Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Oh, I don't Know...

So far as I can tell yesterday's pear preserves, "Spirited Pears," or as I like to call them, Boozey Pears, went perfectly. I even got an extra jar or two. Hopefully time won't prove me wrong.

Today I made pear jam using pectin. There's a butt-load of sugar in jam. Much more than there is in marmalade or the other preserves I've tried thus far. The recipe called again for finely chopped pears. This time I was careful to chop them very finely so I could measure the amounts properly. I followed the recipe carefully too and ended up with five full jars plus one not quite full jar of jam. The recipe said it would yield eight jars. I don't think I can blame altitude for this one. Maybe our pears aren't as juicy as commercial pears?

Anyhoo, I've learned so much from making these preserves. I've had a lot of fun trying new things and making mistakes. I'll definitely continue to make preserves in the future.

You know, apple season is looming.

I thought I'd use up all my pears today but no, I still have several more. What kind of preserves will the future bring? Or maybe I'll just make a cake or a tart or something. I'm too tired to think about it right now.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Maybe Not My Finest Work

The photo isn't very good (it's a composite, in fact) I didn't have a tripod and there's no sense of scale (they're each 14" in diameter) I think you get the idea though.

These were inspired by a bad mood. The bad mood was not inspired by an excess of pears (Jenn)

I'm going to make a bunch more, different colors, different styles and see how they look together.

Okay, they're not subtle or profound (necessarily) but I feel they're positive.

Today's ginger pear lime preserves are cooling on the counter. I think I didn't chop the pears finely enough since I got about half the yield the recipe said I would. I hope the lime to pear proportions aren't all screwy too. I hear the lids popping in the next room. That's a good sign.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Preserves, Day Two

The preserve of the day: pear port compote. I believe it went pretty well. There isn't actually all that much port in them though. Only a quarter cup compared to about eight cups of other ingredients. Supposedly the compote gets better with age and will be really delicious around next Thanksgiving (not this upcoming Thanksgiving) I will have plenty of other preserves to try in the mean time.

For example the pear ginger marmalade/tar I made yesterday. One of the jars didn't seal which was okay by me because I wanted to try some anyway. What's more I'd just eaten the last of the store bought marmalade I had. Yeah, my marmalade's tar-like in viscosity. This makes me want to try again and see if I can do it properly next time. It does taste good but you really have to pry it out of the jar and your bready vehicle has to be pretty strong to take the force of the spreading. You might not want to have this marmalade on something so delicate as a scone.

I'm developing an x-ray sense with pears now. I've handled and cut open so many I can pretty much tell if they're going to be brown in the middle or not. Here's the simple secret: pears should be firm when they're ripe. If they're a little bit soft throughout they've probably gone too far. I haven't had tons of pear experience in the past. I didn't know.

Tomorrow it's ginger lime pear preserves. I'm going to make all the recipes I've marked in the book then go around again for the ones I want to make over.

I also made it over to my studio today. I went there first in case I got another migraine. No migraine today. If I'm lucky tomorrow I'll have some photos of my new series of plates. It might be more like Monday though.

Friday, September 26, 2008

'Can' Do (oh please)

Okay, the filled jars of marmalade (all four tiny eight ounce jars) are sitting submerged in the titanic pan waiting for the water to reach a "rolling boil" so they can be boiled for ten minutes. Will it take half an hour for the water to boil so I can boil the jars for ten minutes?

Recipes always take longer for me than they do in the cookbook. What I mean is if the cookbook says "fry onions till golden, about ten minutes" it always takes me about twenty minutes. Is it me? Does the author have a much more powerful stove than I do? Do they assume all their readers are yuppies who have professional stoves in their home kitchens? It's probably me.

It took me four or five hours to make that marmalade. I really just looked at the hour and not the minutes when I checked my watch at the beginning. It was eleven-something o'clock. So each eight ounce jar of marmalade represents an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes of my time. I should sell that stuff for big bucks! Except I think I might have made pear ginger marmalade flavored cement. It was hard to tell if that was jam "flaking" off the spoon or a chunk of pear so I just kept cooking.

