Category Archives: Cooking

Mushroom Risotto: A Cautionary Tale

I’ve been working, in the past few years theoretically and since moving to Ohio in particular, to expand my cooking repertoire.

It is somewhat easier now, since I work in a library, and every couple weeks I go downstairs and check out a new cookbook. And there have been some successes that I’ll be adding to my rotation.

And then there’s mushroom risotto.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. The recipe seemed well within my abilities, and the ingredients seemed to be like they’d taste good together.

The first problem: Risotto is a pain in the ass to make.

There’s a lot of chopping and cooking before the risotto, which is a bit annoying but not the worst thing that’s ever happened. But then you add the risotto, which isn’t actually risotto at this point—just “arborio rice,” which is a polite way to say “petrified Satan’s droppings.”

Then you add a little bit of liquid and stir. For, like two hours.

And then, when that liquid is absorbed, you add more liquid and continue to stir. And you repeat this, and continue repeating it, and then continue repeating it, for a total of about 37 hours.

Seriously. I was watching Netflix on my phone and ran out of Law & Order to binge. I had to turn to The Ranch to avoid going mad from the rhythmic clanging of wooden spoon against pot, after which I yearned for the clanging of metal pot against my skull.

Mushroom Risotto
How delicious does that look? If your answer was, “Not very,” you are right. It looks like something that came out of a cat’s front end and back end simultaneously.

But even things that don’t look good might taste okay. So after two full Netflix series of prep, how does it actually taste?

It tastes like slightly chewy goo, with just a hint of mucilage and a soupcon of mush. The flavor is nothing but texture, and there’s not even much of that. You chew it, and eventually it goes down your throat, but you won’t ever be certain when the transition from “chewing” to “having swallowed” takes place.

It’s also vegan. You could tell that from approximately three hundred miles away.

To sum up: Don’t make mushroom risotto. It will make you sad.

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Goal Update: Mixed Results

April was… interesting.

A lot of the month was really rough—in addition to some general malaise, I had some shoulder issues that made everything pretty tough. Then I had a really good week, and then things kind of fell apart again but maybe not so bad.

Anyhow, the details:

Weight: Down about 2.5 pounds for the month.

Climbing: My tracking document says “#11 turned corner.” That actually means something. One of my current projects is from the recent competition that I didn’t do, but they’ve kept all the problems up from. It happens to be #11 and it’s a long and cool-looking one. You start on the inside of a cave, and then come out of it and turn onto an outer wall, but the grip that you’re holding on when you’re making the 90-degree turn is backwards at first glance. (The key is to swing your entire body around between moves, rather than trying to do it all at once, and I know that doesn’t really make sense, but deal with it.) Anyhow, I’ve got a bit more to do—the route has a few more moves and the top grips are a bit tricky for me, but it’s progress. Not that necessarily “counts”—the route’s just a V1—but I’m okay with it.

Cooking: In addition to the two recipes I already wrote about, I also tried and liked Curried Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes. I’m not paleo, although I think there are principles that are worth taking on board.

Running: Training’s going good, even though I’d like to be doing three runs a week and I usually only get two. My long runs are up to 9K, which I did last week in the aesthetically pleasing time of 48:48.

Crow Pose: I think this is dangerously close. There have been a couple times where I held it for a couple of breaths. Actual breaths, not like the super-quick huff-and-puff-because-you’re-panicking breaths. Before long, I may try timing it.

Other: I’ve started incorporating a small amount of yoga into my life. It’s probably simultaneously too much and not enough; I only do it once a week (in the sense of a full yoga workout, although the moves find their way into other workouts in a small way), and I don’t like it so I don’t want to do more, but I’m not sure I’m doing enough to really get any benefits. We shall see.

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Kumquats Are the New Kale

One of the dietary changes I’ve made in the past year or so is my breakfast. I’ve long been a cereal-eater, but I’ve moved from plain to cereal with dried berries to cereal with fresh berries. Usually blueberries—I’ve experimented with raspberries, which are okay but a bit tart for my taste, and blackberries, which are nice but awfully sizable and which I like slightly less than blue. The details aren’t that important.

What is important to this story is the fact that there has been a bit of a blueberry shortage over the past few weeks, at least locally. There was one day where I tried three separate grocery stores and didn’t find a single one. There was another time where the person in front of me at the checkout got the last carton, and another time where I got one of two cartons left in the store. It seems to be easier to find earlier in the day, but once again, I’m digressing into details that aren’t all that important. That’s twice in two paragraphs, which would be a problem if I weren’t so gosh-darn charming.

Enough. The actual start to this story is that I’ve been noticing during this blueberrypocalypse that my primary nearby grocery store has been filling the space where the blueberries usually are with their nearest available botanical relative: kumquats.

Clearly the store was trying to tell me that kumquats can be used in the same way as blueberries, and who am I to disbelieve my local Jewel, particularly when that Monopoly collect-and-win game is going on even though it doesn’t use any of the actual Monopoly properties and each grouping has between four and eight things you need to collect, and it’s really annoying in general (even though last year I won a $15 gift card) and I’ve drifted from the point again, haven’t I?

