Thursday, October 30, 2008

spooky scary

sele and i jumped on the pumpkin carving bandwagon this week. we both chose this year to go with the stencil pattern method of carving. i downloaded a spooky owl from they hershey's activities website. sele had the brilliant idea of carving the oakland oak tree into her pumpkin. luckily, we didn't discover the yes we carve website until the morning after pumpkin carving. talk about spooky scary.
our choice pumpkin selections came from trader joes, and we made a special trip to long's to buy pumpkin carving tools. i, being the miserly person that i am, was hesitant to spend money on things i sort of already had at home (knives, spoons) but it turned out to be entirely worth it. for one, we found out at the cash register that pumpkin carving sets were on clearance, so we ended up spending $5 for two sets and some requisite chocolate. one of the pumpkin carving tools is a battery powered carving tool, which i was highly skeptical about, but turned out to be the key to quickly and deftly creating our pumpkin masterpieces. and the batteries are replaceable, so it's highly recommended.

here are the carving necessities: plastic-wrapped table, stencils, carving tools, pumpkins, bowls for pumpkin guts, and a drink we created out of whiskey and packets of instant ginger honey crystal tea - kinda like a hot toddy.

when i cut the top off my pumpkin it started weeping this clear liquid. also, the holes i punched in the side as stars developed bruise-like circles around them. i don't know what that's about but i prefer my pumpkins a little less anthropomorphic.

the stenciling process involves poking little holes through your paper to transfer the image directly onto your pumpkin and then removing the stencil and carving away.

here's my little owl looking at its stencil reflection.

and here he is with a removable wing, which i decided to keep propped in there to add another dimension to the carving.
i learned a few useful tips on pumpkin carving during the process. one is that you should cut a "chimney" in the top of your pumpkin where a dark spot starts to appear from your candle to let the heat out. i haven't perfected the placement of my chimney, so my owl's top is a little melty now. another is if you have trouble seeing your dot transfers (i didn't because my pumpkin bruised easily) you can rub white flour over the surface and it will illuminate your holes.

here's sele making quick work of the oakland tree.

which turned out beautifully and should win some sort of city prize.

here's the lit-up version of the owl. i'm quite pleased.

finally, after the cutting was done i got to do my other favorite seasonal activity: roasting pumpkin seeds. beside the obvious satisfaction of feeling like i "used" the entire pumpkin (in the way that putting the whole thing on your front doorstep to rot is putting it to use), those roasted seeds are so tasty. i resisted the temptation to rinse the slimy pumpkin innard juice off the seeds before roasting because i think i did that last time and the water made them soggy. so this time i sprinkled them with salt, nutmeg, paprika,turmeric, and my new favorite thing to add to everything: chipotle chili. halfway through roasting them (at 350 degrees) i realized they were sticking to the bottom of the pan and added about a teaspoon or so of safflower oil. good move, that increased the crispiness factor as well, i think. the sweet nutmeg and savory chili was a little odd, but that's what i was going for and we must have liked it because they were all gone by morning.

Monday, October 27, 2008

nasra's hat

here's an update of one satisfied hat wearer

this is the hat i made while in oklahoma this summer. good thing i made the size up for nasra, her head's filling it out nicely now. thanks for the photo, justin. she's beautiful.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

the namesake dish: kasha varnishkes

my friend hannah of i heart kale sent me an email link to a new york times article yesterday. seeing the subject "kasha shows off with a bow tie flourish" in my inbox made me initially assume that the ny times had gotten creative, if not nonsensical, with incorporating my name into their spam email. but i opened it anyway (please don't send me any email viruses, this apparently demonstrates my lack of self restraint when opening emails), and i literally hooted out loud when i read the first few lines of mark bittman's minimalist food column. it starts out like this:

JUST the other day I was discussing kasha with a grain-loving pal. The conversation went something like this: She: “Kasha. There just isn’t a whole lot you can do with it.” I: “No. It’s actually the least interesting of grains. I’m not even sure I like it.”

