Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Last night Ryan and I were in the middle of discussing our Christmas shopping details and we heard shrieks - shrieks followed by a woman screaming, "GET OFF ME!" repeatedly. So, we walked outside and heard more shrieks. Ryan went to put on his shoes and I ran over to where I heard the shrieks from. As I was running across the cul de sac, a boy - maybe 17 or 18 - wearing what seemed to be nothing but a towel, appeared from the neighbours house. I heard more screams, so I yelled back to Ryan to call the police. The boy in the towel yelled, "No - DO NOT call the police! Just go home!" Which seemed so ludicrous at the time I just ignored him - to me it sounded as if a woman was being attacked. We turned out of the cul de sac and saw two women fighting, one was pulling on the other. I wasn't sure which one was screaming. Ryan walked over to the girls but before he had gotten to them the boy in the towel darted between Ryan and the girls, yelling at him to "Just go home!" I ran back to the house and called the police, who arrived before I finished talking to the dispatcher. When it came time to make his statement to the police, he seemed to be trying to make it about Ryan intruding, instead of that there were two women fighting. That is, until his father walked up to him, leaned down -the kid was sitting on the pavement in his towel, shivering- and said, "Shut up."

According to Ryan, the kid stank of alcohol and kept saying that he knew the women involved and would take care of it.

I was baffled, frankly, by this kids behaviour. I attribute it mostly to the alcohol and an inflated ego. What did he expect was going to happen in the middle of Palo Alto? What kind of person would ignore someone shrieking like that? I doubt I was the only person to call the police.

It was a similar situation when our neighbours burglar alarm went off and no one responded. We called the police and the neighbours who's house it was, were furious because the police came and took a set of keys they found lying on the floor in the kitchen. Apart from the "wouldn't you want your neighbours to call the police if there was legitimate cause to believe a burglar had broken in" argument - their burglar alarm had been going off for a whole hour and was preventing anyone from going to sleep.  What were we supposed to do?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Marmaladey Apple Jam.

I found this recipe last night, when I was trying to figure out what to do with a giant back of pie apples that had not been turned into a pie. We leave Saturday and I'm going to be gone for almost a month, so a pie or anything that needs to be consumed soon was out.

For the most part I followed the recipe, but I did do a few things differently. Here is what I did.

From Just Hungry:

  • For every 1 lb /450g of peeled, cut up apple -
  • 11-13oz / about 320g-370g sugar - more if you have sour apples, less if you have sweet
  • 1 whole lemon, organic/unwaxed
My version:

3lbs apples
1 32oz bag of brown sugar
2 unwaxed lemons,  juice and rind
2.5 unwaxed limes,  juice and rind (I had half a lime in the fridge that I wanted to use up)

I peeled the apples, then chopped them in quarters, then chopped the core out then cut the quarters in half. I rinsed them and then put them in a pot with the lemon and lime juice and the sugar. I let that sit for half an hour, with some stirring, as directed. The sugar draws out liquid from the apples and that liquid, along with the juice and sugar, became a beautiful brown syrup. I then turned on a medium low heat, still stirring occasionally, to make sure there was no burning. I brought gradually up to a boil and kept it boiling until it reached 220 degrees F. It doesn't mention this in the original recipe, but I wanted to make sure it would set. I've heard of the metal spoon method and the cold saucer method, and I try these each time, so that I can get a feel for what to look for in case I ever make jam and don't have a thermometer handy, but I still prefer the thermometer method. That way, if it doesn't set, I can say, "I don't understand, it certainly got hot enough!" instead of doubting myself on whether or not the jam was really moving in sheets down the back of the spoon. I never use pectin so this is sort of crucial. I'm not sure why the original recipe doesn't talk about this, but perhaps the 4 hours of recommended simmering would help ensure that the jam will set. After it started boiling, I added lemon and lime zest and chunks of rind, instead of tossing in the whole juiced lemon half. I turned it down and let it simmer for about 2 hours. It started tasting really, really delicious at some point along the way, so I pulled down my jam jars and sterilised them in boiling water, along with my metal ladle, my tongs and the jar lids. Oh and a spatula.

The jam was set perfectly this morning and I just had a piece on toast. It's got all the lovely bitterness of marmalade and all the sweetness of apple. Definitely one of the better preserves I've had.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


I have decided that I'm not buying ground spices anymore, if I can help it. I've made my own curry powder a few times now and it is vastly superior to the pre-made stuff, with the added bonus that I can make it as hot as I like. I've been making it with mostly unground spices in the coffee grinder. I knew that black pepper is only really worth using if it's fresh ground and I guess the assumption would be that it is the same for other spices, but I didn't know the joys of making proper curry from scratch until just recently. Shocking, to say the least. 

I made the following delicious dal the other day. I was proud of it because it was exactly what I was craving - something spicy and just a little tomatoey, but not so much that it became a tomato dish, per se.

