Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Sekhmet, you fucker.

The holiday edition.

Last night, we tried to wrap presents.

This morning, we tried to clean up wrapping paper:

She helped assemble the play house:

And continued to chew the hell out of the Christmas tree:

Still the beast lurks, waiting for unwary feet to go past, ripe for swatting and the occasional bite:


People have told me over the years, that as an adult, the holidays aren't really fun until you have a kid to celebrate them with. They were right. This was the first year the Goober really got the idea of presents and didn't have to have her presents opened for her:

She still doesn't quite have the hang of packaging, though. She got this open and said "Oooh. A box! I love boxes!" ...was super-duper thrilled when she realized there was SOMETHING IN THE BOX.

The husbeast got her a toy welding set - gloves, striker, welder, and welding hood:

Now she can be a welder, just like Dadad.

The toy playhouse was assembled with the Goober's help:

Unfortunately, Sekhmet has decided it is hers, and is guarding her turf like the evil, furry beast she is.

They've been chasing each other out of the play house all morning. So far no swats have been exchanged, but it's just a matter of time.

Twenty bucks on the cat.

I hope everyone is having a happy, safe day, whether they're celebrating or not.

Monday, December 24, 2007

The chainmail sweater.

I had some questions, and damn if I've got anything else to blog about, so here you go. Details on the Chainmail sweater.

...this was the only photo I could find of it, but there are more on my Flickr page. It is knit from a pattern by Elizabeth Zimmerman, in "Knitter's Almanac". I believe it is the month of March and is called the Chainmail Sweater in the book. The yarn is Brown Sheep's Nature Spun sport weight, and I'm pretty sure I knit it on size fives. The blue/gray is stranded across the fabric, and the orange/pink/purple stripes (only me) are worked as regular old stripes, with purl stitches in some places to break up the color progression. Wait, I might have a photo of that... No, can't get to it on this computer... stupid network. (I live in a geek house. We have more computers networked than there are people living here, including the Goober.) Anyway. It was my first wool project, my first steeked project (armholes and front opening; I machine-stitched it), and my first stranded color. You can see how I kind of got hooked on the whole process. I think I knit this in like 2001. Maybe earlier.

There's not much other news. I'm officially in a chronic pain flareup, which means my brain is going "HOLY FUCK THERE'S A PROBLEM!" because of the constant pain, and is going into emergency shut-down mode. Which would be handy if I'd severed a limb, but while trying to make Christmas cookies, it's damned annoying. I get rushes of adrenaline for no good reason, and my circulatory system tries to shut itself down, meaning I am freezing cold. (Running conversation: Me: "Is it cold in here, or is it me?" Husbeast: "It's you." Repeat a million times a day.) Coping involves a lot of annoying bullshit like taking lots of short naps (because I can't sleep that long at once) and trying to avoid sensory input which means laying in a quiet, darkened room, feeling like a ridiculous parody of a swooning Victorian maiden. However. I've got one new coping technique in my arsenal, which I'd never had before, and it's working extremely well:

Laughter is ALWAYS a good thing.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

While all the baking stuff is out...

...I might as well make orange spice breakfast rolls!

Didn't I say this would happen??!!?

These babies were made from scratch; yeast and butter and bread flour and milk. I even zested the oranges and hand-squeezed them for the juice. From start to finish, the whole process took about four hours (but not constant work; I'd put them to rise and go read bloglines). I figure I'll put these in the freezer, then pull them out while the in-laws are here warm 'em up and put icing on them (cream cheese icing, of course) and we'll have a yummy breakfast and I can pretend I'm a genius.

I need to get a grip.

For those of you who don't like to bake (or even those who do), I've got a quick, easy, sort-of-cheap, NO CALORIE way to enjoy the yumminess of holiday baking:

This is known as wet potpourri. I take a pan of water and put it over the burner of my stove where the heat exhaust is. If it's a small pan, that alone is enough to keep the water steaming (if the oven's on, of course, duh). If it's a larger pan, like this one today, I turn the burner on VERY low, as low as it will go. Then I just chuck stuff in. Some orange peels, once I'm done zesting and juicing, the nub of a nutmeg after I've grated off all I can. Many stores run HUGE sales on whole spices after the holidays; I generally pick up a few bottles of this and that, then break them out the next year at this time and chuck those in the water, too. This particular pot has orange peels and the orange goo left over after juicing, cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, and a few shakes of nutmeg, allspice, and mace. I top off the water when it runs low. Makes the house smell DEEEElish. No baking skills needed. Anyone can boil water. (Yes, Amy Lane, even you.)

In knitting knews (yes, there is some) I realized that the neckline had me stalled on the Russian Prime, so I put it all on a holder string and am going to cut the first armhole steek and pick up the sleeve stitches tonight after the Goober goes to bed. (I was gonna do that this afternoon, but I was too busy rolling up orange spice rolls like a lunatic.) I may yet get this thing done for the Florida trip, but if I do, it'll be finished IN Florida. So I doubt it. Fuck it. I'm having fun, damn it.

While I was at the fabric store last week picking up gifts for my sister-in-law (thank you to the sewing fanatics out there who gave me hints), I picked up one of those sweater buzzers. You know, like an electric razor, that takes the pills off sweaters?

