For the love of food and geekery

Ok, so no recipe this week. (Just like last week – whoops.) Mostly because my gut’s been in all-out rebellion against anything nummy, and/or related to dairy. And the very thought of cooking makes it lurch.

(Nearly six months gluten-free, drinking lactose-free milk, and now my stomach’s all hissy because of dairy? ARRRRGH! CAPS LOCK CANNOT CONVEY THE FRUSTRATION!!)

So, while I’m on a self-imposed BRAT diet (banana, rice, applesauce, and toast), and eating homemade waffles and banana bread for every other meal because that’s the most that my stomach can tolerate, I have this lovely just begging me to use her.

Isn’t she pretty?

She comes from my great aunt, who was a…unique…woman. A bit shrewish at time, but an AMAZING cook. She made lefse so tender that it disintegrated on your tongue, made pies and cakes to die for, and all of it with this mixer. Even now, several years after her passing, my family still finds themselves comparing edibles to Aunt Grace’s. Even though barely half of us actually remember her anymore.

She died when I was in school (grad school? College? Who knows – my personal life at that time was/is a blur of neuroses), and when my folks helped the family clean out the estate, my mom came home with boxes of knick-knacks, a cabinet-style sewing machine from the 1920s, a bunch of chipped china, and then some. And I just so happened to be home when they came back.

Mom: Remember how you always complained about the hand-mixer? Ta-DA!

Me: …It’s nice but, where am I supposed to put it?

Mom: You’ve got a kitchen.

Me: With 24 cubic inches of counter space.*

Mom: In the cupboard then!

Me: I repeat my statement.

Mom: Then we’ll keep it here til you get enough space!

* Slight exaggeration, though not by much. That apartment was tiny!

And that’s where this old girl sat for years – collecting dust in my parents’ kitchen, occasionally getting pulled out to make whipped cream for holiday pie. Despite the chipped paint, she’s in great working order, and tackles anything that I throw into her beaters with the gusto of a high-school quarterback trying out for pro. Now that I finally have a decently-sized and -shaped kitchen, I can finally use her.

Except that I can’t eat normally right now.

*headdesk*

At least I have a few other things to keep me occupied. Like reading my stack of goodies from FREE COMIC BOOK DAY!!

Free Comic Book Day is the (un)official celebration of one of the most geeky of pastimes. Every year on the first Saturday of May, the major publishing houses (DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, etc.) give away free comics to anyone who steps into a comic book store. For this geek, it’s like Christmas in May. Not only can I get stuff from major titles (like Iron Man, Avengers, X-Men, etc.) without digging through back issues, but I can also find one-shots and teasers for upcoming series that I might not touch otherwise.

Plus, since the comics are free, I have no qualms about cutting out their splash pages and turning them into wall art.

Photographed on my bed because these must have the most reflective glass known to man. Or at least to me.

A two-pack of cheap metal frames from Michael’s, some acid-free artist paper cut down to size, some photocorners, and voila! No more boring wallspace!

This particular ‘set’ came from a sample of Jake the Dreaming, a YA illustrated novel. I don’t recall the plotline, but the art is so pretty! And a bit warped, which is probably why I like it so much. I also have this soft-spot for multi-media art and found items. (If you ever want on my good side, toss me some pretties by Dave McKean, and I am yours.)

Unfortunately, this year there weren’t many free comics left when I got there, and none had artwork as pretty. However, there was this one:

Shiny!

No cutting this one up. My Captain is getting framed full binding and all. Maybe right next to the Firefly Les Hommes set, once I order it. And once I find some wall space…

(Me, a fan of Nathan Fillion? Naaaaah.)


A stew by any other name…

Growing up, I always had problems telling the difference between soups and stews. My mom’s beef soup looked exactly like her beef stew, except that the soup had noodles. And her wild rice chicken ‘soup’ is thick enough to hold a spoon vertically. Same for every bowl of knoephla soup I’d ever had (all five). My grandmother’s ‘stew’ is a thin, watery broth with star-shaped noodles.

