Monday, October 24, 2011

Food: Fruit Punch?

Over the weekend I turned two peaches, three papayas, and fourteen Habanero peppers into this:

I found the name a bit unwieldy, though, so I'm just calling it Habanero Peach Hot Sauce in my head.

I did not get any in-progress pictures of this hot stuff, though... it was all I could do to keep breathing.  It's wickedly potent.

It starts with halving the peppers, removing the seeds and white membranes, and roasting them in a dry dutch oven for a bit, stirring to keep them from sticking.  Dice the peaches and papayas, and add those as well.  Then it's a cup of cider vinegar and three-quarters of a cup of *fresh* lime juice.  Yes, squeezing that many limes is a pain.  When you're canning, though, you can't go around making substitutions to the acid ingredients unless you feel like contracting botulism.  Just get a good citrus juicer and stop complaining.  (It took me about six whole limes to get that much, but it's going to depend on the size of your fruit and how aggressive you are with getting every last drop.)

Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer until the peppers are tender.  At this point, the recipe calls for the careful (and foolishly dangerous) transfer of the hot liquid to a blender, and pureeing it until smooth.  The combination of steaming hot liquid and the agitation of the blender can and will blow the top off your blender, splattering you with hot, sugary mess.  Don't do it.  Get yourself an immersion blender (also known as a stick blender) and use that directly in the pot.  There's enough liquid that it processes up with a stick blender nicely and quickly, and you're not going to give yourself second degree burns, either.  Not to mention an eyeful of what is the same ingredient in pepper spray, more or less.

This may sound like a lot of effort and risk for hot sauce... a substance you can find easily in many varieties in the grocery store.  You can't find this, though.  Fresh ingredients, that zippy tang of the vinegar and lime that hits your tongue first... and then the kick.  That punch at the back of your throat that has you reaching for the water glass.  There's very little sweetness to it at all, but it's delicious.  I'm not a hot sauce connoisseur, but I've eaten a third of a jar already, it's that good.

No, I'm not eating it straight out of the jar.
 If this sounds like something you'd like to try, then check out the "Canning for a New Generation" cookbook, and follow it exactly (food safety is paramount when canning!) and you'll be amazed.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Gaming: Why I won't be buying The Sims 4

Almost 15 years ago, while flipping through a "Games" magazine, I came across an interesting article about Will Wright and a new game he was developing called "The Sims".  What few pictures accompanying the article made it look cute, the description of Maxis' ideas for development sounded promising (it's your SimCity inhabitants, but up close!!), and I thought that I had finally found the game for me.  I waited eagerly for its release.

How little did I know it would become a decades-old hobby.

I now have a strange relationship with The Sims franchise.  On the one hand, I simply must buy all the expansion packs, because each one carries a new bit of functionality that wasn't present before, such as pets or college life, and I used to buy all the "stuff" packs because one can never have enough kitchen appliances.  Since The Sims 3 came out, however, I do not buy all the "stuff" packs... who could?  The content released on The Sims 3 website alone would guarantee I would be broke every single payday, not to mention the releases on disk.

They disguise the cost by using "points" instead of currency, but it's not hard to figure out that if 2000 points costs $20, then a themed bedroom set priced at 1,750 points costs you $17.50.  We're not stupid.

So now I sigh at the content I can't have, and then grumble when I need to find a book to read while my game loads.  I recently took out all the content I *did* own that I never used, and it did not speed up the load time one bit.  What's more, since the addition of The Sims 3: Pets expansion, my game has started locking up (sort of... the animations for water and tree movement still happen, but I can't click anything and my Sim stops moving) UNLESS I Alt-Tab out of the game.  About five seconds later, I hear it resume, go back in, and it locks up again, to be repeated ad nauseum.  I looked up and installed a new graphics driver, no fixy.  The last time this happened, I discovered that at a certain intersection in the town, very very far from my sim's house, there was a spawning problem with the NPC's cars near one of the places of business, and the "traffic jam" was freezing up the entire game.  I had to go in to the City editor to fix it myself, but this time, I really don't want to go through the entire town, looking for sloppy sidewalk placement, one inch at a time, because that's all the farther it will let me go before re-locking up.

EA has started shirking on customer support and quality control, and gotten greedy with several micro-transaction schemes (Dragon Age on Facebook?  REALLY?  And you want us to pay real cash for something we can gain by being patient and waiting?  Get real.).

