to pot and stir about until vegetables are tender.  Return the oxtails and add liquids and fish sauce.  Simmer until oxtails are tender, about 3-4 hours.

When cooled, remove the oxtails and strain the broth.  Keep in fridge overnight and skim the fat off the top the next day.  To serve, I use Japanese somen noodles, bean sprouts, and whatever chopped herbs I have on hand.  Usually cilantro, scallions and mint.  Squeeze lime wedges generously over each bowl; chili garlic sauce is a must for me.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Indian Food for the Week

It seems to take me about a week before I get around to posting food pictures. So here it is, the food I made last weekend to get me through the week. These two recipes were tried and proven recipes, though I think they get a little better each time I make them. The vindaloo this time was especially tasty, although I think I will make it spicier next time. The important thing is to get a piece of meat that is nicely marbled. I wanted to buy lamb originally, but the prices put me off and I got a piece of pork shoulder instead. This turned out to be excellent and I didn't miss the lamb (much) at all! Both recipes were found ages ago online, sadly I don't remember the original sources, but I have made various changes to both of them.


2 tsp cumin
1 tsp crushed black pepper
1 tsp cardamom
1 1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp fenugreek
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cayenne pepper (like I said, I would add more myself)
1 tsp brown sugar
5 tbsp white wine vinegar

Mix these ingredients together in a bowl and set aside. The original recipe calls for grinding the whole spices to make a powder, but who has a spice grinder? Not me.

2 large yellow onions, chopped
vegetable oil

Cook onions in a large pot until rich dark brown. Remove onions and put them in a blender (or food processor) and blend. Add 3 tbs water (or more if necessary) until you have a smooth paste. Add the onion paste to the spice mixture above.

1 inch cube fresh ginger, peeled
8-10 cloves of garlic
3 tbs water

Throw in blender/food processor and blend until you have a paste. Add a bit more oil to the pot and throw in the ginger/garlic paste. Stir until fragrant, add and stir for a few seconds:

1 tbs coriander
1/2 tsp turmeric

Then add and brown a little:

2 lbs meat, cut into bite sized pieces (can use whatever you want)

Add the vindaloo paste and I usually then add some water so that everything is nice and loose and the meat is mostly submerged. Simmer for 1 hour and then add:

2 large yukon gold potatoes (cut into large chunks)

and cook for another 45 minutes or an hour.

Saag Paneer

Paneer (you can make your own, which is delicious or you can be lazy and just pick up some queso fresco)
1 pound frozen spinach
juice of half a lemon
2 tsp coriander
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp garam masala (i don't actually have this so i usually add a dash of cinnamon and a litte more cumin and coriander)
1 medium onion chopped fine
4 garlic cloves and 1 inch ginger, pureed
salt to taste (I hate to taste! Just gimme the measurement)

Heat oil in a medium saucepan and add the ginger/garlic paste and the onion. Fry until brown, then add the spices, except the garam masala. Stir vigorously on high heat until the pungent, individual smell of the masalas changes to a more blended aroma. Add the frozen spinach with a little water and slap a lid on it. Let it thaw and cook for quite some time. You basically want the whole thing to turn into a soft mush. A person who wants to haul out the blender can puree the spinach before hand, but if you are making vindaloo anyway, you've got time to kill. Give the whole thing a hearty stir now and then. Salt to taste and add the lemon juice, garam masala and paneer. Let cook for a few more minutes.

Note: both the vindaloo and saag paneer taste increasingly good with time. If possible, make ahead.
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Sunday, February 6, 2011

More Crafts!

