Thursday, December 30, 2010

Literature Ministry

This has nothing to do with food.  If you were expecting food writing, and a recipe, I am afraid you will be disappointed and ought to stop reading right now.

The following conversation, while not actually made up (mostly), was edited.  The dialogue at the time was stilted and improbable, possibly even more so that what I write here.  If my life were a movie, the script would be sent back for serious revisions to the self-indulgent dialogue.  Most of my friends are just as bad.  Some of them are worse. 

The Tall Guy and I are walking down one of the residential streets in South Anchorage near the Bluff.  I'm in my gigantic black parka.  The Tall Guy is pacing along crane-like beside me looking meditative*. 

"We look like cultists."

The Tall Guy's look of meditative inquiry became more inquiring.   

"We could knock on doors.  'Excuse me, ma'am, have you heard the good news about George MacDonald?'"**

"Have you let the Lord Peter Wimsey into your life?***"

"Good one, if I had one of my omnibus editions with me it would look like a Bible.  'Can I interest you in twentieth century literary modernism?  If you have any questions, we'd be glad to come back and talk with you about W.H. Auden.'"

We've been friends for a long time. 

*The Tall Guy's default expression seems to be meditative inquiry.  My default expression looks a lot like a scowl.  Some people might suspect that this was indicative of our characters.

**A nineteenth century Scottish fantasist.  I'm outrageously fond of some of his stories, and in the same breath driven to argue myself blue in the face with them.  MacDonald being dead, I tend to direct my arguments at The Tall Guy, who bears patiently with my flights of literary criticism.  If The Tall Guy and I were going to go around handing out literature that we found important, we would get in fights on people's doorsteps about which MacDonald we ought to be handing people. 

***  If you read fiction, and suffer from a touch of Anglophilia, you ought to do so.  I would suggest starting with Strong Poison or Murder Must Advertise.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Adventures in Ornamental Shrubbery

I have dried lilac blossoms down the back of my shirt.  This is one of those things that happens.  Could happen to anyone.  They itch. 

It's Christmas day here, and Christmas brunch at the Ervine house consists of too much coffee, and Grandma Ervine's coffee cake.  Suddenly, I realized that I was restless (probably a result of the four or five cups of coffee).  I needed to be moving, doing, I could not sit still one more minute.  I announced that I was going for a walk.  No one wanted to come, even though it's warmed up to six degrees above zero -- and the sun hadn't set yet.  (Anchorage in winter is a land of austerities and you take your luxuries where you find them.)

Before I left, Dad asked me to go out into the back yard, and shake the lilac tree* which was bowed under the weight of the week's snow fall.  I went and did exactly that.  Unfortunately, the best way to shake the lilac tree is to stand right under it and shake the main trunks.  Truthfully, I knew exactly what I was in for, but I shook the tree anyway.  It took five minutes or so to get all the snow out.  Much of the snow ended up down the collar of my silly looking "Help, it's the dead of winter in Alaska" down sleeping bag... er, parka.  As long as I was outside that wasn't so bad.  The snow was cold, but it was frozen.    It was when I came inside to change from my pack boots to a pair of heavily insulated hiking boots (more comfortable for walking) that I realized the extent of the problem.  The snow melted and ran down the back of my shirt in my own personal Niagara.  Apparently carrying with it a multitude of dried lilac blossoms.  Which itch. 

I then went for the long walk, and watched the sun set.  If I were a good blogger, I would have taken pictures.   You'll just have to take my word for it that even though winter sunsets in Anchorage occur at 3:30, they are still some of the finest sunsets in the known world.  I alternated thinking "it's freezing, why does anyone live here?" and "It's so beautiful, why do I live in Seattle?"  Good questions both of them.  Occasionally punctuated with "why does my back itch?"

*Yes, tree.  It's almost as tall as the house.  The house is two stories tall.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

You Know You're in Alaska When...

