Friday, July 30, 2010

Kitty Moment

Ok, so it's not a 'kitty' per say, but it's still cute and fuzzy and you just want to go up and rub it's tummy. Provided it doesn't attack you first.

This is a photo I took at the Toronto zoo.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Cooking For Geeks, Cookbook Review

By: Jeff Potter
Publication Date: August 3, 2010

Pros: a lot of extremely detailed information about cooking methods, equipment, reactions, etc., interviews with people who cook creatively

Cons: not many recipes, some information is well beyond what most cooks will use/need

This is an interesting cookbook. I would consider the first 5 chapters worth reading if you plan to do any cooking and want a better understanding of what's happening or if you like experimenting.

If you REALLY like experimenting the last 2 chapters will be perfect for you. If you don't feel like buying lots of chemicals to try new (and not necessarily edible) things, they're not as

The cookbook was written specifically for computer geeks who are afraid of doing things in a kitchen. The opening chapter has a lot of references to thinking of cooking techniques with regards to computing. If you don't know computer programming, you might consider this chapter skippable, but you'd miss out on some hidden gems of information, like the difference between all purpose and baking flour (gluten content).

Chapter 2 is an overview of cookware, a chapter I'd normally not find interesting. Here again, there were interesting tid bits of information, like what to look for in knives, how they get teflon to stick to the pan, and the 1-2-3 crepe recipe I posted about recently.

Chapter 3 is where the experiments start. This is not so much a recipe book as it is an experimentation guide. Mr. Potter explains the theory behind something and then gives you a recipe with which to test that theory out. Often there are two recipes to compare and contrast. It's here I found the watermelon feta salad recipe, as an example of how you experience taste. I tried it, and it was very surprising. I would never have expected raw red onions (soaked in water to take the sting out) to work well with
watermelon. And the saltiness of the feta added something that the watermelon alone couldn't do. In the end, it was a great experiment and I learned a few things about taste combinations.

Also from this chapter, I tried the white bean and garlic soup. It was different (a thick, almost gravy consistency) but worth trying again.

Cooking times, heat and food safety are dealt with in chapter 4, followed by the necessity of air in baking. If you're like my friends, though you've used them often you probably don't know the difference between baking soda and baking powder. This book will teach you. It will also tell you what gluten does, and how to use different kinds of yeast.

Finally, the two chapters that require a lot more specific ingredients and equipment. Chapter 6 deals with chemicals in cooking (notably food additives, which is interesting even if you don't do any of the experiments - I wanted to try the s'mores ice cream, but couldn't find liquid smoke anywhere). Chapter 7 explains the principles of sous vide cooking and other specialized techniques.

I highly recommend the book for anyone serious about cooking. The tips and tricks it teaches are useful for everyone. And if you're adventurous, some of the experiments sound like a lot of fun.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Fun at the Toronto Zoo

We went to the zoo this past weekend. It was hot and humid in the morning, hot and raining in the afternoon and evening. Here's a video of a grisly bear cooling off, and having fun, in a pool.

And from the Australasia pavilion, the jellyfish.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Titly's Busy Kitchen

I stumbled across an interesting video (below), that led to a very interesting site: Titly's Busy Kitchen. Titli Nihaan does cooking demonstrations for various recipes, with a slight humerous slant. They're both fun and informative. I've also embedded her most recent video, how to make chocolate mousse. Yummy. Check out her site for more video recipes.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Friday, July 23, 2010

Kitty Moment

As a quick addition to yesterday's post about painting window frames, be careful when removing the taped edging. I accidentally took some of the caulk and wall paint when I removed it. Oops.

Here are the kitties examining my work.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Window Frame Painting for Writers

The wasp nest was taken care of and yesterday our new windows were installed. That left me painting the plain wood frames today. As the paint shop inexplicably closed at 1 pm yesterday I had to go today to get the paint. I wanted a flat white paint thick enough so I wouldn't have to do more than one coat.

Well, apparently that paint doesn't exist. I was told you can't get paint that thick and flat paint can't be wiped clean so it's not as good for indoors. So I got a white pearl (that's the glossiness not the colour) latex paint and a 2 inch brush.

I'd already taped the inside and outside of the windows to make things go faster today (which takes longer and is more annoying than you'd think). Now, as to the writer portion of this story. If you've got a character doing any house painting with a brush and you haven't done such painting recently, here are things to consider.