That's it, laying on the chainmail cardigan. The cardi had been looking pretty bedraggled these last few years, due mostly to pilling but also to being worn to death (plus Sekhmet napping on it). It's been living in my yarn closet because I didn't have the heart to throw it away, but I didn't know what else to do with it. In "The Book of Yarn", Clara Parkes says to cut off pills, and I figured, what the hell, it's not like I'll wear the cardi again as-is, so I gave the pill razor thingie a try. One swipe across the jacket, and I looked at the Husbeast and said "I'll be damned. It works!" With the removal of the pills, it's like the colors are brightening and coming back into focus. (Really they were just fuzzy; I understand that.) So I may get another ten years' wear out of the ol' cardi now! (The only drawback to the sweater razor that I've found is it SUCKS batteries. I get maybe fifteen minutes' use out of two AA Duracells. I've switched to rechargeables, but holy crap.)

Otherwise, all is quiet and calm. Except when it's not.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Well, shit.

Meet the husbeast family dill-onion bread. It's one of his very favorites, and I originally made this to freeze and take with us to Florida at the end of the month when we celebrate our holiday. The husbeast heard this and had a fit before I'd even gotten all the ingredients together, so he's eating this loaf (yes, by himself) and I'm making another for Florida.

As for that rise... I don't know what happened. I've double-checked the recipe about four times, and I followed it. It has both yeast and baking powder in it, which means a second rise in the oven, which resulted in this... overgrown monstrosity. (The texture is all right; the husbeast had a couple slices for breakfast.) I'm going to get with my mother-in-law today and see if maybe the recipe is written down wrong. If it turns out that it's right, I'm going to try cutting back on the yeast for the next loaf. The second rise on this thing took ten minutes. That was when I knew I was in trouble.

And you guys think I know how to bake. Ha.

In pain control news, I'd forgotten one of the reasons I hate narcotics for primary pain control; they give me nightmares. Had a horrible night last night. So this morning I'm back on the Mobic and I'm pretending that whole fucking mess on base this week never happened. I'll straighten it out in January. Just don't look at me funny until then, 'cause it'll leave a bruise.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

My number came up.

For those of you who've been around a while, you know that the military has been playing musical doctors with me. And that I've been joking that statistically I was due to get assigned to some asshole doctor with a bad attitude. The statistics bit me in the ass Tuesday.

I went to the 437th Medical Group on the Charleston Air Force Base (yes, I'm naming names - mostly in the hope someone in charge over there will get bored, do a Google, and be horrified) Tuesday afternoon. My appointment was for one. I got to see a physician's assistant at three. Since October, I've been trying to change my chronic pain meds from narcotics and tranquilizers to an anti-depressant and an anti-inflammatory. It's been going all right, but the anti-inflammatory was making me sick and causing bruising, so Tuesday I bopped over for what I thought was a quick visit to get some refills and shift the anti-inflammatory to something new.

The PA refilled my blood pressure medication and told me to take Tylenol until I could get in to see another doctor in mid-January. When I said that was unacceptable, she perscribed Naproxen, another over-the-counter drug that I told her wouldn't work (and didn't when I took it that night). When I asked her what I was supposed to do for break-through pain, she said "Let's stick with the Naproxen." I pointed out the Naproxen was everyday pain control and I needed something for breakthrough, like when my two-year-old grabs my hand and throws herself on the floor. She kept repeating "Let's stick with the Naproxen" like a brain dead zombie, until I got mad and walked out.

After thinking about it overnight, I went back to the base yesterday, demanded to speak to someone in charge, and explained what was going on. They went back and the physician's assistant refused to budge on perscribing me medication. But the story had changed. Now she was concerned about my liver function, because I was bruising, and so I couldn't take any medication until I saw a new doctor and had tests run.

If my liver's falling out, why did she perscribe the Naproxen the day before?

So I went to the Commanding Officer. He sent me to the Flight Commander. I explained it all to her. She went and had a word with the physician's assistant and pressured the PA into writing me a perscription for narcotics that's supposed to get me through until January 9, when I see a new doctor - the idiot PA is still insisting I have liver problems. She gave me five day's worth of drugs, that I'm supposed to somehow get to January 9 with.

So my options are either be in debilitating pain for the holiday, take a drug I know is making me sick (Mobic - the anti-inflammatory that prompted the visit to try to get a new variety), or go back and bother the stupid bitch PA again, for more narcotics, and stay doped up for the holiday.

I think I'm going to just take the Mobic. And maybe write my congressman.

Near as I can figure, this stupid bitch arbitrarily decided I was a drug addict and tried to cut me off. She was determined to not give me any medication, from the moment she walked in the door. She never asked me why I was there, never asked me about the source of the chronic pain or what drugs I've taken in the past for it. Just barked orders at me about getting my blood pressure under control (it's high because I'm in pain - as long as I'm in pain, the BP is high; it's documented in my medical records; I told her that three times and she kept barking about how I need to exercise) and having my cholesterol checked. She never looked at my medical records. And then fell back to the liver problems as an excuse for her behavior, when I called her on it. It's not about my liver. It's about her blowing me off and then covering her ass.

It's been a while since I dealt with an asshole like this. No wonder I was nuts the last time it happened.

Now I'm gonna go try to knit something.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

On to truffles.

There is no knitting going on at the moment. I'm having pain control issues (more on that tomorrow after Round Two with the Air Force base... I almost punched a Physician's Asistant today, seriously) and can't concentrate to knit. So what do I do when I feel decent?

Bake. Or make candy. (Or plot the murders of people who annoy me, oh, I'm sorry, did I type that out loud?)

This past week I've been doing truffles. The first batch or two didn't go so well. I was having troubles with portioning and rolling the little fuckers. First I tried to roll them, straight out. That didn't work. Then I tried cutting the batch into squares while refrigerated, and rolling them out. That didn't work either. Then, late the other night, I had a brain wave. Candy molds. Yeah. I'd get candy molds, fill 'em with the truffle filling, put 'em in the freezer, pop them out, and start a veritable assembly line. Off I went Sunday to buy candy molds.

