Saturday, November 28, 2009

Still time!

I have an entry in process, to be posted tomorrow. Promise for reals!

Until then: I didn't even remember sending this thing until someone I met by chance contacted me about it on Facebook. Huh. A new friend, and a published letter of sorts! Today ended well.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I so want to make an-pan from this, now.

When we last left our Daily Update Vow-breaking heroine, she was nursing a freshly wounded ego that craved bread. Pumpkin bread. Yeasted pumpkin bread. Alas, like catgut, the Hundred Years' War, and Diet Crush orange soda (which boasts about forty calories a can - you misled me, supermarket display designed to induce impulse buying!), my beautiful dough was a misnomer of epic proportions; the can may very well have contained butternut squash for its superior texture and pleasantly sweet flesh, and the yeast, well, it managed to sit unopened on the counter for the span of preparation.

I grieved my lost bread far more than I did the family's pet frog that I can't remember having. (He was with us for... years, you say? Seriously, it doesn't register.) I grieved, until I read - alert the presses! - my blog's very first comment ever.

Er. Second, that is, since a long-lost friend claimed a number one spot. So second. My blog's very second comment ever. Ever.

Hey, I've done that too (forgot the yeast)! Thanks for trying our stuff, I'm so glad you like it-- come visit our website for questions anytime-- still answering ourselves.

Signed, Jeff Hertzberg, co-writer of Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Which is the book where I found the original recipe, for those keeping score.

Holy dinner rolls, Batman! That sure did the trick.

So, I present to you, for the first time ever, Amanda's Second Attempt at Pumpkin Pie Brioche: Revenge of the Leavening*.


Behold, it is oozy. Inhale, it is yeasty. Smile, all will be well.

The first time I made this, I put half of the dough in a loaf pan, let it rest, baked it, ate it with dinner. The next day, I ate it with pumpkin ice cream. Then, with apple butter. Cranberry sauce. It's not brioche, exactly (I went with canola oil, which is not only healthier than saturated-fat laden butter or highly processed margarine, but - and this is the important thing - doesn't require the additional fifteen seconds to melt it. Spend those fifteen seconds doing something for yourself, like temporarily spacing out while trying to remember why you ran upstairs this time.), but it's delicious.

The rest of the dough returned to the fridge. And Monday night, I realized, it was nearing the end of its short fuse. With a series of busy days ahead of me, I needed to do something now, which is no longer now, but it was then! I needed to do something then. Off to the kitched I trudged.

Drawing on a comment from the book's website, I rolled the rest of the dough into a thin rectangle, sprayed it with a bit of cooking spray, sprinkled it with demera sugar and cinnamon, rolled it up, plopped it in a loaf pan, huffed and grumbled as I realized I had forgotten to grease said pan, shrugged it off, and left it to rise in the fridge overnight. I then trudged back to the den and went back to knitting antique-looking slippers. (I mean that in a derogatory way.)

First thing next morning, it looked like this:

We have refrigerator rising, I repeat, we have refrigerator rising! (Hee hee. I sound like a switchboard operator. Testing, testing!) (My cat thinks I'm funny.) Bread, 1; slippers, 0. I'm back to booties for a bit.

To the oven! From the oven!
Oh, yes.
Aaaaaand I'm happy**.

Next time: Tummyache Day!

*Some pictures may actually be from the third bread-making effort, which currently awaits Tummyache Day in our 'fridgerator.
**I didn't actually eat it, by the way. I'm told it was delicious. That's enough for now.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Japanese video: Metropolitan Museum

I'm going to New York City today for an appointment, and in addition to my routine book store trawl, I'm going to try to stop at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the Art of the Samurai exhibit.

So today, in lieu of an entry, I bring you a video that has apparently traumatized generations of Japanese children!

The angel statue on the marble pedestal
Leaned over and whispered to me,
"At night, it gets cold in here.
Won't you lend me your clothes?"
Time travel is so much fun
At the Metropolitan Museum!
If it would be all right,
I'll give you one of my red socks!

In Egypt, the Pharaoh sleeps,
Wrapped in a bed of stone.
I tried to call out to him, but still
He lies in a dream that's lasted 5000 years
Time travel is so much fun
At the Metropolitan Museum!
Okay; I'll just leave set this here,
An alarm clock for you!

A violin case...
A trumpet case...
Who needs to pack a trunk?
I'm ready to go!

Time travel is so much fun
At the Metropolitan Museum!
It's all locked up
In all our favorite paintings!

(That last line could also mean, "I'm trapped in my favorite painting." Which further explains the trauma.)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Another gift card rendered useless by current trends.

The main problem with knitting somewhat obsessively: you can't really buy any generic knitted goods.