You can see the problem here.

When I got older and started getting interested in cooking (read: was forced into the kitchen by parents who didn’t want brownies as chewy as jerky), my folks would look at me weird when I pulled out the noodles to make beef stew.

And then my parents set me straight:

Soup: /n/ A culinary broth that contains large hunks of meat and vegetables that is served warm. May contain noodles or rice.

Stew: /n/ A culinary broth that contains large hunks of meat and vegetables that is served warm. Does not contain noodles or rice. Broth is often thicker than soup.

Unless your mother tells you otherwise.

See? Vastly different.

This recipe comes from the little cookbook that came with my 1970s crockpot. The same little cookbook that I had to beg, wheedle, and practically arm-wrestle my mother to surrender. My logic: ‘I only have two cookbooks, one that I can’t use because the recipes are worthless! You’d deprive your daughter of a decent cookbook, the very cookbook that came with the very crock that you bequeathed to her, all because you want one single recipe?!’

Daughterly guilt won out.

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs of stew beef (sirloin or round steak), cut into small-ish cubes
  • 1 1/2 cups carrots, sliced
  • 1 1/2 cups celery, sliced
  • 1 1/2 cups onion, diced
  • 1 large can (1 lb, 12 oz.) of tomatoes, sliced
  • 3-4  medium-size potatoes, peeled and cut into hunks
  • 1/2 cup quick-cooking tapioca
  • 1 whole clove, or 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Mrs Dash, original spice blend (or garlic & herb)
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1 can (12 oz.) of beer, or 1 1/2 cups of water (for GF)

Directions:

  1. Trim fat from meat and slice into cubes about 1 inch to 1.5 inches.
  2. Dump all ingredients into a 3 quart crock pot and mix thoroughly.
  3. Cover and cook on low for 12 hours, or high for 5-6 hours. Stir periodically.

Makes about 8-10 servings.

Goes wonderfully with my garlic and cheese biscuits.


Celiac-happy potlucks

My church has a thing for potlucks. Not a-couple-crockpots-and-a-veggie-platter, but the good old-fashioned 10-foot-spread of casseroles and hotdishes and three kinds of that fruit-marshmallow-pseudo ‘salad’ stuff and fruit punch and coffee and FOOD. Call it a Midwestern thing, or some weird holdover from our denomination’s Lutheran roots (which is also arguably a Midwestern thing), but we like finding excuses for a potluck.

Congregational meeting? Potluck!

Baby shower? Potluck!

Pastor needs to talk to more than three people in the same room without them getting distracted by shiny objects? POTLUCK!

However, when I found out that the pastor’s son-in-law is a fairly sensitive celiac, suddenly I felt guilty for every potluck we threw. I mean, what’s the point of hanging out in the church basement with massive sprawls of food if you can’t eat it? If you have to make your own little snack and bring it just so your stomach doesn’t scream “FEED ME, SEYMOUUUUUR!” while you’re chatting it up with people? For a long while, my mom and I discussed bringing something that he could eat, but since we knew next to nothing about gluten issues, we were always too scared to try it. Plus, there’s probably some special hell reserved for people who mess with a preacher’s family (right next to child molesters and people who talk at the theater.)

This last Easter Sunday was different.

This time, a tray of fruity bread sat at the end of line, pieces all buttered and laid out, and a little sticky announced “Gluten-free cranberry-orange bread.” The pastor’s SIL took a piece, nibbled it, took another piece, and then scooped as many as he could fit in his hand.

And then he went back for a second round.

Plenty of non-celiacs partook of the bread too, because maybe 3 pieces were left by the end. Because I will be DANGED if I cannot enjoy a potluck!

(And I take twisted pleasure in making others submit to my dietary restrictions, even if they are nummy and secretly good for you.)