Didja know truffle filling sticks to plastic like fucking glue??

Batch two, tossed out.

Late that night, I had another brainwave. (I get them a lot at three in the morning; jerk awake, with the solution to a problem. Dunno what that means. I think it means my brain is weird.) Piping bag. I could pipe the filling while it was still warm. Yeah. That would work. Plus I have piping bags and tips sitting right in the kitchen. (I wish I'd thought of this before I spent the $6 on candy molds and the two hours finding them, but did I mention, my brain's weird?)

I mixed up a new batch of truffle filling (white chocolate and vanilla), and off I went. (Before you criticize my piping technique, keep in mind my right hand's screwed up.)

There's a trick to getting it at the perfect temperature, where it's warm enough to pipe, but not so cool that it's solid. But it works. Back in the fridge to cool, a bath in chocolate, and viola.

Truffles. I've since cranked out another eight dozen centers (a batch of hazelnut, and a batch of lemon), and am trying to get motivated to dip them all in chocolate.

As for the dipping, I tried the Alton Brown/Shirley O. Corriher trick of putting the chocolate on a heating pad. (Meant to get a picture. Whoops.) See, when you're melting chocolate, JUST chocolate with no cream or butter or anything else (such as the truffle filling), you've got to keep it dry. Water is the kiss of death for melting chocolate. Double boilers with steam rolling out of them is just asking for disaster. I like the new heating pad method, except for one minor drawback: it took an hour for the chocolate to melt in the first place. Still, if you can plan around the time issue, it's awesome.

While I was making some truffle filling, the Goober came out to the kitchen and wanted to know what I was doing. I picked her up and showed her on the stove. She took one look at the cream and melting chocolate and said "mmmmmm. Chocolate soup." That's my Goober.

Oh, and she's also discovered the joys of 'boinging' on Mumum and Dadad's bed.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Wook, a twee!

We put up our Christmas tree - such as it is - today, while the Goober was napping. When she woke up, she walked out into the living room, stopped dead, and said 'ooooo'. Then for another half hour, she kept pointing at the tree and telling me "Wook. A twee!" Here's a photo of the pointing, after I thought to get the camera.

Here she is, admiring it. You can see we've yet to get anything but lights ON the tree. I'm not sure I even want to bother with decorating, because the kid won't leave the tree alone. (Plus she pulls ornaments off other people's trees and I'm not in the mood to fight a war over it every day.)

Sekhmet is also quite pleased by the idea of foliage in the house (she's an indoor kitty) and has spent a lot of time wandering around under it, gnawing at the branches.

Considering the tree is artificial, I half expect to get up one morning to find fang bits on the carpet and the cat saying "Meowth".

Friday, December 14, 2007

Is it me, or is everyone an asshole?

I made the mistake of going Christmas shopping today. Late afternoon. I know, I know. I'm an idiot, and that's the biggest problem around here - me and my brain. But damn, it's like everyone's trying to be rude.

Some old geezer (old does not automatically mean geezer, but this guy was an old geezer) got in line behind me at the grocery store. It was NOT the express lane, and I was busy buying an entire cart of baking supplies. One glance would tell you it was going to take a while (particularly because the checkout kid had the IQ of a trout and moved like a lame turtle). So instead of getting into the bloody express lane, he plunks down his two gallons of ice cream behind my eleventy-million boxes of baker's chocolate, and then bitches the entire time that it's going to melt.

Then, I go down to the Air Force base, to buy cut-rate Godiva chocolate for my sister-in-law, and some OTHER old geezer FOLLOWS ME INTO THE PARKING LOT to tell me how rude I am. Apparently I tail-gated him, getting on base. (I call it 'trying to get through the light with a moron in front of me' - it's all a matter of viewpoint.) I just stared at him for a minute, and walked away, laughing.

If I were REALLY rude, I'd have told him to fuck himself with a cheese grater.

See how polite I am? It's almost saintly. It's got to be everybody else. Gotta be.

Fuckeye Q&A.

There were some questions in the comments. I'm going to add this to the Fuckeye recipe post, so that it's preserved for posterity, but I'm adding it here to make sure everyone sees it.

-Make sure all the ingredients of the filling are at room temperature when you try to mix them. You can do it by hand - I have - but the real way to go is a Kitchenaid Mixer and the paddle attatchment. The stuff is really thick, though, so be careful using smaller mixers, you might burn them out.

-I use creamy Jif peanut butter. Traditionally, creamy peanut butter is used, but I'm sure you could use crunchy if that sounded better to you.

-Normally I do the old double boiler method for melting chocolate, but Alton Brown uses two thin metal bowls with a heating pad (cover removed) smashed between them. Since I'm making a lot of truffles this year, I'm going to give it a try. I'll let you all know how well it works.

-Technically, Fuckeyes aren't baking. They're candymaking. So you can feel all clever and sophisticated.

Today I've been putting together the list for the holiday baking. (This is late in the year for me, but we're celebrating the holiday late, so that's all right. Plus, as we know, I'm insane.) You know, during the holidays, they should really just sell whipping cream by the gallon. It would save sooo much time.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Random Thursday.

Because my pain meds are messed up again, and I wanna kick puppies, and I feel like crap and I can't concentrate. Bah. Grrr. Argh. Bah.

