Category Archives: Cardamom Watch

Adventures in Cookery

With that headline, apparently British Greg has taken over the site, but that’s okay. One of my goals for the year was to cook more new things, and I’ve got a couple of recipifications (is that an okay noun for “single acts of cooking”?) to report on.

First is beef and sweet potato stir-fry from Karen’s Kitchen Stories. My report on this one is kind of short and sweet, because it worked really well and tasted good, which is great but it doesn’t make a super-exciting write-up. Although it’s sort of indirectly responsible for the interestingness of the next recipe. This one calls for apple butter as part of a marinade, which is both more and less difficult to come by than you would think. Trader Joe’s didn’t seem to have it, which I found weird—I’d have expected about 12 different varieties of fruit butters that I’d never heard of, but they only had fig. So I tried Whole Foods, which also didn’t seem to have it. But then Jewel, the local big-box supermarket, had it in giant 47-serving jars. Seriously, how am I going to eat 46 more servings of apple butter? Can you spread it on a baked potato?

Apple butter

If Cardamom Watch hadn’t turned out so stupid, I’d be doing a Cardamom Watch with Apple Butter.

The second new recipe—also successful was chili from dry beans from Dessert Before Dinner. It tasted good, but making it… well.

During the Great Apple Butter Diversion to Whole Foods of 2016, I also had my eye out for dry beans, as Trader Joe’s didn’t seem to have all the varieties the recipe called for. In this endeavor, Whole Foods was successful, as they not only had the beans, they had them in bulk dispensers. So, in theory, I could take just the amounts required (ranging from half a cup to 2 cups) and not have any left over. Brilliant! Leftover ingredients can be tricky to use up when you live alone, and even though I’m pretty sure beans last a long time, I only know that in my head and not my heart. Plus, the sweet siren song of those mechanisms where you push a lever and beans just fall into a bag was calling me. Plus, writing a number on a twist tie? Oh, yeah…

Unfortunately, I didn’t have any way to measure the volume of beans I was dumping into the bags better than my eyeballs, and my eyeballs, as it turns out, aren’t terribly accurate. So, when I got home and started filling the crock pot, I really filled the crock pot. Like, up to the rim, ran out of space for the cumin filled the crock pot. (Okay, I actually ran out of space for the corn, but “ran out of space for the cumin” is a much better-turned phrase, so I’ll go with it.)

Someone with wisdom may have stopped what they were doing at this point, but I decided to go ahead and turn the crock pot on. But as beans get wet, they get bigger. So in a few hours, the chili resembled the birth of the curry monster from the “DNA” episode of Red Dwarf (at 22:25 of the following video).

(Was there a similar scene in Ghostbusters? I feel like there should have been, but I don’t recall one.)

Anyhow, that’s a bit of an exaggeration—the chili had grown enough to push the lid up a bit, but nothing exploded, and there were certainly no curry monsters coming out. And it cooked just fine, although at the end I wound up transferring it to a giant pot so I could add and  heat the corn through. The only real problem is that it made a huge amount—probably 10 bowls’ worth. I hope it freezes okay, because I did done that.

Hmm. 10 bowls’ worth. Of course, that’s coming from me, and we’ve already established that I can’t estimate volume well. I smell more sitcom-style hijinx!

(Why, yes, you are now humming the Full House theme to yourself. Thank goodness that got remade. Without it, how would we know Dave Coulier is still alive until Alanis Morissette writes another song about him?)


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An Uphill Climb, with Shoelaces

It’s been a rough weekend-plus, mentally and physically. One of the great problems with rough times is that they tend to feed themselves. Or maybe I just get more sensitive to bad things when things aren’t going well. That certainly might explain why the shoelaces bug me so.

Let me explain. There are much badder things that have happened in the past few days. There was the party on Saturday, which was fun but also reminded me that I’m fat and weird and don’t truly fit in with my friends. There was the climbing session, which was fun but where I really didn’t make any improvements, and which left me feeling fat and weak. There was the diet going a bit off, which led to a massive swing in my weight, and even though I know that it’s mostly statistical noise, it still sucks. There’s some back pain, likely brought on by sitting for too long, but it’s worrying and it has affected a couple workouts. And there’s the job hunt—I found a couple jobs open that I interviewed for a few months ago being re-advertised.

