Better than salt money

Work like you were living in the early days of a better nation


The difference

Is one of attitude.

My mother was fond of repeating a, somewhat trite, platitude, which she both believed, and tried to follow:  The difference between American parents, and European parents is American parents say, “Eat this, it’s good for you,” and European parents say, “Eat this, it’s good”.

I somehow manage to be attracted to people who have allergies.  I like to cook for people.  As a result I have gotten pretty good at finding ways to cope with restricted food sources.  My Beloved Fiancée (MBF) has a relatively short list of allergies, which have an inordinate effect on what I can do.

Raw Onions

This means I have learned to do a lot of “Pre-Columbian, Old World Cooking”.  As one might imagine, restaurants are a real problem (exacerbated by her keeping kosher).  Mostly they treat her as a child, and offer her plain food, with no spicing.

Which is offensive.  Not just because she is treated dismissively (as if her allergies are just a plea for attention), but because I know (from personal experience) that it’s a failure imagination on the part of the chef.

Yes, I have more time to ponder the issues.  Yes, it means one is cooking a la minute, and the sauces one is used to are all off the table (because garlic, fruits, and nightshades: fruit means no wine). But if one is demanding $60 a plate, one ought to be interested in the challenge.


One of the things which is hardest is the loss of the “hot” elements one gets used to.  I try to do things with mustard, and I use a lot of vinegar, but she didn’t have an awareness of all these allergies until recently (and some may have been late onset).  So she is familiar with things like curry.  She likes them.

Tonight’s supper, salmon over salad with “curried” cous-cous.

Take 2qts water.  Bring to a boil with 10-12 curry leaves (I used 10), ¾ Tbls garam masala, 2/3 tsp turmeric.  Boil furiously for 30 mins.

In a shallow skillet braise an onion in oil and garam masala.

Make cous-cous in the “curry tea”.  Drain, toss with the braised onions, and oil.

For the salad, quarter ¾ cup cornichon, longitudinally.  Dice ½ can beets.  Grill (in a pan) a quantity of bite-sized asparagus (let the tips of the buds char, just a bit).

Pan fry salmon: cook it almost all the way through from the flesh side.  A hard, deep, sear is the idea.  Finish on the skin; rest it.

Toss with mixed greens, place a mound of the cous-cous mix, and top with the salmon, after the skin has been peeled.

I dressed it with a horseradish mustard and rice vinegar vinagrette; to which I’d added a bit of powdered lemongrass.  (I’d made it the night before).

The best part was the cous-cous.  It had some curry bite.  If I’d added some mustard oil, it might have even been, “hot”.

There are pictures (though I need to work on color balance when editing them on my phone).

From Above

Lower Angle

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Tonight’s Quick Fire Challenge

We went and saw Peter Jackson’s film today.  It was good, but I’m looking forward to the day someone films The Hobbit.  Afterwards we tried to go to dinner.  Because one of my partners has a significant of allergies, it’s hard to get restaurants which are willing to really feed her.  Tonight was worse than most: after they pointed her at the bland foods, they forgot she had ordered (I wish this were a singular event).

We got home (having stopped to do some shopping) and I made her something to eat.  She’d had an omelette earlier, so that; as a just throw it together meal, wasn’t really an option.


Chiffonade of basil, small dice of cucumber, medley of chopped olives, toasted almonds.

Chopped hearts of romaine tips.

Peppered, and smoked, makerel; shredded.

Leaves of Romaine.

Place shredded romaine in the leaves, add mackerel, cover with the mixture of cukes, olives almonds.

As I was making it I realised I was working the sort of thing Top Chef tosses at people, “make a salad; suitable for appetizer or meal, without dressing; in fifteen minutes.”

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Well that didn’t go as planned

I made some changes to supper.  No dill, I decided to make a variation on sauce bearnaise.

So, two egg yolks, some rice vinegar (the good stuff, not the kikkoman), and the change, for the oil I used pistachio.  OMG.  Seriously, this is so good.  It’s spendy (pistachio oil is not cheap, and I ran out before I was done., so the cost of making it up all the way is probably about $15US).  I was also a little shy of the right amount of tarragon (too much and what you have is a greasy licorice flavor).  So it didn’t, quite, stand up against the steelhead trout (which was a little under seared; hard but not really hard).

I powdered some applewood smoked salt to balance it out.  With an all pistachio oil sauce, and enough tarragon, this would make great mousse.  If you took a little of it as a binder you could make killer salmon cakes (with the bearnaise as a dressing for the finished cakes).  I really want to make a chateaubriand, or tournedos (Mon Grenier, of blessed memory did a pair of tournedos, one in bearnaise, and the other in a wine reduction… that could be done too… which raises the price again, but one could keep it, slightly more in reason, with a peppercorn sauce; keeping the burgundy for drinking.