Women in jeans and opera-worthy fur coats at the grocery store are one of those quintessentially Alaskan sights. Then there is the backlog of seafood given to us by friends in my parent's freezer. I've been having fun with salmon this week. I'm afraid that the recipes I'm about to relay are not cheap as written, unless you have friends with salmon fishing "problems". (One can explore canned salmon for example.) On the other hand, both of them do use leftovers.

I served the salmon cakes, along some bean soup and salad, to friends who came over for a Scrabble game.

Salmon Cakes with Feta

vegetable oil
1 cup finely chopped onion (or one medium onion)
1 1/2-ish pounds salmon "burger meat" -- that is the skinned trimmings from filets and steaks. One could use a filet, but that seems like overkill. If you don't happen to have a pound or two of salmon odds and ends, I would definitely explore the canned option. Or one could use cheaper fish (and a different cheese).
3 slices of bread, crusts cut off
1/2 a cup of milk
OR a cup and a half of leftover mashed potatoes (Which is what I used -- making these cakes friendly for people with wheat issues)
2 tsp dried dill or 2 Tbsp fresh
a dash of garlic powder
A squeeze of lemon juice, salt, ground black pepper, cayenne to taste
Chunks of feta

Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Sauté untill golden, stir them every few minutes to prevent burning. This will take somewhere in the neighborhood of fifteen minutes.

If one does not have leftover mashed potatoes, tear up the bread into small chunks and place it in a small bowl with the milk, and let it soak for five minutes while you're doing other things.

While the bread is soaking and the onions turning golden, you will be breaking up the fish witha fork. When it's the consistency of tuna salad, wring out the bread, and add it along with the onions, the egg, the lemon juice, and other seasonings. (If you aren't using bread and milk, obviously you just skip the whole rigamorale and dump in the mashed potatoes.)

Form the salmon mixture into patties roughly four inches across. Layer on a large plate using waxed paper to separate the layers, and refrigerate for an hour to give them time to set up. (I think I ended up with eleven cakes last time.) In an emergency one can skip the chilling, but the cakes are more annoying than necessary to work with.

Preheat the oven to 350. (Or not, these are nice fried.)

If one is going to bake the cakes one ought to bake them for twenty five minutes, turning them at the mid-point and sprinkling them with a layer of feta.

Or one can fry them in oil at four minutes a side. Or one can bake them half way and finish them by frying.

Either way, they are tasty either by themselves, or as part of a sandwich.

Two apiece for adults seems to be the right number, if one is not serving them as sandwiches. If I were serving them as sandwiches, I would serve them in pita bread with tomatoes, lettuce, and tzatziki, or tahini and humus, or mayo if I didn't feel like making the former, and didn't have tahini and humus in the house.

After the night of Scrabble and salmon cakes, I had a cake left over. This evening I was rummaging through the kitchen in search of dinner for my parents and I. I found the salmon cake and some whole wheat pasta and the feta again. The result was uncommonly tasty.

Baked Penne with Salmon and Tomatoes

1 cup-ish whole wheat penne pasta or other suitable pasta, which is to say that members of the fettucini and spaghetti families are out.
2/3 cup milk or cream (I used 1%, but it would have been better with whole milk, and decadent with cream)
1 or 2 eggs (I used 1, but in retrospect I wished I'd used 2, especially with 1% milk)
1 1/2 - 2 tsp dried dill -- it so happens that I really like dill, if you don't-- a mixture of tarragon, oregano, and parsley, or any of them singly would be delish too. Mint also has its possibilities if one is feeling adventurous.
a couple of drops of hot sauce -- optional
a dash of nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
2 tsp tomato paste (tomato paste in tubes is one of the better inventions of the twentieth century)
1/2 c minced onion
3/4 c finely diced tomatoes
1 leftover salmon cake (or other deck of cards sized piece of flavorful fish -- one could use rather less smoked salmon if one had that on hand)
1 c grated extra sharp cheddar -- may I recommend the Tillamook?
1 c feta

Preheat the oven to 350

Prepare the pasta according to the directions, especially if it's whole wheat pasta. I like normal pasta al dente. Whole wheat pasta al dente is like unto sawdust. This dish is not liquid enough to cover any pasta deficiencies, so go ahead and cook the whole wheat pasta for 13 minutes.