(If I may go off on a slight tangent, that practice really pisses me off. The jobs that I’m applying for require certain skills, and not everyone has them, but some people do, and I know for a fact that I do, so the idea that they didn’t find anyone qualified is bullshit. And I’ve heard a lot of biz-types spout off lately about how important it is to find a good “fit”, but despite being weird I’ve successfully managed to fit in professionally with a bizarre menagerie of folks, so it’s not that fucking hard. I get conspiracy theory on this topic—there are HR people who need to over complicate hiring to justify their existence, and there are old people who want my generation to be unemployable to show that they were right all along about how worthless we are, and there are political types who want people to not get hired so they can score political points, and the result of these influences is that I get to waste huge amounts of time and energy and anxiety finding and applying for and preparing for interviews for and interviewing for jobs that don’t fucking exist. People who perpetuate this should be punched a lot.)

The thing is, my main reaction to all of this is more weariness than anger. I’ve experienced it all before, and I’ll experience it all again, and it sucks, but it’s a part of being.

The shoelaces, however…

I went to Sports Authority, which despite its name never seems to be a good choice for much of anything. But I also wanted to get a Swiss ball to try as a sittin’ option for when my back is hurting from being in front of the computer so much, and it’s the most convenient place I knew would have it. I figured they’d have shoelaces too, since shoelaces are required for many sports, and to be honest, they did. Nothing shorter than 54 inches, which are a good foot and a half too long for my 6-eyelet shoes. Which raises the question of, who uses these massively long shoes? I have big feet, size 12, and my shoes have never had more than 6 eyelets. If I had the 9-10 eyelets needed to use a 54-inch lace, I’d need to fit an extension on the front.

Anyhow, the sporting good store didn’t have the necessary sporting good, probably because it’s not a sporting good sporting good store. Never fear, I say, with élan and aplomb that I don’t truly feel. I’ll just try the DSW shoe store across the street.

Elton John in Tommy

Apparently Elton shops at DSW. (Edited Tommy screencap via

They did have smaller shoelaces… Eventually. Well-hidden. They had racks and racks of the 54-inchers, perfectly color coded, plus a thingy of 70s. Seriously. 70 inch shoelaces. Apparently Elton John from Tommy shops there.

But fortunately, while the DSW employees clearly know their colors, they don’t necessarily know their numbers, because behind the 70s, I did manage to find a pair of 45-inch laces. Still too long, but workable, and a lot better than trying yet another store. And by that time, I was actually angry.

Fortunately, I’m hoping it’s passed. I’m feeling a lot better now, mostly because of writing it out.* It’s a reminder that creating something is often a really good antidote for me. That’s something I knew before, but I seem to need reminders every so often.

Anyhow, I’ve been non-pissy during my second run of the year (even though my phone had a massive distance-tracking glitch, claiming that I ran the first kilometer in 3 and a half minutes, which I didn’t, and even though the app paused part-way through), and cooking (curry stuffed sweet potatoes, which were excellent, although next time I’m definitely going to add some extra veggies. And I even added a little shake of cardamom!)

*Specifically the Elton John from Tommy line. I’m pleased with that one. Thanks, Reg!

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Trapped in the Doldrums

The past week has been rough. And yet I’m coming out of it, I think, much better than I went in.

It’s been miserably cold in Chicago for most of the week, which likely contributed to me getting a cold starting on Wednesday. It’s weird getting sick like that; it’s generally pretty minor—just some coughing and congestion—but it lingers. I’m feeling much better now but there’s a decent chance I’ll still be feeling some after-effects next weekend.

I realized today that sickness tends to beget sickness, and I think it’s because I try to over-rest it. I’m only an average sleeper in the best of times; I can easily have a lousy night of sleep here and there even when I feel fine. But this week, both Wednesday and Thursday I didn’t sleep well, and I think it’s more that I was trying to rest so I didn’t do much all day either of those days—so come bedtime I really wasn’t tired. Which meant that I didn’t improve much overnight, so I needed to rest the next day, and so on. I did a light workout Friday, and it seemed to make a big difference.

The late-winter cold snap contributed to keeping me inside, and it feels worse now both because it’s been like that for most of the past few months, and because we’re at the point where it feels like it should be letting up (but it isn’t). It has clarified something for me: I hate where I live. There is almost nothing public around—you have to go half a mile to hit something that isn’t a convenience store or gas station. In the summer and fall, it’s fine—I’m happy to walk or bike. But when it’s 0 degrees out, that loses its appeal. Long story short, it’s clear that when my lease is up I shall be moving.

The other moment of clarity came Wednesday morning when one of my bosses decided to complain about how I wasn’t adequately following an instruction given six months ago. (I was instead following a different, contradictory instruction given to me.) Combined with feeling lousy, this just reminded me of what a former boss of mine said: I may be working for someone else, but really, I should be working for myself.

