Tag Archives: kitchen

My Mother the Squirrel

Happy New Year, World! I hope we can see more peace and calm and less fanaticism this year, but it’s not looking likely. However, I’ll do my bit for compassion and understanding and remember, it’s the microcosm, your neighbors, your friends and your family that can make for a more loving place.

winter, pack rat, cold, hoarder, food

Creative Commons: Zeeksie @ Deviant Art

On that note, I traveled to the frozen wastelands (as I see it) of Alberta to visit friends and family over the holidays. While I’ve been back in recent years I’ve tried to avoid winter  because it is evil and bone-chilling. I decided to brave it for the winter festivity and because my mother is 91. Two weeks I spent, and overall the weather was only -28 for about three days. The rest was in the -5 range, balmy for Alberta.

It gave me a chance to visit friends, find some long lost cousins, and do the family thing. Staying at my mother’s, and with my organizer personality, it meant cleaning out drawers, cupboards or closets. Even my sister, who might be considered closer to the hoarder personality (she moved in the this summer, purportedly with boxes to the ceiling) felt my organizer bee abilities. We were driving all over the city to do some pre-Christmas shopping and as I sat in the passenger seat of the moderately messy car, she asked me to look for her Superstore card.

purses, overstuffed purse, hoarding, pack rat

Not my sister’s actual purse but a close representation. Creative Commons: http://jewelrypurse.blogspot.ca/

Grabbing that rather pregnant purse, I pulled out the overstuffed wallet. No card. Turns out there were two other holders with plastic cards. Still no card but I started to go through her bulging wallet, putting Tim Hortons (the Canadian doughnut gods) and Shoppers Drug Mart gift cards together. There was more than one and I have never seen so many store cards before. My sister could be the goodwill ambassador for commercialism and store marketing.

In the process of cleaning her wallet I found coupons that had expired and others that soon would. There was a forest of business cards, many for businesses she no longer frequented. In fact, this mothership of store cards had very little actual cash and took up most of the room in a moderate sized purse. When I was done, there was a small plastic shopping bag full of paper. Her wallet lost several inches in girth and actually closed by the clasp.

At my mother’s it was much as it had been two year’s previously. I exclaimed, “Mom, you’re a squirrel! There’s candies and nuts everywhere.” This time, as I started to clean up for Christmas dinner, I decided to inventory my mother’s squirrel hoard. To put some of this into perspective, my mother grew up during the Depression, in a small coal mining town. A treat at Hallowe’en was an actual fresh apple, something we would sneer at today. She traveled to a large city with her friend to find work. They slept in ditches with their one small suitcase and hitchhiked to get there, when it was much safer to do so.

squirrels, hoarding, food, pack ratss

This is not my actual mother but she stores food like the queen of squirrels. Creative Commons: http://theairspace.net/commentary/squirrels/

Going through the Depression and then WWII where rationing was practiced everywhere, my mother learned to appreciate being prepared. Long before the days of Costco she hunted out food wholesalers and would buy toilet paper and other items in bulk. After her divorce, she continued her frugality, and would buy day-old bread from a bakery, up to 24 loaves, which were then frozen. She also sold Tupperware, when we were very young and I remember my brother and I playing in the large container suitcase. So yes, my mother still has nearly three shelves of Tupperware, which, by the time I organized it, was only two.

She had five knife sharpeners (and nothing but dull knives), six cheese/food graters and more pots than a restaurant kitchen. In fact, she’s never thrown out a pot or handle-less cup since I was a child. A Taurus mug that I used when about 12 was there, the handle gone. I convinced her to throw out a few pots where the Teflon was worn but then she balked at getting rid of the two aluminum, electric frying pans that she no longer uses.

In cleaning out a spare closet I found crafts going back to the 70’s; unfinished potholders and head-sized balls of wool. One partially finished needlepoint of a forest, with the bag of woo, she told me she had bought it in England during the war, before any of us were born! She’d never worked on it since. There was a pillow cover, to be embroidered that had Canada’s flag, the Union Jack. That’s how old it was. There was a three-foot plastic bin of gifts for unexpected g, which she had forgotten about. Then there were the cosmetic bags, for traveling. Two were stuffed full, then a triple decker bag, extra deep, chock full of lotions, shampoo, conditioners and other small toiletries. Some were very ancient and dead. Others half used, and many unopened. She must have gone on a burglary spree of hotels.