While the pasta is cooking, butter a medium size gratin dish.

Mix together everything on the ingredients list from the milk to the tomato paste. It will take some concerted beating to get the tomato paste to incorporate. Oh well.

Chop up the tomato and onion. You might mix them together, or even mix them together with the crumbled fish. Yes, you want to crumble the fish. There is not a lot of fish in the dish and you want the flavor to get around.

When the pasta is drained, spread half of it in a thin layer across the bottom of the baking dish.
Cover that layer with the tomatoes, onions, salmon, and half of the cheeses. Cover this layer with the other half of the pasta. Spread on the rest of the cheese. Pour the milk and egg mixture over the mound of goodness.

Bake for forty minutes, or until everything is bubbly and not too liquid.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Dignify Our Feast

To the left we see yet more Pieter Bruegel, Peasant Wedding. Which is lovely and cheerful and the people look like they were having nearly as much fun as my family was last night. The title is drawn from one of my favorite poems by Ben Johnson, "Inviting a Friend to Supper." I love feeding people. I love entertaining. Its heartfelt invitation hits me where I live, every single time. Which is funny as it was probably tossed off as a courtly trifle.

I'm home, which is to say that when I was doing dishes at eleven this morning the sun had just barely topped the southern mountains. (At this latitude in the winter, the sun rises in the south and sets in the south, and any other directional formulation is wishful thinking.) Last night we celebrated my brother's birthday. A delayed feast, he waited until I could be home to share it (or possibly cook it).

The menu featured a bone-in beef rib roast (if I could remember the proper name for it, I would tell you), mashed sweet potatoes (which have been discussed here ere now), Yorkshire pudding, gravy, and a big green salad to balance the enormity of our indulgences.

I have some philosophical opinions on salad-- namely a good salad should include a balance of sweet and savory, with some protein in it to give heft. I am inexplicably anti-creamy salad dressings. Last night's salad was butter crunch lettuce, apple, pecans, onions, and extra sharp cheddar with a port-pear vinaigrette. (One nice thing about cooking in my parents kitchen instead of my own: a better class of provender. A second nice thing: my parents have a dishwasher.)

I went for simplicity in the beef. I allowed it to sit out for a couple of hours, warming up to something resembling room temperature. I rubbed the seven pound monster with a bit of butter, and sprinkled it with an herb mixture -- the Tongass Blend from Summit Spice and Tea. I preheated to oven as high as it would go -- in this case 500 degrees. I placed the carcass on a rack in the smallest practicable roast pan (in order to minimize burning the drippings beyond use), and popped it in to the oven. I immediately turned the temp down to 350 and allowed it to cook unmolested until it achieved an internal temp of 150. (Some members of the family, including the birthday boy, inexplicably prefer their beef cooked past medium rare.) This took somewhere in the 2 and a half hour neighborhood.

On retrieving the gigantic hunk of beef from the oven, I made Yorkshire pudding, which I had never made before. I strongly suspect that I shall make it again. AND I shall share my recipe with you. While the pudding was baking I made a small vat of beef gravy.

Yorkshire Pudding

1 heaping cup flour. (All purpose is probably the canonical choice, but I used a finely milled whole grain product that they sell at Costco, which if I recall correctly somewhere contains the words "super grain". It functions more or less or exactly like all purpose white flour, but has a richer nuttier taste and is theoretically better for us. I am clutching at any straws of nutritional respectability in the meal I am describing.)

1/4 tsp. salt

1 cup milk

3 eggs

1/4 cup rendered beef fat (or other liquid fat, preferably with a high smoke point)

Combine the flour, salt, milk, and eggs in a blender or food processor, or a large bowl. Beat until smooth. Stick in the fridge for an hour to chill.

Preheat the oven to 350. (Assuming that you aren't cooking a roast of unusual size in it)

Pour your liquid fat of choice into a 9 in pie plate, or some other suitable receptacle. Place in the oven for 10-15 minutes. It needs to be really hot. Some recipes say smoking. I did not let it go that long on this outing. Next time...