1) Painting around the window handle is difficult, even if you've taped the handle so it won't get mucked up. I wanted the streaks to go length wise down the frame, but the handle was so low that those parts were a royal pain.

2) The paint brush has a slight angle to it to make corners easier.

3) After holding the brush for 5-10 minutes you hand starts to cramp so you have to keep changing how you hold it (or change hands. And painting with your off hand's not as hard as you'd think, just don't plan on doing the finishing strokes with it).

4) Painting a window over a sink is painful. I basically had one foot on the ladder an the other alternated between kneeling, standing and sitting on the sink to reach different places and alleviate the pain from the awkward positioning.

5) Also, windows near cabinets make doing the sides of the frames difficult. I kept painting bits of cabinet by mistake, and wiping that paint off invariably took some of the frame paint (as there wasn't enough room to maneuver).

6) Wait a few hours for the paint to dry and then spot paint areas that don't look good.

7) Oh, and when you clean the brush, don't leave it sitting upright in water. Rinse it under running water and dry it flat.

I actually managed to cover the frames well enough that with a bit of spot painting I won't need to do a full second coat. Yay!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Chimamanda Adichie: The Danger of a Single Story

This is a powerful TED talk detailing why it's dangerous to only have a 'single story' or one viewpoint about individuals, races and countries. It's a fascinating look at how stereotypes work and what makes them so dangerous (the 13 minute mark has some great quotes).

For some reason the video doesn't show up in google reader, so here's a link to the TED page for this talk.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Crepes from Cooking for Geeks

I've been going through several cookbooks, looking for new - good - recipes to try. One I got as an eGalley from NetGalley is Cooking for Geeks. It's coming out August 3rd. I'll have a full review of the cookbook once I finish reading it (there's more text than recipes, but as it's fascinating text I don't mind).

The recipe I tried is crepes. I've never made crepes, despite their relative simplicity and ability to adapt to the occasion. Now, though the author, Jeff Potter, emphasizes reading the recipe through before starting, I didn't. Which caused problems when I got to the actual directions. So, the recipe, as printed in the book (*actually it's pretty long so I'll condense it after the ingredients and the 'let rest' segment I messed up).

1-2-3 Crepes
Whisk or puree untilentirely mixed, about 30 seconds:

1 cup (250g) milk (preferably whole milk)
2 medium (70g) eggs
1/3 cup (40g) flour (all-purpose)
pinch of salt

Let rest for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer, so that the gluten in the flour has the chane to thicken the batter. (Stash the batter in the fridge if you're going to leave it for more than half an hour.)

- ...expect to completely screw up the first few you make...
Butter: Grab a cold stick of butter with the wrapper partially pulled back, and using the wrapped part as a handle, spread a small amount of butter around the pan.
Wipe down: Use a paper towel to thin out the butter over the surface of the pan, wiping up almost all of it (and on repeats, any crumbs left behind from the previous crepe). The pan should look almost dry; you want a super-thin coating of butter, not noticeable streaks
Pour: Pour in the batter while swirling the pan: pour about 1/4 cup /60ml of batter into a 10"/25 cm pan, adjusting as necessary...
Flip: Wait until the crepe begins to brown. ... Once the crepe has begun to brown around the edges, use a silicone spatula... to push down the edge all around the circumference. This will release the edge of the crepe so that it lifts off the pan. Carefully grab that little edge to flip the crepe with both hands.
Flip again: Let the crepe cook on the second side for half a minute or so, until it's cooked. The first side should come out a uniformly brown tone, so flip the crepe again before adding the fillings. This will leave the better-looking side on the outside of the finished crepe.

Well, the author was right on that first point. My first crepe looked pretty horrible.
But first, my adjustments and what that meant for the crepes. Instead of all-purpose I used whole wheat flour. I also 'messed up' my packaged hollandaise sauce (for the better) by adding all but half a cup of my remaining milk. So, while the sauce was very creamy, the crepe batter ended up a mix of half milk and half water. Which probably explains why the half hour I letit stand didn'tthicken the batter as much as I expected.

Oddly enough, this didn't cause any problems. Yes, the batter was thin, but it worked. Instead of using butter I used oil on the pan, and after using too little for the first crepe and trying to turn it too soon, I added more oil and waited until I could swish the crepe around the pan (indicating the bottom was cooked) before I tried to flip the rest.
The recipe gave 4 large crepes. I filled two with sauteed asparagus and mushrooms, topped with the hollandaise sauce, and the other two with a nutella/milk cream spread and bananas.