I cannot name all of the things I cleaned and boggled at, such as health supplements in at least four places, or the spices in pretty much every cupboard. If you’re thinking my mother is going senile, you’re wrong. She’s pretty sharp still and has always liked to keep things, lots and lots of things. Like every scrap of wrapping paper ever used (I threw out a three–foot pile some years back), or enough bulbs to light half of the city, or coats.

Purdys, candy, chocolate, food, hoarding, sweet tooth

My mother’s not so secret love affair is with Purdy‘s made in Vancouver, Canada.

All of this pales  in comparison to the food items and not just any food, but chocolates and candies. My mother shrunk this last year to 4’9″ and she lost weight. She was never overly large but stores like a squirrel. In doing the inventory, I counted every bag or container that was open on the kitchen table (her place has two kitchens,up and down but she used the bottom one for eating) or on the table by the chair where she watches TV, or on the counter upstairs. There were the nutrolls in the fridge upstairs, and then in the deep freeze there were 17 boxes of After Eight mints. She claims she can only find them at certain times of the year and when her stomach is upset the mint helps (with chocolate of course). There were also another five boxes of Purdy’s chocolates.

Purdy’s should have a plaque to my mother: I’m sure she keeps them in business. The upstairs cupboard had the main squirrel hoard. There were hard candies, contained in bags or bought bulk. I pooled many into one container. There were Scotch mints and licorice all sorts, mint chocolate bars from Purdy’s, Jordan almonds, nougat (hard as a rock), and some Italian coconut confection, a few Smarties or M&Ms. I didn’t count raisins because they’re a natural food. When I thought I was done, I discovered a container of icy squares and of Ferrero Rocher in the closet. Then, as  we pulled dishes out of the china cabinet for Christmas dinner, lo and behold there were two large bulk bags of chocolate squares and a mega box of liqueur chocolates where the liqueur had dried up.

I thought I was done but I was looking in a cupboard for a pot and lo, there was a box of chocolate covered cookies. And then I looked in another cupboard and found another five boxes, plus some other cookies. My mother was given another two boxes of chocolates for Christmas and chocolate covered cookies, plus some Italian candies. And then three days after she bought a tin on sale. She said to me that she had all this stuff because if she got sick there was enough to carry her through. I told her, “Well, Mom, if the apocalypse comes, you’ll survive it on chocolate alone.”

Readers may recall that I did the apocalypse diet a year ago, and with the food in my place (no hoards of candy) I survivef for three months without buying anything. My mother would run out of real food in probably less time than I did but then I didn’t count her dry goods staples. However, the final count of cookies, candies and chocolates in my mother’s place was…ready for this? ONE HUNDRED AND SIX! Yes, indeed. The Guinness Book of Records needs to talk to my mom.

All in all this was a lesson to me. I determined there are three levels of “collector.” I’m the curator because I have many ornaments and tchatkas (like my mother…sigh) but I dust and you can walk through my place. My mother is the pack rat, because she stores things for unforeseeable disasters, and my sister is the hoarder, who keeps more than my mother but can’t find things. It’s a fine line between them and it’s a lesson to me not to hang onto things I no longer use or need. I barely escaped without a suitcase of chocolates.

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The Polenta that Ate Vancouver

cornmeal, polenta, food, cooking, recipes

Store-bought polenta looks like a monstrous, pale sausage. From tumblr.com

One of the discoveries of my recent Apocalypse Diet was a surfeit of cornmeal. In all I probably had three cups in two jars. With no sugar nor eggs I wasn’t sure I could make anything until a friend suggested polenta. I decided to stop the diet before I was eating only polenta, an unappealing possibility because I’ve had it before and it is definitely a vehicle for sauces and not a tasty dish on its own.

So I looked up polenta recipes. So easy. All that’s needed is water, salt and cornmeal. I was a little incredulous when it said 7 cups of water and 1 2/3 cups of cornmeal. But follow the directions on the first try.

