Thursday, March 31, 2011

Hello Again

I have been busy lately. Lots of going and doing and sleeping; not incredibly interesting, really. I have a nanny/babysitting position 4-5 days per week now and the boy I care for is perpetual motion personified. So far we have painted, read books, done some drawings, more painting, played with my camera (as shown above), cartoons almost always on in the background, played battleship and destroyed my sock poi. All within a week. After bedtime I can do whatever I like, though, and it usually entails stitching on something.

paper mache with fabric; bowls

I thought about making paper mache boats. However, I have exactly zero experience with paper mache. Seriously. None. How did I manage almost 29 years of life and not play with paper mache ever? I decided I should try it ut myself before we do it together. I printed out a boat pattern from Ann Wood's blog and made that up. Then I got the idea for bowls and added fabric instead of paper. I really enjoyed it and will likely continue making things with this technique in the future.

stack of improv paper pieced blocks

I did some improvisational paper piecing with my (vast) scrap stash and printer paper. This is as far as I've gotten with them, but they will be a quilt sooner or later. Still deciding if I want to just use the paper pieced scrap blocks or add a solid sashing between and around everything.

natural dyed linen scarf

This piece of linen is currently one of my favorite things. It was gathered shibori-style with stitching and painted with an egg white wash (the darker yellow stripes between the stitched stripes) before going in to an onion skin dye bath. Then I tied twine around the egg wash stripes, leaving the stitched ares intact, and dumped it into the walnut bucket for a couple of days. Some of the deeper coloring washed out after laundering, but most of it stayed intact and I will definitely be using the egg white technique in the future for dyes that are more protein-reactive (like onion skins).

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Easter Eggs

This photo added for those reading via RSS. Final product photo :)

Sorry for the delay. Dogs need walking, you know. We also lost power for a while. I think a transformer may have blown as there was an exploding sound and my computer screen immediately went black,

My eggs are simmering in their pot right now, all snugly wrapped in fabric strips  and greenery. Wrapping up 10 eggs took about 20 minutes, including tearing the fabric into strips. Your eggs do not have to be pre-boiled, but that might not be a bad idea if you are doing this with children or are kinda clumsy. The boiling gives an end product that is less tender than steaming, but most people are not very particular about their boiled eggs in my experience; especially if they are sliced up into salads.

Wild strawberry leaves, dandelion and wild carrot greens, violet blooms and leaves, wild mint, pansy blooms, red and yellow onion skins and one daffodil bud. Please note that I will not be consuming the egg colored with the daffodil as daffodils are poisonous (I forgot to mention this in my last post but have updated it with this information).

Carefully place your botanicals against the eggs and wrap securely with your string, ribbon or fabric. make sure it is snug against the eggshell for good printing.

Keep wrapping, carefully, so as not to drop the eggs, until all of your botanicals have been covered and are snug against the shell. Tie your ends together to secure and place in your pot.

Keep going until you have as may eggs as you want wrapped up or until you run out of space in your pot. I was able to fit 10 in mine in a single layer. Cover with water, bring to a boil for 10 minutes, then remove bundled eggs to a colander to cool.

I will come back 20-30 minutes for the unwrapping and to see what patterns and colors came out.

Update - 4:45PM

Some of your bundles (like the one above with read and yellow onion skins) will show colorful proimise right away. Some will be much more subtle and delicate as with the wild carrot below.

This is the daffodil wrapped egg. The print turned out lovely. I said this in a previous post, but neglected to put it here until someone said something about it. Daffodils are not edible and you should not use them on eggs you plan to consume. This one has been living in my kitchen window for a few days just as decoration. The brown areas on the eggs are because of extra yellow onion skins I added to the boiling water to ensure everything got a nice overall patterning of color since I knew I could rely on the onion skins to do just that.

All of the gorgeous (edible) printed Easter eggs. The blues are from violets and pansies; browns, yellow onion skins; greens, plant leaves. That lovely chartreuse color in the bottom right actually came from a piece of red onion skin. Weird, but really cool.

That's all i have for the real time cooking today. I hope you've been entertained or learned something and if you haven't, my apologies. I will be returning to a regular posting schedule tomorrow. Right now I am totally ready for nap time  x.x

I'm linking up this post over at Free Pretty Things for You's Whatever You Want Wednesday!