It tastes good. Fay and I enjoyed licking the spoons. I also discovered that Fay likes to eat lime rind. What a weirdo.

Forty-five minutes later, here are the little suckers in person:

However the marmalade comes out I still feel pretty satisfied with myself right now.

Unfortunate Discovery

It would appear that peeling and slicing pears has something in common for me with digging up rocks in the garden: I have another migraine. I don't remember ever having two migraines in two days before. So much for that career as a pastry chef that I was thinking about.

I'm ploughing ahead though. I hope I don't screw up the ginger pear marmalade. Especially since I've never done this before, it's completely unfamiliar and it's really hard to read instructions with a migraine. I've been peeling and slicing for hours. If I wreck it...well bummer.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Ow And Mediocre Food

Flattened by a migraine. I don't recall relaxing recently (I usually get them after I relax a bit) Anyway, I'm forced to take a break in activities.

All the canning supplies have arrived and I made it to the market and the hardware store for everything else I need. That's when the migraine hit. Nothing like driving when you have massive unstable blind spots. At least I'm in the country where there isn't much traffic.

I did get the pear crisp done this morning and it's tastier than last year's. Since it's not photogenic I don't have proof that I made it. You're going to have to take my word for it. This time I used toasted pecans in the topping as opposed to slivered almonds. Toasted pecans are a bit more flavorful and crispy. Memo to myself: use less granulated sugar in the filling, more lemon juice and maybe more cinnamon.

The recipe is from one of those Cook's Best Recipe cookbooks. I'd have used a different one but Pete asked for it. Have I said before that I find their recipes disappointing? Well I do. There's definitely a committee effect to those recipes. Every one that I've tried except for the pan roasted chicken breast has been less than compelling. They get some things right: the methods are solid and produce good textures but the flavors lack the magic that would make me want to make those dishes again. The mac and cheese was actually kind of a bummer. You put in all that work some really good Grafton cheddar and yeah, it's creamy and not mushy but it just doesn't taste cheesy. Boo!

I'd kill for a bagel and cream cheese right now. Did I buy that at the store? No. I got some Heradura Silver tequila though. That doesn't help me in this condition.

Hey - I just heard my Brookline neighbor's band on the VPR local jazz show. Cool! And it didn't bite. That's a bonus.

Okay, now I'm going to make myself a substitute for bagel and cream cheese. Probably pasta with jarred sauce and mozzarella. Just like in college! No brain power required. Well, slightly more required than for a bagel and cream cheese.

How pathetic that I've written so much about mediocre food.

Uhhm, my migraine made me bore you. Sorry.

Pears - My Activities For The Near Future

So far I'm planning on making pear crisp (because Pete asked) pear jam, ginger pear marmalade, pear port compote, pear mincemeat, ginger pear preserves, and pears in brandy, rum, cognac - whatever we have around since you add the alcohol to each jar individually.

I'm very excited because I've never really tried making preserves before. I think the Ball Complete Book Of Home Preserving will be very helpful. The instructions appear to be very thorough and clear and the recipes look delicious. I'll let you know after I've tried some.

Michaela suggested pear tart. I'll probably make one of those too. Why not?

I'm also working on a new range of plates. I might - if I'm lucky and don't collapse under the weight of all these pears - be able to photograph them and post the photos by the weekend.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

On Fruit

I'm back in Brookline now, away from the overburdened pear tree. When I was in VT it was so easy to eat five or six pears a day. It sort of became a habit. You could just pick one up off the ground and eat it. If it had bruises from falling off the tree you just eat around them, throw the rest into the woods and pick up another one. Or else if you saw a ripe one still on the tree you could just go for it. Then you could have the fun of hunting for another ripe one on the tree.

It made me realize that ordinarily I kind of ration fruit. In fact I've been carrying around mixed feelings about fruit and I didn't know it.