I put the water in the pot with the 1 tbsp of salt. I used coarse grain salt, which might have been a problem. When the water had a nice boil going, the recipe said to sift the cornmeal through your fingers, adding slowly to the constantly boiling water, and whisking the whole time. Unfortunately, this requires three hands. I gave up on the sifting and just poured and whisked. Be warned! The recipe does not mention the geyser like blorps of hot spewing cornmeal. Luckily I jumped out of the reach and had to remove the pot a couple of times to calm it down.

Once all the cornmeal is in you switch to a wooden spoon and stir vigorously for 45 minutes until the cornmeal pulls away from the side of the pot. I probably should have used my Dutch oven instead of the slightly smaller pot because I had some errant morsels escape and burn on the stove.

polenta, cornmeal, gruel, food, cooking, recipes

The thickness of the polenta depends on the amount of water. With 7 cups, mine was thicker than this but about the same consistency as store bought polenta. From: http://romanianrecipes.wikia.com/wiki/Quick_Polenta

I stirred, and stirred…and stirred. And then I began to wonder if 7 cups of water was enough. The stuff thickened to a paste, to a mortar, all the while bubbling. You have to stir a lot to get the bubbles to release when it’s that thick. Teamwork would be useful for this seemingly simple process. I think I lasted 20 minutes. My arms were aching, my hands reddened by grasping the thin handle of the wooden spoon. I even had to take my rings off to stir.

After I gave up I prepared for the last stage; pour cold water into a bowl, then throw it out and put the cornmeal in. It makes a great wiggling mound. The alternative is to turn it out on the board but I was afraid of its amorphous properties. It’s interesting to note that I think this would have been a great zombie deterrent. Throw the boiling mass at a lumbering undead thing and it would stick, clog their nostrils and limit their decaying sight.

After 15 minutes I turned the mass out on the counter and it held its mountain of madness shape. There was enough that I sliced it into eights and froze it. For whatever reason the tablespoon of salt was too much. Maybe coarse salt is too strong. When I used it in cooking I didn’t need any salt in the rest of the food. I cleaned the stove immediately and it was hard enough to remove, but putting cold water in the pot, the residue cornmeal removed easily like a skin.  If I ate the polenta every day, it would probably last nearly two weeks. Next time, a bigger pot and a catapult for lobbing it at the zombies.

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Hot Off the Range: Speedcook Ovens

I’m travelling again so here is another old article from Technocopia.com. First published in 1999 or 2000.

The heat wave has arrived with the best of conventional ovens and microwaves blended with a pinch of something new.

Microwaves were popular in the 80s but never really caught on as an alternative to the conventional oven. They have maintained a place in most homes for warming leftovers, drinks and soups, and for making popcorn. The Wall Street Journal Europe (07/01/99) reported that “Just 19% of all home-cooked meals last year came out of microwaves, compared with 20% five years ago, according to NPD Group Inc., a Port Washington, New York, market-research firm.” The problem with a microwave oven is that many foods lose their appealing texture; pizza crust becomes tough, cookies look unbaked, steaks turn into shoe leather and roast chicken has skin that looks like…skin.

Conventional ovens brown and roast and seal in flavors but they require preheating and longer cooking times. Cookies can end up burnt on the edges and raw on the inside. In today’s rushed world, whether you’re a single person with a hectic work and social life, or a family where members run on different schedules, there is often little time for a prepared, oven made meal. If only there was an oven that was fast yet kept the best of flavors and textures.

With those ideas in mind appliance manufacturers researched and came up with several alternatives. General Electric has introduced Advantium, which uses the newest technology of halogen light cooking. Three set-in lamps, which come with a 10-year warranty, emit intense heat and light. Along with timed bursts of microwave energy, a roast is cooked, browned evenly and juices sealed in, its cooking time shortened significantly. The meal has a superior flavor, even when compared to a conventional oven. One downside is that paper will burn and plastic dishes melt from the hot halogen light. In that way, the Advantium is more like a conventional oven than a microwave, but has an 80-meal preprogrammed menu.

