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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Siddhartha by Herman Hesse

For me, Siddhartha was a fascinating look at yogic and Buddhist philosophy as told in story form. The story starts with young Siddhartha and his friend Govinda as they enter their teen years while living as Brahmans in India. They have learned the ancient texts, they have made offerings to the gods, the make daily ablations in the river, they meditate and pray daily. But young Siddhartha is restless and unhappy and with his fathers grudging permission, he and Govinda leave to follow the Sarmana’s of the forest.

For many years they forgo everything, contenting themselves with meditation, begging, and sleeping on the ground in the woods. Siddhartha learns much from the elder Samnara’s, but again he grows restless, wanting something more, something else that he can’t quite define. It is at this juncture Govinda and Siddhartha go see Gotama, or the Buddha and listen to his dharma talks. Govinda is transformed by Gotama’s words and immediately converts and dons the yellow robe of monkhood. He pleads with Siddhartha to do likewise, but Siddhartha says he cannot learn anything from a teacher anymore, and they part ways.

Instead, Siddhartha decides to learn what it is to love, and his travels take him to the beautiful courtesan Kamala. She agree’s to teach him the ways of love, if he baths and perfumes and oils his hair and treats her to beautiful things. This means that Siddhartha must now find gainful employment and he becomes apprenticed to a wealthy trader. Siddhartha boasts that he only needs to know how fast, meditate and be patient to obtain what he needs.

But things don’t go the way Siddhartha expects and after many years he finds himself staring into the river in abject despair contemplating suicide, but the river speaks to him with the universal sound and Siddhartha enters into a third stage in his life. It is here with the river and an old ferryman that Siddhartha learns the meaning of life, and death.

This is not a very long book, but it covers a lot of ground. I think it helped that I understood many of the Buddist and yogic terms and concepts because they are so integral to the story - knowing those concepts really helped to fill out the characters and what Hesse was attempting to convey. Hesse wrote one phrase in particular that has stuck with me: "Wisdom cannot be learned. Knowledge can be, but not wisdom."

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Knitting Project #8 and #9

In between work, yoga, cooking, visits to the vet, and reading, I’ve been busy knitting. I’ve delayed posting this project report because some of these projects were intended as gifts, and I didn’t want to spoil the surprise, as small as it is. For the holidays I did several gift bags with 2, 3 or 4 cloths and included some homemade kitchen soap. Next year I may have to get creative and find a hand towel pattern to compliment dishcloths.

I enjoy doing dishcloths in between other projects or when we’re on the road, and I found the perfect pattern publication. It’s a small publication, only about 5 pages, but it has 15 variations on basic dishcloths. I took inspiration from here and made one pattern. I wanted to do more, but I ran out of time.
Pattern: (I'll have to re-look it up)
Yarn: Sugar and Cream, Olive and self-striping, ~2.5oz skein
Needles: #7
Finished Size: ~ 9"

I found this pattern on Dee’s blog and loved it! Though she had some blog troubles recently so I don't know if the link is still there.

Yarn: Sugar and Cream, Twists, ~2.0oz skein
Needles: #7
Finished Size: ~ 9"

I had also promised the parents I would do a couple more London Beanie hats for them. The Dad requested one a couple inches longer and the Mom just requested one. I mentioned in a previous post about my trip to the Yarn Works where I bought the yarn - I am under a bit of a deadline as they are getting ready to head for Arizona and I want to have them done before then.

Unfortunately I hit a bit of a snag. I finished this one and realized I had made it out of the wrong weight yarn! I inadvertently bought 4 ply when I needed 6 ply. Darn it. The Mom still preferred a heavier weight and the Dad thought it was just fine so he got it. I made a quick trip up to Knife River and Playing with Yarn on Saturday to buy the right ply and I have started another one. I should be able to get it done before the beginning of the New Year.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Sister's Gift - Sourdough Bread

I celebrated another birthday this year (darn it!) and my Sister and her Husband sent me a fantastic birthday present: two loaves of San Fransico sourdough bread from the Boudin Bakery. The Sister discovered this bread about 15 years ago and back then I was the happy recipent of 6 loaves! For some reason as the years passed we forgot about this tangy, crusty, soft bread until recently when we both began to reminice about the loaves of days gone by.