Oh yeah, I'm going to the special hell.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour or GF baking mix, sifted
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tsp orange zest (grated orange peel)
  • 3/4 cup orange juice
  • 2 tbsp veggie oil
  • 1 cup fresh cranberries, coarsely chopped (Dried cranberries work too)
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Grease a 9x5x3″ bread pan (i.e. a normal-sized loaf). I just lined it with wax paper.
  3. Sift flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt together in a medium bowl.
  4. In a small bowl, combine the egg, orange zest, orange juice, and veggie oil. Mix together, and then add to the dry ingredients.
  5. Stir all ingredients by hand just until moist. Fold in cranberries and walnuts.
  6. Pour batter into bread pan and bake for 60 minutes, or until done.
  7. Remove from pan and cool.

Makes 1 normal-sized loaf, or a couple small loaves.

By the way, if you want to be able to cut the bread into slices thinner than 1/2″, let the bread cool completely. As in overnight. Or it will crumble as your nom-happy family attacks the loaf and it’ll be half-gone before you can take it in for the church potluck that you specifically baked it for.


Spring = muffins!

The sun is shining, the grass is growing, kids are out driving their bikes around the block, the birds are chirping on my patio and driving the cats nuts…and I’m stuck inside a cube all day.

Something is not right here.

I mean, besides the fact that it’s April in the upper Midwest and we’re not fighting back floodwaters and slogging through mud and muck just getting around town. It’s April and we’ve had spring for a couple months now. That is just WEIRD.

(Ask me, I think even Winter got sick of winter up here and decided to fly south just for a change of pace.)

With spring perking up all over, it’s time to put away the soups and stews and start whipping up other sorts of munchies. The light happy fruity ones that beg to be served on a little bistro table on a patio, enjoying the warm sun and cool breeze.

Too bad all my patio stuff is locked away in a garage that I can’t open ’til my apartment company fixes the door that they broke.

*sigh*

At least I can stilll cook!

Perfect for breakfast, second breakfast, elevensies, brunch...

Another trusted Betty Crocker recipe, this time spiced up with apple and streusel crunch topping.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups flour or Simply Savory GF baking mix
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon (or so)
  • 1/4 cup shortening, melted
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 cup apple, grated (or more)

For topping:

  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup broken nuts
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Fill muffin pan with baking cups, or grease the cups.
  3. Sift flour/baking mix, baking powder, sugar, salt, and cinnamon together.
  4. Add shortening, egg, milk, and apple.
  5. Stir just until the ingredients are blended together, then scoop into muffin cups. Sprinkle with topping mix.
  6. Bake 20-25 min until golden brown.

Makes about 2 dozen muffins.


Of books and bread

If you couldn’t guess by the title of today’s post, I finally saw The Hunger Games over the weekend.

Didn’t quite make it during opening weekend because, well, ICFA(!) was all last week, and I’m not too keen on crowds. Agoraphobic, not quite, but I’m from the upper Midwest. Our idea of a ‘traffic jam’ is a line of cars waiting to pass a combine on a two-lane highway. However, the massive turnout for Hunger Games warms the cockles of my heart. After all the (undeserved) hype for Twilight in the last couple years, I am glad to see a decent book series finally grab the spotlight again. It gives me hope that yes, America’s youth can recognize good writing when they encounter it.

[Before the flame wars begin…I taught first-year English at a local university for three years, one that so loved its English dept (and Psychology dept) that it let our building collapse. While we were still using it. Over Christmas break. I had some really awesome students, some really horrid ones, but most broke my heart because they excelled at nothing but mediocrity. I’m still recovering from the bitterness.]

[Also, vampires don’t sparkle. Makes it easier for Buffy to find them.]

ANYWAYS…

The movie was awesome, and did very well by the book. Pacing was rushed in places, but ok. The casting was amazing, with the exception of Woody Harrelson as Haymitch. He was great, don’t get me wrong, but Haymitch is all about falling down drunk and staggering upright. Which to me means Robert Downey Jr. Or Tim Hutton from Leverage. Both of those men can play drunks, and drunks with gusto!

But the one who caught my attention the most and wouldn’t let go? Josh Hutcherson as Peeta. Such charisma! Such sincerity! THAT is Peeta.

