Kitchen Disasters

I have a very small repertoire of idiot-proof recipes that I make on a rotating basis. But every once in a while I get stupidly ambitious and try something different in the kitchen. More often than not, it ends up in disaster. Back in late September I took a couple of classes at a co-op in an effort to expand my culinary horizons. Thus emboldened, I’ve tried out a few of them over the past few weeks, with vary degrees of success or failure.

The first class was on fermenting vegetables. I’ve attempted sauerkraut twice so far. The first time I didn’t really have the right bowl for crushing the cabbage (a flat bottomed wood one works best) so I made a bit of a mess. Actually, more like a pretty big mess. My second attempt, after purchasing a more appropriate bowl and a decent mallet, was considerably more successful. I’m hopeful the third try will be the charm. Thus emboldened, I gave kimchi a try. From a taste perspective, it wasn’t terrible but the overwhelmingly pungent stench of garlic threatened to ruin everything else in the refrigerator. So I consigned it to the trash, where it stank up the entire garage until garbage day.

My second class was on Paleo cooking. We learned three basic recipes with flavor variations. The first was a very simple veggie dip that I’ve managed to make twice now without screwing it up. The second was meatballs. My first attempt at the meatballs was pretty good and my husband made a few suggestions for the second try. One was to accompany them with a marinara sauce. Of course I was stupid enough to try making the sauce from scratch. Which took FOREVER. But the end result was tasty enough to make this recipe a keeper.

Today’s overly ambitious experiment involved making pizza using cauliflower “dough” for the crust. Cauliflower is a popular substitute for starches among the low carb crowd. It’s used for “rice” and “mashed potatoes.” I’ve tried the latter and it’s actually pretty tasty, especially with the addition of an enormous quantity of butter. The trick to making the pizza crust is to rice the cauliflower in a food processor and then steam it. With the addition of an egg and shredded cheese, it makes a passable crust.

My efforts were once again undermined by the lack of proper tools. I have a tiny food processor, so I had to chop the cauliflower in many tiny batches. A lot ended up on the counter and the floor. I don’t have a proper steamer, so I bought a crappy little folding one at Target. It was too small to hold much, so I steamed it in three batches. Towards the end of the third round, I noticed a burning smell, which I attributed to the cauliflower I had spilled all over the stove. Turned out to be the pot burning because I had let all of the water boil away.

So, I managed to make a hideous mess of the entire kitchen, ruin a pot and spend 90 minutes in the process. All to make a couple of pizza-like crusts which took another 30 minutes to cook. The end result tasted decent, but I’m not sure I can afford the collateral damage that might result from another attempt.

Last Laugh

Very funny Minnesota, very funny. You just couldn’t let us get away clean, could you? Had to hit us with a little snow the day before our escape. And not just snow mind you, but rain mixed with sleet on top of it. The roads are like rutted skating rinks with a thin coat of water – essentially a tractionless surface. Fortunately I only had to travel to my personal trainer’s house yesterday, which is a little over two miles each way. Double fortunately, my husband ordered brand new snow tires for my car, so I had excellent traction.

Of course nobody else in this state seems to think snow tires are necessary, so traffic moved at a slow crawl the whole way. Yikes. I guess I should appreciate the small amount of snow, as it will make me that much more thankful to be escaping to the warmth and sunshine. What I really appreciate is that it was just a small amount and not the massive blizzard they had been originally forecasting. I also appreciate it not falling on our travel day.

So here we are at the airport once again, waiting for our flight. I ordered the cab extra early, given the road conditions and how close it is to rush hour. So of course there was no traffic and we breezed through security, giving us over three hours before our flight is due to depart. Which is why we belong to the Delta Sky Club. Fingers crossed our flight is on time.

Special Occasion

I read somewhere that you should always keep a bottle of champagne in your refrigerator and at least once every six months you should find a reason to drink it. I was reminded of this thought because my husband’s birthday was on Friday and while we didn’t have champagne, we did drink two bottles of a very nice wine over the weekend.

The reason for the six month rule is that champagne doesn’t keep forever. Red wine obviously has a much longer shelf life, but the wine we drank was a 2007 Pinot Noir from a small vineyard we visited several years ago and I was starting to worry that it might be on the verge of going bad. Luckily, it was still outstanding, but I’m all too familiar with the sad experience of opening a special occasion wine only to find that I waited just a little too long to enjoy it.