This bread is good broken off in chunks and eaten with soup or chili, it's great warmed up with a bit of butter slathered over it and it adds great flavor to sandwiches of all kinds. What more can I say about such yummy bread. Check out the website and order some!

Thanks Sis! The bread is as good as we remember!

Recipe Review 1/14/07

So, it's Saturday morning, 3:30am, and I am on the phone to the furnace guy because I have no heat. Outside temp: -20* with a -23* windchill. By 4:45am I am in my basement with the furnace guy while the Husband is upstairs sleepily wondering what is going on. Fast forward to Monday morning. I go out to start the car. But the car won't start. My battery was shot. There goes my noon yoga class and lunch with a friend. When the tow guy shows up it's the same fellow who came out two years ago when both my vehicles were dead on the same day. Funny how life works. The only appropriate action in this case is to bake chocolate chip cookies. After consuming several warm, soft, gooey cookies, I was quite content and rather full.

Here's last weeks recipes. Enjoy!

Chicken Caccatorie with Orzo (Every Day with RR, pg 66) 4
While this was listed as 30 minutes plus 10 minute prep, as usual it took a wee bit longer. For me, it was the initial cooking time for the chicken parts. In part that was my fault as I mixed four chicken thighs with two big boobies. In hindsight, I should have stuck with just thighs or all boobies.
However! This was a very tasty dish. I used homemade chunky tomatoes with garlic (thanks Kate!) and I had to sub dried basil for fresh because I forgot to buy some. Prep was pretty simple: prepare bone-in chicken (for extra flavor), fry in olive oil till nicely browned and nearly done. Remove to warm oven. Add onions and thickly sliced mushrooms and saute until soft but not mush. Stir in chunky tomatoes, tomato sauce, capers, salt and pepper. Bring to a nice simmer and add chicken back in. Simmer till ready to serve.

Meanwhile, prepare orzo pasta. Arrange nicely on plate and eat! As Rach would say, Yum-O!

Pretty simple really. This dish would be great for company because of its simplicity yet great flavors and it looks impressive. A salad and some crusty bread would round out the meal.

Sourdough Whole Wheat Bread (Bernard Claytons New Book of Breads) 3.5
The Husband has been a baking fiend lately! Back at the end of December he created his sourdough starter and lucky me, I get great fresh bread every couple of weeks. This is his forth creation off of "Harold".
Once again, the recipe starts with a "sponge" which is allowed to sit overnight. This is then combined with a mix of whole wheat flour and bread flour. The loaves are actually shaped after the dough has been mixed and kneaded and allowed to rest for 15 minutes. The one and only rise happens right in the pan - for two hours - and then into the oven for an hour.

We're still not noticing a tremendous "sourdough" taste, more of a very subtle tang, to our breads. This was also a bit on the dry side. The Husband noted that for 7 cups of flour it called for 1 1/4 cup of liquid. We did have to add more water at the end of the initial mixing process to get the rest of the flour added. The crust was a beautiful golden color and nice and crispy from the water glaze, and the crumb a medium density and texture - not real light, not really heavy. If we were to make this again, I think I would decrease some of the WW flour and up the bread flour.

Cranberry Orange Muffins (Fine Cooking, Nov?, 2007) 3.5
The Mother made the blueberry version of these back in December and they were so delicious that decided I needed to make these myself. I had some cranberries in the fridge and it was no matter to buy an orange for the zest so it was the cranberries and orange version for us. The ingredients and directions seem complicated at first glance, but as with most muffin recipes it comes together rather quickly. The neat thing about these is you intentionally fill the muffin cups very full to create the classic "coffee house" muffin where it's mostly top. Really, how can you go wrong with a muffin that's all top?

Yet, both the Husband and I thought these lacked something in the flavor department - we both thought they would be a bit sweeter or tangier between the cranberry and the orange. If I were to make these again I would probably do the blueberry version...unless I still have those cranberries to use up!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Recipe Review 1/7/08

Sourdough Waffles (The Bread Bible, Beth Hensperger) 5!
These were excellent. The Husband made the sponge the night before and put it into the fridge to ferment. He timed this so he could feed Harold at the same time. The next morning I added 1 cup whole wheat flour (AP was optional), baking soda, eggs, and oil and blended ever so gently. These baked up light, slightly crisp and very flavorful. I’ve made three or four different kinds of waffles so far and this recipe was the best. The downside is you have to have sourdough starter in the fridge. The upside, we have Harold. We will be making these again. Made 12-6" waffles.

