Thursday, September 08, 2011

A few happy things

I came home from work today with dinner ready. My Handsome Roommate made these delicious rice paper rolls. They were delicious, filling, and I bet they were pretty healthy.

I went on a walk on my lunch break today. I haven't gone on a walk from work well, ever. I've only walked to PSU after work, but I've never walked around the neighborhood. It was like discovering a new world. I had never gone farther, in one direction, than the end of our block, so I imagined just a black hole after that block, or maybe the edge of the world where, if you kept going, you'd fall off and hopefully land on the back of a giant turtle. When my co-workers talked about a great coffeeshop, better than the one next door, just a few blocks down in that direction, I would just blink uncomprehendingly at them. So then my image switched from a black hole of nothingness to a black hole with a magical coffeeshop in the midst of it. Like there was nothingness, and suspended in mid-nothingness-air was a tiny sliver of sidewalk upon which was perched a coffeeshop with beams of rainbow light radiating all around it.

I found the magical coffeeshop, although I didn't go in this time (too hot), and also LOTS AND LOTS OF HILLS.

This is exciting because I have upped my goal of a 1/2 hour+ walk each day to a 1/2 hour+ walk each day that includes at least one hill. When I'm pressed for time, which has been the norm lately, I just go straight up one street by my house to the top of a hill and turn around and go home. No time for sightseeing. Now, it's getting dark so much earlier that it's hard for me to even fit in my quick hill walk.

And now I have my new work lunch break hill walk. With many, many hills for me to explore, instead of just one. I am so excited.

And finally, I walked to Safeway to get some bus tickets. All summer, I'd been able to use a student bus pass, but it expired on the 31st and the new one won't be available until the 12th. (Dumb.) I've been either scraping together change, because TriMet only accepts exact change, or driving to work when I want an extra twenty minutes in bed and/or can't find any change. (I actually hoarded change when I lived in my other apartment, sorted it by type into empty film canisters, and even divided up a few film canisters' worth of bus fare, all ready to go.) Traffic has been stupid. And hot. I don't want to sit in Friday rush hour tomorrow. Rush hour today was so hot and stupid that I finally got up the ambition to walk to Safeway and buy bus passes.

There was no one at customer service for a good ten minutes, and a bum cut in front of me on line, and a guy was rude to me because it apparently was taking me too long to buy my tickets, but other than that, it was a successful trip because I got a book of ten. (More than I need, but they don't expire.)

The Safeway only had one-zone tickets. I thought, "Well, actually, I do live in Zone One, don't I, because the bus driver never makes any announcement about changing zones, and I have been riding the bus for months now without hearing it."

The Safeway employees insisted I needed two-zone tickets. They were sure I was traveling in two zones. I said, "Aren't we in Zone 1 right now?" "I don't know, I drive now!" said one. Another said, "Yeah, Zone 2 doesn't start for (another twenty or thirty blocks in the direction opposite of that which I travel to work.)

Still, two of the three insisted I needed a two-zone ticket. What should have tipped me off is that when I said I got on the bus at a specific numbered avenue and Broadway, the street that Safeway is on, they looked at me like I had ten heads. As they were repeating to me slowly yet kindly, as though I were a likeable imbecile, the impatient man behind me called out, "Well, I'd like a book of 10 one-zone tickets!"

I didn't realize he was actually cutting in front of me until he reached around me to swipe his card through the credit card machine.

One of the kind Safeway ladies said, "You know what you can do, you can buy these tickets and then just add a nickel when you get on the bus for a two-zone ticket. They'll let you do that!" She beamed at me, and so did her co-worker.

"Okay," I said slowly, tiredly. I was confused because I was pretty darn sure I live and work in Zone 1. Also, it was hot. Also, if I really needed to add a nickel, then I was in trouble because the whole reason I was buying tickets at Safeway in the first place was because I had been failing to locate any nickels each morning.

"Okay? So you just add a nickel when you get on the bus," one of the ladies repeated.

"Yeah! What a brilliant concept!" said the impatient man snarkily, as he grabbed his tickets and dashed out of the store.