Here’s the point, I swear!

Kumquats in cereal.

Yep, I just decided to use the kumquats as a cereal topping.

Did it work? Oh, holy fuck no.

I mean, first I had to Google “how to eat a kumquat,” because it’s not obvious—they’ve got a skin that looks like an orange’s that probably wouldn’t be edible.* (As it turns out, it is. To eat a kumquat, you literally just eat the kumquat. Many people have turned that into a Youtube video.)

I also had to Google “how to say kumquat without giggling like an eight-year-old.” Google provided no help there, which is why I’m back on Infoseek, the absolute best search engine 1997 had to offer.

Then it was time to sample the kumquat-topped cereal. I’d love to say that the brightness of the fruit offset the granolaness of the cereal, but that would require me to be able to speak, and I can’t yet. You see, as it turns out, kumquats are really really really sour.

So I don’t actually recommend eating kumquats on cereal, or (as I’m sure will cause great chagrin to the kumquat farmers of the world) anywhere else. But… I bet I could, and get it to stick.

I mean, they’re not really that bad, and I strongly suspect there are recipes that could or have been developed that cut the sourness down to an OK level. And they’re fruit, so they’re likely to be reasonably nutritious. And they’re in just the right level of consciousness to become a trendy, alternative health food—something most people have heard of but don’t think about on a regular basis, and may or may not have some vague idea of what they look like, and probably haven’t had much if ever.

They’re basically kale in, say, 2010.

Even better, really, because where kale has just the one “k” sound that makes it so unique and hilarious and memorable, kumquat has two. And, thanks to Netflix, #KumquatIsTheNewKale is a hashtag formatted in a perfectly attention-tracking way.

Plus, most humans aren’t really good at processing scientific information, so framing kumquats as a superfood won’t be hard. After all, they’ve got 208 micrograms of pantothenic acid! That’s a lot of micrograms. They’re selenium-free, and the peels have powerful essential oils, which are essential!

And have I mentioned the taste? It’s tolerable under certain circumstances!

And so on.

In fact, I’ve got nothing against kale or kumquats; being respectively a dark leafy green vegetable and a bright orange fruit both have good nutritional qualities and certainly better than, say, a Pop Tart. I merely mock kale’s trendiness, and suggest that if we must have trendy foods, kumquat would be a great next step, because it would make me happy to hear people say “kumquat” a lot.

 

* I may actually have had a kumquat before. When I was a kid, my grandparents lived in Florida in a retirement mobile home park. Lots of people had orange or grapefruit trees in their yards, but my grandparents had a kumquat tree. I don’t know why—they never used the fruit in baking or cooking or throwing at neighbors or anything. I do have some vague memory that one day we all tasted a kumquat. But I don’t have any memory of the taste or the process of eating it or anything like that. So, you know, whatever.

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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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Goal Update: The Darkest Month

January is consistently my worst month.

Weather is part of that-it’s the coldest, bleakest, nearly the darkest, and most-trapped-in-my-apartmentest month. There’s also the holiday recovery, the unreasonable expectations of the new year, and the fact that I generally get sick somewhere in there (this year it never got that bad, but it’s lingered like an obnoxious taunting gnome with no legs). There’s also a freelance gig that I generally get that is nice in a cashal way, but also highly disruptive to my schedule, interruptive of my sleep patterns, restrictive in that it tethers me to my computer for several days straight, and stressful in that it aggressively reminds me of all the reasons I no longer work for that organization full time. And the job hunt took a lot out of me-I did an interview for a job that I think could have been as close to a perfect fit as possible, considering that jobs and humans have extremely different parts that really don’t interlock that well, and I thought the interview went really well, and then heard nothing back.

I’m happy to report that fitness- and goal-wise, the month wasn’t a free fall. Not good, but not disastrous. Some specifics:

Monkey bars: I successfully completed the full set while swinging every other bar. At some point I should video it as proof. It had a weird side effect that it’s much harder now for me to do the monkey bars using the typical go-to-the-next-bar style. I think I can do it but it takes a big mental adjustment. I like big brachiations and I cannot lie.

Crow pose: This is the most surprising. I didn’t hold it the 20 seconds that is my goal, but I did do a clear, controlled hold for a few seconds. I actually yelped in surprise when it happened in class because it’s never happened before. It’s surprising because I don’t feel like I’m at my peak, fitness-wise. But it’s also sort of understandable because my gym has been offering a new class that I call the weird shit workout. It’s a lot of quadrupedal movement (a term I picked up from that Horrible Parkour Class that I need to document one of these days) and inversion-y things and other weird shit that’s fun and hard and could, in retrospect, have helped. Still, we hadn’t done crow poses specifically, and I hadn’t worked on it in months, so it’s still a surprise.

Cooking: I’ve tried three recipes, and at least one is (sort of) a keeper. This pumpkin and turkey chili is one I could definitely try again-it’s easy and tasted okay, although I think it could use more of something. Maybe more pumpkin, maybe more heat. Still, close enough to count.