Addendum: before we headed out of town last weekend, we made a batch of pancakes using the same recipe (Harold needed to be fed again). The pancakes didn't cook up as light as the waffles and the taste was a bit nuttier. I think the whole wheat aspect came through more. While these were tasty, the Husband and I agreed we think the waffles were better.

Southwestern Pork and Sweet Potatoes (CL Jan/Feb 08, pg ) 3
This looked good on paper, and with some significant modifications (recipes are just guidelines, right?) it turned out okay. My main conundrum was what to serve it with or over. A Boston Pork Butt (or modification #1: a center cut pork loin) is seared in a lightly oiled pan and set aside. The sauce is a pureed mixture of onion, ancho seasoning (modification #2: adobo seasoning), garlic, and a pickled jalapeno pepper. This is sauteed until fragrant and the pan deglazed with a bottle of beer. The pork is returned to the pan and simmered for two hours (modification #3: it was done after an hour).
The pork is then removed and shredded (modification #4: cubed) and cubed sweet potatoes are added to the pan and everything simmered for another 20 minutes (modification #5: I tossed the potatoes in before I removed the meat).
Once everything was done, I realized some white rice would have been perfect to serve this over to soak up the spicy chili sauce. What I ended up serving along side was leftover black bean and squash tamale filling - which was just as tasty but made for a lot of "orange" on the plate. This dish made four meals worth, too much for two people.

Raspberry Almond Shortbread Thumbprints (Culinary in the Country Blog) 4
When Joe posted these over on his blog and I knew I just had to make them. These bake up as a light buttery cookie infused with the essence of toasted almond that is countered by the sweetness of raspberry jam. I omitted the fancy glaze - the Husband was inhaling them too quickly and I thought the glaze would be too much sweetness against the butter. I did make one mistake (I was impatient): the recipe indicates that the dough needs to be frozen for at least one hour. I didn't do that and my cookies ended up a bit on the flat side. Still, they tasted darn good and I would make these again.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Midi's Restaurant

Before the Parental Units departed for warmer climes, the Husband and I decided it would be a nice bon voyage! to go out for an evening of Jazz at the ‘Toga and dinner afterwards. Inspiration struck and I remembered Midi’s was now open at the Fitger’s complex and most of the first month bugs should have been worked out.

We arrived in a very happy state at about 6:30p on a Saturday evening. The place was busy, but by no means packed. It had been remodeled during its transition, but the remodel seemed to have forgotten the carpet – it was frayed in several obvious spots (the pass through) and showed its age. But we were not here to critique the carpet as much as those frayed spots fascinated us.

Midi’s is owned by the same people who own the Winzer Stubbe in Hudson, WI, which I reviewed here. When I heard they were opening a restaurant up here, I was hoping for a German one, but alas, they decided to go with a Mediterranean theme and offer a German menu a couple nights a week. Saturday must have been one of those nights, lucky me!

While we were deciding, our appetites were whetted with a lovely selection of what looked and tasted like homemade rustic bread served with whipped butter and hummus. Nothing annoys me so much than to have those little metallic butter packages plunked down on the table only to find them still frozen. This butter was presented in a small ramkins at room temperature and perfect for spreading. The hummus was creamy, smooth and in no way garlicky.

The Mother had the rouladen, served with spatzel and red cabbage. I picked the Jagerschnitzel (breaded pork cutlet pounded thin) also served with spatzel and red cabbage. The two gentlemen chose prime rib. The two German dishes were very tasty (really, I would have been very happy with just a big plate of spatzel…). My pork cutlet was a tich on the dry side, but again, I was in a very happy state and didn’t mind. The spatzel was fantastic. They must do a quick pan sauté after it comes out of the water or maybe it’s fried to start with. What ever they do is delicious. Reports from the prime rib side of the table were complementary, though the Father would have preferred his cut a bit thicker.

We concluded dinner by sharing a crème brule (melted sugar was a bit thick and bitter, but the crème underneath delicious) and crepes served with ice cream and berry topping.

Prices ranged from $13.00 for my plate to $18.00 for the prime rib. $4.00 for the brule and $5.00 for the crepes.

