Home In Disarray

December 29, 2013

Let’s talk about salt bay-bee!

miscellaneous salts
By

Let’s talk about you and me.
Let’s talk about all the good things and the bad things that may be.
Let’s talk abooooout salt.

I have this tendency to horde salt.  I know, it’s strange.  But there are so many interesting textures to experience!  I honestly don’t think there’s much of a detectable flavor difference between different salts, except perhaps those that have been smoked or have significant mineral content, like perhaps the Hawaiian black salt (which I do not have). The main reason to get into fancy salts is their really neat texture.

comparing fancy salts
Iodized salt and kosher salt

In my everyday cooking, I generally use Kosher salt(bottom in above photo).  Kosher salt is called that not because it’s kosher, but because it’s used in the process of Koshering meat, that is, drawing all of the blood out via salt.  Kosher salt is used because of its flat grain structure.  It’s like very fine snow.  I find it easier to grab by hand than table salt, but it’s similarly inexpensive to standard iodized table salt. I keep it in a small ramekin next to the stove so that I can easily salt whatever I’m cooking.  It can be noted however, that Diamond Crystal kosher salt (vs Morton) is half as dense as standard iodized table salt.  And for that reason, I keep table salt around for baking recipes, just to be sure that I get the correct measurements.

Iodized salt is the salt that you’ll find in salt shakers everywhere.  It works fine.  It’s a little difficult to season with by hand due to its density, but it works great for baking, and flows nicely from salt shakers due to the non-sodium mineral additives that prevent caking.

The salts above are generally best suited for use during cooking.  The salts below are expensive and would be wasted if they were used IN cooking, as they’d dissolve and you’d lose their great texture.

Fleur de sel/sel gris are both harvested from the same salt flats in France.  They have a similar appearance, however in my experience, the crystal size is a bit more consistent in the sel gris.  Sel gris is also a bit more grey than the fleur de sel, as it is apparently harvested a bit deeper than the fleur de sel. They are both “wet” salts, in that they’re not completely dry, and they have a tendency to stick together.  They also have cubic grains, similar to iodized table salt, but larger and more variable.  These salts are great for finishing something that you want big crunchy crystals in, like a caramel or burger.

fleur de sel and bali pyramid salt

Bali Pyramid Salt is my favorite.  It is so strange and beautiful.  It consists of perfectly hollow little pyramids.  You get big crystals of salt, but they crunch easily in between your teeth.  It’s a “dry” salt that goes nicely on something like risotto or a steak.

grains of bali pyramid salt
murray river pink salt

This is Murray River Pink Flake salt.  It’s from Australia.  I have a feeling that there’s a similar mineral composition to the Himalayan pink salt, however it doesn’t have huge hard grains to try to bite through.  They’re just big flat flakes.  The flakes are very thin, however, so they melt easily on wet items.  I like to use the pink flake salt on dryish or very delicate items, like maybe polenta or chicken piccata.

alderwood smoked sea salt

The alderwood smoked sea salt is my newest acquisition. It has a much coarser grain size than I’d like, but it should be great to use on things that go well with a slightly smoky flavor.  I added it to some Mexican braised beef, and when I opened up the container, I got a hit of smoke, so it seems to be pretty potent stuff.
Time will tell if it ends up being something that I actually use with any regularity.

Posted in: Cooking, Food
December 18, 2013

Dogs need homes!

Dogs need homes!
By

I am a firm believer in pet adoption.  I know that people sometimes decide that they want a very specific breed of dog, and they want it as a puppy. I get it, people like owning high-end things. I like having nice things.  I love my Vitamix blender, my Kitchenaid mixer, and buying expensive cheeses.  My desire for name-brand, purebred, and otherwise “flawless” items does not go so far as to include pets.  Purebred animals have a tendency to have genetic flaws (just google breed-specific conditions).  These are commonly a by-product of breeding selectively for particular attributes, and the negatives tend to get emphasized along with the desired traits. While I am not proposing that mixed breed dogs do not have these traits, in my experience, the prevalence of them tends to be lowered due to the diversified gene pool.  Plus – do you really NEED that purebred dog?  I am not showing my dogs.  I do not need for them to conform to some sort of breed standard.  I need them to be sweet and good pets.  Rescue dogs make great pets.  Yes, you occasionally get a basket case.  But other times, you get the most wonderful, incredibly ridiculous creature you’ve ever come into contact with(Helo, I’m talking to you).  You end up with a similar grab bag when buying a purebred dog.  People seem to be under the impression that if a dog is in rescue, it is somehow “defective.”  That is simply incorrect.  Dogs end up in rescue for many reasons, but some of the more common ones are family losing their house, moving into an apartment building that doesn’t allow dogs, or needing to take on more hours at work and not being home for the dog.