GE, believing Advantium will be a big seller, has devoted a $50 million dollar budget for promotion. The Wall Street Journal (10/18/99) quotes Jeff Moody VP of GE marketing: “We expect a good selling season for this . . . and by the end of next year, we should be at a decent run rate… If it takes as long as a microwave did,” he says, “I’d be disappointed.” Advantium can also be switched to its microwave only mode.

KRTBN Knight-Ridder Tribune Business News (11/02/99) reports that “halogen light cooking has been available to the commercial food preparation market for about seven years.” GE chose to do studies and perfect their range first with licensed technologies from Quadlux in Silicon Valley. Quadlux introduced the FlashBake 120 last year for about $1600. It uses halogen flashbake technology but without the microwave burst. Through “thermal-pulsing” the FlashBake directs heat into and onto the food. FlashBake can be plugged into a regular socket like a microwave, whereas Advantium needs to be wired in like a regular oven.

Maytag, with TurboChef Technologies, Inc., has come out with the Jenn-Air Accellis 5XP. The 5XP stands for five times faster than a conventional oven. The Accellis works by jet impingement. Hot air is sucked out and recirculated at about 56 mph around the food. Microwave bursts make sure the interior is cooked. The downside is that the oven’s circulating fan is nosier than standard oven models.

Maytag promotes the easy, time-saving aspects of the Jenn-Air, and points to a “1996 survey by Working Mother magazine that said nearly 60 percent of women surveyed listed ease of preparation as their first or second most important factor in determining what to serve.” Associated Press (11/01/99) A “time wizard” interface allows the cook to choose from a menu for times and settings like a microwave. Maytag plans to market the oven at the beginning of 2000 and with a heftier price tag of $3500 compared to the Advantium’s $1300, it may be an item only for select consumers.

Thermador, with Enersyst’s (KRH Thermal Systems, San Bruno, CA.) commercial cooking expertise, has brought out JetDirect, which takes convection cooking one step farther and channels air into the food directly. Like most of these new ovens it has an automated “CookSmart” feature, which converts conventional cooking times to JetDirect’s. Thermador will also be producing out a “double-oven configuration, with the JetDirect located above and a thermal-convection oven below,” reports National Home Center News (07/19/99). At a cost of $5700 for the JetDirect models, it will be a while until the regular consumer will be using one.

According to Dealerscope Consumer Electronics Marketplace (06/01/99), Frigidaire has come out with its Speed Bake range that by a user-controlled fan system speeds up cooking time by 30%. It “differs from traditional convection in that it does not reduce oven temperature and requires only the flick of a switch.” It is price between $650-$750.

Amana Appliances is the final contender in new faster cooking ovens but doesn’t use microwave technology, reports Tom Robbins for The Times (07/11/99). Although Robbins mentions that the Wave uses only halogen technology like the FlashBake 120, their website only lists the EvenAir, which is a convection range.

All these ovens promote faster cooking times with better textures and tastes to cooked foods. Each one has some automated menu or time-setting feature for cooking, and the halogen ovens include conversion charts from conventional oven recipes. According to the Associated Press article (11/11/99), it may be possible in just a few years to download recipes from the Internet into the oven’s memory. With programmable menus and cooking temperatures, it will not take much more to add the chips to make this possible. Speed cook ovens are just another step toward an integrated, automated kitchen that makes the most of time and cooking easier.

COMPANY

BRAND

COOKS BY:

COST*

TIME CUT BY**

General Electric Advantium 3 halogen lights (4500 watts max) & microwave $1300

75%

Quadlux FlashBake 120 8 Halogen lights (1650 watts max) $1600

35%?

Maytag & TurboChef Jenn-Air Accellis 5XP Jet impingement (forced hot air) $3500

80%

Thermador & Enersyst JetDirect Hot air & convection $5700

75%

Frigidaire Speed Bake Convection? $650-$750

30%

Amana Appliances Wave (EvenAir) Convection

25%

*approx. prices **Compared to conventional ovens (approx. times)

COMPANY SITES
http://www.maytag.com
http://www.frigidaire.com
http://www.geadvantium.com
http://www.geappliances.com
http://www.amana.com (convection ovens—nothing on the Wave)

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The Spice of Life

I grew up in a pretty whitebread Canadian family, where roast beef was served on Sundays with baked potato and frozen (but of course cooked) vegetables, which I always thought were gakky. Liver was also dished up once every couple of weeks, along with the ubiquitous brussels sprouts (which I do like). I figure this must have been one of the rare fresh vegetables of my youth.