Rice Cooker Steamed Custard, post 6: final

I took this photo about an hour after I turned the cooker to keep warm. I opened up my cooker to see what was happening. Not overly encouraging, not particularly discouraging. My custard will likely remain a little soupy in the center because I tried to make too much at once.Let this serve as a lesson I will leave it on the Keep Warm setting for most of the rest of the day, however, as the moisture will continue to cook off, albeit very slowly, and we will have it for dessert this evening instead. The sides (and, I assume, bottom) are set up really well so at the least we'll eat those parts as dessert tonight and maybe save the rest for an improvised bread pudding type of dessert tomorrow.

A little soupy in the center, but it's still delicious. All-day Keep Warm slow cooking should help solve the excess moisture issue. Please ignore that I forgot to wipe the remains of last night's dinner of pork- and pickled plum-filled rice balls from the inside rim of the cooker base. Sorry. 

And that's the magic of eggs in a custard. Everything goes from sloshy, slimy, eww to gelled, aromatic, ooh. See, eggs are protein and protein does this sort of coagulation thing as it cooks and the protein chains change shape. Think of egg protein in its raw state as little spirals, with tiny connectors holding it in shape. A mental image of DNA would be rather apt here. When the proteins are heated, their connectors stop holding together the spiral shape and the proteins unwind. So now there are all these unwound proteins floating around. Except the connectors still want to connect and hold things together so they grab onto the closest thing they can, another protein chain. This unfurling and reattaching forms a 3D network, making your custard firm. And helping to keep your cakes from falling. The same principles are what make eggs such an important ingredient in many baked goods, both as a binder and structural support.

This custard "guide" is not my favorite way of going about custard. My favorite way, in terms of end product, is with the same number of egg yolks as whole eggs and baked, in containers surrounded by water, in a 325F oven until done. This method is really simple, though, and even if you forget about it, it won't end up being burnt. So if you're like me and frequently wander about forgetting to have set a timer, it's almost foolproof. The texture ends up a little more liquid than baked custards. This can be countered a bit by adding additional egg yolks with the whole eggs or using slightly less milk to begin with. And also by making in smaller batches than my behemoth 6-cups-of-milk version seen here.

I have my materials gathered  for the next installment of real time cooking, but Ive decided to implement a change in reporting. The sheer number of posts I will have sent off to RSS readers today would be enough for me to unsubscribe from reading me if I kept this up. I will be making one single post for the next guide and editing it as I progress, thus limiting my RSS feed postings. This also means, however, that you will have to check back on the post later on your own if you are wanting to see what gets posted as it gets posted as the RSS will not notate that the post has been edited.

The next real time cooking project will be colored Easter eggs.
eggs - somewhere between 6 and 20, which is the most I've ever cooked up in a pot at once
cooking pot - large enough to hold at least 6 eggs for boiling
string, ribbon or strips of fabric - for wrapping and holding vegetal matter against egg shell (if yo uuse fabric strips, those will be colored as well as the eggs)
onion skins - yellow and red for variety's sake, or whichever you happen to have around
various weed leaves from the yard - make sure they're not poisonous weeds, though, and if you have any doubts at all about a plant, please do not use it
flowers - violets, pansies, daffodils (these are not edibles, only use them if you will not be eating the eggs you color with them!), roses (lucky you, if you have roses available to you around Easter time!)
tree leaves - if available; if not, no big deal. oak, apple, birch, hickory/walnut will all leave dye marks. dried works, too, for some, most notably oak and hickory/walnut

Rice Cooker Steamed Custard, post 5, in which I get too impatient

At this point, my custard is KEEP WARM -ing away nicely. I have noticed, however, that my stomach is terribly empty and complain-y. I'm also feeling light-headed and shaky, most likely due to the fact that I have consumed only green tea sweetened with honey thus far in my day. My custard will not be ready for quite some time though so I will be frying up a couple of eggs instead. Rest assured, as soon as my custard is done, I will be reporting back with more photos and bit of explaining about the scientific principles of eggs we just put to use.

I will also be collecting the materials for today's next real time cooking project during the interim. It, too, involves eggs. And magic. Or science. Whichever term you prefer to use. It also involves water and plant parts and lots and lots of string or fabric. Any guesses?

Rice Cooker Steamed Custard, post 4

Now we enter the hurry-up-and-wait portion of our custard-y endeavors. 

Close the lid, select the steam function, and press start. Whatever you do, DO NOT WALK AWAY! If you walk away, your cooker will continue with the steaming process and you will have runny, lumpy, custard soup instead of the lovely vanilla-scented pudding-esque solid you're after. You do not want custard soup. All it is good for is mixing with pre-cooked rice and baking as a dessert and even that is not really very good. 