So, basically, I will not be buying The Sims 4... and it will be coming soon.  You can tell when they're about to jump ship to a new version, because the "stuff" and expansion packs start getting unwieldy after a while, and people like me with gaming performance machines start having trouble.  They just bloat it out, until it's about to reach critical mass, and then they start over again with a stripped-bare base game that does nothing but let you watch your sim eat and sleep and sit on the toilet.  And the expansions start all over again.  I can see it now:  "Oooh, look... an expansion pack that lets you add the "Personal Trainer" career and allows neighbors to visit each other!  Neato!"

Gimme a break.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Food: Picklepuss

One may be confused by my blog.  Was I not, just a few days ago, saying I was going to be eating more healthy foods?  Why then all the pickles?

Weighing cucumber slices.

It's true that modern, pre-processed commercial pickles can be problematic.  Commercial picklers add all kinds of additives to make them crisp and bright.  Their source veggies are of questionable quality.  You have to worry about sodium content, sugars, and any pesticides on the veggies.  However, even commercial pickles can have beneficial effects.  The pickled vegetable is usually high in fiber, which is good for the digestive tract.  Vinegar, often used in the pickling process, is a good source of magnesium, and has been shown to boost the body's fat-burning metabolism.

The cucumber, a favorite among American picklers, is not the most nutritious vegetable you could be pickling.  However, with proper recipes, well-chosen organic produce that's free of pesticides, and a variety of vegetables, you can have nutritious, guilt-free pickles in your pantry.

Bread and Butter pickles, with a few jars of dill pickles peeking out in the back.

Take the turnip.  Tiny little root vegetable with a copious, leafy top.  Their raw flavor and texture is not unlike a radish crossed with a carrot.  Pickled with a little cumin, and they are delicious and nutritious.  You can also blanch and freeze (or dare I say... pickle? Pickled greens = delicious) the tops for a very healthy serving of greens.

Turnip roots, quartered and sliced, being brined in salt water prior to being rinsed, and pickled.

Right now I'm loving a new canning cookbook I bought for the Kindle I will soon own (I have a Kindle Fire on pre-order, but there's a reader app for PCs and other devices like Android).  It's called "Canning for a New Generation" and it's split up by seasons, so whatever time of year you find yourself with a bumper crop of something, it's a great place to start.  Her choices are a bit limited though, so if you find yourself with, say, a bushel of Okra your neighbor gave you, you're going to have to find "The Ball Blue Book of Home Preserving" or "The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving".  The first is out of print, which is a shame, because it was a more no-nonsense, comprehensive list of fruits and vegetables and how to preserve them the same way your grandmother did.  The "Complete" book has been updated to be more modern, and has recipes that are more... how do I say this?  More cosmopolitan.  Still a very good resource, and easier to get a hold of.

The healthiest, most nutritious pickled foods, however, are some of the Japanese pickles that are out there.  My next pickling session, I am definitely going to be getting something like a Tsukemono cookbook, full of healthful Japanese pickling recipes.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Food: Special Blanching Edition

Sorry, but I won't show you the inside of my freezer.  :D  Oh, and edited to add that this is only one bunch down.... three more to go.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Food: There's Gonna Be A Change

My best friend in the whole world, who has been my buddy since we were thirteen years old (and that was longer ago than I care to admit), is in the hospital with seizures and complications related to a condition she has called Dystonia.  It made me realize that even though I am in good health (generally speaking) I squander that health with sedentary living and poor eating habits.

There's going to be a change.

I've always been a fan of eating foods that are as close to what nature made them as they can possibly be... fresh corn on the cob instead of commercially canned creamed corn, or poached chicken breasts instead of chicken nuggets.  I love to cook, but even so... I will take shortcuts.  And some nights when I'm bone tired or my back is bothering me, I'd rather order a pizza.  And sometimes, a PB&J sandwich just doesn't taste right unless it's on that squishy, non-bread bread.  You know which one I mean.

I fill up my Thermos coffee mug every morning, sip it slowly (hence the Thermos) and at noon I'd switch to soda or lemonade, depending on the heat and the season.  That's a crap-ton of caffeine, processed sugar, and the general sludge that comes from coffee.  Ever worked in a restaurant and had to clean coffee gunk from the carafes?  Yeah, that's in you too, baby.  That's in ME.

I'm not going to deprive myself so that I end up rubberbanding back to worse habits than before, but some stricter guidelines are going to be gradually phased in.