Carefully pour the batter into the hot grease. It may spatter. Bake for 15-25 minutes,until puffed majestically and golden brown. Use it to sop up gravy. There should be lashings of gravy.

I suspect that in days ahead, I may just make up the pudding and some gravy (using stock) and skip the roast entirely.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Important Safety Considerations

A few years ago one of my friends and I came up with our three cardinal rules of kitchen safety:

1. Do not fry bacon with your shirt off, even if you have a job interview and you only have one clean shirt left. Eat a peanut butter sandwich instead.

2. When straining chicken broth, do not pour boiling broth on the hand that is holding the sieve.

3. Even if you're in Alaska, and fresh fruit costs the earth, even at Costco -- do not eat the apricots that are beginning to turn black. Projectile vomiting will ensue.

I'm thinking that it might be time for another safety rule.

Do Not Deep Fry Gnocchi.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Frost Giants -- again

As previously mentioned -- my Swedish bones believe that this year the wolves probably will eat the sun and frost giants come stomp over the rest of civilization as we know it. Every year when the days grow short, they start prophesying doom. This has contributed to a sense of impending dread and gloom that manifests itself in near hibernation for the winter months.

One can romanticize the depression. Goodness knows that creative artists have a long history of glamorizing their dysfunctions, or having their dysfunctions glamorized. But at the end of the day glamorous or not, it's still there. Everyday, and much worse in winter. Depression is exhausting, and managing depression is exhausting. It's hard to see glamor in something that if I am inattentive leads to being knee deep in squalor, with no idea how I got there and a deep conviction that even if I begin to improve things, I will just fail, so why bother? To say nothing of the fact that the wolves are going to eat the sun any minute now, so even if I succeed, it won't matter.

This year the frost giants are not so bad. They stomped through a couple of weeks ago, brought on by a week of rain and finals stress. But they left again. I hate to admit it, but not being in Alaska really helps. Longer days and milder weather mean more exercise. Exercise is one of the things I can do that actually helps. Frost giants hate long walks*.

Did you notice the silly word game I'm playing -- equating mental illness with a fragment of Norse mythology? It is intentional. If I think about depression as depression -- it becomes overwhelming, and something best treated with medications I can't afford. If I frame it in terms of frost giants, it is still a threat to all I hold dear, but it's something that can be fought -- something that I am bound to fight. This helps more than I can really believe.

*Frost giants also hate clean kitchens, baking, laughter, making things, singing, made beds, and friendship. Frost giants = no earthly fun at all.

Monday, December 13, 2010

I Dream of Cheese Puffs

I have not made cheese puffs this week. I am way too sick for making cheese puffs. But I wish I were making cheese puffs. I foresee a baking bender when I get home.

Cheese puffs (or gougères, if one is a francophile) are simple, but also work. Totally worthwhile though, and your friends will be so impressed if you take them to a potluck, or serve them at a party. Further, they are based on what the French would call pâte á choux or cabbage pastry, because of the resemblance of cheese puffs to little heads of cabbage (if you're like me and eschew pastry bags whenever possible). Pâte á choux is a mindbogglingly useful skill if you want to make Swedish Coffee Cake -- and why wouldn't you? It's the best breakfast pastry in the known universe if you are an almond -- ahem -- nut. Or one could make profiterole, eclairs, or cream puffs. I'm a bit too basic and usually stick to cheese puffs.

Cheese Puffs

Read everything, then read it again. No. Really. It won't take long and you'll be prepared for when your arm wants to fall off.

1 c. water
1 stick unsalted butter
1/2 t. salt
scant 1/2 t Dijon mustard
1 c. whole wheat flour (or all purpose, either works)
5 eggs
1 c. grated Swiss cheese
heaping 1/2 c. grated Cheddar
1/4 t. nutmeg
loads of fresh ground black pepper, or to taste

Heat oven to 375
Place racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.
Butter two large cookie sheets.