But what do I call this sauce?

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More food

In the interest of 1: getting back in the habit of more regular blogging,  and 2: because I like to cook/talk about cooking, I am going to talk about tonight’s dinner, and tomorrow’s dinner plan.

I was tired tonight (and my wrist is acting up, a lot).  There was some “pepper steak” in the fridge, so I picked up some onions and mushrooms from the market.

I did a poach of finely diced onions in olive oil.  While it was cooking (I moved the temperature up and down from “hot” to mild boil), I minced the stems, and then the caps of a pint of crimini.  Those got tossed in, and the temp was dropped to a bit below, “hot”.

That simmered for about 30 minutes, to make a duxelles.  I pulled the excess oil off,  and used that to cook the steak, in two batches, with a deglazing in between.  The reduced deglaze put over the meat as it rested.  Some campanelle pasta on the boil, and a bunch of pan-fried (no oil, just hot iron).  Tossed the meat in the duxelles, and the pasta in truffle oil.  Served the meat/duxelles, over the pasta.

Tomorrow I’ll be hard searing a salmon, and letting it cool.  I’ll flake it, and toss it with a dill mayonnaise.  I’m going to making some massed root vegetables.  One of my partners can’t eat nightshades, nor parsnips (because they have inulin), so I’m going to play with carrots and a little of something else (at least a little of which is going to be more oil-poached onions).  The salmon flakes will be put into a chopped leaf salad.


Focus of attention

One of the things which comes of learning a new thing is that one sees patterns where prior one saw nothing, or even chaos.  Sometimes this can be facile (e.g. the bar scene in Good Will Hunting, where the protagonist takes the college student’s grasp of historical economics apart)  All of us tend to be a bit like that when we are studying a new thing.  We are playing with it in our heads, trying to see what it, “means”.  When we are young (say in college) we tend to see patterns which aren’t really there.

One of the things I like about my work is that I get to spend a lot of time talking about how knives work.  I tend to draw pictures for people who are really interested in getting the right knives, and esp. those who are interested in maintaining them.  My bosses have never minded.  It’s not a sales dense way to do things, but it is a sales deep one.

I’ve been spinning.  I’ve been reading on spinning (and if you have any interest in the subject, even theoretical [say you were writing a book] I commend Alden Amos, “Big Book of Handspinning” It has the best footnotes.  Seriously, the best. They are, in their way, worthy of comparison to Paarfi), and I’ve been spinning.  The latter is more important to the story.

Yarn (which is what a spinner makes, be it ever so fine, nor ever so thick), comes in three types.  Worsted, woolen and everything else.  Worsted is the smoothest, and it’s the most durable.  Woolen is the weakest, and it’s much less smooth.

In between is all the rest, which some lump as, “semi-worsted”.  True worsted, is hard to spin.  It requires keeping all the fibers completely parallel until they are twisted, no twist gets into the yarn without the spinner letting it.  The fingers of the lead hand pinch the twisted yarn, and slide back to let twist into the untwisted fibers.

Woolen lets the twist in and controls it with a lighter hand; backing the untwisted fibers away from the imminent tangled mess that would happen if no “drafting” were done.

In between those is everything else.  Often lumped as, “semi-worsted”.  I think some are more toward woolen, but what do I know?  Woolen is faster, looser, warmer, and uses less fiber per unit of yarn.  Some fibers don’t like to be worsted (alpaca, for one), getting hard, and wiry.  How the fibers are prepared will make a difference to how easy it is to spin one way, or the other (worsted prep, woolen spun is brutal.  I was bitching and complaining and in a black funk, because I was trying to spin a fiber that’s only so-so at woolen, in the best of times, after it had been prepped for worsted.  Now that I’ve got the basic hang of woolen I’ll take the parts I reconditioned to spinning woolen and see how it does).

So my spinning is getting better. And my eye for fabric is different now too.  I’ll wager that, if you’ve never spun, esp. if you’ve also never crocheted, or knitted, the difference between the two types of yarn is still a bit fuzzy.  It was to me, and I spun.  But spinning on a drop-spindle doesn’t make (at least to me) the difference between the three styles all that plain either.  I can spin some pretty fine yarns; stuff those who didn’t know might term thread (and no, I don’t know what the technical difference is, just that there is one), but it’s all been “semi-worsted.  Spinning true worsted on a spindle is hard, because moving the twist into the “drafting zone” without letting it escape is hard, and I can’t do it.  Spinning true woolen is hard because the fibers don’t lock as completely as the spindle slows, and if one is letting lots of twist past the leading hand; the spindle drops… to the floor (my hook is a but out of true from that happening while I was waiting on the train tonight.  Yes, I spin on the subway).

