Thoughts tonight…

Yeah, looking at my Reader…it would appear I’ve reached another one of those times where I have to again search out people doing interesting things I’d like to read about!  Not that the people who are on my Reader are uninteresting; it’s just that there are many fewer than there used to be.

Well, so…today was Thanksgiving, in the U.S.  Traditionally, a feast day.  I did manage to make triple-ginger gingerbread (it has powdered, fresh, and candied ginger), which is…kind of addictive to eat.  🙂  There is also a full cup of butter in the recipe I used, which…well, means I probably shouldn’t eat the whole pan!

Tomorrow is Black Friday — the beginning of the holiday sales season.  I only have two places set to visit, and it’s really up in the air as to whether I’ll go to either of them.  Today was spent with close family — M, D, my godmother (or “auntie”), and my “cousin.” 🙂  There was so much good food, particularly helped along by the fact that my cousin smoked a (delicious) turkey and brought it over as a gift.

I was supposed to go and visit extended family — well, I’m supposed to be there right this moment — but by the time I was finished eating, I kind of didn’t want to.  There are issues with obligation which causes people to do things they really don’t want to do (like cook a turkey, or eat, or invite in people who shouldn’t be tolerated), and right now it’s reached a level which just causes me to avoid the area.

I did,  however, take my little Rattlesnake fetish and feed it for the first time in…I don’t know how long.  By “fetish,” I’m not referring to what you probably think I’m referring to.  Rattlesnake is a Zuñi fetish — a carved bit of stone that…ideally, has been charged and blessed to retain a totem spirit.  The largest characteristic of Rattlesnake that I can remember offhand is one of “transformation,” which I’ve been dealing with, for a while.

I’m fairly certain that Rattlesnake is my totem, about now — it used to be Rabbit, but then it changed.  I have three carvings which I connect with:  one is Rattlesnake, one Rabbit, and one Beaver (the last one I picked because it was so cute).  I tend not to utilize the latter two, so much, but it’s fairly easy to feel Rattlesnake with/in me.  I did, though, realize that this trio (transformation, creation, construction) actually probably meshes with me for a reason.  (I don’t know if it matters that one might eat another in the wild…)

This actually came up because I brought my “treasure box” to show my godmother…I was showing her my newest finds from the stone shop, and offered to show her the others.  She accepted, so I brought them to her — but held on to Rattlesnake’s fetish the whole time in my hand, because I didn’t want Rattlesnake [the spirit] to feel that she was threatened in any way (I don’t think she’s met my godmother, before).

This is particularly so as the “venomous” quality of Rattlesnake, basically her only protection…I’ve felt myself produce before, and don’t want anyone I love to be on the receiving end of it (though it does come in handy when feeling threatened).  Though I realize that rattlesnakes will go without biting unless they have no other choice; they know what their bites do.

I am feeling good about feeding Her — the fetishes take offerings of cornmeal, and since I just finished feasting, and Rattlesnake had to put up with being shown to someone, I thought it was optimal to do so in order to avoid an upset spirit.

And, it’s Thanksgiving.  Seems appropriate to give thanks, yes?  🙂

As for what comes tomorrow:  I know that I need to get to work on all this stuff due within the next 2.5 weeks.  M has said that if I wash my hair, she will braid it…I guess it’s getting that long.  There isn’t much that I would really want, at the moment, that I don’t already have.

I am thinking about a Pentel brush pen (that is:  a brush pen using pigment ink with actual bristles), but in reality, I don’t even know the quality of the ink…and it might be better to go into Japantown to find one of these, than depend on an art supply store.  It will be more expensive, but I’ll have many more options.  The main drawback is that I won’t be able to read the packaging.

Now that I think of that, it is kind of an intriguing possibility…

…but do I want to drive all that way, for a sale which may or may not be happening?

The alternative, obvious enough to me, is to use the Sumi brushes I have along with actual ink…but I can’t remember how waterproof my ink is.  I know it’s tough enough to be permanent on Illustration Board…

Maybe I’ll do that.  I mean, first, I’ll have to see if my liquid Sumi ink is going to be waterproof (if I want to use watercolor on top of it, as versus…*patters*…colored pencils, or something).  I have Sumi brushes, but I doubt they will fare well with waterproof inks, as they’re natural hair and thus will probably be eaten up by any ink remover (should it get to that point)…which in turn is probably a solvent used in the regular inks.  Waterproof liquid Sumi ink — the kind I have, anyway — is pretty toxic.

And, I have no idea where my suzuri (ink grinding stone) is.