Combine water, butter, mustard, and salt in a sauce pan of reasonable size (but not a huge one). A large cast iron skillet is not an awesome idea, trust me on this. Even if it seems like it's deep enough, it won't be.

Bring the mixture to a full boil over high heat. Measure the flour while you are waiting and read ahead in the recipe.
Reduce heat to moderate and dump in the flour all at once.
Stir vigorously. Use a wooden spoon. Vigorous stirring will not be easy, because the flour and water will form a very thick paste. Stir until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pan -- about 30 seconds.

Keep stirring for another minute and a half to cook off excess moisture. This is not easy because of the cementlike quality of the dough. Persevere. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly -- 3 minutes or so. (I actually skipped this part by accident, which made the next step more harrowing than it need to be, that and the large skillet that I was using had lots of exposed hot surfaces, perfect for quick cooking eggs. I don't know how I didn't end up with the worst scrambled eggs ever -- probably force of will.)

Add the 5 eggs one at a time, beating well with each addition. Your arm will hate you. Just be glad you've got your trusty wooden spoon. It will be worth it. Excelsior.

The batter will appear to separate, but become smooth once beaten. It should be glossy and just stiff enough to hold soft peaks and fall softly from a spoon. Or that's what the Gourmet Cookbook says. My batter was stiffer and more opinionated than that (probably because of the whole wheat -- their recipe calls for all purpose flour).

Stir in the cheeses, nutmeg, and pepper.

At this juncture one could pipe the little darlings on to the cookie sheets. I have no truck with pastry bags, so I used a teaspoon measuring spoon and made little roundish heaps an inch apart on the cookie sheets.

Bake for 30 minutes, switching positions of cookie sheets at the fifteen minute mark. Or just bake them until they are puffed, golden, and crisp. Either way everyone will be very impressed.

Against the Frost Giants

Deep in my bones I know that the wolves are going to eat the sun, and the frost giants are going to end up on my doorstep. I blame my Swedish heritage. This made me laugh immoderately and then nod thoughtfully, even though I have never made lussekatter.

Worth Doing Well?

To my considerable annoyance, I am still sick. I'm not as feverishly wobbly as I was two days ago which is a blessing that I should be more thankful for, but less feverishly wobbly still implies a degree of fever and wobbliness that fails to please me. After two days of resting, whether I like it or not, I need to go into the studio and make another stab at my design final. I am not sanguine about the outcome.

Design school is the most difficult academic type thing I have ever done. This is speaking as someone who sailed through the upper division classes for her major and minor in college. I sometimes got stressed out or managed my time badly, but I never doubted my essential ability to do research and write a readable paper or draw interesting conclusions from my data. Academia holds very few terrors for me, but I do not love it enough to spend the rest of my life teaching and writing about 17th century literature, even though John Donne occupies a central place in my shrine to Dead White Guys I Have Loved.

Introduction to Design on the other hand makes my blood run cold. I think I might be in love. I have taught myself daunting computer programs and figuratively beat my brains out on my desk trying to do better. My self definition as a competent artist* is in tatters at the moment, and I would care more if I were not so determined to work my way to mastery at this. So far my efforts have met with far less success than another paper about the male gaze in the poetry of Elizabeth I's court.

So I have a standard of perfection that I am aiming at, and I keep missing it. It is frustrating. I want to get an A on my final. No, not just an A, I want a 4.0 on it. Losing that Saturday means that I lost a day of elaboration and thought. Even knowing that I had no choice -- I could not have physically got myself to the studio**-- does not help as much as I wish it did.

I want to be perfect, and knowing that I am not going to be calls up the insidious spirit of perfectionism. It says, "Why bother if you know you won't succeed?" There have been periods in my life when I would rather not turn in anything at all, than turn in what I thought was bad work. It doesn't help that this is the dark time of the year, and I always struggle when the days grow short. The voice of perfectionism says, "Anything worth doing is worth doing well." And I chime in with the chorus, "if I can't do it well, I won't do it."

