Kitchen Antics

I hadn’t wanted to get the chalkboard labels, because I wanted something permanent, but I couldn’t find anything suitable, so I got them plus chalkboard ink, which is at least somewhat permanent. And then I wrote verrrry carrrrrefully:

labels

Tip: Use them right away, or put them on your containers first and then write, because if they dry and then you buckle the paper, you get a shower of white, as if you had a shower of royal icing bits.

Partway through my organizational foray:

labelsinprogress

I know it looks like all I do is store sugar, but these were in easy-to-label containers and are also the ones most likely to look like each other at a glance.

I’ve been using a lot of that bakers’ dry milk, too; the white thing to the far left is my little Mini-Zojirushi breadmaker. I’m torn on it, actually. I wanted something small just for the sake of small. My pantry, while I love having one, is not huge, and it’s pretty full. I’m trying to declutter my counters, so I didn’t want one that was so big I’d just want to leave it out. This one fits the bill and makes yummy bread. However, the 1-lb loaves are tiny. I could eat one in a sitting, and I think most people probably could. So when I think of it I make two loaves back to back.

I do still feel a little guilty using it at all, though, considering I have a KitchenAid and I can and have made bread by hand. Rocket science it is not.

In other culinary news, I just replaced my microwave with a combo microwave/convection oven, which was the most economic option for getting a second oven. LOVE IT. I have just taken this recipe out of it. They are cooling now:

fruitandnutbars

They smell awesome and I hope they come out of that pan in reasonable shape and taste as good as they are promising to. I’m really trying to have relatively healthy, tasty snacks for work. Gotta get through those days somehow.

And in a bit I’m going to give this casserole a go. It’s a thekitchn sort of weekend apparently.

In the annals of things I am grateful for, in the midst of this, I must say: MY DISHWASHER. It really makes cooking and baking more fun. For these bars I’m glad I recently got a set of lightweight stainless mixing bowls, because I used the second largest and it was easy to manuever when I had to pout hot honey/sugar/butter into fruit, nuts, and cereal — and since my dishwasher was already packed I washed it by hand without wanting to stab myself in the eye with a spork.

I mean, usually I’ll do anything to get out of washing dishes. Though perhaps not really the spork thing.

Thank God for the three-day weekend! We have another next month, and then a Tuesday off mid-Nov, then Thanksgiving, then Christmas, then New Year, then MLK, then President’s Day…and then we enter the long dearth of days off til Memorial Day. Counting, moi? Just like I have no idea it’s 15 years, 7 months, and 19 days til I retire, either. 😉

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Get Your Pre-Monday Right Here

Ye gods and little fishes, it’s Sunday night again.

My current job assignment has sent me to the doctor twice in four months for stress-and-anxiety-related stuff. Tomorrow I have to go for something else, and I am so miserable with work that there is an awful voice inside half-wishing it were something serious because then I might get a break. How terrible is that?!

I am looking for ways to have some energy in the evenings, so that I don’t end up in bed at 7:45 after being gone from 6:15 to 6:15. So far I’ve come up with: Have a cool shower as soon as I’ve fed the cats, to invigorate me and help me stay vertical; have a cup of espresso; do some gentle yoga. I know exercise is supposed to be good but the walking I have recently incorporated into my days has actually made me more exhausted at night (I know that’s just short-term adjustment). Having said that, when I go abroad I walk everywhere and it wears me out, so I need to do more of it here in order to be in some semblance of shape then!

Still…this is one hellish rotation for this here introvert with general anxiety!

Today has been a day of knitting, reading, a lot of black coffee, and The Day I Saw Your Heart. Is it just me, or does Mélanie Laurent look like a cross between Scarlett Johanssen and a young Rosanna Arquette? It was a good movie, and I caught quite a bit of the language, which makes me happy, but a bit wrenching as well. Nonetheless it was good to spend ninety minutes in France this afternoon.
And now I think I am going to be a totally irresponsible person and get fast food for dinner. If I were in France I might go to the local brasserie — like the one at Place de la Nation where I had my last lunch in Paris in 2012, the yummy Alsatian butter noodles and chicken — but since I’m not, and since I have not got cooking mojo today, I’m defaulting to lowest common denominator here.

Space (the Elbow Room Kind)

I was talking with a friend of mine recently. He’s as much of an italophile as I am a francophile; he hopes to retire to Italy one day. (I think he has a better chance of doing it than I do of retiring to France, but we shall see.) To make ourselves feel better, we made a list of things we actually prefer about the United States, since we can both go on all day long about what we prefer about Europe in general and our favorite countries in particular.

The biggest thing, no pun intended, was space. He and his partner have a big house and I have a pretty darn big condo and while homes of these sizes do, indeed, exist in Europe, they’d be way, way, way, way out of our price range, or possibly very far into the countryside (or both).