When I look at a coat, or a scarf, now, I am trying to see how the weft was spun (warp is almost always worsted, or one of the harder semi-worsted. Woolen falls apart from all the abrasive pressures on the warp).  Tweeds, which are “hard finish” cloths get their structure from the warp being woolen, and locking together across the warp.  I saw a scarf yesterday,  which had been made from a handspun yard (I think, it was certainly an, “art yarn” with thicker and thinner areas).  I look at cloth differently, and with a more attentive, and understanding eye.

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Keep your friends close

And your enemies closer.

In that end I subscribe to several newletters from people I don’t agree with much.  It keeps me more aware of the things they are trying to do.  Sometimes they have chances for me to give them feedback. That links to a poll from the Republican members of the Education and Labor Committee.

When they send me a poll, I make sure to answer it, since I suspect they don’t get a very accurate slice of the general public.  It seems only fair that I, as a concerned member of the body politic, should avail myself of every opportunity to make my voice heard.

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Chain links

I used to do this fairly often, a list of things I’d found about the web which interested me (a sort of expanded version of the original “weblogs”).

Kevin Drum putting paid to Steven Levitt and “Abortions Reduced Crimes” nonsense.  It seems that a pair of independent researchers have pretty strongly shown it was lead, from gasoline, which did it.  Part of the conclusive aspects is that it can be correlated internationally, and locally.  America’s Real Criminal Element: Lead

A really lovely use of photoshop to remove all traces of people from San Francisco.  Time lapse at it’s best. The bare bones of San Francisco (I don’t think it looks creepy at all.  I’d link to the yuotube directly, but the other clip is worth watching too). A bit further east; a time-lapse of the night sky from Mt. Wilson

More architecture in The Los Angeles That Might Have Been.  It’s a kickstarter, and I think it’s a damned interesting idea.  I’d like the chance to feel I’d missed out if I didn’t get to it.

A few pieces about torture, which has been normalised.  How we talk about it is stilted, and serves to hide the facts (and some of it is straight up, “I shade the truth, but he is a liar”).  The Senate issued a report which said all sorts of things, and also redacted all the things which matter most. I’m guessing I’ll be long dead before it’s unclassified.  Which is part of how the CIA seems to have lied to, or not given very good info to the makers of, “Zero Dark Thirty”, and make it easier for them to say torture is a useful tool in collecting intelligence. (not that I’d really expect the director to care.  “The Hurt Locker has huge problems, from all sorts of standpoints; and is basically a paean to the joys of being in a combat zone.  “Yeah, it sucks, but once you’ve been there nothing else will suffice”.  Utter crap).

Bloomberg Financial Times on Why We Must Go Over the Platinum Cliff, (No More Mister Nice Blog points out the courts would probably side with the Republicans on this, for the usual reason, and how the inability to make Keynesianism more understandable would probably hurt Obama; though the Bloomberg solution does an end run around some of that) deals with exactly what I don’t like about the resolution of the Bush Tax Cuts.  It’s not that I don’t like the tax cuts for the very top being reverted to what they were; it’s that the GOP was allowed to get some of what it wanted (exempting those who are making between 250,000-400,000 from the reversion), for not much.  The Debt Ceiling still exists.  Obama could have (should have) made them give that up.

The Debt Ceiling is some evil kabuki.  The House says, “here is what we authorise”,  but at the same time they don’t make it possible to spent the money they get around to allocating (which is not the same.  Lots of things are, “in the budget” which don’t get funded).  For decades this has been some idiotic theater.  They run up a tab, and later they have to make it possible to pay the bill.  But this time around they’ve decided they can use it as a stick.  If they do, Bad Shit happens.  So they admit they won’t actually do it.  But they will pretend they can, and they will use it to try and force Obama, the Dems, and the Progressive Caucus, to give them more of what they want.  And the press is helping them, with a narrative of false equivalence. (when the pundits aren’t just complaining  about Obama being better at being intransigent as the Republicans, and clutching their pearls as they say, “that’s no fair!”, while lying about how they act when they win) know the Republicans don’t argue in good faith.  When Obama adopts one of their positions, they attack him for it (because what they want, to gut the last remnants of the New Deal, is vastly unpopular).

What I don’t know (and the recent persistent patter of Obama’s visible behavior causes me to doubt; though I have seen some interesting articles saying the close to the vest negotiating he does hides just how much he’s managing to gain) is that Obama will actually put them to the wall on this.  I am afraid he will continue to make visible compromises, and allow them to keep playing the “nice country you’ve got here, be shame if anything were to happen to it,” game.