-I haven't knit hardly at all in the last week, because I can't concentrate. When I do, I do zone out knitting on the Baby Surprise Jacket for the Goober. The neck of the Russian Prime is still half sewn down badly, still needs picked back out and is highly unlikely to be done for our trip to Florida like I wanted. Fuck it. IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE FUN GODDAMN IT.

-Speaking of knitting being fun, I got the stuff to frame my Dolores poster, but I have yet to get off my ass and actually do it.

-I got a copy of "The Book of Yarn" by Clara Parkes. It's excellent. One of those difinitive, 'if you only buy one book' books. Clearly written in simple terms that everyday people can grap. The sheer volume of information can be kind of mind-numbing unless you're really into yarn and fiber. However, if yarn substitution is something you want to be good at, this is the book for you.

-Sekhmet hasn't done anything strange in days. Which is very, well, strange. That fucker.

-Did I mention, grrr, snarl, grrr? Rawr.

-I've put together a Christmas baking list. There are three categories - definite, possible, and pipe dream. Tomorrow, I make up the grocery list and go buy stuff. It always gives me a thrill to buy chocolate by the pound. Plus I need to clean out the freezer so I can start loading it up again.

-Sekhmet is laying on my hand, on the computer keyboard. That fucker.

-Today, when I went to get the Goober up from her nap, she'd been trying to take her shirt off and had it tangled around her arms and her belly was hanging out. She looked up at me and said in a worried voice, "Mumum. Shirt all broken." That's the only cute thing she did, all day.

-Grrrrr. Snarl. Rawr. Arrrrg. Bah, humshit.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


Because someone asked for the recipe.

The term "Fuckeye" was coined by my writing group, because these are labor intensive. The real name is "Buckeye", and they're called that because the candy looks like the seed of a horse chestnut tree, also known as a Buckeye:


six parts powdered/confectioner's sugar
three parts peanut butter
one part regular butter

Do this by VOLUME, not weight. (I did it by weight once and totally screwed it up and kept adding peanut butter to make it right and wound up with like two gallons of filling and we rolled and dipped buckeyes for two weeks and finally threw the rest away in disgust). You can decide how much of the stuff you want to make, and work backward: if you want ten cups of filling, use six cups of powdered sugar, three cups of peanut butter, and one cup of regular butter. If you want to make just a few buckeyes like a test recipe, use six tablespoons confectioner's sugar, three tablespoons of peanut butter, and one tablespoon butter. You get the idea.

Anyway, mix it all up and roll it into balls about 3/4 inch/1 1/2 cm in diameter. An easy way to do this is to pack the filling into a bowl, toss it in the fridge 'til it's hard, then scoop it back out with a melon baller or really small cookie scoop. You can also spread it out in a pan, refrigerate it, and then cut it into squares and roll those into balls. Whatever. It takes forever. Ask friends over and put them to work.

Put the peanut butter balls back in the fridge 'til they're cool, then dip them in melted chocolate about 3/4 of the way. I use a bamboo skewer, stab the balls, swish them through chocolate, and move them back to the tray I took them off of. Let cool, and you're done. (Don't let the peanut butter filling get warm, or it'll fall off the skewer in the chocolate and you've got a hell of a mess on your hands. I take about ten centers out of the fridge at a time, dip them, put them back in and get more out.)

For the chocolate, you can buy high quality stuff, add paraffin so that it gets solid enough to work as a coating, then temper it, and fool around with all that crap. Or you can just chop up Hershey bars (or any other mid-quality chocolate candy bar) and melt those and use them; they've already got the paraffin in them. It's the only time I use cheap chocolate in the Christmas baking.

Some thoughts:

-Make sure all the ingredients of the filling are at room temperature when you try to mix them. You can do it by hand - I have - but the real way to go is a Kitchenaid Mixer and the paddle attatchment. The stuff is really thick, though, so be careful using smaller mixers, you might burn them out.

-I use creamy Jif peanut butter. Traditionally, creamy peanut butter is used, but I'm sure you could use crunchy if that sounded better to you.

-Normally I do the old double boiler method for melting chocolate, but Alton Brown uses two thin metal bowls with a heating pad (cover removed) smashed between them. Since I'm making a lot of truffles this year, I'm going to give it a try. I'll let you all know how well it works.

-Technically, Fuckeyes aren't baking. They're candymaking. So you can feel all clever and sophisticated.

-... -

I was supposed to go to the doctor today to straighten out some of my pain medication. Forty-five minutes before the appointment, the Goober threw herself on the living room floor in a screaming fit. I watched for a few minutes, then called and cancelled the apointment. I apologized for the short notice on the phone, but they could hear the Goober screaming in the background, and I doubt were terribly irritated by my decision to spare them all a screaming toddler. The appointment's rescheduled for the 18th.

When the husbeast gets home, I'm handing her off, locking myself in my office, and knitting. I've had it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


The almond cookie recipe uses TWO sticks of butter, eight ounces. My mistake. NeeldeTart caught it (and thanks for that). I'm going to fix the recipe post now so that it'll be accurate for posterity, but if you've written it down (or printed it out) before now, IT USES TWO STICKS OF BUTTER!!


This is the same thing I screwed up last year. Maybe for my next tattoo I'll get the ounces/pounds/sticks butter conversion thing on the back of my hand.

A nerd grows in Charleston.

After yesterday, I started brooding over the history of lobster and how it got from poverty food to delicacy. (I know, I know. You'd think I could come up with a better topic to brood over, but I'm sure tomorrow it will be something else - aluminum manufacture, goat breeding in Manchuria, the use of citrus fruits in traditional holiday food. You know. Important stuff.) So I hit Google.