Tonight I was watching Rachel Khoo’s Little Paris Kitchen show (I bought the cookbook on my Powell’s jaunt last June). I am amazed by what people in tiny kitchens can do —  I saw it in action in 2012 at my friend S’ place in Paris as well. I was just looking at her web site, and she says her entire apartment is 21 square meters. That’s 226 square feet. My condo is 1752 square feet, or almost 163 square meters.

So, yeah. Space.

Having said that, I have always had a secret dream of paring everything down and living in a totally efficient and cozy tiny place. My problem would be my books, although again my friend S squeezes tons of books into every corner of her Parisian apartment, so maybe I’d just have to be creative!

Besides the fact that it’s, well, in Paris, I’m also envying her kitchen tile, seen in the photo here. I am considering whether I could do something like that under my cabinets. Another thing to add to my maybe-to-do list!

Caturday

Yesterday was a lovely, perfect day. I woke up amazingly early for me — 8.45 — and spent the day reading (I finished Autoportrait, about which more another time), putting Post-Its in my new Christmas-gift cookbooks (What Katie Ate, Smitten Kitchen, and Homemade Winter), knitting, blocking finished knitting, watching a little tv, drinking tea, and watching my housemates be this relaxed:

 

comfy alexander

I also had some assistance with the blocking:

 

feline blocking assistance

It was pretty much my ideal day.

Living Life on the Edge

Many years ago, when I was a bride, my beloved was making hamburgers for us to eat while watching baseball. I got out my brand-new mandoline to make french fries.

The guard slipped on the sticky moist potato and my right thumb came sliding down onto the blade. It didn’t actually hurt, but it bled like a fountain. I sat with it above my heart, wrapped in a towel, while we ate just the burgers and watched the game. No dice. Off to the ER…which was packed on a Saturday night in Berkeley. We decamped to the small hospital in my hometown, where they stopped it with magic gauze, and then a sadistic doctor who looked like she could have been in a movie about the USSR scrubbed at it with gauze dipped in disinfectant, which was the single most painful thing I’ve ever had happen to me. There may have been a very loud obscenity shouted. Then — then! — they gave me Novocaine.

In the end, no stitches, and I have no scar or loss of feeling; it really just made a flap of skin and took some of the tip of my nail. But my husband made me sell the mandoline on eBay.

Bwahahahaha!

Bwahahahaha!

So I’ve been divorced nine years this month and damnit, it’s time to have a mandoline again. (I was thinking this while slicing the radishes for the tartines the other week.) I did get a safety glove, and the guard on this one is much better than the one I had circa 1999. I haven’t used it yet, but I’m excited just to have one again.

Getting Back into the Kitchen

Now that the weather is cooling down, I have much more energy and enthusiasm. Witness:

 

Small lemon cake with vanilla frosting.

Small lemon cake with vanilla frosting.

I made this for a friend who came over for birthday tea. It’s a blitztorte from The Joy of Cooking, with double lemon. The cake didn’t come away from the pan perfectly, so I tried to do a crumb coat before the proper icing, but it still was kind of rustic. Quite good though.

I have a friend who clips the cats’ claws and I feed him. This was what he got last week:

Tartine ingredients.

Tartine ingredients.

Please also note homemade garlic rosemary croutons in the Ziploc to the back left.

Tartines, assembled.

Tartines, assembled.

Lightly toasted French bread with 1.) European-style butter topped with sea salt and radishes (which I ate compulsively for days afterward — sooo good!) and 2.) Greek yogurt (standing in for the fromage frais I didn’t feel like going to Whole Foods for), cucumbers, tomatoes, and herbes de Provence.

Pretty pretty macarons.

Pretty pretty macarons.

I got two of seven different kind of macarons from Chantal Guillon. Bought them from a guy from Paris. I actually walked back to work smiling.

Tonight I will confess I am giving into a whim and having fish sticks for dinner. So gourmet, non? But it’s comfort food. This was mortgage payday last week so my cupboard is a bit barer than it would normally be. But I have plans for fall and winter cooking. I love this time of year.

Adventures in Ice Cream

The other day I was on a quest to make mocha-Frangelico ice cream. Interestingly, mocha ice cream recipes are fairly rare. I used this one, which says it’s for a five-quart machine but which works fine in my 2-qt Cuisinart. I used about half a shot of Frangelico, not wanting it to inhibit the freezing. The ice cream turned out fabulous, but not at all hazelnutty. I read somewhere that you can use an ounce of alcohol per quart of ice cream before it stops the freezing, so clearly I was underreaching.

Tried it again today with an ounce and a half of liqueur… I just churned it and it’s in the freezer now. It’s got a slight alcoholic tang to it, but still not overmuch. Although still very tasty. I completely recommend this recipe if you want mocha ice cream.

