Tag Archives: food

Murder, chocolate pudding, and ponies

I was playing a game this week in which you play a little rabbit creature with magic powers. The unstated goal was to murder everything in sight, for which you were rewarded with experience that made you stronger in interesting and fun ways. At one point my little serial killer came upon a creature she had been chasing, who was now stuck under some rubble. The protagonist rescued it and the narrator of the game informed me that she had reminded this creature that there is still kindness and mercy in the forest. After accepting the stolen artifact for her inspiring love, the protagonist blew up an owl with two magic missiles and used its soul to empower her to do so again in the future using only one magic missile.

 

dark chocolate orange pudding recipe

On Friday, I made orange dark chocolate pudding for a party. I’m not sure it was the right snack for that venue. I didn’t put as much effort into the presentation as the above picture. People liked the dish for not being excessively sweet, and even though only three people out of eight (including me) ate any, one person may have had three bowls of it. I still have an awful lot left over, so I’ll take some to my co-workers who expressed interest on Friday when I mentioned I was going to make it.

But the crowning story of this week, if we include the prior weekend, is that Alice got to go visit the wild ponies of Virginia.

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Enraged, a wild pony viciously attacks Alice’s hip.

It is illegal to pet these ponies. Please witness in this picture, Alice is not petting the pony. To my knowledge, there are no laws in the state of Virginia against being eaten by ponies.

How to Accidentally Make a Non-newtonian Fluid in your Kitchen

This week was another with the mandolin. After learning just how deep into my flesh I have to go to reveal my knuckle bone*, I decided I would take my friend’s advice and start using a kevlar glove. Here is my kevlar glove.IMG_20170507_074504068

You can see around the edges where it’s already beginning to show signs of damage from the merciless mandolin. It’s not as hard to grip as you would think, and I can go really fast now that I’m not worried about my safety.

In any case, I’ve been making hashbrowns for Alice. After I soaked the grated sweet potatoes I left the water for a while.IMG_20170507_074422517.jpgAlice, who does the dishes, found a goopy white substance at the bottom.

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I believe that this is sweet potato starch and water, a close cousin to the corn starch and water that together make oobleck. I wasn’t able to make my unintentional oobleck do anything exciting, but for those of you who have not heard of oobleck, it is a fluid whose viscosity changes depending on the forces acting upon it. Here is a informational video.

*This is hyperbole

My Mandolin and Sweet Potato Jerky

I bought a mandolin. A mandolin is a kitchen tool for making regular-sized slices of vegetables easily.IMG_20170423_101445951.jpg

Naturally, I decided I would make sweet potato potato chips with my mandolin. IMG_20170422_184320902.jpg

This turned out easier said than done. Even with a recipe and three tries, my sweet potato chips, which are supposed to be crispy and tasty, were instead crisp and burnt. This turned out to have to do with where I placed them in the oven. They burned when I put them lower in the oven, so I moved the lower grate up. I also turned the heat down to 200 degrees from 250. My oven could be hotter than it claims to be. This is not uncommon.IMG_20170423_082217923.jpg

This gave me “chips” that were tasty, but not crispy. They’re kind of chewy, but definitely tasty. I’m going to call them sweet potato jerky and serve them to my friends at D&D today.IMG_20170423_085049119.jpg

A more unambiguous success includes roast vegetables a la mandolin. Notice the wavy cuts on some of the vegetables. IMG_20170422_184105045.jpg

I cooked it with marinated tofu and a sauce of olive oil, soy sauce, scuppernong wine, apple cider vinegar, and lemon juice and served it on quinoa for a popular lunch.IMG_20170422_184554604.jpg

Freewrite: Human Garbage Can Vs. The Cookie Fairy

Here is a prompt I found on a writing website:

One day you come into work and find a cookie mysteriously placed on your desk. Grateful to whoever left this anonymous cookie, you eat it. The next morning you come in and find another cookie. This continues for months until one day a different object is left–and this time there’s a note.

So, here is my story.

They call him the human garbage can. This is not to be confused with human garbage, in fact, he considers it a compliment. His mother, for whom the noble impulse not to waste food was more of a compulsion and his father, a man famous for his iron stomach and a holder of t-shirts from close to a hundred restaurant eating challenges saw their son’s plastic bag-lined aluminum stomach as nothing short of a dream come true.