1/2 diced onion
3 cloves minced garlic
knob of minced ginger
tsp coriander seeds - toasted*
tsp cumin  seeds - toasted*
tsp turmeric
tsp cayenne pepper
2 cardomom pods
olive oil
1 cup red lentils
1.5 tbs tomato paste

*Toss the coriander and cumin into a hot pan and keep heating until they start to become aromatic and you hear a "pop" or two coming from the seeds.

Heat up olive oil. Once olive oil is hot, add onions. Cook until soft, reduce heat, add garlic and ginger. Cook until aromatic. Add a little bit of water/stock and deglaze pan. Add more stock, lentils and spices and salt. Cook until lentils are almost done, then add paste. Serve while hot. 

Last night, Laila and I made this dish from the Rhymes with Vegan blog, with a few changes. Instead of roasting the squash in halves, we chopped it in to chunks and I didn't have any leeks, so we used half a red onion and we skipped the mock chicken and the peas (Laila doesn't like peas...). We served  a bowl of quinoa, with the squash on top and then a ladle of curried chickpeas over the top.

I recommend it and I recommend making your own curry powder for it. I used Mark Bittman's:

2 small dried chiles
1 tbsp black peppercorns
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp fennel seets
1 tsp fenugreek
1 tbsp ground turmeric
1 tbsp ground ginger

Heat the chiles, peppercorns and seeds in a pan until browned and aromatic. In the last minute of cooking, add the ground spices. Cool and then put in the coffee grinder and add the cayenne. You can store it or use it.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Death at a Funeral

I have walked out of exactly 2 movies in my life. I am a picky movie watcher and spent a lot of time watching movies for free when I worked for Landmark. The first was Julien Donkeyboy. I don't remember why I walked out, just that I did. The second was Death at a Funeral. I remember why I walked out of that film, oh boy, do I remember.

It was somewhere around when a tallish guy got in a physical altercation with a dwarf that was supposed to have been his dead father's lover. It was attempting to create an awkward situation that was so awkward, it was funny. It didn't succeed, it just felt really, really contrived and pandering to some sort of sophomoric frat boy humour community that clearly would never have come to see this film in the first place (Mr. Darcy is in it? It's playing at that obscure theatre where my mother dragged me to see The Piano? Come on guys, let's go!). Up until the gay dwarf fight, I hadn't noticed any attempts at jokes in the movie and neither had anyone else in the audience. I really kept thinking that we were watching the first 10 or 20 minutes of the film, waiting for it to warm up before the hilarity would start, until I looked at my phone and realised the movie was already half over and it was probably time to leave.

It's odd that Ewen Bremner was in both of those films, because I sort of like him. I also count Dirty, Rotten, Scoundrels as one of my all time favourites, which was supposedly made by the same people as the above described waste of time and celluloid. Anyway. They've decided, in all seriousness, to remake it.

I can only assume that the new version, which they're strangely calling the "American" version, despite the first one being made mostly by Americans, is to try and rectify the mistakes of the past with a new cast (Chris Rock) and new setting ("Urban America" as opposed to "Upper Class England") Unfortunately, the cast and setting was not the problem in the last version.

I did see a movie that I loved the other day, called Mary and Max. Narrated by Barry Humphries and voiced by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Toni Collette. Here is the preview:

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Old chestnuts and badly breaded cauliflower.

Of all the cooking techniques I have mastered, breading is not one of them. This evening's dinner was rather a miserable failed attempt at breaded cauliflower with garlic, capers and red wine vinegar, sauteed chestnuts and mashed fava beans with carrots.

The last recipe was my own invention and by far the most successful. I heated some olive oil and tossed in half an onion and let those soften. Then I added one chopped carrot to soften and followed that with a can of favas, liquid and all. Finally, in addition to salt and white pepper and 3/4 teaspoon of stock paste, I added some coarsely chopped garlic. Other two dishes were recipes from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. The chestnuts would have been fine, except that the chestnuts were old and dry, thank you very much Wegmans. Old chestnuts and the gone-off soy milk with a sell by date of February 2010 that you sold me 2 weeks ago which resulted in a full hour of me lying very still on the couch, willing myself not to vomit, have made me a little concerned about the drop in the quality of your merchandise. The real pity was that Ryan had never eaten chestnuts before, so his first experience was not starchy, sweet comforting nutty warmth as it should have been, but instead, a chewy and rather dry experience.

The breaded cauliflower, however was down to technique, which I do not have and am considering not trying to have anymore. It's so much mess that it doesn't quit seem worth it. The last time I tried something similar was when I attempted tempura vegetables. That was even worse than the cauliflower. Oh well. Live and learn.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Divine Watermelon

There's a full sentence! There's punctuation and everything!

Atheists that are silly.

After literally years of wanting it, I finally purchased Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. I then proceeded to read it from cover to cover and then cook a lot of things, including beer-glazed black beans, olive oil bread, sea-salted brown sugar cookies, and a celeriac and bean bake.

I have so many more plans and I keep imagining bringing it to California, despite it being huge.