The heat had made me so tired, it was not until a few minutes later that I slowly formed the thought, "Was that man being rude?"

I should have known. It's Thursday. I have not finished telling you why yet, but a month ago I discovered that I need to stop running errands on Thursdays.

Anyway, long story short--or at least, less long--on my way home I decided to walk past my bus stop and look at the signs posted.

It is in Zone 1.

I went home and decided to check, just to be sure, that the stop by my office is also in Zone 1.

It is in Zone 1!

So, I don't know what the Safeway ladies were talking about, and I could be disappointed that I have been overpaying by a whole nickel every time I've taken the bus all of the times I didn't have a bus pass, but instead I am thrilled that not only will my book of tickets work, but I also get to save a nickel now every time I take the bus! Hooray!

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Not quite the same as my Y is for... post, but a similar topic

In lieu of my own writing, here's someone else's. From the most recent favorites list posted by Heidi Swanson, I found this great NYT article about "stem-to-root" cooking. Think nose-to-tail, but for plants, and therefore probably less gross. For me this was timely, because I have been surveying the plants in my garden thinking things like, "What am I going to do with the fruits that don't ripen?" and "Why don't we eat the leaves from this plant?"

I will report back to you, in a few months or so, on how pickled green strawberries turn out. It won't be for awhile, because the warm weather has returned to Portland and now there's enough summer and sun left to get the strawberries on my plants red and ripe!

More canning questions - this time pie filling

I want to can blueberry pie filling. Instead of just canning endless jars of jam. But all recipes are either freezer recipes which call for cornstarch, which I don't want because I don't have that big of a freezer, or canning recipes that call for a modified starch called Clear Jel. Some research has established for me that there is no substitute for Clear Jel. Corn starch, tapioca, and other similar things will not work because of the high temperatures of water bath canning.

But what if I just leave out the Clear Jel/starch entirely? What if I just can the pie filling with all of the other ingredients and then when I want to bake a pie with it, I just add corn starch like I would if I were making a blueberry pie in blueberry season? (The purpose of the corn starch, for readers who don't know, is a thickener so that the soupy berries don't make the bottom crust too soggy or worse, leak through and make a mess. You need this with soupy fruits like blueberries, but not with apples.)

Any answers you have are much appreciated! And for those who answered my questions about tomatoes, I haven't canned those yet. We made salsa and dehydrated tomatoes with the first two boxes, and now I'm waiting for the third box to fully ripen (and to get rid of all these blueberries) before I attempt pressure canning tomatoes and/or making catsup. I don't know why but I have a very strong urge to make and can catsup. I don't really know if catsup is different from ketchup, by the way, but I feel like I see the homemade one spelled "catsup" more often so that is how I want to spell my homemade kind. I don't even eat normal ketchup that much, but something about the recipe in the unfortunately titled Ball Blue Book of Canning and Preserving has enchanted and transfixed me.

But isn't that a terrible title for a cookbook? Surely I am not the only cook who, because the book is actually blue, keeps calling it, with no comedy intended, the Blue Ball Book.

It's not just me, is it?

Or is the West Coast version called the Kerr Blue Book instead?

Sunday, September 04, 2011

HOT part two

It's hot in Portland again! But not like last time, when I complained about it. It's not humid this time around. According to the weather thingy on my task bar (or whatever the Linux equivalent is) it's 88 degrees, but it's a dry and manageable 88 degrees. Shade actually feels cool and refreshing and the hot sun, in small doses, feels energizing. I love it! And the nights and early mornings are cool and cloudy. This is what it was like when I moved here two years ago. This is what I was led to believe was a normal Portland summer.

It's a bit late, but I hope this summer sticks around a little while longer!

I do love fall, and I don't mind the rain and gloom, and I moved out here partially because of the mild temperatures year round. But we got a bit cheated out of summer this year, and so as I attempt to sort my office/clothing/everything-that-isn't-shared-or-belongs-in-the-kitchen-or-bathroom room, I look at my favorite fall clothing not with happy anticipation but a loud inward sigh. I'm not looking forward to nine months of rotating the same outfits...gray dress, gray pencil skirt, different top from Old Navy matched with different wacky tights, black sweater dress on the rare below-40F winter days, different pair of knee-high boots. I haven't had enough time to wear my tank tops and strappy dresses.