There's a good article here, more about the history of lobstering than lobster as food, but it repeats what I said yesterday about how servants put it in their contracts to not eat lobster more than three days a week. But somehow it jumps from the status of lobster as food fed to prisoners in the 1800s, to how lobster wasn't rationed in WW2 because it was considered a delicacy.

I wanna know when and why people decided they were a big deal and fancy and upper-class dinner party food.

Reading over at Food Timeline, where I should have gone in the first place (I fucking love that web site) mentions that in Europe it was always a delicacy, and it was in the New World/N America that people considered it very common in all senses of the word. I'm sure supply and demand had a great deal to do with that; if you can gather them for free off the beach (which was done in the colonial era) it's going to be taken for granted.

Further poking around isn't revealing much. It looks like rich folks inland decided they liked it, started paying exorbitant amounts to have them shipped, and it suddenly became the cool new food to eat. Viola. Instant delicacy. Modern advertisers would be proud. This whole process happened between the 1850s and WW2. Not finding any details on it.

I'll stop now, before you all send me hate mail about finding the history of lobster on a knitting blog. Hahaha.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Found it.

And I am recording it here, so that NEXT year, I can print it out instead of spending three freakin' hours flipping through cookbooks. (And I'm so nauseated from this migraine, I didn't even get hungry.)


8 oz butter (two sticks)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt (I use salted butter and add just a tiny pinch of salt)
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup finely ground almonds (I buzz 'em up in a mini food processor)
a slosh of almond extract if you've got it; Grand Marnier is nice too

Mix it all together into a paste, roll into a log, wrap in foil, and chuck in the fridge. (This is the same method as the toffee-chip shortbread cookies, and known as an 'icebox cookie' in this part of the world. Your useless food trivia for the day.) When it's cold, slice into rounds about 1/4 inch thick (a really thin knife, like a boning knife, is good for this), lay out on a cookie sheet, and bake at 300 degrees, this says for thirty minutes but I'd start checking them at fifteen. When they juuuust start turning brown on the edges, they're done.

The recipe says to make little sandwiches out of them, with raspberry jam, but my family scarfs 'em up, as-is.

I'm so freakin' domestic.

Fucking drug nazis.

The weather changed again; we slept last night with the windows open in the house. In mid December. Just. Not. Right.

Of course this means more migraines. I couldn't be more thrilled. And when I called to refill my migraine medication, the assholes at the pharmacy (the military pharmacy) wouldn't refill it until tomorrow because it's a controlled substance or some such bullshit. So, needless to say, I'm in a mood to chew broken glass, kill people, and kick small puppies. May all the gods save me from morons.

No. No. May all the gods spare morons from my wrath.


Just in time for yesterday's food discussion, and the season, the blog "Culinary Types" has a discussion of panforte, the Italian version of fruitcake. Link, here. Supposedly the recipe is about eight hundred, a thousand years old, but if that's the case, I've got a problem with chocolate as a traditional ingredient, seeing as it's a new world food and has only been available in Italy for five hundred years at most. (And probably less.)

There were some other food questions in yesterday's comments (and some fine points about folks not having ovens, made by Alwen). Since I've got nothing else to do but bitch about the weather (which is so exciting, and I've done quite enough of it in the last two months), here are a few general comments about said questions:

When did raw fish become a delicacy? I suspect it always has been. It's good raw. (Oh, yes it is, quit shrieking at me.) Why mess with a good thing and screw it up with heat? I think the real point to make here is, as long as we were catching fish ourselves and eating them on the spot, they were safe to eat raw and probably were. Cooking fish most likely became the standard after humans moved into cities and fish took a couple days to get there, and cooking made it safer. (This does not count various cooking methods that were used for preservation. That wasn't about tasting good, that was about having food to eat in February.)

On the seafood subject, lobsters weren't always considered a yummy good food. For many years they were considered net trash, and either thrown back during fishing expeditions, or taken home, chopped up, and plowed into the fields as fertelizer. (We're talking colonial times in North America.) One of the older cities of N America (damn if I can remember, I think it was Boston; I can't find the bloody refrence) had the servants push through a law that they wouldn't be forced to eat lobster more than three times a week. It wasn't a delicacy, it was crappy stuff they fed to servants and people in the poor house. I've got no idea when it became something fancy; sometime in the Victorian era, I suspect, from looking at cookbooks. But I can't figure out why. (Got any ideas? Let me know. I've been mildly curious about it.) Incidentally, all that overfishing in the North Atlantic that destroyed the cod population has created a huge niche in the ecosystem that's being filled by lobsters. They're talking about upping the quotas (the amuont fishermen are allowed to catch); plan on eating a lot more, cheaper, lobster in the future.

Have I mentioned I'm allergic to shellfish? Of course I am.

No idea on artichokes, either, except to say that before really efficient farming, people gathered and ate all kinds of plants that we don't, any more. Either because they aren't that good to eat, aren't worth the work, or are too much bother (when was the last time you had a Good King Henry salad?). I know in Amish country, artichokes are considered kind of like free nutrition; they grow along the fences between the fields, so folks go out and gather them up. Nutritious, free, and easy to cook. It's no wonder someone tried them, at some point.

Discovering milk wasn't the big deal; we're mammals too, and our babies eat milk. Probably took no thought at all to give the sheep milk a try. (There's a good bit of evidence that sheep and goats were domesticated for wool and meat, and the milk was just a happy byproduct.) CHEESE was the big deal, because you can take all that milk fat and minerals and store it almost forever. Mmmmm, cheese. It's assumed that cheese was 'unvented' (to use an excellent term from Elizabeth Zimmerman) by some schlep storing milk in an animal stomach; the enzymes left over in the leather would curdle the milk, and voila. Cheese.