His parents never had trouble getting him to eat his vegetables. Rather, they had to make sure that one or the other of them was at the table at all times until everyone’s plates were spotless, or they would be. At three he had to be taught not to eat the bones of the chicken, even though he had already figured out how to leverage them against the sides of tables until they snapped into small enough pieces that they could be swallowed. At five years old he began to cry when burnt beans stuck to the bottom of the pan were scraped out into the garbage and won the right to have these mixed into his own supper instead. At ten he was memorizing recipes for orange peels, cherry pits, sour milk, and the grease from cooking chicken along with detailed analyses of the real expiration dates on food, which were oftentimes much further in the future than the packaging claimed. By eleven and a half, his leftover casseroles had halved the family’s food budget, although he was the only one who ate them. His doting parents no longer fed him, they simply gave him access to the kitchen after they and his older sisters had finished eating. In college, he amazed his dorm-mates with his ability to deconstruct a milk jug with a pocket knife and use a rubber spatula to scrape out an entire tablespoon of extra milk.

At 25, an office-worker at a waste-management facility, Bryan Clax seemed to have adjusted to society. He kept his true passion for making the most out of food at home. Until the cookie. The cookie, a wide, thin sugar cookie with big chocolate chunks, was perfectly edible. From childhood, Bryan had trained his nose to be acutely tuned to any signs of rot or danger, and this cookie was none of those things. But where had it come from? It was just sitting there on his desk, as if a cookie fairy had come to place it there as part of some arcane trial. He didn’t even like chocolate chip cookies.

Bryan tried to offer it to his co-workers, but they had heard about his habits and no one trusted his expert opinion that it was safe. Finally, just to be rid of it, he wolfed the pastry down and sat to work.

The next day there was another cookie. Thick, moist peanut butter. Bryan did like peanut butter cookies. He ate this one without thinking. When the following day a mint cookie with a dot of raspberry jam was there, however, he panicked. He looked at Paul working silently on his computer, his bald head and long beard bobbing to a beat on his headphones. Mary was chewing gum and paying no attention either. Or maybe it was an elaborate trick. He had already made a fool of himself demanding that someone in the office eat the cookie for him on Monday. He ate the cookie.

This continued for a month. Bryan watched his weight assiduously and was horrified to see his body’s response to daily cookies, but they were there. No one else would eat them, so it fell to him. Another month passed and Bryan could see a distinct paunch forming underneath his shirt. Still the cookies kept coming. He could not let them be wasted.

It was three months later on an chocolate oatmeal no-bake cookie that Bryan snapped. He would not tell you this. He would say he casually and politely asked each person in the room by name to please stop sending him cookies. The story is different from the perspective of the people he named. No one stepped forward, and he ate the cookie.

The next day, Bryan’s desk was covered in cookies. A paper-thin wafer in a light coat of purple grape flavor powder rested precariously on his pencil holder. A still hot tray of macadamia nut cookies had left burn marks on his reports. A row of decorative cookies in shapes and colors for every conceivable holiday outlined his desk making a sugary rainbow. Oblong biscuits dipped in chocolate rested neatly on the keys of his keyboard. On his inbound papers holder sat an exquisite gingerbread house glued together with peppermint cream cheese frosting and featuring a full front yard complete with multicolored macaron stepping stones and a lady finger lamppost. A tiny gingerbread man smiled a huge frosting smile and reached an arm out in a gingerbread wave of greeting. In front of the picture of Bryan and his wife was a colossal chocolate chocolate chip cookie cake with “For Bryan” spelled out on it in white chocolate frosting. A graham cracker stand held the cookie upright so it could display its message to all.

Instead of no one looking, now everyone was. Bryan, still in his coat and carrying his laptop bag, was shaking, his mouth working in useless silence. Keeping watery eyes on his desk, he reached down to place his bag and struggle to remove his coat, which was now too tight after three months of cookies. When he was done, Bryan stepped towards the display. He reached out one tremulous hand toward the macarons and stopped. Then he took a breath, smiled at all his onlookers, and peeled off a sticky note. After writing something down and sticking the note to his desk, he picked up his coat and bag, and left.

“What does it say, Paul?” shouted Mary over her gum as Paul rushed forward to look at the note.

“All it says is ‘Free cookies.'”

In a few moments, an  email came in from Bryan to the whole staff, “I am working from home today. Someone has been very kind to leave me an elaborate cookie display, which I very much appreciate, but I have already eaten my fill of cookies. Please everyone help yourself to the cookies on my desk. Interns especially.”

Mary and Paul watched for the rest of the day as people they had never met throughout the office arrived and consumed each last bit of the cookie display until only the big cookie cake was left. Paul’s eyes stayed on that cookie for the next few hours while more people filtered in and left disappointed. The one huge cookie was not something people were ready to eat on a whim. Finally, as Paul looked on, Mary sighed and stood. “I suppose this has gone on long enough.”