for those of you who don't already know, my name is also the name for buckwheat groats. that's not something i try to tell people upon first meeting. something about the word "groats" seems less than enchanting for a first encounter. those of you who've known me for a long time might say that don't really try to bring that one up ever. though i have to say, it's hard to dodge when you have an unusual name that reminds people of a popular cereal. my mother swears she didn't know she was naming me after a grain at the time, and i begrudgingly believe her.
i've never been clear on exactly what a "groat" is, and this article gave me the opportunity to look it up. according to wikipedia, groat just refers to a hulled grain, though it seems to be a term they particularly like to pair with kasha. wheat, for instance, has its own name for the groat form: bulgar. and i was excited to hear that there is a traditional english dish called "groaty pudding" or "groaty dick." the english are great at naming things.
so back to the food column, it's a great recipe for kasha varnishkes - a dish they sometimes served at smith in the dining halls, but i never really understood. seemed like too much grains on grains to me. but mark bittman's mother's recipe looks quite tasty, and the video is really fun. i think carmelizing onions in chicken fat sold me on it.
call me vain, but it was really enjoyable, albeit somewhat disconcerting, to read my own name repeatedly used in odd context throughout the article. For example, here are some excerpts from the comments on the article:

"An excellent video, and a good portrayal of kasha!"
"The reason Mark was never hot for kasha is because he left out an important step..."
"I am shocked that you didn’t include the secret to really light, fluffy kasha..."

"I came up doing the egg in the kasha technique - certainly considered traditional by many."

"Great as a side dish but I’m guilty of eating it as a meal. Kasha itself is quite good for you, so eat! eat!"

weird. i'm trying not to eat things carmelized in chicken fat right now, so someone else please make this and tell me what you think of kasha.

Monday, October 20, 2008

celebrating small successes

part of the reason i am looking for a job outside of the realm of community organizing (which is the only type of job i've ever had) is that it's just so hard to see any success when you're working for social justice, equality, world peace... when can you declare victory? when do you celebrate?
and it turns out crafting is a little like that too.
actually, i'm joking about that. there is a definite satisfaction that comes from completing a project - it's just that it's so rare that i actually complete anything. mostly what i've done in my new found domestic life is collect a lot of good ideas for projects, keep a list of them (i love lists), get really excited and start several at once, and then have them sitting in various degrees of completion around my studio.
for example, there's the dragonfly quilt. here it is in its current state: i rearrange the fabrics on the border periodically, but i haven't made much progress in the past month.
i have a number of other projects i have intentions of starting - in fact i had to make a trip to the library today to give them back the numerous craft books i've been hanging onto for when i do start those projects. it turns out there's a limit to the number of times you can renew something from the library.
anyway, i've decided to start celebrating some small victories. for example, this weekend i finished sewing a lining to the wool coat sele bought for this winter. and now that it seems to have turned into winter in the bay overnight - seriously, 50 degrees is really cold when your house is not insulated - it's time for me to have that project finished.the coat is a lovely grey wool, but wool is awfully scratchy. so sele and i made a trip to my favorite local discount fabric store, silkroad fabric, which i'm concerned may be going out of business soon. this is ultimately very sad, but means that everything is on sale right now. and we picked out a nice teal silk for the lining. i thought this project would be easier than it turned out to be. something about putting right sides together on the inside of a pre-made garment bent my mind in weird ways and i kept sewing things insideout or upsidedown. i resorted to hand stitching when i couldn't wrap my head around the placement. and i think it turned out quite nicely, although the silk isn't thick enough to entirely stop the scratchy factor of the wool. it's much better than it was, though. and so striking. and now i can say i've completed something.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

bacon roundup

i've started trying to eat healthier lately, which has put a damper on my bacon experimentation. in lieu of actually making and consuming bacon, i'm living out my bacon obsession vicariously through the internet. i recently discovered bacon today - who knew that there's a fake newspaper dedicated to the "daily updates on the world of sweet, sweet bacon"? some stellar highlights from bacon today include:bacon brownies. again, bacon + chocolate: what could be bad?

bacon cinnamon rolls: it's like they were made to swirl together like that.
and last but certainly not least...

bacon flavored diet coke: i can't tell if this is for real or not, but it seems to have a lot written about it on the internet, so i want to believe.

what i like about bacon is the potential to combine both food and craft in one project. and even with my new-found adventurousness with pork products (like the bacon cups), i cannot even come close to the bacon tiara.

hats off to the pork princess for this one. i can't even pretend i'm going to try this project. if for no other reason because the tutorial starts off with the following safety warning:

You are going to be working with an enzyme that bonds protein. You are made of protein. Unless you want to glue your lungs together or glue your eyelids to your eyeballs, you absolutely must follow these safety rules. We cannot be held accountable for any mishaps you might have while working with transglutaminase (aka "meat glue").
1. Wear protective gear: goggles, gloves, and face masks. Also wear long sleeves, long trousers, and closed-toe shoes.