There are a few difficulties with fruit if you don't produce it yourself. Fruit is precious. Normally fruit is kind of expensive. You buy it at the store and you have to get it home without squashing it. If you don't eat it promptly it rots and then you feel guilty. Also, it's good for you (of course it's good for you whether you grow it or buy it) and sometimes I'm childish enough to let that dissuade me from thinking of fruit as a treat.

"Cookie or fruit? Cookie or fruit? Cookie bad! Fruit good! Cookie!!!"

I do think of fruit as a treat despite myself. I would never eat three store bought fruit objects at a go. That would be extravagant. If I bought them at the store I'd probably have bought six at the most and if I ate three at once they'd be almost gone. That would be a waste of resources. So instead I parcel them out, one a day or so.

Then there's the hoarder's backlash that kicks in: if I eat them all then they'll be gone and I won't have any more so sometimes I put off eating the last one until it's almost too late. The last of a package of grapes always become raisins in the back of my fridge.

Sometimes I just skip buying fruit altogether because I tell myself "it'll just end up rotting anyway" all because I can't bear for it to be all gone. How twisted is that?

Now I can afford to eat fruit just like a pig. It would be more of a waste not to eat as much as I want at a time.

So can our abundance of pears get me to change my ways? Knowing me I doubt it. My fruit habits are at least thirty-five years ingrained. I'll probably forget about this epiphany once the pears are gone and go back to my fruit hoarding ways.

In the mean-time Pete picked probably hundreds of pears off the tree yesterday while we prepared to leave VT. The pear bonanza continues for now. I"m going to look into canning and put up some preserves. I might even have time to do that before they all rot since most of them are still green. Fun - a new skill to learn!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Emergency Fun Post!

My friend Jenn just introduced me, through her blog, to a new subculture of which I've been unaware: over-the-top bento box making.

I've only known about this for about ten minutes but it's COMPLETELY CRAZY! So far I've just seen photos by the people Jenn linked to on her blog but I can tell this is the tip of a really huge iceberg. I like this person's bentos best so far because they are made out of food you could actually eat for a nutritious lunch.

Wait a minute, this person's look damn amazing and nutritious too. I started with the photo Jenn linked to that showed a bento storm trooper complete with Death Star.

Can you imagine opening up your lunch box and finding these things to eat?

I could really get into making things like this. However I'd prefer to eat them! I wish I had a rice ball right this minute! Pathetic in comparison but possible.

Another thing I'd really like: to go to a bento convention. You could see the super stars of bento in action!

Other Garden News + Cake

It's been a great year for apples and pears. Maybe a little too good as this pear tree has lost two branches because of the weight of excessive fruit. I don't honestly know what to do with all these pears. We're giving a lot away.

I ate a couple while I was figuring where to put the rest of the daylilies.

The bees are raising a ruckus on the anemones. This clump of plants is very noisy with bee buzzing. It warms a gardener's heart.

Finally, it's getting autumnal up here. After gardening I took a restorative stroll down to the pond. I was kinda hoping I'd bump into a loaded blackberry bush but no luck there. Instead I got a beautiful view of the pond, the gazebo roof, the smoke bush and the trees just starting to turn colors. Very lovely. Maybe I can get Pete to take a photo with his SLR.

Now for the cake. This morning while I was rampaging about Sarah Palin and how I think she's George W. Bush in a skirt I made some maple pecan cake from this Williams Sonoma mix. As you know I'm not normally a mix girl but this cake - they call it quick bread - is really really good. I recommend it.

Now that I'm on their site I'm seeing a bunch of intriguing things. Like the acorn cakelet pan. I kind of have a thing for acorns.

September 13 is Fay's Birthday

You know how I hate to be hot and sweaty? Well I'm hot and sweaty. But it's for a good cause because I'm gardening!

We got a note from the electric company saying that they couldn't get through the yard to read the meter. I guess that means it's past time for gardening.

So I'm moving a clump of daylilies that I've been wanting to move for years and later I'll get out the string trimmer and bushwhack a couple of paths to the meter. I'm doing that later because I'm beat from being hot and sweaty and I need a break. Wussy. No stamina.