This is not helpful. Somethings are too important to be held hostage to an unrealizable perfection. A couple of years ago, I heard someone I respect said, "Anything worth doing is worth doing badly." It took me a moment or two to work it out. I know her writing and art. From my point of view she does not do things badly. It occurred to me that maybe things worth doing are worth doing as well as I can whether or not I think that "as well as I can" is terrible. This was revelatory.

Unfortunately it's a lesson I have to keep relearning. Oh well.

From the commonplace book:

"Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft [or final project in design]. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won't have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren't even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they're doing it." -- Ann Lamott

“No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” -- Samuel Beckett

*My self-definition as an artist has never been in doubt. If I can't paint well, I shall paint badly. If I can't paint at all, I shall write. If you take my pen and paper away, I will cook. If you take my kitchen too -- I will sing my head off, even if I have a sore throat. But really, why is this hypothetical "you" so determined to stop me making things?

** I managed to run a load of laundry on Saturday. I had to take a nap after I took the hamper down the hall. Walking a mile, or even just walking to the bus stop, was right out.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

In Which Our Heroine Is Sick and Whiny

After a day of running around Volunteer Park, working on a film for one of my classes, I came home with a sore throat and the abiding conviction that my friend Ben, who actually is a filmmaker, deserves more respect even for attempting such a thing. That was Wednesday. I went to bed early. I woke up with the sore throat, and the nagging feeling that I was in a very low key way running a temperature. I went to bed again early. Friday I woke up with a sore throat, a fever, a nasty cough, and a voice that had dropped an octave. I went to bed really early -- before ten o'clock -- and woke up this morning feeling even worse. I have lost my sense of smell, and thus most of my sense of taste. Everything is variously textured nothing. If I'm lucky it's salty or sweet nothing. It's all vaguely nauseating, and I'm really hungry because a fever burns calories like nobody's business. I hate being sick.

It's hard being interested in the world on a day like today. I want to go back to bed and stay there -- even though I crawled out of bed on the early side this morning because ten hours horizontal is about all I can take. However, I have things that need doing. Rather a lot of things actually. I have finals to work on. I have an apartment to clean, which needs it rather desperately. So I must get on with it, even though my everything hurts, and I could quite reasonably start singing baritone.

Obviously under the circumstances the best choice is to write an exceedingly whiny blog-post.

In an attempt to redeem myself and justify the self-indulgent whining, I offer my favorite recipe for when I'm sick,. It's pretty tasty when I'm healthy too.

Savory Rice Porridge

1 cup or so good quality chicken broth, homemade is best, but not always available. In any case it should be something that actually tastes like chicken and vegetables were implicated in the creation of it.
1/4 cup rice
a sliver of butter (approximately a tea spoon) or an equivalent amount of chicken schmaltz (which you might be lucky enough on hand if you don't skim the fat off your chicken broth before you freeze it)
1 clove of garlic chopped in half
a smallish chunk of ginger root, or 1/2 tsp of powdered ginger, or to taste
salt and black pepper to taste.

Combine everything except the salt and black pepper in a sauce pan, bring to a boil.
Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until the rice has broken down to a porridge consistency (an hour or more).
Discard the garlic.
Add the salt and pepper.
Eat while maintaining a pose of listless ennui. This may be difficult because it actually tastes good if you can deal with the texture.

In some cultures this is juk or congee, and a normal breakfast food, garnished with various exciting things.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Helvetica, period.

We watched Helvetica today in History of Design. Helvetica may or may not be the typeface of the Establishment. It may or may not be responsible for the Vietnam war. It may or may not be socialist. It is definitely a darn entertaining documentary, even if you're not a type geek.

Erik Spiekermann is one of my new favorite people. (The interview begins around the two minute mark, and really you should just go watch the movie.)
More Erik Spiekermann being awesome.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Mashed Sweet Potatoes

These are more or less one of the sweet potato dishes* that came to Thanksgiving with me. The scalloped sweet potatoes were tasty (one day I will manage to cook scalloped sweet potatoes as they exist in my head and they will be AMAZING -- this effort merely very good), but this is the one that people raved about.