Instead, stay there with  your rice cooker until you hear faint bubbly-type sounds. This sound indicates that the heating element beneath your bowl is finally up to temp to actually cook something. Once this happens, hit the off button and then put your rice cooker on its KEEP WARM setting. Keep warm does not have enough heating power to actually cook our custard, but it does keep the heating element engaged enough to finish cooking our custard once it has been thoroughly heated via the STEAM setting. Now, whatever you do, DO NOT OPEN THE RICE COOKER. This allows all the heat and steam to escape right out the top of your bowl. You don't want that. If you do that then you have to close it, set it back to steam, stand there again until you hear the bubbling, turn it off, and put it back on Keep Warm. It doesn't have any negative impact upon your custard to do so, it's just bloody boring standing there again for 12 minutes while the contraption reheats itself. 

Once Keep Warm has been engaged you can walk away to wherever you fancy. Go do some laundry. Play with the dog. Take care of clean dishes. Covertly harvest yourself a bouquet from your neighbor's daffodil bed. Whatever. Just leave the custard undisturbed in the cooker for 30 minutes to an hour. Or longer if you're forgetful like me. Check on it every 30 minutes or so (yes, I did just say not to open the lid, but you have to go through the steam/off/keep warm dance every so often to ensure things are moving along appropriately) to check the consistency of your custard. It almost goes without saying that the less the volume of custard you are making at once, the shorter the cooking time. I am making up a LOT of custard this round. Usually I only use 2-3 cups of milk so this is like a double batch. As such, it is kind of an experiment in a way and it may fail horribly due to the extra volume. I hope it doesn't. 

Rice Cooker Steamed Custard, post 3

Got your sieve? If not, have a clean fork or slotted spoon? Ok, good.
Got your bowl/pot of milk and sugar? Good.
Have a pitiful looking dog staring in the window at you wondering why you don't come out and play? No? Well, I do. I'm going to go let her back in. And rescue my drying rack from certain toppling as she has her leash wrapped around the base of it.

All set now? Good. Things will move a bit more swiftly here for a few moments.

Ok, materials gathered, dog and laundry rescued, I'm ready to sieve some eggs.

Pour your eggs into the sieve. See all that gloppy stuff in the bowl? That's unincorporated egg white, the stuff you'd remove using your fork or slotted spoon if you didn't have a sieve.

Just pour it in and let it set a bit. It will go through fast at first, but as egg white gets caught in the mesh, it will slow down and sometimes even stop. This is when you get out a spoon and scrape it along the bottom to loosen up some of the egg white and allow the remaining liquid to go through.

This is whaat I had left at the end. About 1/2 an egg I'd say. I could put it back in my whisking bowl, add more of the milk and sugar mix, and re-whisk it, re-sieve it, etc. I am not going to do that; see earlier posts regarding Daylight Savings related crankiness.

Gently stir everything together. Try to not make bubbles in it. Bubbles will leave pock marks on top of your custard. Unsightly, but nothing to really worry about as far edibility.

Add your vanilla and stir it in. No measurements, just to your own taste preference. I happen to really love vanilla and so I add a lot, probably about 3 tablespoons in this instance. If you don't love vanilla that much or don't want to use that much of your expensive Moroccan vanilla extract, don't use as much or swap out all or part of it for the immitation stuff. There's no shame in it. I use the imitation stuff all the time. in fact I've used up all of my real vanilla so all I have is the big bottle of imitation that you can get from Gordon's Foods.

Also, in the spirit of real time updates, I am neither editing nor retaking any photos. I'm using the point, snap, done, now go upload it photography method.

Carefully pour the mixture into the rice cooker bowl. If you're a stickler for appearances, remove any resulting air bubbles from the top. I am not. So bubbles. Because bubbles. And I don't care.

Rice Cooker Steamed Custard, post 2

Crack your eggs into an appropriately-sized bowl for whisking. You'll need to whisk them really well. A fork works, also. How many eggs do you whisk up? Well, that depends upon your personal preference. The more eggs added, the firmer the final custard. I don't like really runny custard. It makes a fabulous base for ice cream, though. I also don't like super firm custards like most of the savory custards I've had before. I like mine somewhere in the middle, but I don't have an exact, preferred thickness. I like to go somewhere around 1/2 to 1 egg per cup of liquid, usually closer to a 1:1 ratio. Today I am using 6 eggs.

Whisk them really well. Like  to within a few seconds of your wrist falling off from exhaustion well. Then add some of the milk and whisk them even more. You want to get as much of the whites mixed in as you possibly can. Unblended white bits floating around will leave unappetizing, possibly rubbery-textured bits in your finished custard.