Today is Fay's tenth birthday!!!!!! YAY FAY!!!!!

I didn't know if she'd make it this far. I'm very happy she did. I think she's officially considered an old lady now. I think ten human years makes her 63 in dog years. That isn't really so old when you get down to it. 18 years for the first year plus five for every year after that. What will we do for her birthday? I don't know. Maybe give her some steak? We treat her like a queen almost every day so it's difficult to think of something special that she'd enjoy.


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A Two-Mile Stone

Fay walked two miles in her wheelchair up and down hills to our local bookstore and back today. I couldn't believe it. I was so proud of her. She hasn't walked there in over a year. Not since before she lost the use of her back legs. She doesn't even seem extra tired tonight.

It was all her idea. I took her outside and she just kept going. When we got back to the house she even walked around the house twice. She would have kept going I think If I'd let her.

Pretty good!

I wonder if this means she'll want to go on regular walks again? Woah!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Another Example Of Why It Doesn't Suck To Be Me

That would be today.

Key: asterisked (*) words denote special privileges.

Okay, I am on vacation* but when you have a laptop* that's a relative term. I can say that I'm mostly on vacation.*

Have you heard "Love Is Only Sleeping" by the Monkees lately? It's really good. Listen to it again. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. So is this song by Empire Of The Sun, "Walking On A Dream," which I heard on Dave Allen's blog*.

Yeah, that and Pizzicato Five are playing* as I write.

Today I made some killer garlicky potato salad* with potatoes from a local farm stand* and fresh dill*, cleaned up after the dog (all day but that's just how it has been and will be for the foreseeable future) and went to the beach*. I just came in from having a giant gin and tonic* out in the (beautiful*) back yard*. I had my iPod* plugged in to the outdoor speakers* enabling me to listen to my very favorite music* while gazing at the sunsetting sky* which was full of mare's tail (fair weather) clouds. Did I mention that I had skull and crossbones ice* in my gin and tonic? This is one of the things I've been waiting all summer to do!

I got to feel quite magical* in fact. After my outdoor shower* I pulled on this friggin' awesome cotton dress* that I got on sale*.

Then I sat out there on the chaise lounge,* listened to my music,* sipped my gin and tonic,* accompanied by my dog in her wheelchair,* and watched deer course through the back yard*.

Really the only onerous thing I did today was buy plane tickets* to go do something I really want to do and fully expect to enjoy*. And I bagged up a bunch of trash to take out*. Boo-hoo.

Soon I will make myself a nutritious dinner* from leftovers*. Then I'll probably play video games* or watch some cable T.V.* and knit*.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Hey Everybody! I'm Lacking In Imagination And I Do It Really Expensively!

This is a very incoherent post. Is the explosion of tedious consumer culture I seem to be witnessing amplified by Aaron Spelling-style T.V. shows?

I just read this article in The New York Times online about the new "Beverly Hills 90210" and other shows of its ilk. I am in Amagansett, New York, one town east of East Hampton - next door to one of The Beast's many bellies. I'm seeing people walking around sporting their multi-thousand dollar handbags and multi-hundred dollar highlights. Everybody seems to be so impressed with everybody else's BMW or Chanel sunglasses or Tiffany bracelet. I see this in Boston, in California, all over the place. DULL DULL DULL!

All this showing off your money stuff. I don't really get it. People are so dull in how they show off their wealth.

I just think it's all so weird. I guess there's always been a segment of the population that behaves this way but it seems like extremely conspicuous consumption has taken over mass culture. Is it because of these T.V. shows?

I've never seen "90210" or "Gossip Girl" or "The O.C.". I might even like them if I did. Maybe there's more to them than what I see reflected in our current popular culture. Maybe the audiences are coming away with the easiest things to emulate.