adopted malamute

You want to breed your dog?  REALLY!? Why?  Because your dog is just SO NEAT that there need to be 5 more of them?  You’re insane.  The last thing that this world needs is more dogs. Think of it this way:  every puppy that your dog has (if you’re able to find loving, caring, forever homes for them) displaces a rescue dog in a loving home from some piece of shit backyard breeder, or guy who didn’t like the idea of chopping his dog’s balls off, or dog that was horrifically abused.  So yes, by breeding the random dog that you have that you like, you are essentially dooming other dogs to the death penalty.  Every year, millions of dogs and cats are euthanized.  MILLIONS.  That is a pretty huge number.  I’m glad you’re enjoying your purebred that you bought from a breeder.

malamute that needs a home
Photo courtesy of www.wamal.com

And you know what, there are TONS of purebred dogs in rescue. A couple years ago, WAMAL had a purebred female that was an owner-surrender.  They were told that she was fixed.  They placed her in a home with a papered and intact male malamute.  They held onto her for a couple months until it became obvious that their male and her were not going to make friends.  The rescue took her back (Any good rescue will have a policy allowing the “return” of dogs if the home situation does not work out.  They should want the best fit for every dog.) and ended up with quite the surprise shortly thereafter.  I believe they had 6 puppies.  And every one was spoken for before it was even born.  Purebred malamute puppies, from a rescue organization.  AND – rescue dogs are cheap.  Seriously.  They are fixed and have all of their shots.  That is an incredibly expensive thing to do to a puppy.  The adoption fee is often under $300.

adopted malamutes enjoying the sofa

And if you’re not totally needing a puppy, you can forego the frustration of chewing and potty training by adopting a young adult dog.

malamute that needs a home
Photo courtesy of www.wamal.com

Rescue dogs have heartbreaking stories.  HEARTBREAKING.  Any person with an intact conscience would be horrified by what some of these dogs have gone through.  Our first dog, Boris’ story is pretty sad.  He was owned by a family when he was a puppy.  He was cute and cuddly, and had floppy ears and an expressive crinkly forehead.  But then he turned into a big and rambunctious puppy.  Instead of handling the big puppy that they had decided that they wanted at some point, they locked in in a 4’x4′ outdoor kennel and left him there.  For months.  Living in his own waste.  They must have fed and watered him with SOME regularity, but he was skinny when we got him.  Then, when they moved, they LEFT HIM LOCKED IN THE KENNEL IN THEIR BACKYARD. IN DECEMBER (it got down to 11 degrees outside the week they moved).  Luckily, on their way out with the uhaul, they swung by a neighbor’s house and mentioned to the neighbor that if they wanted a dog, it was in their old back yard.  If the neighbor had been as much of a piece of shit as that family was, Boris would be dead.  Luckily, the neighbor took him in, and fed him, and tried to make him work with their family.  He was too rambunctious of a puppy for their toddler, so they located a no-kill shelter and handed him over.

rescued malamute

There was a gorgeous 10 year old dog that was turned in at a shelter to be euthanized. Know why?  SHE WAS OLD.  That’s it.  There was nothing wrong with her, no health problems, she had just gotten “too old” and the owner wanted her to be put down. The shelter contacted WAMAL and they took her. Imagine what she went through.  She was having a happy life with her owner, then all of a sudden was at a loud, barky shelter, confused and scared, and not young enough for  anyone to want.

malamute that needs a home
Photo courtesy of www.wamal.com

Or another dog.  He was found wandering around town in a rural area near Seattle.  Someone called animal control, and WAMAL ended up getting their hands on him.  He had to be shaved.  Not because of mange, but because COCKROACHES WERE LIVING IN HIS FUR and it was so matted that they couldn’t get them out.  So they shaved him, and he took to wearing sweaters to stay warm.  He had infections in both of his ears, both his eyes, and his urinary tract, plus a few infected wounds. He was old.  One of the volunteers took him in as a foster.  Her son bonded with the dog, and he had a warm home, soft beds, and loving hands to scratch behind his ears.  Several weeks later he died, but he had a loving home for the last couple months of his life.  How lucky that dog was to finally have a nice place to love and care for him in his old age.