So the positive that comes out of it is focus: I got the reminder that—despite the miserable rigamarole of job-hunting—my situation is not permanent and that I need to channel my anger about job-hunting (and my poor fit with my current job) in a productive way. Which carries through to my fitness goals as well—even though being ill and not terribly eager to spread germs among my co-work-outers made it harder to take productive action on that one. At least weight-wise, I didn’t lose any significant ground, and while I certainly felt weak today, I think that’s just a symptom that will disappear as I return to a regular schedule.

So I come out of this week a bit stuffy in the nose and a lot ready to make things happen. Perhaps I’m not trapped in doldrums after all. It’s possible that I’m just coiling them neatly into a spring that will shoot me at unheard-of speeds as soon as I release it.


That’s something of a mixed metaphor, no? It assumes that doldrums not only have a physical form—and yes, I was envisioning The Phantom Tollbooth—but that they also have the necessary mix of elasticity and stiffness. So maybe don’t try to turn this into an inspirational Facebook meme.

P.S. Exciting news on the #CardamomWatch front: I used 3/4 of a teaspoon in some split pea soup. I can’t really detect the result.

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What Do You Do With an Assload of Cardamom?

One of my goals for the month is to do a bit of from-scratch cooking, and I made my first attempt at that on Sunday.

Here’s the recipe: Chicken Massalé, from Oh! You Cook!, but originally from A Kitchen Hoor’s Adventures, and via the Secret Recipe Club.

I learned a few lessons from making this recipe. First off, yogurt is hard. I don’t buy it much; to me it just tastes like milk that’s gone a bit off. So I wasn’t prepared for the yogurt cooler thingy. There are yogurts of more or less every flavor: vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, cookie, donkey*. Shelves and shelves of the stuff, just loaded with extra flavors and probably sugar, all of which I was pretty sure I didn’t want, since I was pretty sure the recipe demanded plain.

Even plain yogurt is complicated; there’s milky yogurt and Greek yogurt and soy yogurt and tree-based serums and so on. Then there’s the problem of quantity: The recipe only needs one cup, but you can’t buy less than 2 pounds of the closest thing to “plain yogurt” that I could find. Instead I went for “plain Greek yogurt” which was available in a 1-pound tub and I’ve also heard that Greek yogurt is the kale of yogurts.

Quantities became even more problematic when I was buying the spices. See, the recipe requires a fair number of the things, and since I don’t do a huge amount of cooking, I needed to buy a bunch. Had I put all that together I probably wouldn’t have gone through with it, but I had already had the yogurt and the chicken in my basket, so I was committed.

Cardamom receipt


But spices are pricey. And for some reason, the grocery store doesn’t really sell particularly small quantities of them. The result: $15 was the smallest quantity of cardamom available.

I’ve managed to go my entire life without purchasing cardamom, and I used about a teaspoon of it here. If I continue to use one teaspoon per 38 years, 10 and a half months, I should have enough cardamom for approximately 389 years.

But I don’t like the idea of wasting “food,” so instead, I’m going to institute:

The Official Fat Boy Big Wall

Which is harder: A Spartan Beast or a single man using an entire jar of cardamom? The experiment begins. Here’s my progress so far:

Cardamom Watch as of 2-10-15

The status of my cardamom as of February 10, 2015.

Stay tuned for updates!

After the excitement of Cardamom Watch, it’s kind of an anticlimax to tell you about the recipe, isn’t it? But in the interest of information: I wasn’t overly impressed by it, although I suspect that’s more cook’s error than any fault in the recipe. I probably overcooked the chicken and didn’t grind or roast the spices, and the yogurt didn’t seem to be the kind of texture it should have been. In other words, someone with a modicum of ability can probably make it better. (It’s probably best if you’ve purchased cardamom at some point in the past.)

* In an improv class once, I inadvertently appeared to be trying to force a joke in a warm-up exercise where everyone was in a circle and we just named foods in rapid succession, and I said “donkey.” But I wasn’t; I had just gotten home from a tour of the woodworking factories of Italy, Switzerland, and Austria**, and at one of the meals they served donkey—both the meat (which tasted kind of gritty) and some kind of “delicacy” made with the intestines or some other entrail, which I did not sample. The point of improv warm-ups is to get your mind into a state where you’re instinctively reacting to what is happening, rather than trying to plan your thoughts; the fact that something simultaneously weird and true tumbled out of my mouth should have been viewed as a Good Thing.

** I was working at a woodworking trade magazine at the time. It wasn’t a recreational tour of the woodworking factories of Italy, Switzerland, and Austria—although the bus ride through the Alps was lovely, and the night we spent in Lucerne was also quite nice. And I got to see The Last Supper in Milan. I assume it did not have donkey.

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