I'm digging out the Google Map I printed two months ago for a "pick-your-own" (though that only applies to their strawberries when in season, but they sell their other produce) organic produce farm, and we're going sometime this weekend.  I'll probably go overboard, get the stuff home, and go "Holy crap, where am I going to store all this?!"  At least I have a decent supply of canning jars, I just need to find new lids.  Right now, not only do they have Satsuma oranges, but Meyer lemons, two kinds of greens, turnips, kumquats, pecans, and of course, pumpkins.

Friday nights we usually order a pizza.  Tonight instead I made boneless, skinless chicken breasts.  Lay them in a pan, put a thin layer of mustard over each breast, then add some chicken stock around the breasts and cover tightly.  Depending on the thickness of the pieces, cook for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the thickest part reaches 165°.  Serve that with rice and a green vegetable or salad, and it's not too bad for you, depending on the sodium content in the broth.  We'll put a little orange marmalade (home made) on the side.  Very tasty.

I've also cut down to one soda a day, and replaced my intake with at least two sixteen ounce cups of herbal tea.  Good detoxifying teas are chamomile, peppermint, and raspberry leaf.  Not only does it help with your fluid intake, but they can be chock full of anti-oxidants.  Nothing like squashing some free radicals with something that's tasty to boot.

So take a look at your lifestyle.  Think about whether you're doing enough, or whether you're squandering your health.

Next up... more exercise.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Knitting: Almost there...

Bound off the right front of Caitlin's "Tempest" sweater last night and cast on both sleeves.  They are knit flat, so I am doing them side-by-side on my circular needles.  I just have to watch out for twisting.

I didn't notice till just now, but I like the way the light color pooling on the variegated yarn makes something that looks like angel wings on the back.  The back is curling horribly... I assure you all the pieces are roughly the same length.

The alpaca is making a soft, warm fabric.  Should see her through the winter months.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Knitting: Chugging away

Still plodding along on the Tempest sweater for my daughter.  I finished the back and am about halfway through the left front.  It's going very slowly because a) I've been distracted by other crafting disciplines and b) I find it hard to get excited about my knitting project if I'm not excited about the TV I'm watching while I knit.

Sure, there are new shows on, now that the new seasons have started, but half of them I have to save until the rest of the family can watch them with me.  And an episode or two isn't enough to get much done.  So then I'm stuck with the old stuff on Netflix.  Like... "That 70's Show".  Ugh.

Don't judge me.  I've pretty much watched everything else.

I've found that the nice thing about sculpting (one of the distractions) is that I do NOT require TV in the background to work on a piece.  I'm currently working on a 12" Cthulhu figure for my husband to put on his desk.  I was going to save it for Christmas, but it's hard to hide that kind of project in this tiny place.

I'll post about the other things I'm working on later this week.

Monday, October 3, 2011

AoA: Well I'm from Emily Minnesota...

A new Anecdote of Aspergers.

So back when I was married to my second husband, we went to Vegas.  I forget why... honeymoon trip?  Three day pass from Army MOS school?  I don't remember.  Anyhoo, we were there, and it was fun.  I won $400 bucks playing electronic Keno and some game based on Monopoly.  I can kick ass at computerized Monopoly... the computer becomes incredibly predictable about trading property.

So we're walking out to our car in this huge parking lot that's the size of three football fields.  It was really, really dark too.  Had this resolved a different way, I would have had grounds for a lawsuit.

So this skinny blonde kid stepped out in front of us.  I remember I didn't feel like I was in any kind of danger.  He didn't have a weapon of any kind... I think he was just trying to intimidate us.  Husband Two and the kid have a bit of a verbal exchange, but this is the gist of what was said.

"So... I'm from Chicago." the kid says.

Husband number two laughs.  "Well I'm from New York." he said, putting on his thickest accent.  He's actually from Long Island.  He's short, and cocky, and insufferably arrogant.  We just kept walking.

Here's the thing... I had no idea what was going on at the time.  I just thought it was just another example of people being weird and incomprehensible.  Homeless dudes in the parking lot?  Whatever.

It took me ten years of remembering that little bit of weirdness to realize he was probably trying to mug us.  Probably lost all of his money and was trying to get back to the tables, or cover it up before his wife found out he'd drained the savings account, or something.  And I had no idea.  I just stood there, waiting for my husband to keep walking.

This is the kind of thing that, when I remember it or figure it out, makes me afraid for my daughter who has been diagnosed with Aspergers.  I put myself in a crap-ton of dangerous situations, and had the people involved in those situations been just a little bit different, I would be dead or worse by now.

I will do my best to surround her with kind, caring, neuro-typical people, so at least if I can't be there, someone will.