I'm sitting here, rattling off thoughts on foods, thinking 'It's just possible I've read way too much on this subject'.

As for favorite old cookbooks, I've got one from the 1930's that belonged to my mother, and I suspect my grandmother before her. It was one of the first 'scientific' cookbooks and tried to cover how to cook EVERYTHING. It's about four inches thick and contains all kinds of fun tidbits like squirrel stew and how to skin a possum for roasting. It also has a recipe for reindeer potroast; one year I sent out copies of that recipe with my Christmas cards. No one laughed.

Anyway, now I get to go dig through a four inch thick pile of food magazines, looking for "Those almond cookies you made last year." They were an afterthought, and went so fast, I don't remember where I got the recipe from. Good times.

I don't like almonds. Maybe I should put them in everything.

Oh. And the Goober is, as ever, cute.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

And for the writers among us.

Still with the food.

I can't help it. It's that time of year.

Cooking is a lot like knitting, in terms of history; people have done it for years, and it runs the gamut from really expensive and fancy to survival-level work. Except with cooking, we've been doing it about, what, half a million years longer than knitting? So for the history geeks such as yours truly, it's REALLY interesting.

One if the big appeals to the Christmas cooking, for me, is the historic link. Not just with family - "These are the cookies grandma made for me when I was a kid." - but with overall history. I love making traditional things, like gingerbread and fruitcake, even though I don't eat it. Just to feel the link to all those ancestors who've made it for the last kajillion years. That right there is the root of my desire to make boiled pudding; it's a very old, traditional recipe.

Back in the day, peasants didn't have ovens. Heck, sometimes people STILL don't have ovens. Most food was cooked in the fireplace, which means boiling and roasting almost exclusively (this is where all those 'boiled dinner' recipes come from - a pound of everything in the produce department and a cheap cut of meat, possibly a bottle of beer, boiled until edible). Of course someone eventually found a way to make what is, essentially, a cake, by boiling it. Mostly I just want to see how the whole process works.

Then, of course, there are the other types of recipes. The ones where I speculate how they were developed in the first place. Potato salad? It's name should be 'what's left in the cellar at the end of winter'. That's exactly what it is; cook a little bit of everything left in the cellar and mix it together and viola. Potato salad.

Shortbread? I betcha that was developed by someone poor, who had a cow. (Okay, technically, if they had a cow, they were doing pretty good, but you get the idea.) All that's in it is butter, enough flour to hold it together, and a pinch of salt and sugar to sweeten it a bit. (For my toffee chip shortbread cookie recipe, click here. The toffee chips are my own inspiration, but I find it hard to believe I'm the first person in history to think of it.)

Then there's the fancy stuff. Gingerbread and fruitcake both use what would have been expensive and/or hard to get ingredients, mostly spices and in the case of the fruitcake, dried fruit. The gingerbread was developed as a form of conspicuous consumption - "Look, spice cake! I can afford spices! Be impressed!" Fruitcake is a takeoff on old travel food where fruits and meats were pounded together into a brick and noshed on as needed (in North America, some tribes called this pemmican). Pour some booze over it, and it will keep almost forever. (The oldest known fruitcake is about a hundred years old - scroll down to the bottom of the page.)

So anyway, there you have it. Maunderings on the history of food. Like you've never seen that around here before. Pass the cookies.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Ah, the baking.

For those of you worried for my sanity, I do this every year. I enjoy it. In fact, I don't have enough people to give the baking away to this year, and I'm doing it anyway. Hell with it. It's part of my holiday ritual, and I like it, so I'm gonna. The husbeast can unload it on the guys at work, and I'll give it out to everyone I know locally (Terby, you are on my hit list).

Trish, I don't think I'm making fuckeyes this year. Sorry.

The reason I'm coming up with a kajillion recipes is, I know myself. Once I get everything dragged out and in place, my thought process goes something like "Heck, this is all out anyway, I might as well make (fill in the blank - cookies, bread, seven layer cake, linzer torte, croquembouche, a nuclear reactor)." So it's better to have a plan, or in this case a list of recipes, than it is to just turn me loose in the kitchen when the baking urge is on me. That's how we wound up with crumb cake at Thanksgiving. You know, the recipe that starts off by melting three sticks of butter (because the holiday food wasn't enough calories or fat, we needed more). "Heck, I've got the stuff out to make pie... might as well do a crumb cake."

This year, though, I have a plan to help me not gain weight. Ready?

I'm gonna bake stuff I don't like.

That's right. My in-laws are all big fans of fruit cake, and I can't stand the stuff. So fruitcake it is. They also like citrus (that lemon merengue pie at Thanksgiving?) and I have no trouble resisting it. I've located a recipe for lemon truffles. You get the idea. No doubt I will break down and make something chocolate, and I had a specific request for the shortbread toffee chip cookies that I love, but mostly... it's gonna be lemon, by god.

On the other hand, Bouche de Noel has always eluded me... I'm gonna give it another try this year. (I got my second wind on sponge cake after watching Tyler Florence totally fuck up a Bouche de Noel on Iron Chef last week. Does the heart good.) With luck I might even make merengue mushrooms and maybe some spun sugar spanish moss, for southern authenticity.

Yeah, yeah, I need my head examined. But I'll have fun. If only baking too much was the worst anyone did in the world.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

'Tis the season.