I will confess straight away that the recipe I give here is not what I actually did. I was using leftover sweet potato coconut soup** as the liquid. If you want to make sweet potato coconut soup and then use that (and why not? sweet potato coconut soup is awesome) go right ahead.

I got the idea because as I was pouring a cup of cream into the scalloped sweet potatoes, I realized that only bringing that dish would exclude the aunt who is not on speaking terms (let alone eating terms) with lactose. I contemplated and decided to use the leftover soup as liquid and mash the rest of the sweet potatoes (I massively overbought sweet potatoes as I am wont to do).

Mashed Coconut Sweet Potatoes

3 lbs sweet potatoes
coconut milk
chicken or vegetable broth
ginger, paprika, black pepper, garlic, salt to taste
butter optional

Fill a largish kettle with water, add a tea spoon of salt or so, and bring to boil on the stove

Peel and thinly slice the sweet potatoes.

Place them carefully in the boiling water, trying not to splash oneself. Wait for the water to reboil.

Boil for five minutes.


Transfer to a mixing bowl and add liquid using approximately three parts broth, to one part coconut milk. One might also employ the butter at this time if one is doing so. The amount of liquid and butter used is left to the personal taste and good judgement of the person doing the mashing. Just as the requisite amount of mashing is also left to their taste and judgement. Me? I like my mashed root vegetables a bit lumpy.

Add the spices to taste.

Transfer to a serving dish. Feed to an impressed crowd.

The attentive will notice that this leaves one with most of a can of coconut milk. May I suggest a coconut cinnamon latte while preparing the feast? Or one could make soup. Or piña coladas. Or a smoothie.

* I usually bring sweet potatoes if I tactfully can. I have very strong feelings about the use of marshmallows in non-combat situations.
** It's basically my coconut squash soup recipe with the addition of some smoked paprika and cayenne.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Friday, December 3, 2010

We're not in Alaska anymore

Yesterday afternoon, I walked home around 2:30. The sun had already begun the drop to the horizon. The low-angle light had the ineffectual pinkish quality that I associate with mid-Winter. My brain insisted that the cloudless sky and the thin sunshine meant that the temperature ought to be somewhere around zero. Even though I was only wearing a sweater and a vest, and did not feel in danger of losing body parts.

I checked the thermometer when I got to Chez Sarah and the instrument insisted that it was forty degrees in the sunshine. My eyes and brain insisted that they were Alaskan and, as such, knew better.

The picture above is not Seattle, that's the view from my parent's house a couple of days ago. My mom took it. The temperature in the picture is ten below. It's that quality of light that tells me that I need to go grab my warmest clothes. My bones knows that clear days are cold days.

Even when they aren't. Even when I spend the day hauling around coats I don't need. During the recent snow storm and cold snap, I spent a lot of time fighting with that instinct. I didn't pack my heavy parkas or snow boots. I didn't even need them. But on a dark night with the wind blowing, even though I knew the wind chill was only fifteen, I could not bring myself to sanguinely go to the grocery store. Too many English classes hashing over Jack London's "To Build a Fire."

Teachers would ask, "What is the conflict in the story?"

Alaskan kids always came back to not "man vs. nature" but "man vs. stupid." Always pack a hat and gloves. Always prepare for the worst. Don't leave shelter when the weather's marginal and you don't have gear.

I went to the grocery store anyway. I did not fall through the ice in a river. I didn't attempt to build a fire under a spruce tree and have the warming spruce dump it's load of snow on the embers. I came back. It was fine.

The next morning a couple of kids were skating on the reflecting pool in Cal Anderson Park. That at least was exactly like home.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

One of the better compliments

Truly one of the best compliments ever paid to my nearly nonexistent (except for the cooking) domestic talents came from a team member for the film project that has eaten my brain. She came by the apartment (which is in typical midweek chaos). She walked in and said, "it smells like donuts in here."

I said, "I have a baking problem."

I still need to remember to buy flour, although that can possibly wait until after I get back from the wild north.