2. Work in a well ventilated area.

3. Do not work around pets, children, or adults who are not also wearing safety gear.

4. If any area of your body comes into contact with the transglutaminase, flush it thoroughly with water and consult a health care professional.
5. Read the MSDS for Activa TG-RM.
After storing unused transglutaminase, we also recommend running a HEPA air purifier for 60 minutes (longer for larger spaces) prior to removal of safety gear.

that's serious business. these ladies have taken the bacon craft to a whole other level with the use of transglutaminase - i just can't follow that.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


big thank you to marty for designing a kick-ass header for the blog.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

odd mail

a strange piece of mail arrived at the domestic abode the other day. it was addressed to someone i don't know at my address, which is common enough - we get a lot of junk mail for people who no longer live here. but this letter was hand written and had the words "please forward or blog" written on the envelope. hmm. please forward is a pretty standard request for mail, but the blogging part threw me for a loop. i wasn't planning to open the letter, since i think opening other peoples' mail is some sort of federal offense, but since it asked to be blogged about... and i happen to have a blog... i guess it's my duty.
and i'm so glad i did. it's one of the most bizarre pieces of mail i've ever received. and i have worked at organizations where i've opened a lot of odd mail.
the sender is a mr. holden charles hollom, who apparently gained international attention in the late '80s by chasing down a purse-snatcher and pinning him against a wall...with his cab. marty says he remembers this being in the news - a cabbie who took it upon himself to defend a japanese tourist whose purse was stolen by running down the assailant and using his cab to pin the man's body to the side of a building until authorities arrived.
it seems as though he gained further infamy when the confessed robber won a lawsuit against him for use of excessive force in the amount of $25,000. it doesn't seem as though either of the two men actually handled any of the money; the purse-snatcher was serving a ten-year term in prison and the money went to cover his publicly-funded medical bills, and people all over the bay area and apparently around the world saw charles hollom as a good samaritan and raised the money so he didn't have to cover it.
which gets us to the part about why he's writing a letter to marie at my address. he included in the envelope the original letter marie had written to him in 1992 (yes, that's 16 years ago) saying she was sorry for the way he was being treated and she saw him as a "hero" (her quotations, not mine). included with marie's original letter is another letter he wrote up on a typewriter and seems to have sent to all the people who once showed him support. i've scanned it in, but the text is interesting enough to actually be reproduced in its legible entirety here:

September 23rd, 2008

Hello out there to all my friends on shore,

My name is Chuck Hollom; my Driver’s License says that my name is Charles Oscar Hollom. I was named after Grandpa Hollom but have always been called Chuck.

Perhaps more people than any other way know me as a San Francisco Luxor Cab Driver than any other reference; warily and who can blame them after the storm of commentary after I took exception to a vilent mugger’s attach upon a young lady visiting from Japan in 1989 as she strolled up Market Street with two tour companions around Ten O’clock in the evening of May Second. They were only going for a bite to eat at Zim’s at Van Ness.

I chases him and, with permission of my passenger, pursued and pinned the mugger against the wall of the San Francisco School Administration building with my taxi; put it in Park without turning the engine off so the vehicle would not sag back down a little; and waited for all sorts of people to arrive; which they certainly did; then and since; for years and years with what some might call a great strain on me as well as those close to me….

I can’t call what happened to me after that night unbelievable because so many people along the way believed the misconstruances and half-truths and simple lies to which they were exposed. I can’t blame the people who lost faith in whatever they took me to be. I couldn’t track all the prevaricating spin-doctors or iconoclasts who took it upon themselves to make a mockery of my existence; but I have taken an interest in the reasons for their smilingly brutal activities…

I’m in Minneapolis, being near my failing 88-year old Mom as long as she recognizes me, and helping my only sibling, my younger sister Linea, who has been Cerebral Palsied since she was two and I was five, with her charge of Mom’s care in a care facility.

Currently, I live on a soldier’s pension of $935.00 per month and have a $250.00 per month fun live-work space in conjunction with a $300.00 per month office.