The last book-to-movie character who so embodied the character for me was Viggo Mortenson as Aragorn from Lord of the Rings. Now that says something.

One of the main themes of The Hunger Games is food as a form of power, of control, even of obsession. And the longer I watched the movie, the more I thought about that, and of how I would so not survive living in Panem.

Why? Because BREAD is the main staple of district diets. And is the one food group that I can barely touch without getting sick.

So, in defiance of gluten and of the fictional Capital, I whipped up these little beauties to go along with my plethora of soups and stews.

Drop biscuits that would make even Peeta proud!

Again, these drop biscuits from Betty Crocker can easily be made with regular flour or the Simply Savory GF mix. The GF ones will be extra tender.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups flour or Simply Savory GF baking mix
  • 3 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp butter, melted
  • 4 tbsp shortening, melted
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • garlic powder
  • 1-2 cups sharp cheddar, grated (NOT the finely grated stuff)
  • chives

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Sift flour/baking mix, baking powder, and salt together.
  3. Melt the butter and shortening together in a small bowl and add to dry ingredients.
  4. Add milk. If the dough looks too dry, add a little more milk, but no more than 1 cup total.
  5. Add garlic powder, cheese, and chives to preference.
  6. With a spoon, scoop up hunks of dough and drop onto a greased baking sheet. Use the spoon to help shape the dough into rounder blobs.
  7. Bake 10-12 minutes, or until the edges turn golden brown.
  8. Brush biscuits with butter upon removing from oven.

Makes about 2 dozen biscuits, depending on size.

Goes great with beef stew. Probably even Greasy Sae’s.


A quiet neighborhood…

Well, no recipe experimentation this week, mostly because I spent the majority of last week out of town and out of state.

That, and I have no food in my fridge.

Add a pizza box and 12-pack of Mountain Dew, and it's my grad school fridge all over again.

So, where was I? ICFA!

No, that is not some alien profanity, it’s the International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts, which brings together academics, scholars, writers, and nerds of many colors under one roof. Honestly, it’s kind of amazing. I’ve been to conventions (anime and scifi), and to conferences (the Pop Culture Association, SW Texas branch and National), and each one is its own sort of beast.

At both, you can strike up a conversation with a complete stranger and within 30 seconds be chatting like old friends, but only at a conference (academic) can you go from discussing the latest Supernatural episode to how the show explores Marxist themes in horror, all without without losing a beat.

I love these things.

Plus, the conference sponsored its own ghost hunt.

*cue ear-to-ear grin*

Since I’m writing a series that involves ghosts, angels, demons, and grief counselors for the dead, I’ve been watching a *lot* of paranormal investigative shows, and am slowly working up the nerve to actually contact a team to join in one. Luckily, ICFA planned it’s year excursion to Greenwood cemetery, the only cemetery allowed within Orlando city limits. And I has pictures!

Okay, little less spooky, little more too-long-exposure-on-the-camera. Meh.

We wound up with three characters of tour guides (‘tour guides’ in the sense of they guided the whole herd of academics on a tour, since I completely forget their actual titles). Imagine a cemetery tour led by Bill Engvall, a quiet old Victorian undertaker, and a gardener with a penchant for ‘seeing things,’ and you’ll get a vague idea of what it was like. And I LOVED it. (Especially when the undertaker guy kept whipping out his measuring tape on people.)

(Yes, for those type of measurements. Not the other kind of ‘those’. Geez, brains out of the gutter!)

And naturally, I took a lot of pictures.

Hey, look, DUST! And spanish moss...

A mausoleum...

The grave of a guy whose face got eaten off by a lake monster...

Ooh! A light anomaly! Beside that tree in the background. (Or, just a reflection off another headstone.)

And...The tallest gravestone in the cemetery. Erected by the guy's wife. Engraved with 'a loving husband' and 'forever greatest' or somesuch. (Yeah, not going there. I'm not Freudian enough.)