It's not just that you fear being asked by every Shrewd Observer if you made your hat, or your boots, or your sweater. It's that, once you reach a certain point, and knitting stops being a mere vehicle to churn out more scarves, and frankly, you don't even want to hear about scarves anymore, anyway; once you reach that point, at least for me, buying a sweater at Macy's becomes... a Waste.

You still see things, sure; and you still think, perhaps, how interesting a particular style might be, and how attractive it might look should you put it on. The difference, however, is that you aren't actually seeing a consumer product, oh, no; you're seeing a yarn, and a stitch, and a cut of sleeve and joins and seams that you could easily avoid by working in the round, and I wonder how it's set under this oversized collar, and wouldn't it look nicer with that three-inch trim you saw on the sweater by the entrance?

And no, you don't actually have time to make every sweater you own yourself. In fact, you very well may never get past the dreaming stage, or at the very most, you may continue relying on actual patterns from magazines and books and the net, copied more or less to the letter with minor variations to suit your preferences.

But you still can't bring yourself to buy that sweater, unless you plan to unravel it and make, say, slippers.

You can see the slippers when I finish them.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Oh, forgot one.

So do I write about the yarn that I need for my current project, and tossed who-knows-where-not-me? (After a two hour hunt peppered by deep breathing sessions?)

Do I write about comics, which I've yet to read this week because the comic shop is out of my way?


"And jogging blog! Cooking-knitting-comics-jogging blog!"

So said my mother, and, oh, yeah. I'm doing the Couch-to-5K.

The Couch-to-5K Running Plan is... you know what? Quotation marks make everything easier:

"You should ease into your running program gradually. In fact, the beginners' program we outline here is less of a running regimen than a walking and jogging program. The idea is to transform you from couch potato to runner, getting you running three miles (or 5K) on a regular basis in just two months."

I'm in the middle of week 7 now - that's three days of 2.5 miles with no walking - and I have to say, this plan is certainly working out. I particularly like it compared to my plan from when I tried running two years ago, which consisted of... oh, that's right, no plan at all. My father and I walked together, and he would tell me to run ahead and come back. As soon as I got back, he'd do so again. I wound up jogging up and down hills, wearing the first pair of shoes I found, barely stretching, and a bit less than a month after starting I was running every other day without walking breaks.

A bit more than a month after starting, my Achilles' tendons began to ache and tear so badly that I limped for weeks. Oops! Dad blamed my lack of a thirty-second warm up stretch. I blamed him.

Turns out we were both... well, I was probably premature in my analysis, and he was only about a third right. This time around, I'm spending five-to-ten minutes stretching before and after each jog; I'm running mostly on a level treadmill; and, in sharp contrast to some well argued theories, I'm trusting my ankles to sneakers designed to ameliorate pronation. I'm also only going three days a week, and repeating days of the program that I couldn't finish the first time. If my initial attempts were foiled by running too far, too fast, too soon, too often over too difficult terrain, then maybe - just maybe - my natural tendency to favor doomsday will at last be trumped by logic. After all, I've made it almost two months so far.

By the way - when my brother got married three weeks ago, I wore high heels to the wedding for one of the first times in my life. Gorgeous shoes; sore calves. I limped for a week, and worried profusely about how my regimen would be affected. Wonder of wonders - after an extra long stretch, I succeeded in jogging the full session without a twinge. The walking intervals were torture, but it appears that jogging really does rely on different muscles. See, kids? Physiology actually has real-world parallels!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Milk for the bread!

My parents joined a CSA this year, and since coming home from Japan, I've been rediscovering vegetation outside of the sparse pickings at a Nagoya corner grocery.

Carrots? Check. Spinach? Naturally. Little white hakurei turnips, heads of napa cabbage, and curiously itty-bitty daikon radishes? Inexplicably, yes. There's synchronicity for you.

Carrots are great for munching (I haven't turned orange, yet), and both the daikon and hakurei were victims to my culinary adventures - the former, boiled into a newly nostalgic miso soup; the latter, victim to a slapdash adaptation of a savory steamed custard that only I could really finish. Mom tends to lay claim to any greens other than lettuce, which is probably for the best, as my cooking reputation isn't exactly built upon being adept at washing and preparing, and these come to us straight from the mud. (We've been forced to offer lukewarm hospitality to a number of hitchhikers, notably a merry little slug from some lettuce the other day. I was entirely ready to name him Stu and be jolly friends forevermore, but mom insisted that he be evicted immediately. Yet, I'm supposed to make eye contact and listen and everything when HER friends visit. Pfft.) Mom has a knack for cooking leaves, anyways - she's come up with some pretty ridiculously good salads, like spinach wilted by sauteed onions and mushrooms, or braised cabbage with apple cider vinegar, or good ol' fashioned grilled radicchio.