My life has been saved three times by San Francisco General Hospital and three times by the Veteran’s Administration Medical Center in Minneapolis. I’m beginning to wonder if I’m a cat. I have acquired an old Royal alpha 110 typewriter at a garage sale for $5.00. Since the Bum Rap King will be a Corker; I’ve decided to seek help; loans or patronage with the assurance that it will all come back to you. (It’s been awhile wince I’ve typed, but that will all come back to me), God bless you and keep you.


P.S. Don’t hurt yourself

P.P.S Please Blog intact.

so in addition to that letter he has photocopied a check, presumably from the japanese tourist, in the amount of $3500.00, and the memo line reads "a salute to our common humanity, arigato!" and chuck's note photocopied below the check says:
Hello again, Thank you all so much for helping me long ago. I have the hope that you might find a way in your technological power to help me in what has come to be a long, difficult journey. I would like to have my Sept. 23rd letter (enclosed) seen by as many people as possible. America's "Legal" types have so "branded" me a "Cowboy." But perhaps without offense, you could consider me in metaphor to be a Samurai on a path with a broken sword. Respectfully, Chuck Hollom
and finally, there's a copy of a certificate of merit and appreciation for charles hollom from the va medical center radiation oncology center, on the bottom of which he writes "42 Treatments. These folks are the best and the brightest!"

and there you have it. i've now used my technological power to have his letter seen by as many people as possible.

Friday, October 3, 2008

prickly pears: paid the cost to make the sauce

prickly pears are a new discovery in my life. we recently smuggled a couple of these cactus fruits through airport security on the way home from arizona, and then during marty's staff retreat he heroically harvested a bagful to bring home for my canning pursuits.

these little suckers are, indeed, prickly. as marty discovered while picking, and i rediscovered processing them. it's not the obvious spikes that get you - those are easy to avoid, but the nearly microscopic stickers that cover the flesh of the fruit and hide out around your house to be picked up weeks later in your fingertips. it's an infuriating sharp little pain when your hand brushes against something but you can't actually see them to pick them out. this culinary project is a labor of love.

marty caught my attention with the idea of prickly pear lemonade, so that was my first objective with the fruit. i consulted a few places online and they said you could just peel the prickly pears and blend up the raw flesh to add in equal parts to lemonade, so that's what i did. alternately, i think you can boil the whole fruits until they break down and strain them into the lemonade, but i wasn't convinced that the stickers wouldn't still be present and potentially lodge in my throat, making the whole lemonade experience regrettable, so i preferred to take the peeling precaution.

as instructed by garrett mccord of vanilla garlic, i cut both ends off the prickly pears, made a vertical slice down the side and peeled the skin and pricklies away. even my attempts at holding the fruit with tongs and paper towels failed at preventing me from getting stickers all over my fingers, so i took another approach and decided to burn the little buggers off on the stove prior to peeling the skin off.

i got this idea from somewhere online, too, though i can't recall where now. this worked pretty well, though i can't say whether the process was entirely pain-free from there on out just because i had a number of them already present in my hands.
i kept this tupperware container of prickly pear puree in the refrigerator and stirred it into several batches of lemonade. i think it would also make a lovely sorbet.

what i learned about prickly pears - other than that they are incredibly well-armed against domestic onslaught - is that they are quite tenacious and lasted a remarkably long time in the refrigerator waiting around for me to find the time to make jam. i left the bag of fruits in the fridge for a good couple weeks before this peeling process, and then i satisfied my prickly pear curiosity with some batches of prickly pear lemonade and left the rest of the skinned fruits in the fridge for another week or more before finally making them into jelly today. they ripened nicely in the fridge, and seemed none-the-worse for wear.

the process was a pretty simple one, now that the thorns have mostly faded out of my life. i put the insides of the prickly pears into the cuisinart and whirred them around a bit to loosen the flesh from the little black seeds. then i heated them up on the stove a bit to further that process, and added a touch of water. i strained the seeds from the juice using the splatter screen i normally put on top of pans when i'm frying - which is not the ideal implement for straining, but it's the only thing i had that resembled a strainer with holes small enough to keep the seeds out. it worked fine, though it would have been easier if it had a concave surface.

i then put the strained juice back on the stove and whipped up a small batch of jelly using my favorite pomona's pectin. i ended up with three very pretty jars of jelly - which win the best-jam-yet prize from marty, who says, "this is all i want on my toast from here on out."