Sunday, January 30, 2022

January snapshots

I feel a certain loyalty to January because it’s my birth month, but even I have to admit that it’s kind of a drag. It feels even more so than usual this year, probably because today, as my Timehop reminded me, is 2 years since the WHO declared coronavirus a “global health emergency”. 

This is at the top of a long list of reasons to be gloomy; but I know all too well that there’s little benefit to going down that road. So instead I’m digging deep and looking for reasons to be cheerful, or at least grateful, during this season of hibernation. Here are a couple of mine this weekend:

Minneolas - one of the highlights of my winter rotation; I keep an eye out for these and eat one a day as long as they’re in season. Seeing them in the supermarket before the end of January is a bonus.

Opportunistic cooking - I don’t have the discipline or the energy to do any significant prep cooking on the weekend, but I did take advantage of a free hour and some surplus vegetables in the fridge to do some chopping and roasting for use later in the week. And since the oven was already on, I mixed up a snacking cake while I was at it and chucked that in there too. 

Lights - yes, I know it’s almost February, but every weekend since New Year’s I think about taking these down and then I don’t. They turn on automatically at dusk every night and they still give me a little jolt of happiness every time.

Side note: that's all that's left from the small amount of snow we got from the mega-storm that hit the US east coast this weekend. Thinking of all my friends and family digging out up north, and hoping that wherever you are, you've got light, warmth, and good food.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Circuit 53

This past week was pretty packed with meetings and deadlines, and so I didn’t have the time or the brain space to cook anything new or different. I only made one thing that I wouldn’t usually make in the middle of the week, and it is very old. (And it’s not the only one.) 

I’ve been making my own birthday cakes for more than 20 years now, since I first moved away from Boston. Before that, my mother made them, and the combination of yellow cake (or gold cake, as she called it), and chocolate frosting was the one I chose most often. It still is. I’ve had the occasional celebration cake or dessert produced or procured by someone else, but all I ever really want when my birthday rolls around is one of my mother’s cakes. Making it myself is as close as I can get. 

My personal new year starts a little bit later than everyone else’s. I haven’t set any major resolutions, intentions, or goals this year, as I have tended to do in the past. I’m just hoping that the good outweighs the bad in 2022, for all of us.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Scallion pancakes

Lunch, complete with iPad (because reading) and spilled sauce (because real life)

One of the unexpected benefits of my new fridge-dwelling friend is that it has multiple uses. In addition to the whole wheat sourdough loaf that is the centerpiece of Bittman Bread (and my primary motivation for embarking on starter ownership), it turns out that there are quite a few other things you can do with it. The later chapters of the book provide a number of options, including a recipe for scallion pancakes which is a multi-step procedure. In the recipe notes, however Mark Bittman comments that one of his colleagues makes scallion pancakes using nothing more than a portion of starter and a pile of chopped scallions. I tried it myself this weekend to complement a lunch of leftover fried rice, and it was as good as any recipe that I’ve tried before. Maybe even better, because it was so much easier.

I started by melting about 1 Tbsp/15 g bacon fat in a frying pan. While it heated, I poured 100 g of whole wheat starter into a bowl, then thinned it out with about 50 ml of water and a pinch of salt, stirring until it was the consistency of pancake batter. The original recipe specified a bunch of scallions, but thanks to recent supply issues at the supermarket, I couldn’t get any. So I bought watercress instead, similarly spicy and crunchy and green, to bolster the end of the bunch of scallions I had in the fridge. I chopped them up together and mixed them in, then poured the mixture into the hot bacon fat. Cooked for about 5 minutes at medium heat on each side, then sliced up like a pizza and ate with a soy-based dipping sauce. A successful experiment, and one that I expect to become a regular fixture.

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Snow days

Happy 2022! We got an unexpected bonus weeklong extension of holiday mode around here when Virginia got the first snow of the season last Sunday night. It turned into the biggest snowstorm in 3 years (the last one was our first winter here) and led to treacherous road conditions and cancellations and closures galore, including this I-95 clustercuss, our weekly milk delivery, and most of the school week. A second storm overnight on Thursday finished things off, and we all got some extra down time with no pre-dawn alarms and no good reason to attempt to drive anywhere.

I went back to my normal work schedule, but with most of the global academic community also still in holiday mode, things were relatively quiet and I had a little extra brain space to get creative with my overstuffed pantry:

Kung Pao Chickpeas: Monday lunchtime I was craving some Asian flavors to go along with the weekly batch of Instant Pot rice which is already a fixture on the schedule in order to meet Miss B’s insatiable carb demand. I decided to see what I could do with legumes, and ended up adapting
this recipe for kung pao lentils to work with what I had, which was canned chickpeas. It was a success and has now been added to the list of Recipes That Only I Will Eat But Are Still Worth Making.

Speaking of which…behold my first attempt at Whole Wheat Sourdough!

As usual, I’m about 2 years behind the starter/sourdough trend, and this is one that I’ve actively resisted, as previously mentioned. However, I requested and received Bittman Bread for Christmas, and the method of making a sourdough starter described therein finally convinced me to give it a try. After following the prescribed 3-day feeding plan, I now have something living in my fridge (on purpose for once!), and produced this as my first output. On the one hand, I can see that I’ve got some work to do on my folding technique. On the other hand, even a pretty imperfect first attempt is still pretty damn good bread. I’m looking forward to developing my knowledge, and will provide further reports as warranted. 

Alas, it’s raining today, so I expect there will be no further impediment to returning to the regular school schedule tomorrow, including the 6am alarm call. Hoping your weekend is peaceful, relaxing, and free of Sunday Night Blues.
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