I’m thinking maybe I will just put some Nutella in it next time!

 

 

So Hey, It’s Sunday Again! Imagine That.

I have my go-to chicken simmering on the stove under the mushrooms, tomato paste, and Madeira. I’ve had a couple of ciders, read a bit, started a sock out of the Zauberball Crazy I got at Penelope in Amsterdam. I’m using these wacky needles for the first time.  It’s also about 72F here at 6:40PM, so it’s been a warm one. Spent quite a bit of time sitting outside, after running to the AT&T store, Starbucks, and the grocery store.

All in all, not the worst of Sundays.

Yesterday I went on a drive/hike with a friend. We collected lovely rocks and shells at Fort Cronkhite.

cronkhiterocks

At this point mine were mainly rocks.

I quite like rocks, actually:

rocksandsea

We had lunch at a fantastic little Mexican restaurant in Sausalito, and then came back to our side of the bay and had coffee. I managed not to get sunburned but I do have some color, which is nice, and I felt as if I’d had a few drinks, but I hadn’t. Nice.

The other day, this came in the mail:

kpkit

It’s a kit for a stranded scarf (double-thickness, knit in the round, or I’d not have bought it) in a colorway called “wintry mix.” I know that wintry mix is not a fun thing to live through but I have always liked the term — it sounds like some kind of crunchy holiday dish. Also now a pretty scarf. (Sorry for the overexposure; it’s a phone camera pic from my credenza at work.)

Next week, as one of the results of the AT&T store run, I will actually have some television service. It’s probably good to have a little, especially as a person living alone. Sometimes you need some stimulation and exposure to the world outside. Although of course I go to work every day, that’s still a limited universe in a way. Same bus, same walk to subway, same subway, same job, same coworkers. I like the feeling of routine but having some of the wider world as company while I knit or what have you will be nice.

Also, people are more likely to agree to house/cat-sit if they can watch TV. Possibly sad but definitely true!

Dinner is nearly ready, so must be off.

 

 

Well, That Was a Long Break

I haven’t written since November!

Of course, I bought a house and moved, so I suppose it’s not shocking. Even with having the movers pack things, moving was still a major pain. They packed up on December 28 (including the clothes I was going to wear the next day, my clock radio, and all my chargers… there was some flailing and unpacking on my part) and then schlepped over the whole load on December 29.

Even with Mayflower packing, and even though I moved further and into a house with 3.5 stories, it only cost about $250 more than having Starving Students simply move my self-packed boxes 1 mile in 2011. Kudos to them! Even with packing my clock radio.

On New Year’s Eve I got a 24-hour stomach flu that sent me home from work early (I would rather do anything than throw up, but it was beyond my control and I just prayed I’d make it back home before it happened again). I went to bed at 2:15 and got up around 10 the next morning. I felt hungover, but so much better. Not really a fab way to start the New Year, but alas.

My sister and I went out that day and took advantage of the last day of a sale to buy my dining room table, which should be here in a few weeks. I am dismayed at the amount of money I’ve poured forth in the house experience, beyond the down payment. I really need to build my savings back up! That regime starts with the first payday in March. Right now I still have the pay the rest of the guest room chair-and-a-half that becomes a twin bed, and the new cooktop (it’s got a chunk missing from next to the right front burner).

Oh, and I need a pot stand. Yeah, I know. But I have several large pieces of enamelled cast iron that are taking up a huge amount of cupboard space, because I don’t have a place for the baker’s rack they used to sit on. Also, they’re pretty, and there’s a perfect corner in the dining room for a stand. But those things aren’t cheap.

On the other hand, I don’t intend to ever buy another dining room table, cooktop, or, indeed, pot stand.

Yesterday a friend came for tea and snacks, which was lovely — the more people who come hang out here, the homier it feels to me. It’s so quiet in this neighborhood, apart from the white noise of the nearby freeway (we have double-paned windows so it’s just a whirring hum), and this place is much bigger than anywhere else I’ve lived, that it really took a little getting-used to. As much as I love quiet, that combined with the for-us-very-cold weather made things seem rather less than cozy.

But now it’s warming up a bit, I’ve watched a movie every night for the last few nights, I’ve cooked (made leek and potato soup for Saturday dinner, and cookies for yesterday), and my furnace is working! So things seem more normal.

Now to tackle my to-do list (need to get a bunch of stuff from the dining room staging area to the way-downstairs room, which is going to be the longer-term staging area, plus put some more things on the walls, and rearrange where closet items go) and also go run errands. Thank God for having MLK day off!