Guess which one tasted better?

The cookbook gave some ideas for fillings, but I picked the meal one from a website, and the desert one from memories of crepes I'd had in the past.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Cloud Atlas - Book Review

A friend recommended this book to me years ago and I'm glad I finally picked it up. In fact, it's a book I wish I'd read in university. Not only would a professor's insights into the novel be worthwhile, but having to reread it and write an essay on it would give me the time and opportunity to learn more of what David Mitchell was doing with the story and help me put my thoughts in order properly.

Pros: brilliant writing, a set of interconnected stories with thought provoking messages

Con: each story is interrupted to tell the first half of the next, when you get back to it you've forgotten minor details that are important in understanding the novel as a whole

Cloud Atlas is a novel told through six interconnected stories. For example, the musician of the second story is reading the journal written by the man in the first. And the reporter of the third story reads the letters written by the musician and listens to his music. Each protagonist also bears a comet birthmark between their collarbones and shoulder blades, giving the idea that they might be the same person, living over and over again.

The novel begins with The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing. He's a notary on his way back to America from delivering papers to a client's heir in Australia. His ship has stopped at an island to resupply, and there Adam makes the acquaintance of Doctor Henry Goose.

In the second story a disinherited English musician ingratiates himself into a ailing Belgium's home, intent on helping this man finish his musical works, and bettering his own position.

Half-Lives: The First Luisa Ray Mystery shows her meeting a scientist working on a new atomic energy plant, and discovers that this so called safe energy might not be so safe after all.

I won't detail the other stories as it's fun discovering what comes next. My favourite of the novel however, was An Orison of Sonmi-451. It's basically a science fiction story showing how commercialism has overtaken the world and had resonances of Soylent Green, 1984 and Battle Royale. In fact, this is a novel that on the whole, reads easier if you're well versed in literature. I recognized a few other references, but I'm sure I missed a lot of others.

And as the stories start completing themselves, messages of when you save the lives of others you're really saving your own and how our actions, big or small, shape the world around us - even if we don't live to see the effects, come to the fore.

Ultimately, it's a fabulous novel. If you like thinking about the books you read, I'd highly recommend picking this one up.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Avner Mandelman and David Mitchell Bookseller Event

Yesterday the Toronto Random House office had a bookseller reception for authors Avner Mandelman and David Mitchell. Each author spoke briefly about their books and had a signing.

Mr. Mandleman spoke first about why it took 36 years to write The Debba. The novel is about a former military assassin whose father, a war hero, has died. Once in Tel Aviv, he discovers that in order to receive his inheritance, he must stage a play called the Debba, which his father wrote, and which was only staged once, causing a riot at the time. From the book flap, "The Debba is a mythological Arab hyena that can turn into a man who lures Jewish children away from their families. To the Arabs he is a heroic national symbol; to the Jews he is a terrorist." Sounds interesting.

David Mitchell spoke on his new book, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. I took the liberty of video taping his talk, and am glad I did. He's a very personable author and his talk, though short, was full of humour. I especially liked how he mentions that writing isn't just ideas, it's also discipline. And that writing different genres is harder than it seems.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Windows Vs Wasps

Installers came by yesterday to replace our second floor windows. They had blankets they put on the stairs and floor. They had new windows, beautifully wrapped so they wouldn't get damaged. They had a vacuum cleaner. They had tools.

What they didn't have was bug spray to get rid of the wasp nest they discovered hanging on our soffits in the backyard under the ivy. They found this out by pulling the ivy down after removing the two side panels of the rear window. It was decided the condo should remove the nest. After some tense moments getting the side panels replaced in the frames the installers took their ladder away. Alas, the ladder was holding up the ivy they'd partially ripped down, and once removed, the ivy fell, bringing down half of the wasp nest.

The installers ran and avoided getting stung. They thought the wasps would dissipate over the next day or so and resolved to come back today. That's not going to happen because the wasps have decided to rebuild. Why? One, a large portion of the nest is still hanging, with wasp larvae intact. Two, the wasps have a very convenient food source in the area, my garden.