I also just realized that I can do this with watercolor paint and watercolor brushes, but it will require working from light to dark.  The bright point is that I can get a super-intense black out of my Primary Black gouache.

Which then calls into attention whether I should even be using ink as a media…gouache is more pliable.

Hmm.  A Pentel brush pen plus…a suzuri and Professional-quality ink stick, or…looking at brushes?!?

Maybe I should seek an answer to the “waterproof?” question before the night is done…

…and take count of what brushes I already have.

Visited the produce market, today…

Today was the trip to the produce market that we needed so sorely.  It was…really nice.  I just feel better when I invest time in taking care of myself, rather than pushing myself to do my homework (and do it well) at the expense of everything else (including my physical and mental health).

I also tried brewing some Tieguanyin (Iron Goddess) oolong tea, today, for the first time.  I’ve had it before in one or another brand of bottled, iced, unsweetened tea, but I’ve never actually brewed it myself — until now.

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Tieguanyin oolong tea, second brewing.  So beautiful.

The tieguanyin that I tried fell out of the package in very small pellets (though not as small as gunpowder tea — which I also bought a tiny bit of, but haven’t tried yet).  The pellets turned into what you see, above (the shot is of the inside of my mug, after I had drank most of the first brewing, and had added more water for a second one).  I put enough into my cup to probably have made several batches in a teapot…the pellets swell up, and gradually unfurl into leaves.  The dynamic reminds me of how many times wakame seaweed will expand beyond its dry volume, when left to reconstitute in water.

Aside from this…I spent most of the afternoon preparing long beans.  These are similar to string beans, only in my case they were about two feet long.  To be cooked easily, they need to be cut into smaller pieces.  I have a photo of nearly everything which went into this dish, except the Hoisin sauce.  We used Lee Kum Kee brand, which we’ve found to taste better than the one we were using before (which I think was Dynasty), though of course that’s just personal preference.  It tastes a bit fuller than soy sauce…a bit sweet, though.  I think I’d like a bit less sugar, ideally.

Here, I’ll upload an image of the ingredients.

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Most of what I put into tonight’s vegetable dish.

From the lower left moving clockwise:  these are Maitake mushrooms; two tiny red Thai chiles (one cut and seeded with the ribs taken out, the other whole); about 2″ of grated ginger plus the juice that came out of it; seven fresh Shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and cut into pieces; one entire bunch of Chinese long beans (without the ends); and in the center are two grated garlic cloves (I already had the grater out, and thought it might have an effect like crushing, rather than mincing, the garlic — crushing gives stronger flavor).  The upper right just barely shows the bottom of the jar of Hoisin sauce we used.

I actually got a few too many Maitake!  I saw that they were affordable (somewhere around $8/lb., but one pound is a whole lot of mushrooms) and got a mid-sized cluster — about $2 worth.  Maitake grow in clusters like oyster mushrooms.  I’ve cooked with them before, and really like them — though I think they’re best in the hearty miso soup I make (lots of wakame, tofu, shiitake, and miso; and this, on top of overbrewed iriko dashi (iriko are dried sardines) which has been infused first with dashi kombu, and has shiitake soaking liquid added to it.  This is not the kind of scant stuff I had always had at restaurants — maybe one day I’ll post how to do it).  It wasn’t until I started cutting the cluster apart that I realized I had more than I needed.  I saved the shiitake and maitake stems (minus the mycelium of the maitake) in a little bag for stock — it’s in the freezer, now.  Shiitake stock is delicious, though I usually make it using dried shiitake.

Anyhow, we started cooking these on the stovetop with canola oil.  What we probably should have done was put the little whole Thai chile in first so that it could have flavored the oil, then taken it out after it became aromatic, then added the garlic and ginger.  What actually happened is that we put the garlic and ginger into the oil first, then added the chile.  Because of this, the burn of the chile was not noticeable in the air (good heat comes with coughing ^_-) before the garlic started to brown.  This is when we took the whole chile out and I added the small chile I had cut up.  (I bought several of these [four, actually; does that counteract the seven shiitake?  …sorry, it’s a joke that’s only accessible if you know what the significance of four is in my culture], but had been warned against using too many.)