I know I won’t be able to travel in 2013, due to using up vacation days and not wanting to wipe out what’s left of the travel account, which is a bit of a bummer and I might cheat a bit and go to Portland for my birthday. I just ordered hard copies of my 2012 travel pictures so I can put them in an album and share with my aunt, and I’m all wistful for going away. 2014!

Ah, That’s Better — Now for Some Miscellanea

It’s grey and cool out; I am sitting in the living room having a cup of coffee and a glass of a spiced cognac-based liqueur that caught my eye at Trader Joe’s the other day. They’re both tasty and I feel my will to live returning with the fog.

I am, however, a little concerned about my inattention/eyesight from something that happened after work. I went by Target and I saw a 6-quart slow cooker on sale for $18. Only as I was in the process of paying for it did I notice it’s got a football field motif all the way around it.

Oh hell no. I would cringe and be irritated every time I saw it. I imagine that’s why it was on clearance — nobody else wanted a dumb green thing in their kitchen either.

But how did I not notice that?

Onward.

Apparently my sensitive-teeth issue is not tooth-related after all– or maybe some of it is. But not the I-would-pull-all-my-teeth-if-it-would-make-the-pain-stop festival of screaming nerves. That often happens after I’ve been through the trans-Bay tube and it happened to a lesser extent after being on the Paris metro; eating or drinking will sometimes set it off but not usually as badly. I have had the vague thought that it might be sinus-related, a dental analogue to your ears popping. Lo, the hygienist and the dentist on Wednesday both said: See an ENT. So that’s on my to-do list.

Also on the to-do list: Go all the way across the street and mail a package to France (because it wouldn’t have been easier to mail it while I was, oh, say, in France); vacuum; bake some pumpkin bread to use up the plain yogurt in my fridge; clear up the clutter round here, and then on Sunday go look at condos.

Ye gods and little fishes. I can’t believe I’m to go look at places to buy, especially since I was so adamant about not doing so. My misgivings are still there (any repair is on my dime, on my time, and due to my own organizing; I am not even the slightest bit handy; I am single; will I have to work full-time for the rest of my life because of this?) but I think the benefits outweigh the risks at this point. Especially since in my current situation I have to arrange for all repairs and whatnot myself anyway, so the luxury of calling the apartment manager and saying, “This is broken. Can you have the handyman fix it?” is over for me.

Also there may be three bedrooms! And there will definitely be two bathrooms! AND A NICE KITCHEN! Because the kitchen is the dealbreaker. If I don’t love the kitchen, I don’t care how nice the rest of the place is, I’m not buying it.

So there’s that. I am just steeling myself for 12-18 months of searching.

On another note, I’m daydreaming about my next solo trip, which might not be til 2014. The bright side to that delay is that I have plenty of time to plan and anticipate (and build my travel fund back up). I want to go to Vienna for a few days and then fly to Lyon. From Lyon I’ll either rent a car or suss out the trains to go to Avignon and Arles, and then take the train up to Paris to finish (of course).  My original thought was Budapest – Vienna – Paris, but I’m not sure I want to do three countries in two-ish weeks again, and I have wanted to wander around the south of France for some time now. I guess it’s a good thing I’ve got awhile to ponder!

I know people at work who will say, “What? Paris again?!” But seriously. It’s a large and ancient city — you could spend years there and not exhaust the possibilities. I’ve only been there three times for about a month altogether. (Wait, that sounds wrong — of course I’m grateful to have been there at all! But it’s not like I’ve come close to seeing or experiencing everything I’d like to, and many things require return visits. I can’t believe I didn’t go to the Louvre or the Orsay this time!)

So yeah, Paris again. Besides, with my frequent-flier plan I’d be flying into and out of either Paris or Amsterdam anyway, so…

And lastly I am gearing up to try NaNoWriMo again this year. I tried about five years ago but I was absolutely not in the right place to make it very far. I’ve had a dilemma for some time about writing — I don’t really enjoy most American literature. Yet, of course, that is what I’d write, being an American and all. I had/have a plot that involves the north of France — the reason I went to Lille last year — but I am stymied by a fierce internal editor over that. I’m not French, even by descent, and so the editor is telling me I cannot possibly write a book about French people set in France, and that if I did and anyone ever read it, I’d be torn limb from limb. I have been negotiating with the editor, asking if it’s okay if I just write the thing and then decide if I’m feeling brave and/or suicidal, but we have not reached a tentative agreement yet.

Therefore I am taking a cue from the aforementioned-very-strange Amélie Nothomb and appropriating my own life directly for something. I have a little brainstorming map going and things I want to use almost unchanged and some things will go off on a wild tangent. There is a (non-fictionalized, American) memoir out there that I very much dislike and I must be wary of making part of this story sound like hers. Anyway, if I can just get the editrix to shut up for thirty days, we’ll see.

Perhaps she’d like some cognac?