That happened with a box of chocolates I had been saving from our spring trip to New Zealand. I needed to lose weight when we returned, so I pushed them to the back of the cupboard and sort of forgot about them. When I finally opened the box recently, the chocolates were stale. It made me realize that you just need to find special occasions often enough so that the things you are saving for them don’t go bad on you. Whether it’s champagne, wine or chocolates.

You can read some deep meaning into this, but really, just eat the damn chocolates.

Less Spooky, More Happy

Halloween has come and gone. This year was much less scary than last year, thank goodness. You might recall that we were in Phoenix last year when someone kicked in the front door at our home in Minnesota. The alarm scared them off before they found anything worth stealing, but it did significant damage to both our front door and our psyches.

This year we spent the evening hunkered down in a dark house watching Young Frankenstein. I treated myself to a large mug of hot chocolate with whipped cream, which passes for serious decadence these days. Earlier in the afternoon I visited my mom’s house to see her Halloween display. The previous night’s wind had done a number on several of her figures, knocking down one devil and seriously damaging the Grim Reaper, but it was still pretty impressive.

My only other small nod to the holiday was photographing YPC’s fall production of Dracula on Thursday. I knocked out the processing on Friday afternoon while my husband was having lunch with a friend. I was motivated to get it done quickly, as we need to spend all weekend preparing for our first meeting with the architect who will be designing our new home. Forget about Halloween, the thought of all the work that lies ahead in the next year is truly terrifying.

Building a Dream

So we’ve officially started down the path of building our dream home. We met with the builders on Friday. I should say potential builders, but I’m pretty sure we’ve settled on them at this point. But, as usual, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s back up a bit. A few days after our offer on the lot was accepted, we toured some houses on the Parade of Homes. The third one we visited was a very modern house in South Minneapolis. With the exception of a few minor details, it was exactly the type of home we want to build. The builders (two brothers) were at the house, so we started talking to them. Next thing you know, we are running home to get the survey.

We just had an instant rapport with the builders and they are experienced in using modern building techniques and materials. Even more amazing, they were working with a couple who planned to make an offer on the lot adjoining ours. That wasn’t the only instance of serendipity in this process. While we were writing up the offer with the real estate agent, we found out that he graduated from the same high school the same year I did. He also lives a few blocks from our property. Then we found out that he was the agent for the lot where my dad built his home.

Everything just kept falling into place. Just before we met with the builders on Friday, I had a referral call with one of their previous clients. He could not speak highly enough about the quality of their construction and how good they were to work with. I had been dreading the process of finding a builder and now it seems that a perfect one has just fallen into our laps.

Which is good, because we still have a shitload of stuff to do. Right now we are talking about trying to fast track the design process so we could be pouring the foundation next spring. Our next step is to have a meeting with their architect and designer. In preparation for that, we are reviewing several file bins full of magazine clippings to cull them down to ones that are most relevant. We made some good progress over the weekend, but we still have a ways to go.

And don’t even get me started on the budget.

Strike a Pose

Those of you who follow this blog regularly (and I deeply thank all three of you) know that I am not especially fond of photographing people. I make exceptions, of course, for my volunteer theater work and for our niece, but actors are big hams who know how to pose and our niece is too young to react to the camera except for wanting to grab it from me. The three areas of photography I avoid at all costs are weddings, portrait work and nudes.

But even with that, there are exceptions. I’ve photographed one wedding for a family member. NOT as the primary photographer, mind you, but as a supplemental photojournalist style extra photographer. Now I’ve gone and broken my rule again, by shooting family photos for a good friend. She asked really, really nicely and was in a bit of a bind because the photographer who normally shoots her fall family photos was unavailable. Her backup plan was to borrow a camera from a neighbor and do a DIY attempt. Tricky without a tripod.

So during the weekend between our return from Chicago and departure for Arizona, I photographed her family for their Christmas card. And each of her three sons in lieu of school photos. And a few of her and her husband, for good measure. One of the many reasons I avoid portrait photography is that I lack the experience in telling people how to pose and that clearly showed in the results. The final images weren’t bad, they just weren’t great. Her husband had this uncomfortable look on his face in the group photo and her middle son looked awkward in his solo photos. I guess you do get what you pay for. But I’m sure she’ll be happy.

Would I do it again? Yes, for a friend and with the caveat that I can’t guarantee the results. My personal trainer has already asked me to photograph her theoretical 3rd wedding, should it ever occur. I told her I’d do engagement photos and then we could discuss it. I guess that means some of my boundaries are crumbling. Just don’t ask me to photograph you naked.