malamute that needs a home
Photo courtesy of www.wamal.com

If you have the ability to, please look into a breed of dog that you would be interested in either adopting or fostering.  Petfinder.com has a great way to search by breed, and you can also find breed-specific rescues in your area.  If having a pet isn’t at the top of your list, consider donating either time or money to the local organizations.  WAMAL doesn’t have enough foster homes for all of the dogs that they take in, so they have to pay to board the overflow at a kennel. Not only does it get expensive, but those dogs severely lack socialization and human interaction, which can make them more difficult to adopt out when the right family comes along.  People able to take some time to walk or run with the dogs, feed, brush, pet, train, or play with them are in high demand.

malamute that needs a home
Photo courtesy of www.wamal.com
Posted in: The Creatures
December 17, 2013

Making gingerbread houses for the first time

gingerbread house
By

When I was a wee lassy, my grandmother used to make gingerbread houses and invite her grandchildren over to her house one weekend day in December for us to decorate them.  Back then, the name of the game was to stick as much candy onto the house as possible, making the snacking to take place over the following weeks better.  I’ve been wanting to do gingerbread houses for the last few years, but never bothered to actually get my shit together enough to plan and make them.  This year, somehow I’ve completed all of my Christmas shopping short of picking up a gift card in a part of town that I haven’t made it to yet.  Feeling especially superhero-like, I convinced a friend that she would also like building gingerbread houses, and we set to planning.  Since Laura rides horses, she went for a barn.  Since I like strangely shaped houses, I went for a mid-century design.  Then I used the gingerbread recipe that I had pinned last year and got to it.  We made our pieces on a Thursday night, I assembled them on Saturday morning, and by Saturday night, we were ready to decorate.

rolling out gingerbread dough

 

Cutting out gingerbread dough

 

Storing cut-out and baked gingerbread panels

The assembly was interesting.  I learned a lot about the texture of the royal icing.  Adding too little water makes it sturdier, but not sticky enough.  Adding too much water takes too long to dry.  I also baked one of my roof panels upside down.  It works out fine though, because I covered it with necco wafers anyway.

prepping my gingerbread board

 

laying out pieces before assembling gingerbread house

 

assembling gingerbread house

 

assembling gingerbread house

 

assembling gingerbread barn

 

Mid-century gingerbread house setting

I did a lot of googling to find out what types of candy to get for houses, and wasn’t able to find any really solid list of what is reasonable, so here’s mine:
Pretzel Rods
Pretzel Sticks
Oreos
Nilla Wafers
Necco Wafers (does anyone under 70 buy these for anything other than gingerbread?!)
Hot Tamales
Jelly fruit slices
Starlight Mints
Swedish fish
Peppermint Patties
Rollos
M&Ms (not shown)
Twizzlers Pull & Peel (not shown)
Gumdrops (not shown)
Mini Candy canes (not shown)

What I found was that my one roof panel took all 3 packs of necco wafers (i would get a lot more of those things next time), both structures used up all of the oreos and the entire box of vanilla wafers.And my driveway used up all of the starlight mints.  I was a total candy hog.  What a jerk.  But I had an artistic vision, and wasn’t going to let things like friends dissuade me from completing my goal.

gingerbread house decorating

 

gingerbread house decorating

 

gingerbread house decorating

 

gingerbread house decorating

And the end result for my mid-century house:

mid-century gingerbread house

Not bad for being 4 drinks in.  Gotta get those creative juices flowing!

mid-century gingerbread house

And Laura, continuing to work on her barn.  She made a jump out of pretzels, and a hay bale out of jelly fruit slices.  Laura had never made a gingerbread house, and said that she didn’t anticipate getting so into it.

decorating a gingerbread barn

 

decorating a gingerbread barn

And the barn’s final product:

gingerbread barn

 

gingerbread barn

 

gingerbread barn

Oh, and what the rest of the people who came to “decorate gingerbread houses were doing:  watching Whale Wars!

not decorating gingerbread houses

 

Posted in: Candy, Food, House, Kitchen, Misc, Projects
December 17, 2013

Infusing your own alcohols

Infusing your own alcohols
By

I am going to be honest, I have made several pretty bad infused liquors.  That goes with the territory. You win some, you lose some.  In college, I took a $30 bottle of vodka and soaked a huge pile of blackberries in it, then added a huge amount of sugar.  The result – $40 worth of fail.  That $40 failure was a huge financial hit for a college student, and dissuaded me from attempting to infuse booze for many years after that.  Last fall Craig mentioned a mixed drink that he had tried where you mix fireball (cinnamon liqueur) with apple flavored snapple, but mentioned that it was very sweet.  I set about coming up with a way to make it tastier and lower sugar.  I soaked a few cinnamon sticks in some whiskey, and mixed it with actual apple cider.  It’s delicious, and has the benefit of no added sugar.