I don't think you can consider crocheting a NEW hobby exactly since I've been knitting and this is a yarn related craft.  Also the only reason I'm crocheting in the first place is to make cute toys for the baby bean.  I stumbled onto Creepy Cute Crochet back in December when I was busy looking for knitting projects for the bean.  While I was instantly smitten, I hesitated to buy the book because I didn't know how to crochet.  This was quickly solved by the purchase of a beginner's crochet book by Klutz.  I think if you know how to knit, crocheting is not too hard because you have some degree of yarn sense.  It took me about a day to feel comfortable and to make a couple of the projects in the book.  I forgot to take pictures of my crocheted flowers and Tony is sleeping over one arm now so I won't be able to remedy this, but here you can see a picture of the soap bag I made.  The tension is not quite even throughout the bag, but you can't really tell  with the soap inside.  This is a bar of my lemon milk soap.  I wasn't sure if I would be into the idea of using a soap bag (sort of like a washcloth wrapped around your soap), but I gave it a whirl last night and it was nice! I think it's especially nice for the soaps that I didn't add texture to (lemon milk and the recent almond cybilla).  

And speaking of soap, I just whipped up another half pound batch.  I used my basic milk recipe and the oatmeal milk and honey fragrance oil from Brambleberry.  This scent actually seems quite subtle, I'll have to see what it smells like over the next few days.  At trace, I added...oatmeal milk and honey.  The oatmeal was roughly ground with my mini food processor and I added just a couple of dollops of honey.  I'm not sure if it was the oatmeal or the honey, but I didn't hit immediate trace with the addition of milk as in previous batches. I ended up stirring this for a while until it looked pretty thick to me and then I poured it in the mold.  We'll see if there are any color changes with this batch.

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Cat Thinking Thoughts

When I saw Tony sitting there I knew it would make the most perfect picture. This picture didn't actually start off too perfect until I tweaked it a bit with picasa's picnik though.  I wonder what he was thinking when he looked out, if his eyes were closed and he was napping or if he was following a bird in the distance.  He seemed so calm that I think he must have just been contemplating the light and the time of day and maybe wondering what the world is like outside.
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Saturday, February 5, 2011

Meals Here and There

It is NEVER a bad thing when one meal spills over into the next day. Unless of course, the original meal was gross in which case, I recommend you just toss it and start fresh the next night. Of course if pennies are being pinched, you might have to eat it, gross or no, but in general it seems to me a waste of calories to eat something you dislike. So here we've got meal #1: a lamb chop (rescued from the bargain bin at Safeway for 50% off) pan-fried and generously sprinkled with lemon juice. A decadent mashed potato with lots of butter and (finally!) enough salt. And my favorite winter vegetable, little brussel sprouts, cooked in olive oil. And the glass o wine just goes without saying.

Meal #2 fortunately coincided with a night I wasn't feeling super hungry. So leftover brussel sprouts got heated up with leftover mashed potes and since I love love love chickpeas, I threw some of those in for good measure. This was actually completely delicious and may constitute a main meal in the future.

Last Sunday, I finally committed to making lasagna and decided to try out Pioneer Woman's "Best Lasagna Ever." I wish I could say it lived up to its name, but alas. It was perfectly fine, but honest nothing to write home about. I wouldn't even rank it at top 10. But maybe I am not a super big lasagna fan or something? In any case, this used up all the mozzarella cheese I had lingering around the freezer and generated plenty of lunches for the week. There was actually about a third of it left over but I couldn't face any more lasagna so it's peacefully sleeping in the freezer until some not too far off future time. I'm a haphazard photographer at best, so instead of getting a beautiful picture of the final product, you get a half-assed shot of the process midway. Here I am layering the damn thing:

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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Card for the Bean

Here's the card I made for the baby bean (I guess the bean in care of the Bunnies).  I couldn't figure out to cut out more relevant pieces for the front so I threw those hearts on to fill up space, haha.  Perhaps not my most inventive card to date.  By the way, it is a onesie on the front, not a headless man.  I didn't think it was necessary to clarify this but apparently one must (at least, if you are Ferret or Tortoise, I'm happy to say that Bunny never thought it was a headless man).

I really can't wait for the bean to arrive!  So many months away, I have a lot to do!