The wait staff was prompt, polite and attentive throughout the entire meal.

For a lovely evening out with simple ambiance and good food, I would recommend Midi’s.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

This was December’s book group selection. I thought I had already read it…it was on my book shelf which means I must have, right? Wrong. As book group meeting approached and I got to talking to the Father (who I talked into joining book group), I realized I had not read the book as I had initially thought. A quick search through the last two years of blogs didn’t turn up anything either. So it was with much embarrassment that I had to confess to my group that I had not read the book - but they are a forgiving group and I only had to promise to bring munchies to another meeting as my penance. Mortified, but undaunted, I started the book immediately that night.

Lucifer’s Hammer falls into the “End of the World/Catastrophic Event/How Will the Human Race Survive” category, and it can be further broken down into those niche genres in SF which wipe California off the face of the map then discuss how Earth will survive.

Destruction of California aside, this was a really good book. Tim Hamner discovers a comet, which upon further investigation will be moving through Earths solar system in the immediate near future. Chances of it hitting are a million to one…nope, better make that 100,000 to one. Oops! Slight miscalculation, 10,000 to one. Wrong again! 1000 to one. Oh, drat! It hit in 6 places!

The first third of the book establishes the characters and how people react to the news of impending doom. And there are a LOT of characters. Some don't believe it, some go all out in their preparations, some wait till the very last day.

The second third of the book deals with impact and the days immediately after impact: how huge tsunamis wipe out any coastal area, cities and islands; the force of impact drives sea floor mud and ocean water far into the atmosphere and rains down upon the land causing huge flood events; mega-hurricanes are spawned affecting weather patterns over tremendous areas; earthquakes shake the continents and Russia and China launch nuclear weapons at each other. It looks at how people respond both individually and as small groups. It gets a bit gruesome, but I like that look at reality.

The third part of the book speculates what people would do to survive, how would they react to this new state of survival and I have to say the authors did a pretty good job on touching on a bit of every part of humanity, the good, the bad and the very ugly.

But I do have a few complaints, mostly with the third part of the book. This was written in the 70's and the 70's attitude toward women was still prevalent. Women were to be protected, took subservient roles to the men (housewives who volunteered, secretaries, accountants, cooks). What really got my goat was for one small group trying to survive, when the current leader died (predicted to happen anytime in the next "year") the new leader of the valley would be determined by whomever his daughter married. Three guys were posturing for her "attentions" while she was sneaking off to sleep with a fourth. Gimme a break!

It was also brought to my attention that blacks are stereotyped in this story as the poor inner city types who continue to rob, pillage, and rape both before impact and after. The authors attempted to counter this by sending a black man into space and have him return a hero, but his part is rather minor compared to the gangs roaming the countryside.

Still, if one can put aside some of the quirks and if you like end of the world type stories, this one was pretty darn good.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Recipe Review 1/1/08

We are off to a great start for January! Of course, I must give credit where credit is due – the Husband has made a couple new recipes as well which must be counted. I’ve also changed my grading system for this year. I came to realize with the 1-10 system I was grading everything at 5 and above, so it only made sense to change the grading system to 1-5.

It now goes as such: 1=bad, 2=eh, 3=good, but probably won’t make again, 4=tasty, 5=excellent!
Without further ado, here is what we made our first week in 2008:

Sourdough Pumpernickel Bread (Bernard Clayton’s New Book of Bread, pg 262) 3.5
This recipe came about because the Husband read about using the dregs of a homebrew to make sourdough starter. However, when he went back to his magazines he couldn’t find the recipe. I pointed out several bread baking books on my shelf and he ended up combining a couple different methods to make a basic starter.

From the starter (now named Harold, because that is what one does with their starter) he decided the pumpernickel bread would be a great place to start. From the starter a sponge is created and this sits overnight. In the morning, it is combined with molasses, bread flour, cornmeal, whole-wheat flour, and AP flour (yes, I actually have that many flours and one more to boot), and caraway seed. The first rise was supposed to be three hours, but those little yeasties were quite happy and it was good to shape after 2 ½ hours. After shaping and another hour rise, it baked for 45 minutes.