 This post is not about my whiskey though.  It is about infusing gin.  Most of us have had a bad experience with gin that has put us off drinking it.  Mine involves running out of juice midway through a night of drinking when I was in highschool, and switching to doing shots of it out of a mug.  It was not a positive experience.  The next time I touched gin was close to 8 years later, when I spent the weekend getting cut, bruised, sweaty, and dusty tearing out a huge pile of juniper bushes from our front yard.  Deciding that I needed a victory cocktail, nothing seemed more fitting than drinking a spirit steeped in juniper offspring (berries).  It was then that my love affair with gin began.  Unfortunately, nobody else in my circle of friends felt the same way about it.  To this day, I have to come up with something pretty fancy to get Craig to drink it.  This spring, I came across the ticket.  I made a rhubarb simple syrup, and began my experimentation with adding different herbs to cocktails made with the syrup.  If I remember correctly, I think the gin cocktail was rhubarb simple syrup, muddled basil and lime, plus gin and soda water.  And it was magnificent.  It was then that I coerced Craig’s best friend (and my secondary husband) Ian to try gin.  He then began drinking gin and tonics (G&Ts!) and has also begun exploring the exciting world of craft-distiller’s versions of gin.  Rogue brewery has a gin that they put out somewhat recently which is great.  My PERSONAL favorite is Dry Fly from Eastern Washington.  They scale back a bit on the standard botanicals, and add in apple, lavender, hops, mint, and some other similar flavors.  It is an incredibly complex flavor and is a lot less juniper-heavy than many others.  This spring, when lavender was blooming, I took a cue from Dry Fly, and collected some lavender flowers, threw them in a jar, then filled it with gin and allowed it to sit for a few days.  The gin turned a yellowish color eventually, and I strained everything, and made cocktails using elderflower syrup and soda water.  It was like drinking a flower, but in a good way.

lavender-infused gin
It tasted as pretty as it looked

So this year for Christmas, when I found myself unable to find a suitably thoughtful gift for Ian (he is a very good gift giver), and he mentioned having gotten a new fancy gin, I knew what to do.  I decided to make him a trio of infused gins.  The biggest trick to infusing liquors, is to start with something CHEAP.  It doesn’t have to be enormous plastic bottle cheap, but unless the enormous plastic bottle liquor is actually unpleasant tasting, it should be fine if you start with that.  When I infuse our cinnamon whiskey, I get a 1.75 liter bottle of the cheapest whiskey I can find, and dump a few cinnamon sticks in.  My go-to gin is Beefeater, and I get it in (glass) 1.75 liter bottles for a pretty decent price, so I feel OK keeping it around for drinking, and whatever hair I have up my ass for infusing. My first plan was satsuma-cranberry.  For this, I just threw half a bag of fresh cranberries into a bottle (I’ll mash them up a bit if I do this in the future) and the zest from 2 satsumas.  I like doing large ribbons of zest, so I slice big pieces of peel off, then shave away any visible bits of white pith (pith=bitter=unpleasant).  Here it is after having sat for a few days.

Satsuma-Cranberry Gin
The second one is lemongrass-lime.  For this, I got a stalk of lemongrass and cut it to about 8″ long, then cut it into strips so that I’d be able to remove them from the bottle, and did the same zest trick with 2 limes.  Due to the assertiveness of both flavors, I expect that this one will only take a few days to infuse, but I think that it’ll be a fun one to experiment with, so I’ll be happy to “water it down” with some additional gin(if it’s too intense) and take whatever leftovers I end up with.

lemongrass-lime infused gin
My final infusion is a grapefruit-basil infused gin.  As you can see, it’s only grapefruit zest so far.  That is partially because I think that the grapefruit will need a little longer to infuse to release its flavors, and partially because I haven’t made it to the store to get some fresh basil in the middle of winter yet.

grapefruit infused gin

Posted in: Cooking, Food, Misc
December 13, 2013

So – do I look like Wendy?

So – do I look like Wendy?
By

I’m not sure if this was born out of my hamburglar costume, but for some reason, Craig has started comparing me to fast food characters.  Now that my hair is red, he has begun calling me Wendy. I’m considering starting to wear pigtails and blue bows.  Or maybe wait til Halloween next year?

Posted in: Misc
December 11, 2013

A few of my favorite things

A few of my favorite things
By

I know that I have a tendency to be snarky, inconsiderate, and overly negative.  That’s how I roll.  But as a counterpoint to that, I also take great pleasure in some of the little things in life.  Here is a short list of a few that I thought of over the last few days.