When you have them all whisked up, either skim the foam and superfluous bits of egg whites out with a fork or slotted spoon, or do like me and pour them through a sieve. but before we get to that part! Make sure the sugar is all mixed up in your milk. Unmixed sugar will leave a gritty, super-sweet layer at the bottom of your otherwise awesome custard. Yuck. So go do some more mixing. Of both the eggs and the milk. And find your sieve if you have one.

Rice Cooker Steamed Custard, post 1: the start

All my materials are gathered.

Into a (I think) 3 quart sauce pan I have added approximately 6 cups of milk and 3/4 cups sugar. I say approximately because that's exactly what it is, approximate. Unless you work in a professional kitchen or bake stuff, exact measurements are really necessary. This is, I fee, supported by the fact that we measure our ingredients almost exclusively using cups and spoons instead of grams and ounces. Once yoiu get used to cooking based on principles instead of recipes and exacting measurements, you may find that measuring takes away part of the fun of general, day-to-day cooking for yourself or your family. At least, I know it does for me.

About 6 cups milk in saucepan. I measured it using that jar in the photo. I now have that jar rinsed and filled with jasmine green tea and honey. Mmmm, sweet, floral, caffeinated goodness.

Pouring in the sugar, which, contrary to the fact that I used a measuring cup, was roughly eye-balled and then double-checked against the measurement on the side as I am practicing being able to tell how much of something I have added based on looks. This skill, when honed, will come in handy for future Recipe Friday posts wherein I will share recipes of my own invention or from my memory.

My assistant; who is not so much habout the assisting as she is the insisting that I take her out to play. Compromise: dog gets tied to chair on 20 foot leash, outside, while I watch from the warmth and kitchen-y-ness of indoors as she romps and chews on sticks. (I should probably get a dog anchor. Or a mobile home anchor; those hold trailers down, there's no way she could pull one up, right? Unless my dog can exert the equivalent of tornado-force winds, in which case the anchor is basically useless, both for holding dogs in place as well as trailers.)

Ugh, it's that time of the year again? Srsly? (Wherein I loathe DST, admit that I curse like a sailor in my mind, and commit to real time cooking updates)

I have been up since 4:30 this morning when Corey got a call from work stating that they were out of trash bags and he would need to stop and get some before he came in today. This was actually 5:30 if Daylight Savings is taken into consideration. Screw Daylight Savings. It makes me want to bash my head into rocks every year. I have enough ducks to keep in rows. I have no brain-space for your politically-motivated and definitely not "designed with farmers in mind" Daylight Savings. No daylight is being saved. Let's put up solar collectors on every street corner and store up all the energy in gigantic batteries so that when intergalactic emergencies occur, we can use them to power lights so we can see. Or something. Then I could possibly get behind something related to daylight savings because something is actually being  saved.

So. 4:30. In the morning. For bloody damned trash bags. All because someone can't count or say something when there's only one bag left in the storeroom. (Yes, I do realize I just used curse words. sorry. I'm typing this in the kitchen using Corey's laptop and I'm lazy. And a poor typer in general. I can't be bothered to use the backspace or delete button even thoguh I do see several instances where it would likely behoove me to do so from an editing or reading perspective. The keys on this thing are tiny, my fingers are not particualrly nimble at this point in time, and, truth be told,  curse quite a lot on a day-to-day basis. My internal monologue has a lot more of them a lot more frequently than my spoken or ttyped dialogue does. No, I don't parrticularly feel like discussing this aspect of myself or what it means to my overall wellbeing.)

In honor of Daylight Savings (personal opinions of the political and brain-bashing aspects aside), because I like food and eating, in honor of Easter coming up soon-ish, because I like eggs, because I haven't posted anything for Recipe Friday in months, and because I love ya, today I'll be bringing you two recipes. That's right, two. In one day. Presumably with the curse words replaced or removed as I will have had my tea and/or coffee by then and will also have had time for the circadian rhythm bashing-ness of DST to have lost a bit of its eedge, though I make no absolute promises at this time. Still, two recipes, huzzah!

Well, to be fair, they're really not recipes, per se. More like guides. Don't get me wrong, I  love a good recipe just as much as the next kitchenly puttering-inclined person. And I have at least one legitimate, measurements and everything kind of recipe I need to do a write-up on for Friday. But I don't feel like spreading these ones out. They're both egg-related and I feel like eggs are really kinda misunderstood by a lot of kitchenly putterers. Understanding a little bit of basics and how certain things work like they do has helped me out enormously in my kitchenly putterings. Especially where eggs are concerned. 