Strike

Baseball is one of the few professional sports that doesn’t have highly restrictive rules regarding fan photography. Pretty much any type of lens is allowed, as long as you don’t interfere with other fans. I wouldn’t recommend showing up for an NFL or NBA game with a 400mm lens, as I did in September for one of the last Twins games of the season.

5DM36474It actually turned out to be a little too much lens, as you can see. I couldn’t get the catcher fully in the frame and I would have liked a little more leading space in front of the incoming ball.

5DM36453Next time I try this, I think my 300mm will be just about perfect. Capturing the action at just the right moment was a little tricky, of course, and took a bit of practice and a bit of luck. But I was pleasantly surprised by how many really good images I was able to get.

5DM36484The timing on this shot was was perfect, but the focus was just a little off. The runner is sharp, but the baseman is a little soft. We were disappointed at the lack of action on the bases during the first half of the game. Then it started to rain. So after getting a lot of good batting shots, we decided to pack it in. We watched the end of the game at home and were annoyed to see that the rain had stopped and there was a ton of action on the bases. Be patient – lesson learned.

It was a good experiment and I look forward to trying again next season. Hopefully we’ll get to at least one game with better weather and a little more action.

Taxi and Takeoff

We flew back to Minnesota on Tuesday, just in time to enjoy the last gasps of fall. Apparently, the weather was beautiful here while we were gone, although a couple of windy days stripped a lot of the remaining leaves from the trees. So we’ve missed what was supposedly one of the more impressive displays of fall color in many years. Bummer.

I ordered a taxi online to drive us to the airport. The driver called about ten minutes before the scheduled time and I was somewhat surprised to hear that it was a woman. In many, many years of taking taxis to and from the airport, I’ve never had a female driver. She was confused about our exact address and I had to talk her through driving to the back of our townhome complex. A little odd, but the taxi company isn’t always good about including the precise building and unit number in the order to the driver, so I didn’t think much about it.

When I went outside and actually saw the driver, my first thought was “when did the taxi company start hiring teenage boys?” She seriously looked like a 15 year old boy. I almost asked to see her driver’s license. My confidence really took a dive when I told her we were going to the airport and she asked me if I had the address. The address? It’s the airport, no I don’t have the address. I’m pretty sure if you punch airport into your GPS, it will come up.

I assured her that we knew how to get to the airport and would give her directions. And so we did. Ridiculously explicit directions. (Do I take this exit? The one that says airport with the little picture of a plane? Yeah, that would be a good idea) I felt a little sorry for her. She was obviously a nice person but she clearly won’t last a month as a taxi driver.

I’d like to say that was our last little hiccup, but I ran into another snag at security when my boarding pass wouldn’t scan. Neither would the backup copy. (Yes, we always print two copies) The TSA agent gave me the choice of going to a Delta agent and getting a new copy printed or going through the regular line instead of the TSA pre-check line. Considering there was no one else in line, I opted for the latter. Let’s say it was a relief to finally board the plane.

Where the Green Things Are

As I mentioned back in August, each of the three Domes house a conservatory. One has a tropical theme, one has a desert theme and one has a generic pretty flower garden sort of theme. That’s not what it was called, but it’s not far off. The desert dome was lame compared to places we’ve seen in Phoenix. The tropical one was nice but sort of spoiled by the addition of plastic dinosaurs. I am totally not kidding about the dinosaurs. Pandering to kids.

5DM349315DM34940

 

Since I had gone to the trouble of bringing my macro lens (although I can’t recall what compelled me to put it in the bag at the last minute), I took full advantage of it once we were inside the domes. It’s easy to avoid the dinosaurs when you’re focusing this close.

I tried photographing quite a few flowers, but none of them turned out as well as the greenery.

5DM34957The flower dome was the prettiest of the three, but didn’t yield any good images. No matter, I can take macro photos of leaves all day long and never get bored.

Under the Dome

When I wrote about our visit to Milwaukee back in August, I mentioned an art festival at The Domes. I was writing in real time, so I hadn’t processed any images at the time. My bad.

5DM34849I was mostly using my 100mm macro lens, so I played around with some close focus. This is a detail of one of the tables outside of the dome.

5DM34855Of course the 100mm isn’t just for macro work. This is a shot of part of one of the domes and the funky curved structure over the building that connects the three domes. I tried it in black and white but there wasn’t enough contrast to make it work.

5DM34902bwThis is an even tighter shot of the dome ceiling from the inside, converted into black and white.