This bread turned out very similar to an Irish Soda bread in taste, but the crumb and texture were much lighter. The "sour" aspect wasn’t all that pronounced and I think that is due to the caraway seeds and molasses. Plus it is a new starter and hasn’t had the opportunity to develop its fermented flavors yet. This has made a great lunch bread for sandwiches or on it’s own with some soup. Made two boules.

Anthos Lentil Soup (Ckng Lght Jan/Feb 08, pg 203) 3
A lentil soup seasoned with carrots, celery, potato and bay leaf. I upped the lentils so I could use up a small bag I had. What made this "Greek" was the addition of vinegar - a nice tang to counter the beans. Well, I don’t know where the tang went, because I found this to be rather bland. In fact, I brought my small jar of sea salt to work just to season this soup. Perhaps some feta cheese on top would have added something more. Made a lot as well.

Fish and Chips (Irish Pub Ckbk, pg 172) 5!
This is the other Husband dish. We subbed Lake Superior Trout for the cod and all I can say is FANTASTIC! First, a couple three potatoes are scrubbed, soaked in cold water and dried before being briefly dunked in hot oil. Then the oil is brought back up to temp and the potatoes (in batches) are cooked until golden, spread on paper towels, seasoned with kosher salt and popped into a warm oven to keep warm.

Meanwhile, the fish batter is prepared (self rising flour, baking soda, salt, beer, ginger and lemon juice) is combined and very gently stirred together. The fish is cut into equal sized nuggets, mixed into the batter in batches and plopped into the hot oil. The batter puffs up and turns golden brown. After about 5 minutes the nuggets are pulled out, placed on paper towels and stored in the warm oven while the other batches finish.

BOTH the "chips" and fish were excellent. Nothing turned out greasy or oily. The potatoes were golden with nice soft centers and the fish were nice and flaky in their little envelopes of goodness. I made a lemon aoili - fancy name for lemon tartar sauce that accompanied the recipe -this was a nice counter point to the fish, but we really liked how malt vinegar tasted with everything. We will be making this again because we have several more packages of Lake Trout to use up and this may be the only way I’ll eat it. My only major complaint is now the house smells like a fryer. Pewh!

Polenta with Tomato Braised Beans (CL Jan/Feb 08, pg 165) 4
I made the beans for this dish New Year’s Day so I wouldn’t have to futz with them later in the week. I used the Cattle Beans we grew in 07 and they cooked up very nice and tender (it helped that I used bottled water this time).

Garlic is sautéed with fresh chopped parsley then a can of diced tomatoes is added and the liquid reduced for about 12 minuets. To this I added the beans (about 2 cups cooked), and let everything just simmer quietly for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, water is brought to a boil and coarse polenta is gradually stirred in. The stirring continues for about 2 minutes, then cover and cook for 10. The instructions continued on like this for about 20 minutes! Stir continuously, then cover and cook…. whatever. I did this twice because it was convenient to do so then slapped the lid on and let it do its thing. It came out thick and creamy and provided a lovely base for the tomatoes and beans. I served roasted asparagus and grape tomatoes on the side.

Pantry reduction count for the week:
Rye flour from 2004 (been in the freezer)
Lentils (2007)
Dried Cattle Beans from 07 garden

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Knitting Project #10 - Another Beanie Hat!

The parents are soon going to be heading toward warmer climes and I wanted to get the Mother's London Beanie hat done. It does seem a bit odd that I should be frantically trying to get a winter hat done before they head for Arizona, but even the desert gets a bit chilly in the wintertime! And there is still a lot of winter between Minnesota and Arizona.

I did a quick run up to Playing with Yarn in Knife River, MN and picked up 4 skeins of Regia self striping in 6-ply. I didn't really need 4, but one was for the Mother, one is for the Hubby and two extra. One never knows when they might need to make a quick hat for someone.

The Mother's hat was in a funky purple-pink-black stripy combo...hmmm, bummer, colors didn't show as well as I hoped they would:

Pattern: London Beanie as provided by Playing With Yarn

Yarn: Regia 6ply self striping
Needles: #6 circular and dps
Currently on the needles is a scarf for the Sister #2. By request, she's getting a matching scarf, mitten and hat combo. With all the bowl games going on right now, I thought the scarf would be a great place to start - I can just knit back and forth and listen to the game without having to count much.
Poor Hawaii, got their buts kicked. Stumbled in the starting gate and never quite got their momentum back.

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