On my stovetop right now are three cooking pots. One is boiling away making paper pulp for sculpting experiments. I made the wheat paste yesterday and it has been chillin' in the fridge since then. Please excuse the pun. Paper pulp and wheat paste are on the docket for Recipe Fridays. I just have to, you know, clear the headspace for blogging again and type things. Another pot is cast iron and contains the remnants of a resoundingly successful gluten-free cornbread experiment for which I will totally be giving you the recipe for. It's every bit as good as my regular, tried-and-true cornbread recipe which ahs lived in my head ever sicne I was a teenager. The last one has a mixture of milk and sugar in it in preparation for the first recipe I will be sharing with you today. Rice Cooker Steamed Custard. It will also be my breakfast. The ingredients list is terrifically simple: milk, eggs, sugar or honey, vanilla extract. If you wanted a savory custard a la that Japanese restaurant you went to once upon a time, the ingredients list can be as simple as milk (or broth) and eggs and that's it. I, however, have a sweet tooth and alsso feel no shame in eating for breakfast what most people would generally see as dessert. (Case in point being the day I realized I was an adult and could have ice cream and cookies for breakfast and no one would scold me. I'm not advocating doing so. I'm actually not generally a fan of sweet things for breakfast. just saying that when I do so, I refuse to feel shameful about it. )

So go find your rice cooker, gather your ingredients, and have a real time cooking day with me. I don't actually know how many posts I will end up with today. I will tag them all with "real time cooking" I'm also going to go turn on some Jon Spencer so I can try to either shake off the ugh-ness I'm feeling or revel in it in an appropriately loud and disheveled manner, whichever. 

Thursday, March 3, 2011

What's the SPF for bone dust?

I kept asking Dad questions about what kind of blades and saws and bits and such to use for certain things I want to make. He said to get in the truck and we went to the hardware/home supply store up the road a ways to get some new bits and such for the Dremel (which Corey was able to fix well enough for it to work, with minimal finagling. Thanks, love!). So the afternoon was spent drilling and sawing and grinding antlers and bones into discs (for buttons) and pretty shapes for pendants and earrings. I ended up covered in bone dust, but apparently the SPF isn't very high as I still got sunburned. I learned some new stuff about power tools and what bits/blades/etc. to use for various items and now have a small bowl filled with soon-to-be buttons and jewelry.

Also, power tools are freaking cool!

Some things going on. Left: rusty old bucket along with various tools, bowl full of antler and bone bits and pieces, rust dye project involving old can and cotton needlepoint thread. Top right: rust and walnut dye project using nylon lace and a rusty 'cat hook' as Dad called it. Bottom right: inside of the bucket filled with deer bones and skulls I scavenged from the farm over the holidays.

Open Letter to Representative Anthony Weiner

It has come to my attention that a blog post without a picture is 'kinda boring' so I've edited this post to add the above photo. Please enjoy this grasshopper in the flowers version of heartwarming nature crap.

I am not generally altogether fired-up about politics, government or governmental processes, but the recent slew of anti-woman legislation over the last few months has just been too much for me to handle. I promise this is not and will not be becoming a political blog. I just need to get some things off my chest so I can continue with my day. My sewing, job applying, dog feeding and walking, cooking, cleaning, blogging, embroidering, singing-along-to-the-radio, self-loving and self-respecting and otherwise radically subversive day of being a woman in the United States.

Rep. Weiner,

I recently watched "GOP Attacks Women; Weiner Responds" on your YouTube channel. I know that you are a busy individual representing your own district, but I wanted to take a few moments to express my profound admiration and gratitude for what you have been doing and saying in support of the women of this country. Specifically, I want to thank you for the things you said in response to Rep. Johnson regarding expansion of the Hyde Amendment and redefinition of rape. Despair is the only word I have to describe my feelings lately about being a woman in the US, especially a non-wealthy woman. (I also admire your acknowledgment of multiple forms of privilege, of which some of your colleagues seem to be oblivious, during the stated exchange.) Your speech is literally the best thing I have seen or heard in the past several months during the GOP's "women aren't human" policy push.

Thank you for standing up for me (even though I am not one of your district constituents) and letting me know there are still representatives who believe in my rights to bodily autonomy and my own agency. Thank you for standing up for the fact that my uterus is mine and belongs to me and not anyone else including my partner, my family, my neighborhood, the church or the government. I wish more lawmakers were as outspoken about such blatant misogyny as you. Thank you so very much for standing up for women, because my elected representatives won't. 

Sincerely and Gratefully,
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