Remember last year's bakefest? This year we aren't going to Ohio, so I will have VERY few people to give food away to. I figured, instead of cranking out twenty million cookies, I could look into doing some more labor intensive baking, instead.

I got out some of my cookbooks and started flipping through, with an eye to making some cakes and tarts and petits-fours, and like that. Maybe truffles.

Turns out there are all kinds of interesting things to make that are labor intensive.

Anyone ever made a boiled pudding before?

Let's talk about color!

Because my brain is still stuck back on the whole eye/color/spectrum thingie. And I don't have much to blog about; I'm still knitting. In the next week or so I hope to drag out the Mystery Knit (remember it?) do some photography and pattern writing, and get it up for sale. 'Tis the season for warm knits.

Anyway. Colors.

Meet the Electro-Magnetic spectrum.

(Image from here.)
Called the EM spectrum for short. You should have encountered this in middle school science, but if it was presented to you like it was presented to me, you rolled your eyes, thought "I'll never need to know this in a million years" and promptly forgot it. But there's all kinds of cool information to be had from it. Seriously. Take a good look.

What was never sufficiently explained to me in school was, it's a continuation of wavelengths. Meaning that the visible light part, in the middle, is just PART of all the 'light' that's out there bouncing around. All that other stuff is there, too. We just can't see it. By that standard, X-ray machines are nothing but cameras that take photos using a kind of light our eyes can't see. Cool, no? (From a technical standpoint, everything on that chart is 'radiation', which can be fun when you warn people about the copy machine putting off radiation. It does put off radiation - VISIBLE LIGHT. Haha. I'm such a bitch.)

The reason I'm putting this up there is because, with the tetrachromate issue of this past week in mind, I'd have SWORN that when the human eye started evolving or mutating, we'd have oozed off the 'visible light' scale into infrared or ultraviolet. And we'd start having humans who could see those extra few wavelengths. Once you're looking at the chart, it doesn't sound that insane; it'd be a simple matter of extra sensitivity in the retina. (There are critters on the planet who can see both ends of the spectrum we can't; mostly reptiles with the infrared, and mostly insects with the ultraviolet.) But instead, imagine my surprise, when it turns out that people are mutating to see MORE COLORS within the spectrum we already see. (And I might be one of them. Go figure.)

Anyway. Since I'm putting up more babbling info about this stuff, I thought I'd include something that was actually useful to knitters and crafters. Namely, why different light is such a big deal, when trying to see color. Here, take a look at the wavelengths put off by the sun, first:

As you can see, the sun puts off wavelengths of light all through the EM spectrum, not just in the visible light band. But MOST of the light put off is visible. (I doubt that's a coincidence. Mother nature's pretty smart about this kind of thing.) As you see from the chart, the sun puts off a fairly well-balanced amount of light in the visible spectrum. Thanks to us spending most of the history of the human race seeing by sunlight, this spectrum of light is what our eyes consider 'normal', and what it's most used to using.

With sun light, THAT MEANS THE LIGHT IS THERE, to bounce off whatever you're looking at, and get soaked up by your eyes. Compare that to the 'spectra' (specific wavelengths) put off by street lights (which are the worst in the world, for color vision).

See that top chart? That's the spectra put off by a low-pressure sodium light (also known as 'those really cheap street lights'). Now you know why everything looks orange under those lights; that's the only light it puts off, so that's all that can bounce off things to get soaked up by your eyes. Get the idea? (Cops hate these lights, by the way, because they're so notrious for fucking up color vision. They can find witnesses who saw a crime happen right in front of them, but can't say what color the getaway car was, or what color clothing the criminals were wearing, or even what color their skin was. You're reduced entirely to 'light' and 'dark'.)

Here are some more spectra for different types of light:

If you can't tell from the picture (it's pretty small), from top to bottom the artificial lights shown are: compact fluorescent, fluorescent, metal hallide, mercury vapor, high pressure sodium, and again, the low pressure sodium. You can see how unholy awful the low pressure sodium is, with the comparisons. You can also see how the old-school fluorescent will lead to some seriously funky color vision.

Unfortunately that chart doesn't have incandescent light, which is still the main at-home lighting used for most of the world. So after digging around some more, I found this:

Which isn't terribly helpful, but you can see how, even though it's better than most other types of artificial light, it still puts off more red than it should, particularly when compared to sunlight.

So there you go. More than you ever wanted to know about color.

And instead of no wisdom teeth, or super color vision, I really wanted the Power of Laundry. Damn. Maybe next time. I wonder if this would be good enough to get me into Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters?

Monday, December 03, 2007

Odds, ends, and a stoner kitty.

I've finished the nipple warmers - except for blocking - and have started on a new BSJ for the Goober that uses up odds and ends from the stash. It's not the BSJ I was planning to knit, for my nephew, but since I found the hole in the Goober's old one, I'm just gonna knit her one first. (Her old one was a year old, pilled, snagged, and beat to death. It's not worth patching.) I started sewing down the neck of the Russian Prime, screwed it up, and now need to pick it out and start over. Which is how I normally operate when knitting necklines, not that one weird day when everything went right.

There are some fun links, if you're interested:

National Geographic has named their best photos of the year, available here.

Save the Tatas! ...I think the husbeast is getting one of these for Christmas.

They're using old paintings to study climate change. Not a bad idea, really. Details here.

And, my cat is stoned. The red is a catnip mouse. I swear I did not pose anything, just stood by and snapped photos.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

I may be a mutant!

Actually, I already know I'm a mutant, but I may be a mutant twice over.