I read this blog entry today, discussing something called Atheism 3.0. Which is the new "New Atheism", "New Atheists" being a group of people that are "vocally vicious" about there being no god, as opposed to "Old Atheists" who just kept to themselves and were nice and didn't make people uncomfortable. Atheism 3.0 is for people who think religion is a good thing, they themselves just don't believe in god. It reminds me of my old boss saying that he himself didn't recycle because he knew it didn't actually do any good, but he though it was a nice thing to do and certainly encouraged his 6 year old son to do so.

The argument for faith given in the RNS article:

Faith provides meaning and purpose for millions of believers, inspires people to tend to each other and build communities, gives them a sense of union with a transcendent power, and provides numerous health benefits, Sheiman says. Moreover, the galvanizing force behind many achievements in Western civilization has been faith, Sheiman argues, while conceding that he limits his analysis, for the most part, to modern Western religion.

These "many achievements" may or may not have needed religion in order to reach fruition. The real question is, why are we still relying on it? Surely we've come out of the dark ages, we understand why a lot of things happen and we're continuing to move forward. The things moving society forward today, towards bigger, brighter and better achievements, are arguably not religion and faith. You could even argue that religion is sending us backwards, what with the absurd creationism-in-public-schools-thankyouverymuchOklahomaandKansas. I'm not even going to get started on all the horrible things religion has been responsible for. You can watch a debate about it for yourself.

And this is where I start to pine optimistically for a beautiful, Utopian society full of well read people who appreciate, value and seek intelligence and common decency.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Chocolate Milk

This story about the current chocolate milk war going on reminds me of the Cupcake Wars of ought seven. It also reminds me of something I read somewhere (location escapes me) of parents feeding kids McDonald's food through the gates during lunchtime at school, so the kids would "eat something" as opposed to going hungry because they wouldn't eat the healthier lunch offered by the cafeteria.

I say this with regards to this quote:

"We know that when flavored milk is taken out of the school, kids' milk consumption goes down," says Ann Marie Krautheim, senior vice president of nutrition affairs for the National Dairy Council."

Yes. So? You're worried about calcium and growing bones? Feed them broccoli. Or any of these vegetables. Kids don't need to drink milk, chocolate or otherwise. They certainly don't need the sugar (3.1 grams per ounce) that comes in chocolate milk.

"Krautheim argues that children don't drink enough milk as it is. And if schools remove chocolate milk, kids will choose less-nutritious drinks. "

Then don't offer less nutritious drinks. Is that so hard? Why is that so hard?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Dream: I find a new light source

I've been having some really vivid dreams lately. Last night I had a long dream about an old friend and my cousin.

The other night, there was another long dream but the only part I could remember was when I standing in a someone's kitchen - it was one of those super modern kitchens that you see in magazines, where the fridge, stove and dishwasher are the brushed metal kind. It was an Eichler, and one side of the kitchen was completely sliding doors that looked out onto a nice but small garden. In the middle was a large island, which I was leaning against and looking out the windows - it being between me and the windows - and along one wall was a sort of galley kitchen, with a fridge, then counter space, then sink, then more counter space, under which was the dishwasher and somewhere in that mix was the stove. Above the sink, stove, dishwasher and counter space were cupboards made out of light wood. At the end of the galley was a big cupboard, presumably used as a pantry. The counters, including the island, were all covered in shiny polished black granite, which as a rule, I typically do not like but it seemed to work here, I think mainly because of all the sun streaming in from the windows. And the sun was really streaming in. It must have been late afternoon and at just the right time for the sun to hit the windows directly. So on my right was the galley kitchen and on the left was a black wall that didn't reach the ceiling, nor did it reach either side of the room I was in. It looked like something that someone had put up to divide the kitchen from the living room, and indeed, on the other side, a big white couch with huge, oversized pillows were leaning against the wall. Someone - I don't remember who, was watching sports on a huge flat screen television that was on another wall, facing the couch. The wall that the television was on did reach the ceiling, but was otherwise, the same width as the wall dividing the kitchen from the living room. There was more ambient light coming in from somewhere.

So, I was leaning against the island, which was covered in newspapers and playing with a sort of succulent or cactus flower. I had the whole plant in my hand or else it was just the root, I couldn't tell. But it was bright green at the more root-looking end and then shifted into a bright pink end that was flower shaped, but it was sort the same texture as the rest of the root - thick and slightly bristly, with short, tiny tendrils coming off of it. I had a small glass bowl next to me, full of water. It was similar to the fish bowl that comes with a beta fish. I took the root and dropped it in the bowl and instantly, the light in the whole house changed to a dark blue. It was very similar to scenes in movies that are shot in the day time, but made to look like it was night by shooting through a blue filter or whatever is they do. Whoever it was watching the television yelled

"What's going on? What did you do?"

I couldn't explain it, so I took the root out of the bowl and the light went back to normal.

Ryan woke me up and some point. He was standing next to the bed, wearing a pair of pleated trousers that I hate. He hates them too, so his wearing of them is infrequent. I said,

"Why are you waking me up with pleated pants?"