But forecast for the next few days predicts high temperatures in the high 80's to 90's, so I hope to get my fill! I will wear my strappy dresses as much as possible. Maybe as temperatures cool, I can pair them with tights and cardigans and try to prolong their wearability.

Wow, this was kind of a boring post. After a month of posting every day, I guess I felt the need to check in after a few days. I have a few interesting posts drafted and outlined, but I haven't made the time to edit them yet. Now that there's no deadline, no post-by-midnight-every-day, I won't just post them in a less-edited form...which was a good thing as it kept things from lingering in my drafts folder forever. On the bright side, however, you're saved from some of my inane I-just-need-to-post-something-today posts. And also from the things I write on the days that my opinions are as big as my hair.

For one of my ten readers, I will share the following, as she has told me that my posts about food are the best. We are canning and preserving like crazy here! I think we'll be happy in the winter (and whenever we're invited to a party and don't know what to bring as a host(ess) gift, and when we need some last minute Christmas gifts) when we have jars upon jars of salsa, jam, and pickles, plus vacuum-sealed bags of dried berries and tomatoes. This may be the year that we use our pressure canner for actual pressure canning, not just hot water bath. Whole Foods had a big one day sale on ground beef (grass fed! fitting in with my current craze, which will probably not gradually die down but crash in a fury of styroam-packed Manager's Special pork loin and chicken breasts come wintertime when I'm feeling sunlight-deprived and in need of protein and cranky about how the responsibility for ethical food production has been unfairly shifted onto the consumer) so My Roommate fka Handsome Man is talking about pressure canning homemade chili con carne. We may also vacuum seal and freeze some. My mother gave us a vacuum sealer she wasn't using, and now we are vacuum seal crazed. I found myself thinking today about vacuum sealing some packets of seeds from my garden to mail as gifts to people (not too weird) and then thinking about vacuum sealing ALL of the gifts I want to send to people, like earrings.

Maybe the heat of our oven-like top-floor apartment is cooking my brain a little bit.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Jamming (and getting injured)

The preserving of our farmers' market bounty continues. Last night, I made some fridge pickles and my roommate and I dehydrated our super-cheap-great-deal heirloom tomatoes. I also started to make jam, but my handsome roommate had to take over toward the end, as I gave myself a pretty bad steam burn when I lifted the lid of our canner, planning to retrieve the sterilized jars into which I'd be processing and storing Triple Crown blackberry jam.

Triple Crown is just a type of blackberries, by the way. If you have a chance to try them, I recommend that you do. They are great. They have a complex flavor and are sweeter than other blackberries, but not so sweet as to be boring. They have the characteristic blackberry tartness, too.

I've been burned by steam before, but never this badly. Now I know why my mother has always been warning me about getting burned by kitchen steam. I ran my hand under cold water for several sets of five to ten to fifteen minutes, and after awhile, Handsome Man made a late-ish run to Fred Meyer to get aloe vera burn gel...and ten pounds of sugar. Because a little superficial burn isn't going to stop me.

I had visions of myself typing with one hand at work the next day (today). I imagined my blistered left hand fingers would go nicely with the large spider bite I've had on my left wrist for close to three weeks now. (More on that later.) But when I woke up this morning, the steam burn had miraculously healed quite a bit. I completely forgot about it until some hot shower water felt extra hot (but not all that painful) on my left middle finger.

So, I will return to the kitchen and the canner tonight. The jamming will go on. This time, it will be strawberry peach from the same farm as the sweet-deal-tomatoes and the Triple Crown blackberries.

After all, I have a full tube of burn gel!

Below, a picture of our in-progress-but-looking-much-improved kitchen and our haul from the farmers' market.

Oops, had no idea those phone pictures were so blurry!

Happy September and enjoy what's left of summer! It's going to get hot again in Portland this weekend!