My blog readers are the coolest people ever. Neek (who appears to be, sadly, blogless) dropped me a note about the concept of 'tetrachromacy', or having super-duper color vision due to a genetic mutation that leads to four (instead of three) types of cones in the retina. I've spent the morning reading up on it, going "hey, I do that" when they describe the behavior of tetrachromats. Mostly it involves things like color memory, seeing variations in color no one else does, and stuff like that. (One description involves an interior decorator who can see differences in paint chips that none of her clients do.)

Wikipedia has a decent basic article on it, here.

There is a better, yet basic, article here, that describes things better in terms of the human implications. It also has a link to the Ishihara color blindness tests, which can be fun to play with.

There is also an article, here, that goes into gory details on the genetics involved (WARNING: it is a PDF file). I tracked on about 75% of the details; I'm not a geneticist, and what little formal study I have in genetics involved plants (didja know ferns can have up to four hundred-odd chromasomes?) and not humans, which is more confusing than you'd first think.

Anyway, the basic gist is, women (only women, it's a double X chromasome deal, related to why men are color blind, basically the gene that controls that stuff is very prone to mutation and variation) can have FOUR types of color receptors in the retina, instead of the usual three. It's estimated that with three color receptors an average person can see about a million colors; with a fourth cone type, that number of visible colors would go up to a hundred million. At least theoretically. Seems that the color sensitivity of the cones is variable, though, even among 'normal' folks, so you get more a graduation of color sensitivity among people. So it's likely that even with the fourth cone, there would be a variation among individuals, as to how sensitive to color they are.

What's REALLY interesting to me is, the great debate these days in the medical community isn't about whether or not the fourth cone mutation happens; it's whether or not the human brain can adapt to it enough to make use of it. Considering I've seen case studies of a kid who had AN ENTIRE HALF OF HER BRAIN REMOVED (because of really bad Epilepsy) and WALKED OUT OF THE HOSPITAL a couple weeks after the surgery, I've got faith the human brain can adapt enough to make use of an extra cone in the retina. Particularly if it's an otherwise functional brain, which is usually the case these days.

I'm going to try to contact a couple of these guys who are doing studies, and see if there's some kind of color test I can take, to verify it. (There's also a genetic test, which I'm game for, but I imagine having me look at some color cards would be a lot cheaper.) I'm quite curious, now.

...I've been reading the behavior of known tetrachromats to the Husbeast, and he's laughing and saying "Oh yeah, that's you."

Oh, my other mutation? I was born without wisdom teeth. Don't have any, never did. I in no way think the genetic code dictating how my teeth come in is related to the genetic code that dictates how I see color is related. But it establishes my genetic weirdness, for sure.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Good color vision is a bitch.

Thanks to my articles and research on color theory and how vision works, I'm aware that the part of the spectrum the human eye is most sensitive to is the green part. That's why night-vision goggles show things in shades of green, and possibly why one of the first LED colors was green, and I suspect why green means go in most of human culture. We could get philosophical about it, because the sun puts off a disproportionate amount of its light in the green portion of the visible spectrum. Waaaay back, there were primitive plants who used different colors of light to make photosynthesis happen - particularly the red end - but when green plants developed, they outclassed and outgrew the other plants and put them out of business. They had the most light to work with, and the most efficient chloroplasts. (Yes, I am a plant freak. Why do you ask?)

Then again, it's humans who arbitrarily chopped up the spectrum into hunks and decided to call part of it green, so maybe it's all about us, after all. Some more 'primitive' human societies make do with only three or four words for colors, and function quite well. They can SEE all the colors, they just use three or four words to sum them up. Even as recently as five hundred years ago, orange as a color word was unknown in most Europen languages. "Stuart Red" in those old Scottish tartans is, in fact, a nice happy orange color. (Why yes, I am a history and anthropology freak. Why do you ask? Color vision and definition is actually a favorite topic in anthropology, and there are lots of articles on it if you're curious.)

What does this mean in practical terms? I'll tell you what it means. IT MEANS IT'S FUCKING IMPOSSIBLE TO MATCH GREEN EMBROIDERY FLOSS TO THE GREEN YARN IN THE BLOODY DAMNED RUSSIAN PRIME. That's what it means.

I went out last night to the craft store to get the floss. Whose bright idea it was to put flourescent light in a craft store, I don't know, but they need to be dragged into the street, tarred, feathered, and flogged. (Flourescent light reflects colors weirdly, in particular - ha - reds and greens.) Eventually I narrowed it down to three floss choices, and after at least five minutes' dithering around (that's a lot of time for me, in a store, shopping) mentally flipped a coin and bought one.

This was the best I could do.

Probably 95% of you are looking at that photo going "Uh... that looks fine."

The other 5%, like me, are looking at it and shrieking "AAAAH! THAT LOOKS LIKE SHIT!"

According to my optometrist, some people are more sensitive to color than others and apparently really do see more colors. It's not a large portion of the population, and unfortunately I seem to be one. The subject came up with my optometrist when I told him I could tell the difference between glass and plastic lenses by how colors look through them. Yes, I can tell a difference. Glass is better. Apparently we're talking an infantesimal difference in the light going through, between glass and plastic lenses. The eyeglass researchers claim it's impossible to tell the difference, though my doc said he knew one or two other patients who also complained about color vision with their glasses. I suspect the super-sensitive color vision thing is much like having perfect pitch is for hearing people; more trouble than it's worth, the majority of the time.

At any rate, I got the stuff, and now I need to go finish the nipple warmers. And then use the not-matching floss to sew up the neck of the Russian Prime.