Ooh, but here’s a good one!

Ghostly fingerprints!

Apparently, the gardener/groundskeeper guy was driving around the grounds one night, tooling along full speed, when he noticed these smears on the stone and screeched to a halt. He knows these stones, and those smears had not been there the night before.

The poor woman in this grave has a double indignity – she has no death date (though she is buried there), and her name is horridly misspelled. So, with those smears, it’s as if she reached up from her grave and stained her own stone.

Even better? When the guy got back to the cemetery office, he found out that the police had gotten several reports the night prior of an elderly woman roaming the grounds in that exact spot. And no one could find the gal.

Saddest part – none of the staff can do anything about it. Even if a stone falls over in the graveyard, they need permission from the families to set it upright again. And a lot of those families just don’t come around anymore.

With stories like this, I keep finding that I have more and more sympathy for the ghosts. Used to be, ghost shows fascinated me; now they just sadden me. After all, ghosts aren’t sideshow freaks or bears trapped in cages that the living should go around poking with a stick just for ‘the experience.’ Ghosts were people too.

(No, that is not the tagline for my book.)


I can has waffles?

Parental phone calls in the morning do not often bode well. Especially now that I’ve moved out of the house (again), am on my own, and am otherwise not immediately available to them. Mind you, I get along great with my folks, but a girl needs her space.

So when I hear my phone go off in the wee hours of a Saturday morning (i.e. before noon), it generally means one of the following:

  • “What are your plans for the day? (So I can get you do something for me?)”
  • “We screwed up something on the computer, again, and you work for a software company, so you must know about this weird error message I’m getting…”
  • “The cat/dog/resident turkeys just did the funniest thing!”
  • “It’s 3am and I’m just calling to make sure that you’re at your place and were not just part of the high-speed police chase that ended in our yard…” (Note: True story.)

But sometimes, I get to hear this:

  • “I made waffles.”

And instantly I’m out of bed, dressed, and out the door before anything else is said. Because if there’s one thing that can wake me out of my morning stupor (besides coffee), it’s the promise of my mother’s fresh-made waffles.

She has never been one to just follow the recipe, even a simple Bisquick version, and since I’ve had to go GF, that means she’s got carte blanche to experiment.

Funny thing about me and her. We HATE to cook, but love culinary experiments.

(Of course my dad likes it too – he gets to eat them.)

Waffles with apple topping

Normally, all of our waffles came from Bisquick, because it’s easy and we’ve always had Bisquick around, and lately, we spotted a special GF Bisquick mix. (*cue Hallelujah chorus*) However, on this particular Saturday, my mom didn’t much feel like driving all the way into the grocery store for a special trip to buy said GF Bisquick. Instead, she had the Simply Savory baking mix and, of course, the Betty Crocker cookbook.

(*GRIN*)

Ingredients:

  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups buttermilk (or 2 cups normal milk with 2 tbsp lemon juice mixed in)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 cups Simply Savory baking mix
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3-4 tbsp veggie/olive oil
  • 2 tbsp (or more) pecans, coarsely cut or broken
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • cinnamon

Directions:

  1. Heat waffle iron while mixing ingredients.
  2. Beat eggs. Add milk.
  3. Sift dry ingredients together (baking mix, baking soda, baking powder, and salt). Beat in with eggs and milk.
  4. Beat batter until smooth. You might need to add more oil until the batter is the correct consistency. (“Until it’s not sticky” – quoth my mom.)
  5. Spray iron with cooking spray and bake.

Note: The waffles will be more tender than standard Bisquick waffles, and will probably come out darker than normal.

Note note: If your waffles come out charcoal, yur doin it wrong. And need to watch the iron more.

For topping, you can use the standard butter-n-syrup, or use fruit slices in sauce (my personal fave). The pic above uses apple pie filling, which means that one little waffle is an entire meal unto itself. I’ll share that recipe as soon as I figure out how to reduce it to a more manageable size. (The original recipe calls for 10 quarts of sliced apples.)


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