What does one do when one’s paper has been denying climate change, and helped the oil/gas magnate who owns it pursue his business?  Continue to ignore the facts and just pray for rain.

To close, two bundles of squeeful cuteness.  Baby Porcupines, and Baby Hedgehogs.

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More cookery

I am playing with food tonight.

I had thought there was zucchini in the fridge, and I’d planned a ratatouille sort of dish (I have someone who is allergic to nightshades, so I can’t make the classic).  There being none, I instead aimed for a sort of braised celery.

I took a pinch of fennel seed, and ground it, then I bruised a dash of caraway.  I added that, and a healthy handful more of caraway to some chopped onions, and set that to simmer in olive oil, at a slow boil/fast simmer.  I chopped a bunch of celery, down to the bottom; leaves and all, salted it, and left it to rest.   Haricots were chopped to small bites, and covered with rice vinegar.

In the meanwhile I took some pistachio oil and simmered a lot of dill in it.

When the onions were done I drained the oil into a deep cast iron pot, and mixed i the onions/herbs with the celery, and then added the beans, vinegar and all.  This was put into a 350F oven.

The oil from the onions is poaching chicken breasts.  I’ve got a couple box-ends of pasta on the boil now, and will toss strain the dilled oil over it.

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The idea of subtle contrast

I made soup tonight.

I’d made some clear stock from the skin and bones of a couple sets of thigh quarters, and to that I added the backs/bones/skin of some thighs from another package.  I reserved the thigh meat and the drumsticks.

Added some water to the stock, and set that to simmer with some long pepper (three catkins, I think five, or six, might have been better), a bay leaf, some celery tops and a few pieces of carrot.  Let that simmer for an hour and half, strained out the bones, the skin, most of the vegetables.  Replaced the long pepper.  Added some more celery, carrots a turnip and some smoked salt.  Let that simmer for about 40 minutes.  Turned the heat down, cut the thighs, added some onion.

I let that simmer (below the boil, keeping the temperature around 180F makes the thigh meat so soft you can cut it with a spoon.  Not shred, but cut it across the grain; like sous vide, but with more flavor from the stock) for about 30 minutes.  Then I added some farfalline, and fried the drumsticks in a bit of oil.  When they were done I put some chopped dill into the bottom of a bowl, added a drumstick, and topped with the soup.

The soup was rich, and mild, while the browned, slightly unctuous nature of the drumstick; which had a more toothsome texture, was a pleasant counterpoint.  Just the thing for cool days, or someone who has a bit of a cold.

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Fiber management

As I was spinning the alpaca singles, I would remove the cop (the aggregate collection of the yarn being spun.  It goes around the spindle, which means the weight/balance of the spindle increases/changes as one spin), and set it aside.  Sometimes I wound it off, into a ball, and other times I just slipped it off.

I also had at least one ball which was off a turkish spindle.  All of them have been living in a bowl I threw back when I was still doing pottery.  This morning I niddy-noddied the lot.  Lessons learned.  Balls are much better than plain cops to unwind.  Bobbins are easier still.  These are all “S-laid”, so they will make a more open structure when crocheted, and a tighter one if knit Plying/cabling reduces this tendency, a bit, but it’s apparently true that if one want’s a tight piece of fabric from crochet, one needs to have the yarns spun in a Z-laid manner… another reason to get yarn made, rather than buy it off the shelf if one is doing crochet.  Knitters are much better served by mass-production yarn.

I have to say getting the wheel has done more for my confidence about my spinning.  Even the sloppy work I’m doing on the wheel seems to be no worse than much of what I see when I go looking for information on spinning.  Etsy has been useful in this, because when looking for fiber I see yarns for sale.  It interesting to guess at the production.  I know what the fibers I’ve been looking at cost (I’ve been drooling over some yak/tussah, but at $50 for a 4oz roving, I’m not going to be spinning it anytime soon).  I know what time is worth.

So I can estimate what sort of wool/alpaca has been spun, and take a guess at the preparation (I tend to assume that someone charging more for the same quality of fleece has been working from less prepared wool; though some people are also owners of sheep/alpacas, and so I assume they are able to charge less, and still get a fair return for their labor).  I also get to see the sorts of yarns people are willing to try and sell (concomitantly I also see the yarns they think people will buy).

My yarn isn’t that bad.  My spindled yarn is at least as even as a lot of the stuff I’m seeing for sale.  So I need to have someone knit/crochet some of it up, so I have some sense of it being liked, as a product, by other people; as well as my liking it as a process.