She walked to the huge cookie, laid it on its side and cut it into eight pieces, spitting her gum into the garbage can and picking out the white chocolate “Brian” piece for herself. In an hour it and its graham cracker stand were gone. “I didn’t know you were a baker,” said Paul.

Mary swallowed her slice of cookie, “Who said I was?” she asked.

When Paul said nothing, Mary continued. “My friend is, though.”

When Bryan returned to the office the next day, he was overjoyed to find nothing but crumbs left on his desk. They were still perfectly good crumbs, and actually quite flavorful.

Informal Qualitative Personal Psychometrics

Two of my co-workers took an energy management class recently. I happened to join them the other day when they went to meet with some of their former classmates. It was a lunch meeting, so I had my usual salad. The people at the table who had not seen this before were aghast that I was eating what amounted to kale, spinach, lettuce, and carrots with no dressing whatsoever.

Without time to think of a better answer, I said “dressing is superfluous.” A little later I brought up the conversation again. I said I had considered a while ago what it was that made me reluctant to eat salad. The inconvenience of fast-decaying greens made it difficult in my house, but at my work the high quality salad bar resolved that issue. As I mentioned in last week’s post, eating in and of itself is a calming activity for me. Salad greens and carrots, I learned, were not outright unpleasant to eat so much as just boring. Therefore with an interesting main dish, a large salad is a perfectly acceptable side. I do not trust salad dressing as a regular part of my meals. In general, it’s a highly processed vector of salt, sugar, and other mysterious chemicals to wreck an otherwise healthful salad. The fat in dressing is supposed to be helpful for properly digesting salad nutrients. My mother is a public health researcher, and after a very long conversation that I had to repeatedly bring back on track when she reacted with horror to every hypothetical food I suggested as an example of the non-salad parts of my meals, I managed to get her to agree that if I am eating something fatty elsewhere in the meal there is no need for additional fat directly on the salad.

When I said this, one of my co-workers immediately identified it. “Psychometrics,” he pronounced. “You are using psychometrics.” I found this characterization amusing. I would normally refer to this as introspection, but it may also be reasonable to think if it as a sort of informal, qualitative, personal psychometrics, or IQPP. Just kidding. I’m going to refer to it as introspection.

One of the first IQPP introspection-based lifestyle improvements I’ve made surrounding food in particular has been to recognize the pace at which I cease to enjoy a food. I have long been aware that my second bite of ice cream is not as good as my first, and that by the time I get to the bottom of a large soda I am either hardly noticing the flavor anymore or actively feeling sick. Selling food in small quantities is not something that capitalism encourages. The economy of scale and simple matters of supply and demand mean that the more food companies can get you to eat, the more money they’ll make, even with extremely steep bulk discounts. At my work, I have an unlimited supply of free lemonade and every week we have our aluminum cylinder of peanut M&Ms refilled. It lasts about two days on average. This resolves the issue of purchase volume as I am free to commit myself to no more than one M&M at a time. All that remains is self-control. By focusing my attention on the diminishing pleasure achieved by each additional peanut M&M, I have resolved the age old paradox, “you can’t eat just one.” I also use the roughly quarter-cup plastic container given for these snacks when I feel like I want some lemonade. A sporadic single peanut M&M and a quarter cup of lemonade now and then maximize my pleasure-to-sugar ratio when I might otherwise be distracted by temptation or feel sick from overindulgence.

With Halloween nearly two weeks past now, we’re still receiving bags of candy in our break rooms. After helping myself to four pieces of candy, I decided it was time to stop. This did not relieve me of temptation, though. Introspection to the rescue! Shortly after picking up a full-size bag of sour skittles, I analyzed my response to it. Without even opening the bag, I was already enjoying the experience. The crinkling of the gaudily colored packaging paper and the feel of the rough sour crystal-coated skittles inside served as the lead-in to the eventual experience of eating this snack. I decided to try treating it as the entire experience, and walked back to the break room to put down the bag of skittles.

Another treat from my childhood, Nerds, is a small, tangy candy that comes by the hundred in colorful little cardboard boxes. Lifting one of these boxes in my break room, I felt and heard the candies jostling and bouncing around. This was part of the experience, no doubt like the skittles carefully designed to keep people coming back and filling up on more sugar. Again, I was able to make it the whole experience. Every single time I saw that particular box of Nerds I picked it up and tilted it, remembering the joy I had received from others like it as a small child while suffering none of the consequences of adding so much sugar to my diet.

Do any of my readers have healthy eating strategies? Share in the comments.

The Tin Man and The Big Cheese

I like to buy a lot of food at once. Something about looking at huge quantities of comestibles just makes me happy. It may stem from my childhood when I would happily eat four plates of food, but today that particular sort of excess only brings discomfort.