Then we added the shiitake, which unfortunately soaked up all the fluid in the pan.  GAH!  😛  I’ve got to find a way to get around this.  It happens for me with eggplant and plantains, too (which is why I don’t cook eggplant or plantains very much, although I really like both of them).  Maybe I need to par-cook them first so that they start to break down before they can suck up all the oil…

After this, we added the maitake.  These are also called “hen of the woods” mushrooms.  They’re more fibrous than shiitake caps.  (Shiitake stems are too tough to eat.)  After the mushrooms started to steam (though I wasn’t sure if it was steam or smoke), we added the long beans.  I usually cut off the pointy ends; and this time, I cut off the last 1″ near where the pod contacts the stem…they just looked a little dry.  The long beans are cut into pieces about 1″ in length.  We then tossed these with a little more oil and a little salt (and what was left of the ginger) until they turned glossy and bright green.  At this point, we added probably about two tablespoons of hoisin sauce (or four halfway-full serving spoons), tossed this to coat everything, and took it off the heat.

I tried a bit of this and realized it needed more salt — though I realized I had a choice between straight salt and shoyu (a Japanese term for soy sauce).  I added maybe a little more than a teaspoon of soy sauce, and this helped.

What I found to be surprising is that the burn factor wasn’t very high at all, though the mushrooms had soaked up a lot of flavor.  The shiitake could hold their own, but the maitake kind of fell apart!  The long beans were good and crunchy, and the mushrooms gave bursts of flavor and a bit of heat.  However, this needs to be eaten while it’s still warm.  It starts to become unappetizing when cold (or when I’m full?).  It also doesn’t look all that great (to me, as someone who scrapes off extra barbecue sauce), but it does taste good!

The thing about these Thai chiles…I took the ribs and seeds out of the first one I handled.  Then I went on to doing other things, washed my hands about three times in the process, and realized that maybe I should see how hot they actually were.  So I touched my fingertip to my tongue.  After about 30 seconds, I could feel a little burn.  Still!  I’d washed my hands three times, and I still got heat off my fingertips!

I’m thinking that maybe if I need to get the heat absolutely off, it might be good to wash my hands in milk…

And, I realized, it’s a lot easier for me to cut the skin off of the ginger with my favorite knife than it is to try and peel it with a spoon.  I’m not entirely sure exactly why it was so easy…

In any case, today was good, and probably the rest of this week will be better — after Tuesday.  Gah, after effin’ Tuesday…

I need to get to work on my Body/Humor piece.  I just don’t want to.  We’ll see how long I can keep running off of that Iron Goddess tea, tonight…

Eating off of that last batch of pickles…

Daikon and cucumber quick pickles.
Daikon and cucumber quick pickles (Day 2).

…and I can’t tell if the smell has decreased or if I’m just desensitized to it, now.  🙂  It’s not as hot, anymore.

Tomorrow, I should cut and soak the other daikon and the other two cucumbers.  The first batch has released enough fluid to probably submerge all of it…

Just tried the pickles again…

I started making pickled daikon radish and cucumber yesterday.  You can find the backposts on it here and here.

Last night I checked on these, and they weren’t ready yet, though they were getting the sulfurous gas smell that is characteristic of quick-pickled radishes.  Today I tried a few of them to test, and I didn’t get that bitter taste.  Later I actually ate a dish of them.  I have some things I can say about that:

1)  When these radishes are fully pickled, they are going to smell like sulfur — really strongly.  Like “fill the house” strongly.  🙂  Last night, I tested these several times, and the bitter taste was there while the pungent sulfur odor was not.  Today, they smelled — a lot, as I’m used to the small radishes smelling when pickled — but they were no longer very bitter.  Something happened, but I’m not sure whether it was the vinegar leaching out the bitterness (though nothing else is bitter) or some kind of chemical reaction occurring.

2)  So we have gotten to the point where the daikon tastes good!  There is a lot of water that it has released, and the pieces of daikon have shrunk a lot.  Luckily, at this point at least, they’re still crunchy.  If I eat a dish of them, I can tell that the daikon still has a pleasant burn to it.  It’s actually pretty nice; kind of like a tiny bit of prepared wasabi (horseradish) on top of what you’re eating.  It’s hardly noticeable through the tartness and sweetness of the vinegar solution, but still there and lingering after swallowing.

3)  At this point, the cucumbers are a little…overseasoned.  I don’t know why, except that I normally do not make pickles in this volume (I usually only prepare 1/2 cup of vinegar + 1/2 cup of sugar at a time), and I may have put a little too much sugar into the vinegar solution.  I’m thinking that if I cut them a little thicker next time — or add less sugar and/or dilute with pure vinegar, it wil be better.

Just thought I’d give you an update!  🙂

Bitter daikon?