These southwest chicken bites-basically Tex-mex egg rolls that are baked, not fried, were also decent, although they’re a lot of work for the benefit. One side benefit, though: I figured that some bean sprouts would be a nice addition, but the supermarket only sells them in huge quantities that I could never finish. So I tried this mix of clover, cabbage, and fenugreek as an alternative, and I approve-I could definitely see myself using it in other applications. (And no, I don’t know what fenugreek is.)

The third recipe was a disaster. It seemed so simple-spinach, cheese, and an egg in a portobello cap, baked until the egg set. But the egg didn’t set-at least not for about twice as long as the recipe said-and then the yolk was sort of a gel while the white was barely a white. The whole thing tasted slimy and chalky and evil. I still shudder to think of it.

Weight: started at 267, ended at 267.5. I’m hopeful on this front, though. As you can see in the sidebar, I’ve started planning (at least roughly) my race season, which makes training feel a lot more real, even though there’s a long way to go.

Creation: This has gone well. I’m on a 37-day streak, so the month was good. It’s been primarily Dad’s Little Book of Rage, and the progress has been good—I finished 13 illustrations this month, putting me at roughly 60% of what I’m expecting to need.

It’s actually going a bit slower than I expected, given regular effort, but that’s probably a good sign. The reason is that the illustrations are becoming more elaborate, and (I think) funny in ways that I hadn’t anticipated. Like this one (still in progress), depicting the make-out session that is a natural consequence when someone expresses feminine solidarity at a community center songwriting class.

IMG_0622

I may not be skilled, but I can at least be weird.

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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 http://deeperintomovies.net/journal/archives/7014)

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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Monthly Goals: Progress But Not Perfect

Richard Ayoade eating a banana.

“These goals are a marathon. You need to keep your energy up or you’re gonna flag in the last quarter.”—Richard Ayoade, Big Fat Quiz of the Year 2014.

My goals for February were posted here. As with last month, I didn’t make any of them, but progress was a lot better than in January. Specifically:

Weight: 255 pounds. I ended the month at 259.5. While day-to-day measurements can vary a lot, I’m inclined to consider this fairly accurate—I weigh myself daily to try to smooth out variations, and there haven’t been any big shifts. So that’s something.

Push-ups: 50 consecutive. I started at 21 and ended at 36. This is the one that getting sick really hurt—there were several days where I was feeling bad enough that I didn’t workout at all, and then several more where I was still feeling some after-effects, with congestion having a bit of impact on breathing and endurance. So this one kind of got abandoned mid-month. I’m planning to keep chipping away at it, but not in a “monthly goal” format.

Try 4 new recipes: I wound up doing 3, which isn’t terrible. None of them are likely to enter my rotation. This goal was a little bit flawed in that it discouraged other cooking. I live alone, so cooking typically creates several meals’ worth of food, so if I decided to cook I had to make sure not to do something I had made before so it would count—which kind of misses the point. Still, something useful happened.

12 job applications: I did 8, all of them in the latter half of the month. Plus I’ve got 3 more in the hopper to do today. So while not technically a made goal, this one is going much better than last month.

And now, the goals for March:

Weight: I’ll set a goal of 252.36. That’s a 7-day average, representing an 8-pound loss form February 28.

Running: With a pair of OCRs coming up in May, I need to start training running in earnest. For March, I want to build my endurance up to where I can do typical 5K training routes. I’m not anticipating any real difficulty with this—assuming we ever get above freezing. I’ve done a little bit of treadmill work, getting up to 14 minutes consecutively without any real trouble.

Climbing: There are a pair of routes at the climbing gym that I’d like to successfully complete. Both are in what’s termed “the cave.” One of them is more climbing sideways than up, and it’s tricky (for me) because the footholds aren’t great—there are several places where either there is only one small foothold to support yourself so you need to switch feet while keeping yourself up using just the hand grips, or where they’re placed so you have to get either hands or feet ahead of the other. I’ve gotten partway through the problem, but not finished it. The other one is my favorite route so far: It climbs up a wall before going into a horizontal section where you’re hanging parallel to the ground. Then you’re supposed to get around a lip to a final grip on a vertical section of wall again. My plan is to finish both of them by the end of the month.

Sloth Walk: Sort of related to climbing: My gym has a set of monkey bars, and recently it introduced a sloth walk exercise: Basically, it’s crawling on all fours, only upside down. I’ll video myself and post tomorrow (UPDATE! See here for video). It’s harder than it sounds—but probably easier than I make it look—and the sensation is a lot like the horizontal part of the cave. Currently I can go 4 or 5 rungs; my goal is to go 10 by the end of the month.

12 job applications: Again.

“Veteran” goals: I don’t want to abandon the 50 push-up goal from February, or the 5 pull-up goal from January, even though I don’t necessarily want to focus on them on a daily or near-daily basis. So I’ll see if trying them out periodically but not daily has an impact.

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