It sounds like all these characters do is shop, drive fancy cars and generally burn money when they aren't making out with somebody. Can't fictional characters do better things with their fictional billions? The pharaohs built pyramids, the Medici brought peace and prosperity to Florence and patronized the arts and sciences. Sure, they bought a lot of stuff and had a lot of inappropriate sex but they also had accomplishments that benefitted their societies.

Maybe it would be boring to know that the hot rich chick collects art or likes architecture enough to have good buildings built? Too much character development. Nobody cares. They just want to see her naked.

Maybe I'm looking at this the wrong way. Maybe this is just about living vicariously. Most people aren't beautiful and rich and most of us can't have a one night stand with the hot lifeguard and most of us wouldn't dare to make out with our best friends' boyfriends. I guess we love to see other people do it though. We love to see other people do the things we can't or don't dare to do and then PAY! Or else they get away with it which is also satisfying in a different way. Then we think "maybe I could get away with that kind of behavior too."

I understand wanting to be beautiful, thin, have long, silky hair, be sexy and make out with the hottest guys in town (and you don't have to be rich in cash do do those things) but there's more to life than that. The stuff everybody seems to want is all the same dull stuff. Can't we have more interesting bad roll models?

Why is our society so bland and uninspired? Is it lack of education? Is it bad education that doesn't reward and encourage creative thinking? Are most people lacking in ambition? Fine, amass wealth. But there are other worthy things to do too. And there are more interesting things to do with your wealth than show off your Dolce & Gabbana handbag or your Armani suit.

Why apply these fictional standards to real life? Now it's considered glamorous to be a sheep as long as you're thin and what you want is expensive and boring. I guess it's easier to buy the stuff you see on T.V. for validation than it is to execute an original idea - or to pay someone else for an original idea.

Maybe it's too much for the audience to handle. Maybe if a character were rich, handsome and creative then people would be intimidated? Maybe creative people are too "weird" and therefore off-putting? Maybe market research shows that characters can be overdeveloped and then the show stops being escapist? Maybe the producers think the audiences are too stupid to follow characters' potential intellectual pursuits?

Oh, it's probably all about money again.

Then again I don't know what these real-life obviously rich people are doing with their money besides carrying around signifiers. Maybe they are having interesting buildings built. It's not like you can carry a building around. Nobody's going to stop people on the street and show them some interesting architectural plans. Maybe they do collect and appreciate art. I don't know though... if they did you'd think they'd have more interesting signifiers to show off.

I like fashion myself. I know for a fact that there are ample more interesting ways to spend great gobs of money. I would love to be given the opportunity to be impressed by someone who has paid a lot of money for SOMETHING INTERESTING!!!!! Can't you people wear Alexander McQueen or Boudicca or Etro or Nina Ricci or some person's stuff that nobody else has heard of that's interesting???!!!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Today's Plusses And Minuses

Not too hot
Fay's feeling frisky
House painters aren't here
I get to stay here five more days!

Pete's going back to Boston
Biting flies
Rough surf
Have to take the car to be serviced sometime this week

Monday, September 1, 2008

It's Still Summer At The Beach

It's still hot and sunny on the east end of Long Island. Weather Underground says sun all week. I'll be here.

Yesterday there were two guys on the beach playing live jazz. One had a guitar, one an alto saxophone. Thanks guys - that was great! My favorite saxophone experience ever. I think Pete and I stayed on the beach an hour longer than we would have just because of them.

I've been knitting a sock on the beach with Noro Kureyon sock yarn (Japanese yarn, by the way) It's self-striping and probably itchy. Someday I'll learn the "magic loop" technique and be able to knit two socks at once. This time I got impatient and just cast on to two circular needles.

Usually I don't like to knit at the beach because I feel like I'm getting sun block all over my work. This yarn feels so rough though that I know I'll need to wash it if only to soften it up so I'm not worried.

Last night we had dinner at a restaurant in East Hampton called Fresno. We called at around five and got a reservation for 7 PM. We were a little worried about that. What's wrong with them? It turns out that nothing's wrong with them. Best dinner I've had in quite a while. I know it's nothing new now but whoever invented that molten chocolate cake thing should be rich and famous.