In the time it took me to prep the daikon and cucumber and write that last post, well…for one thing, the cucumber turned out fine to awesome.  It’s already pickled.  This is from sitting in vinegar and sugar, for what can’t have been more than four hours.  The daikon, on the other hand…it’s crispy, but there is still a bitter flavor to it.  I’m thinking maybe I was supposed to work some of the water out of it before putting it into the vinegar.  (Also, the vinegar is a bit sweet for my current taste…)

Tomorrow, though, I should know if the daikon is just bitter, or if the vinegar can leach out the bitterness.  There has been quite a bit of fluid released by both the daikon and the cucumber.  I’m waiting ’til tomorrow to see if the vinegar is still good; if it is, I should be able to reuse it for the two other little cucumbers.  Kind of a surprise, though!

Now that wasn’t so bad, was it?

Hee.  Time off again.  Now.  IT IS MINE!

😉  I did finally cut the daikon.  One of them, at least.  I tried a little bit of it prior to putting it into the vinegar mixture, and …the stuff tastes like it has horseradish in it.  (Is horseradish actually a radish?  I don’t know.  Trivia time?)  I used the crisper root that I got from the high-end produce market on Thursday, rather than the bendy one I got on Monday or Tuesday from the community produce market.  😛  I’m thinking that if it lasts long enough, I can reuse the vinegar mixture on the bendy one (not to mention my other two cucumbers)…but I wanted to try crisp pickled daikon first, while I had the option.

If anyone’s wondering about my recipe for this…

1 small daikon root (usable area = about the size of a bulk carrot)
1 Persian cucumber
3/4 cup rice wine vinegar
3/4 cup sugar

Dissolve the sugar into the rice vinegar and pour over daikon and cucumber which has been cut into narrow, bite-size pieces.  (I cut the daikon diagonally into ovals not wider than 1/8″, and then into three parts.  The cucumber should be cut as narrow as is possible.  For pickling cucumbers alone, paper-thin slicing is best.)  Stir, scattering the pieces so they aren’t stuck together, and make sure all pieces are submerged as much as possible.  Cover and refrigerate, stirring occasionally.  When the heat is gone from the radishes, and the cucumbers turn translucent, it’s done.  This probably won’t take longer than overnight.

I’ve always done the little radishes, prior (mostly Easter Egg radishes, red radishes, and Sparkler radishes), so I don’t know how long it will take for the daikon to absorb the liquid.  Generally, when the radishes are no longer hot, this means that the items have been pickled (the cucumber should still be crisp to the tooth)…but I’ve never done daikon before, which is hotter than any other radish I’ve tried.

The cucumbers, too — you don’t have to use Persian.  That’s just what looked best at the produce market, this last time.  I’ve also used hothouse cucumbers (the long ones wrapped in plastic) and Japanese cucumbers, in addition to the standard ones we have here with the wax on the outside — but the standard cucumbers have to be peeled before cutting, and you may want to seed the latter first.

The thing about daikon (giant radish) is that it is very white, so I don’t expect it to dye the vinegar, unlike other types of radishes.  Red radishes, in particular, will leach their color out into the vinegar mixture.  As much as I would like to be able to tell you that it turns an awesome pink color, no…it’s just kind of a dull red/pink.  But it will dye what it’s soaking with.

Like I said above, daikon is stronger than any other radish I’ve ever pickled.  These are quick pickles, not the same thing as takuan which can be bought from a store.  Takuan is a type of pickled daikon radish which is available commercially in the U.S., generally dyed a bright yellow-orange color with either turmeric or a commercial dye.  It really tastes almost nothing like raw daikon.

But those pickles originally were made over a long-term process which, if my memory is correct, used a combination of drying the root, and covering in cultured rice bran, to allow the daikon to ferment.  I am not sure how the commercial pickles are made, but I know that it’s said not to try it yourself unless you’re ready to grow and tend to a bacterial colony in the cultured rice bran.  It takes work to grow and maintain the balance of microorganisms, and if it’s not right, the vegetables may rot instead of fermenting.

Anyhow…!  One other thing to note is that the Santoku knife I have here (the stainless steel one, not the carbon steel one), works awesomely for cutting crisp vegetables very thinly.  I have a carbon steel vegetable knife, but have decided not to use it (even though it’s really sharp) because of the brittleness of the blade.  I kept noticing chips being taken out of the cutting edge, and got concerned that those chips could be making it into the food.  So, stainless steel for me, at least right now.

Got to get going.  I’ll check back later…

Finding out I actually like some tomatoes…

It’s kind of hard to believe these things are even tomatoes.  🙂  I tasted one yesterday and found it sweeter than the grapes I’d bought (I’m trying to break myself of the habit of tasting grapes in stores, though of course that means I get a lot of not-sweet grapes).