When you’re listening to the right song, and you turn it up a few notches, and instantly feel your scalp tingle and get goosebumps

Shooting a stage and cleaning it

Driving in the dark with loud music

Singing along to a song that has tricky lyrics, and getting every word right

Perfectly cooked pork tenderloin

Source

The first sip from a shot of espresso, and the crema that sticks to your top lip

Going to sleep exhausted

Coming up with a new cocktail recipe that is magnificent

Beating the really hard level of Candy Crush that you’ve been stuck on for a week

Cutting into a perfectly ripe avocado and not having and bad bits

Finding a recipe for something that you want to make, and realizing that you have all of the ingredients on hand already

Trying a new beer and having it instantly feel like something you should have been buying all along

The few weeks a year that costco carries boxes of meyer lemons, and the race to use of many of them as possible before they’re gone again

The first day in autumn where it’s foggy in the morning, then clear and just cool enough to wear a sweater

The first egg nog latte of the season

The first tomato of the year

The glow of christmas lights when all the other lights in the house are off

The smell of garlic roasting

Satsumas for $1/lb

Watching people at restaurants that are obviously on a first date

Posted in: Misc
December 11, 2013

I went through with it, I dyed my hair red.

I went through with it, I dyed my hair red.
By

That is not entirely accurate.  I paid somebody to dye my hair red.  My hair stylist is magnificent.  If anyone in the north Seattle area is looking for someone, it’s Keri at The Split End.  They have very good prices, and Keri is a magician.  Anyway, somewhere like 10 weeks ago, when I had my last appointment, she mentioned that her schedule was kind of weird because she was going to be attending L’Oreal color school.  I jokingly mentioned that she could always experiment on me, when she mentioned maybe trying red.  Then that got me thinking…. I had never even considered red hair.  But all of a sudden, I needed it.  That night, I went home and started a red hair pinboard.  Yes, I’m that girl. Then as time wore on, I became increasingly antsy to go through with this red hair hoopla.  But she had color school, and vacations.  How is a girl supposed to survive with her hairstylist having a personal life!? Unacceptable.  Regardless, I finally made it in last night.  And began to panic.  This is normal for me.  I grow my hair long, decide that I need a short bob, get it cut, then spend the night feeling a great sense of loss.  Of all the hair colors that I’ve had (and in high school, I had many: teal, green, elmo red, purple, pink, blue), for some reason, red felt the riskiest.  Maybe I’m just getting old.  So I figured to take my mind off of it (or to obsess a little more), I’d live post it on facebook. Everyone loves reading post after post about incredibly minor and self-caused hysteria, right?

I started by taking a selfie on the way there.  I sent it to Craig.  This is also where I apologize for my cell phone camera.  The lens cover is full of dust and I don’t have the tools to remove the back of the phone to clean the dust out.

brunette hair with bangs
The first thing we did was put some crazy chemical in my hair to strip out the existing color.  It was not bleach.  Closer to paint stripper for your hair.  The goal was to remove the dark dark brown color that had thoroughly lodged itself in the majority of my hair.  What also took place during this process was Keri tempering my expectations.  Since we were chemically removing color, then adding more in, she made it clear that the first go-round of “corrective color” is generally less than perfect.  I figured.  My experience in highschool with attempting to remove darker colors was not always successful.  Seems reasonable.  Smart of her to do that though.  I had secretly hoped that magically, my shoulder length dark brown hair would transform into some sort of crimson butt-length twirly masterpiece.  Spoiler – it didn’t.  🙁
chemically stripped hair drying
Above, you’ll see me sitting, waiting for my hair to complete drying, after we had stripped the color from it and done the first deep conditioning treatment.  Shockingly, that color was quite nice.  But not red.  We had work to do.
color remover

Here we are with the dye being applied.  I had never seen something red BEFORE going on someone’s head before.  I began panicking.

red hair dye

All of a sudden, this began to feel like a bad idea.  It was too late, obviously.  I posted on facebook.  A male friend’s reply to my post?

I would too . . . your SKIN’S CHANGING COLOR!

That’s comforting.  

Then came time for the rinse out, and ANOTHER deep conditioning treatment.  Strange how treating your hair with the follicular equivalent of aircraft grade paint stripper will dry things out!

done!

And here is the final product!  Great success!

red hair

Here’s a fairly color-correct photo of my hair.  As promised, the color isn’t perfect.  My roots are lighter than the ends.  But everything is red, and doesn’t read quite so orange in real life.  I think next time we’ll go for a slightly more vibrant red, or maybe something with a bit more violet in it.  It will be fun trying out different variations of the color until we get the right tone.  Oh, and the bonus, even though my hair didn’t grow down to my butt over the course of 2.5 hours, Keri gave me twirly hair anyway!

Craig has taken to calling me “Wendy.”

Posted in: Misc