And here I'm conflicted. The installers can't put new windows in with the wasp nest there. The noise disturbs the insects and the installers shouldn't have to endure numerous wasp stings so I can have new windows. I want those windows installed. Our living room had to be completely dismantled so the back window could be accessed. I would like to put the room back together again.

On the other hand, my garden's growing amazingly well, and I bet I have those wasps to thank for it. I'm actually embarrassed it didn't occur to me there might be a nest nearby as I always see bees and wasps in my garden. I'd like a way for the windows to be put in and the nest stay put. The wasps haven't done me any harm and I can't believe the amount of little tomatoes, cucumbers and zucchini I have coming.

Unfortunately, I know the wasps are going to lose this round. The condo will send someone to exterminate the nest and take it away. The windows will be replaced. And my garden won't be quite so grand in future.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

David Mitchell Author Event at the Toronto Public Library

It's late notice, but if you're in the Toronto area tomorrow night (Wednesday, July 14th) and enjoy great literature, author David Mitchell will be at the Toronto Reference Library at 7 pm (doors open a 6, admission is free). Here are all the details.

I'm almost finished reading his novel Cloud Atlas, and it is fantastic. Look forward to seeing a review of the book soon. And, if lucky, some photos from tomorrow's bookseller reception for Mr. Mitchell and Avner Mandleman at the Random House office.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

David Mitchell Author Event in Toronto

A close friend notified my recently that her favourite author, David Mitchell, would be in Toronto. The event takes place at the Toronto Reference Library on Wednesday, July 14th at 7 pm. I was also notified that there's a bookseller reception with Mr. Mitchell earlier that day (which I will be attending). In preparation, I started Cloud Atlas, a novel of his that came highly recommended. I'm a little over half way through and I'm loving it. Look forward to a review of the book and notes on the event!

Friday, July 09, 2010

Cold Soup Calamity

Alright, maybe it's not a calamity, but I've now tried 3 cold soups (all from 300 Sensational Soups by Carla Snyder & Meredith Deeds) and only 1 has turned out well. To be fair, I have been fudging the recipes - substituting ingredients on hand for what's requested in the cookbook, and I had the same problem with hot soups (several duds before I got the hang of them and they all started turning out well) but still, it's a little disappointing. I'd hoped my hot soup skills would help with cold soups. Nope.

The first I tried, carrot soup, tasted better hot than cold. Of the second and third (done together for the dual tone bowl pictured) I liked the bloody mary soup (my husband doesn't like tomatoes, so he was lukewarm about it) and the avocado soup was a total bomb.

Who'd have considered avocados are so thick that blending up the requested 4 would need more than the 3 cups of water the recipe asked for? I ended up adding another cup or two, greatly watering down the flavorings. In the end, it was tasteless and creamy. Though, when mixed 1 part to three of the bloody mary soup it gave it a pleasant creaminess that made both taste better. So the cookbook's suggestion to pair those was a good one. :)

And spooning the two soups into bowls at the same time did create a nice presentation.

With 18 cold soups in the book I'm sure to find something else I like before I have to return it to the library. I think I'll try the cucumber soup next - and make fewer changes to the recipe.

Are there any cold soup recipes you know that taste great, or should be avoided?

Here's the Bloody Mary Soup recipe from the book:

2 cans San Marzano tomatoes (28 0z/796 ml)
1 cup beek or chicken stock
1/4 cup chopped green onions [I used red onions]
1/4 cup worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup vodka [I omitted this]
2 tbsp prepared horseradish
2 tbsp honey
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp salt
2 tsp celery salt
1 tsp black peper
1 lb chilled salad shrimp
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1. In a food processor or blender, in batches, puree tomtoes [and everything but shrimp and cilantro] until smooth. Transfer to a large pitcher, taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Thin with more stock or water, if desired. Cover and refrigerate until cold, about 3 hours. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary.

2. Pour into chilled bowls and garnish with shrimp and cilantro.

And here are some proper reviews of this cookbook if you're interested.
O Chef, Cooking, Hub Pages, Cookbooks 4 Every Kitchen, Recipes For Life Today

Thursday, July 08, 2010

New Beginnings

Ok, obviously I have more to talk about than just science fiction and fantasy (my other blog) so I'm restarting this one. Look here for reviews of non SFF books, cooking and sewing foibles, trip pictures and photography experimentation, gardening info and more.