What really excites me, however, are the roots, squashes, and cruciferous veggies. While the carrots never seem to last long enough to actually cook, we've pulled dozens of cookie sheets from the oven laden with beets, turnips, parsnips, and rutabega, not to mention cauliflower, broccoli, and (as of tonight, we hope) Brussels sprouts; and both my mother and I have found ourselves stuffing sweet dumpling squash with cous cous, frying spaghetti squash into fritters, and pureeing butternut squash and acorn squash into soups accented by onions and garlic, apples and ginger, or a couple of sweet potatoes.

Yes. The sweet potatoes.

We got a lot of those. I've been playing with them almost every day, and the pile has barely been breached.

A brief tangent: a few weeks ago, I picked up Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day, a sequel to Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I don't own the original, but that's for the best, because the book I do own has taken over my life. I've found wild success in the master recipe, inundating my household with whole wheat in free-form, bread loaves, crackers, and croutons. With a basement full of sweet potatoes, it was natural that I try the "Sweet Potato and Spelt Bread" next. I grated tubers until my arm ached, searched high and low for spelt flour, and left a bubbling concoction perfumed by yeast to rise all night long, with dreams of nuanced sweetness and light, chewy textures. As it developed in the fridge, I babbled about making more for Thanksgiving, sharing it at an office where I volunteer, working out the best price to sell it. There's a strong possibility that I was introducing myself to strangers by describing my highly anticipated sweet potato bread.

My hopes might have been a touch high.

Yeah, well, I probably should've drained the sweet potatoes, because that's not what I got. The free-form boule was a total failure; the muffins and the loaf were somewhat better, but still far too dense, pretty much raw in the middle. This is what happens when you decide at 9 PM that you MUST start combining ingredients NOW, and never mind that this is going to wind up way too wet, because thinking is for daylight hours. It's why I'm a day person.

So, last night, I decided to go in another direction, the "Pumpkin Pie Brioche." This one relied on canned pumpkins and white whole wheat, and was insured by eggs, honey, and oil; it seemed a safe bet. And the result had a far more promising texture, still wetter than average (as the book assures is desirable) but stiffer than the un-enriched versions, slightly pliant. The cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves didn't hurt, either. I left it to rise with high hopes.

Ten minutes went by with nothing - no bubbles, no yeasty aroma. Since physics has yet to back up the theory that the progressed time until completion is inversely proportional to the time spent observing a physical or chemical reaction (read: a watched pot never boils), and since I have far too much free time, I knew from past loaves that SOMETHING should have happened by now. Were the additions of fat and sugar affecting things?, I wondered. Or...

Oh, crud. I forgot the yeast.

Yep. A big bowl fulla sweet-smelling dough, DOA. Maybe the chefs of the Night Kitchen can rely on little boys in suits of bread to pilot wonder-enhanced propeller planes into jugs milk to magically enhance their wares with moments to spare; but it was pretty apparent that the time for yeast had long since passed, and so, down the drain it went, and mope I did.

Though, I stopped moping just long enough to adapt this recipe from Smitten Kitchen with sweet potatoes, wonton skins, and plenty of garlic. An hour or so of sauteeing, mashing, folding, and boiling later, I had a sweet plate of dumplings and a freezer full of more.

And a sink full of dishes. But today, I'm not writing about doing the dishes.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

...on a rock.

I made a new friend last night.

We met in my favorite South Street yarn/miscellania shop. I was knitting; she was crocheting. We chatted about the effect of internet misinformation on the versimilitude of information, and about how low standards benefit self esteem.

We also talked about blogs. She has a blog, she says, because one cannot always rant about ideals through an oral medium if one plans to maintain certain social ties.

Me - I have a different problem. I just want somewhere to rant about my interests, to showcase my writing, and possibly to, perhaps, <i>forge> a social life. Earlier entries attest that I found the perfect title; apparently, though, that wasn't enough to delve out an angle. My interests remain myriad and subjective.

"If I write about my interests," I said, "I'd be writing the 'Knitting-Cooking-Comics Blog.'"

"Well, just write about all of them, then," said my new friend.

Yeah, sure. I was leaning that way, anyway. I'll even throw in "Japan stuff," for good measure.

"Three Years on a Rock" has a new direction, then. Same title. ("Knitting-Cooking-Comics Blog" is probably already taken.) My mini-goal: I'll be posting every day until Thanksgiving. Honestly, if A.J. Jacobs can read the encyclopedia, I can talk daily about the hobbies that pervade my consciousness every time the TV goes off.