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SO CUTE!!!

So these little guys, I found at a high-end produce market.  Apparently, it’s tomato season?

I woke up before my alarm again today (cracking the blinds helps so much, I can’t even express it), with a little bit of a sore throat.  D says it was probably from dry air.  I drank three glasses of water and went back to bed, and after about an hour snuggled up under the covers, I felt better.

When I finally did get up (I got tired of waiting expectantly for the alarm to go off after an hour and a half, and just got up early)…I ate some cereal and then washed off seven of these little things and ate them.  🙂  (Yes, I counted them.)  😀

The funny thing is that for years; I mean, a really long time — I would not touch a raw tomato.  Any raw tomato.  (Except in tabbouleh.)  I wouldn’t eat anything that had touched a cut tomato or its juices.  (Except in tabbouleh.)  I wouldn’t eat ketchup.  (I still don’t eat ketchup.)  But somehow I got started on heirloom tomatoes and these tiny cherry and grape tomatoes.  I think my first ones were the Sweet 100s that came out when I was …I’m guessing, in my late teens or early 20’s.  They have a really high sugar content.

I just looked up Sweet 100s on Google, and I think these guys I photographed here are probably them.  They are really super sweet.  They taste like fruit.  I got these little guys instead of the orange ones because last time we picked up orange grape tomatoes, the skins were a little tough.  These were the tiniest, though not the most fragrant, and I hoped (accurately) that they would be more tender.

And of course, you know, at the store, there was a display with all of these little tiny tomatoes of different varieties scattered around.  I picked this basket because I really wanted one that was in the center of the display, but I would have ruined the display!  Around here, they put the tomatoes into these little strawberry baskets all next to each other, and then seem to dump all the extra ones that won’t fit in the baskets, on top.  It looked like that.  (I didn’t have my camera, or I would hope to have photographed them.)

And then of course, it’s like, “how do I get these home without crushing them,” right?  Especially when the edge of the strawberry basket itself may bruise or cut something like this (when it inevitably spills little tomatoes over the side).  I think the paper bag I put them in cushioned them somewhat, though, and it helped that I had a flat spot on which to rest the basket.

I’m guessing I can say that it was tomatoes like these that got me to taste any kind of tomato at all…I’ve since tried some of the other varieties of cherry and grape tomatoes (which are generally easier for me to eat), and there are some larger ones — like the Bruno Rosso Heirloom variety — that I will sparingly eat.  I say “sparingly” because they usually end up pretty juicy.  It’s not that they’re bad, it’s just that I have a little trouble with the texture of the jelly around the seeds.  If they’re cut, though, even though I’m a picky eater, I will normally try these.  Because they’re good.  🙂

The tiny cherry tomatoes have the “squirt of jelly” thing going on, but the thing for me is that the jelly tastes frikken’ good.

Roma tomatoes, I’ll also eat, though I’m more forgiving with those because of the firmness, low jelly content and concentrated flavor.  I think the first thing I ever made with Romas was tabbouleh.  It just isn’t the same, without tomatoes.  And what I did to ease myself into that was to squeeze out all the seeds and jelly before cutting the flesh.  This made it a lot easier for me to eat.

I’m also, slowly, branching out into pico de gallo.  PICO DE GALLO, MAN!  IT’S SO GOOD!

I think what really turned me off to tomatoes early on was ketchup.  (I still don’t eat mayonnaise or mustard; I even scrape off excess barbecue sauce.  On the other hand, I can eat food prepared with fish sauce.  I don’t know what that says about me.)  I’m not sure if the reason I’m turned off to this is the vinegar (prior to the last five years, I would not eat vinegar except in dill pickles and sushi), or just the texture and the smell.  The smell of ketchup, to me, is pretty gross; but then again, I’ll eat pickled radish that makes the house reek of sulfur, so to each their own.  😉

And, yeah, I did start to eat vinegar, as well.  First it was just dill pickles and sushi, then it expanded to house pickles made with rice vinegar, and pepperoncini and marinated artichoke hearts (though the latter are hard for me to tolerate because of the vinegar, I love the artichoke flavor).  I’m on my way, I guess…

Speaking of which…hmm.  I should cut those vegetables.  And…I should get to sleep.  Hmm.  Sleep, first.  I’ve been up since daybreak…those Persian cucumbers can last another 12 hours, and I got a firmer daikon root yesterday…