Now I content myself with buying large quantities of food and eating it over several days. This is excellent for my wallet as I can leverage bulk discounts, but it is still a strategy works better for some foods than for others. The main challenges are finding a space to store the food, knowing how long the food will stay safe (and pleasant) to eat, and keeping an oft-repeated food item interesting each meal.

I may have mentioned a while back that I own a tin. This tin holds eight pounds of peanuts. I have a local peanut vendor who knows me as “The Tin Man” and gives me eight pounds of the best skin-on peanuts you have ever tasted at a roughly 20% discount each time I bring the tin around. What’s more, as a bulk customer, I can make custom orders. Originally I could not ask for the peanuts unsalted, but as The Tin Man, I call ahead of time and the vendor makes sure he has my unsalted peanuts ready.IMG_20161105_132513575.jpg

I also have a strategy for bulk purchase of tomatoes at the farmer’s market. I order quinoa by the twenty-five pound bag as well. I have twenty-four tubes of toothpaste underneath my sink. I get a thrill whenever I can purchase 65 ears of corn at the farmer’s market for $20. They sell it in a special plastic net kind of bag that digs into your hands as you try to lug your haul back to the car. It just serves as a reminder of what a delightfully huge amount of food I’ve bought.

By far the most entertaining of my bulk buys (based on the reactions I get when I describe them) is the ten pound block of cheese I like to keep in my fridge. Usually I buy Tillamook cheddar, a lovely sharp brand; my only complaint about it is that they insist on dying it orange so it looks like supermarket cheddar, which is also dyed orange for historical, fraudulent reasons. This time I wanted to try something different. I tried three different cheddar varieties at Whole Foods and ended up choosing the cheapest, “Cheddar White Vintage 2 Year Black Creek.” Not as catchy as “Tillamook Cheddar,” but it tastes just as good and has no orange dye.

Unlike Tillamook, which comes nicely wrapped in ten-pound blocks, Black Creek  evidently knows who its dealing with. The Whole Foods cheese counter salesman came out from the back with a slab forty pounds in size.

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Before my fellow bulk purchasers start to look askance, let me say this in my defense. The deciding factor in my bulk cheese purchasing has always been my refrigerator size. Sixty-five ears of corn is a lot of volume, but it’s fungible. You can fit the corn anywhere you need in the fridge. A block of cheese can be cut up, but then it loses its allure as a huge block. A lot of small blocks of cheese is just not the same thing. This is why, for instance, I do not own an eighty-pound wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano. Although a magnificent cheese like this can survive outside the fridge with proper care, it still deserves better than my humble apartment can offer.

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The attendants cut off roughly a quarter of the block and gave me 11.1 pounds of cheese. I got a ten percent discount which worked out nicely since it left me paying for roughly 10 pounds of cheese. I have never kept track of precisely how long it takes me to get through ten pounds of cheese, but I’ll let this blog entry note the purchase date and we shall see!

 

Alice’s Week

Quite a number of pro-Alice events this week. First of all, more cooking. Alice has been sad about my cooking lately, so I decided to switch it up! I went online and looked for low carb vegetarian meals. This buzzfeed page had a list of 21 options! I skipped all the cheese-based entries and ended up with 11 great meal possibilities to make for Alice! I’ll present the two I made here:

First up: The spaghetti squash boat.

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This recipe just calls for baking a halved spaghetti squash for thirty minutes, spaghettifying the insides with a fork, adding salsa (extra spicy for Alice) and an egg and topping with avocados before baking again.

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The second time I did this recipe I used an enormous squash that fit two eggs in each half. I also put cheese on mine.IMG_20160901_181948891.jpg

The next recipe may be one of the most expansive I’ve ever done. It takes six ingredients, four of which are cooking exercises in and of themselves:

Herbed lentils. My herb was fennel, since I had leftovers after using the bulb in last week’s chicken

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Baked cremini mushrooms in a sesame oil – soy sauce – garlic marinade

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Roasted zucchini, cumin-honey-fried tofu, mixed greens, and avocados rounded out this dish.

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But wait- why is this Alice’s week? Why not just Alice’s suppers? Well, as it turns out, shortly after Alice and I had gotten into a heated argument about whether marathons were worthwhile,  my work got in touch with me and told me they expected me to do a triathlon. To be fair, it’s a triathlon in pieces. I selected swimming, so when training starts I’ll spend 30 minutes three times a week in SAS’s pool working on my technique. Co-workers thought I was being sarcastic when I said Alice would be thrilled, but she is. As for me, this is a small enough commitment that I don’t mind giving it a shot.