Other delicacies included tongue, which indeed looked like a monster tongue, “beans I like,” which was an insipid concoction of watered down tomato soup, lima beans and wieners, and meatloaf with bacon laid across it. All of these things were liberally salted, beyond liberal really as my mother was a huge salt abuser, along with using some oregano, seasoning salt and other suspect spice blends. They made things salty but nothing was spicy.

Every set contains a salt and a pepper shaker and ours sat on the table like some iconic god, visible but unknowable. I’m sure the same shaker of pepper lasted ten years. Of course, the prepackaged pepper of yesteryear was mostly flavorless, like those little packets of pepper you get in fast food restaurants: mostly color and no taste.

So I knew nothing of spice. The closest my family ever moved towards spicy was chili powder in the chili. And lots of salt. Salty badness. My mother still puts salt on pizza, one of the saltiest foods out there. She’ll assault with salt before tasting.

When I was in art college, my boyfriend invited me for dinner to his place one night. It was student fare but tacos with a bottle of hot sauce. He didn’t warn me that it was “hot” hot sauce so I was a little overwhelmed with that first taste. But then…my tastebuds awoke and I began to experiment more with this. I also started drinking Caesars (for you Americans, it’s similar to a Bloody Mary but instead of tomato juice with the vodka you use clamato [tomato and clam juice and sugar–not as gross as it sounds] with Worcestershire and tabasco).

Then another of my friends talked about some manly man test they did which involved either drinking tabasco or putting a lot in the drinks. I think I particpated in the second part (I was never stupid enough to drink it straight) and my penchant for spice continued.

I then moved to Vancouver, where I met my friend Hanocia, from a tribal state in India. She carried a bag of chili or serrano peppers in her purse to eat with her food. We would go out and drink Caesars where we usually just asked for the bottle of tabasco. We returned an empty bottle to the bartender one night with at least two inches gone from it. His jaw dropped as he stuttered, “I’ve never seen anyone use so much.” And we weren’t even sweating the spice.

Then I moved in as a roommate with Hanocia and her boyfriend, where we would all sit eating the normally spiced food but with a bowl of chili peppers on the table. It wasn’t hot unless you were sweating and your nose dripping. By this time I had achieved the cast iron stomach needed for the truly ferocious peppers. I even had a poster of all the peppers on my kitchen ceiling (the only space for it) and it became my goal to try them all. When I went to India, Hanocia’s people, the Khasis, tend to eat their food plain but with a bowl of peppers. At the end of the evening I had more stems along the side of my plate than anyone else. Beau goggled and said, “Wait till I tell the girls at work, and you’re a white person too.” (A note: all peppers come from central America and did not originate in Asia.)

Over the years, I did sample as many peppers as I could find, right up to the scotch bonnets or habaneros, that rate 10 for hot on a scale of 10. They are so hot that few people can eat a whole one and they can blister you. Many people can’t eat these because the heat burns away any flavor, but I like habaneros because they have a fruity flavor under that atomic heat. (I”ve since found there are hotter peppers but I haven’t tasted them.)

I’ve made five pepper chili, which has included serranos, jalapenos, Thai chili, pequenos and habaneros. I don’t count or use bell peppers (I react to them) because though supposedly all peppers are of the nightshade family these are considered different. Maybe they’re nightshades but the others aren’t, but all are peppers.

My love affair with hot peppers has developed over the years and friends have gone to other countries and brought me back another bottle of hot sauce. I have about 15 in my fridge at any one time. It just goes to show that a white kid from the bland food sticks can attain heights of chili pepper hotness. But alas, my champion pepper chomping may have hit an end as rosacea is exacerbated by spicy foods. I’m still hoping though because I do love the taste way more than black pepper, though that will do in a pinch.

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