*sniffle*

Posted by DmentD | Aggravation,Rambling,Stress | Wednesday 31 March 2010 11:52 am

All I have to say is “fuck pollen”, specifically oak and cedar pollen.

I never had problems with allergies or my sinuses until I moved to Austin.  Guess what Austin, you have no idea what humidity feels like until you’ve spent entire summers in 150% humidity and 100°+ heat, drenched with sweat .07 seconds after you emerge from your hermetically sealed, air conditioned cocoon of a home… so stop complaining, ok?  I mean, yeah, I’m sure it’s more miserable in certain other parts of the world… Ethiopia, Botswana, or some other technologically vacuous and environmentally hostile sinkhole, but they’re justified to bitch bout it.  No, spend a typical summer in the trench-rot friendly environs of Southern Louisiana, then come back here and we’ll have an educated conversation about humidity.

What does this have to do with sinuses and pollen?  Humidity keeps pollen from traveling very far — the pollen particles get saturated and just thud to the ground, listless.  It’s a wonder there is anything growing in SoLa.  Here, in Central Texas, the pollen sets new world distance traveling records every year… hell, pollen here comes equipped with jetpacks, a sinus seeking radar, and a giant red button labeled “Red Alert: Attack”.

It is so dry here in comparison to NOLA, that I was borderline for perpetual nosebleeds for the first 3 months until I acclimated.  All that dry weather causes your sinus passageways to contract, opening up a superhighway for the spores to travel, then they slam shut again.  The pressure builds up until your eyes want to escape your head for fear of being propelled at high velocity into your monitor, your nose is incapable of even the most pathetic wet gurgle, and dear jeebus it’s the 17th street floodwall disaster all over again when the dam finally breaks and you flood your nose and throat with shockingly fast moving fluid that leaves a fetid water-line down the front of your shirt.  All you need is the Army to come along and spray-paint an “X” on you, declaring how many bodies are inside and when they checked you.

A colorful description, I know.  Just thought I’d share my misery.

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Whassahappanin’, Hotstuff?

Posted by DmentD | Cakes,Coolness,Friends,Homebrew,Links,Promotion,Rambling,Site,Stress | Tuesday 30 March 2010 11:07 am

Much goings on… er, going on in the last few months.  Once more, and to no surprise to anyone, I have sadly not reported any of it here.

Let’s see.  First and foremost, Sweets got laid off from the bakery she was at — who took her on as an extern when she was in culinary school, then hired her to do cakes, couldn’t give her a lot of hours, then realized that they were perfectly happy using the free extern labor from the school instead, and let her go.  Tears and curses aside, it was a fantastic learning experience for her and gave us the motivation to…

… start taking the first steps to get Curious Confections off the ground.  The first serious steps.  We spruced up the site — making it more making it professional in appearance — added a menu, and lightened up some of the ambiguous language about actually making product for sale.

Sweets is going to make Curious Confections a part-time job for the interim, while maintaining a second part-time job at an established business.  I will be moonlighting after work hours and on weekends as a CC employee.  We’ve started getting a few orders in — some of them steady — and friends and co-workers have rallied to the cause by ordering stuff from us, and pressing our business cards into the palms of everyone they know.  The goal is to eventually get enough business to pay Sweets a salary, making CC her full-time job.

We need all the help we can get to make this first step successful, allowing us to grow and evolve to the next level, and then the level after that, ad infinitum.  We’re trying to maintain a fine balance between slow, steady growth so we don’t overextend our current reach, and reaching just far enough outside of our current comfort level to force us to evolve.  Just as too much water, sun and fertilizer can kill even a healthy plant — we don’t want to die on the vine from too much of a good thing burning us out too early.

Sweets is also taking the role of food blogger more seriously.  There are a few reasons behind this: foremost, she really enjoys writing about the stuff we make (out of pride and great satisfaction), it’ll help direct more traffic and attention to Curious Confections, it’ll bring her and CC to the attention of other food bloggers (many of them local), and she can be a part of a community of like-minded people (which is always a good thing).  A fresh audience and new friends can work wonders on so many levels.

All cake, baked goods, and Curious Confections related projects will henceforth be posed over there, and links to said posts will be posted here.  I may even pop in and write about the things I have my snobbery badges in: coffee, beer, homebrew, and South Louisiana food.

On the topic of homebrew, we have two batches of beer in bottles ready for consumption by this weekend: the Belgian Devil (a Duvel-like Belgian golden ale), and the Bayou Headsucker (a crisp, clean, refreshing kolsch ale).  The Headsucker was specifically brewed for the crawfish season this year, and our first boil is this Saturday.

You may have noticed the unusual beer names.  Good for you.  We’ve decided to cater to my infantile obsession with zombies and theme all the beers that way.  Our “brewery” is named Ol’ Shambler Brewery.  While making labels for beer that will eventually be drunk, then have the labels stripped right back off again may seem a bit needless, we wanted to have fun with this hobby from start to finish.  To that end we have enlisted (entrapped!) two of our talented friends, Marty and Kim, to help design and color said labels… and they’ve done a hell of a job so far.  I’ll post the artwork separately, another time – gotta’ save some stuff for other posts!

We’ve also started fermenting our first mead — a traditional, sweet-semi-dry variety — using raw, unpasteurized orange blossom honey from a local apiary.  It’s coming along nicely, but won’t be ready to drink for till about this time next year.  Sadly meads, hard ciders, perrys, and wines of all stripe are not “young” beverages, and require an extended conditioning period ranging from a few months, to well over a year depending on the style.  Our patience should be rewarded, and is all the more motivation to have a number of batches going at once.

The downside to home brewing is equipment and supply storage.  It takes up some space, man, and it’s a struggle to store everything so that it 1) isn’t underfoot, and B) isn’t unsightly.  I don’t want to just plonk it all down in a spare bedroom and shut the door, but I don’t want it to sit in the garage or attic gathering dust and who-knows-what-else.  I also want to have access to everything as I need it without having to go dig it out of a storage area.  We have plans to, eventually, build cabinetry into the bar — when we build the bar — to store homebrew gear and fermenting batches out of sight, but accessible.

That, my little ones, is all I have to ramble about at this time.  Be good to each other, even if it means being naughty.  Especially if it means being naughty.

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Let’s Play Catch Up!

Posted by DmentD | Cooking,Coolness,Domestica,Family,Links,Rambling | Monday 8 February 2010 4:03 pm

Ok, ok… I’ve been lazy.  I admit that, you expect that… so let’s not dwell on it, hmmmm?

What has happened in DmentiA since last I rambled on at random?

Christmas came and went, and left many wonderful things in its wake… including (but not limited to) a new art print for the wall, books, and seed money to procure the bulk of my start-up gear to begin home brewing beer.  *squee* Much intense and focused research was done and equipment was bought.

We made many delicious things as Christmas gifts this year, and Sweets has a great write-up about it all HERE.

Austin saw much rain, and very cold temperatures.  Much of the garden did the usual die-off/leaf drop gig, and the yard started looking bleak.  A few plants were protectable, and even fewer actually prospered form the cold (our garlic, to be specific).  Leaves dropped from trees and littered the yard.

The new year came and went, and left me with a kidney stone as a parting gift.  Thanks… it’s what I’ve always wanted.

Sweets’ family came to the States, and after a week in Disneyworld, they trekked into NOLA where we met them and stayed a few days, then made our collective way to Austin.  They stayed for a week — it was a lovely week at that — and I think I managed to keep from frightening them sufficiently with my crass American ways… I was on my best behavior, and didn’t disgrace my family.  Suckers!  Fooled you all.

They specifically came in to attend Sweets’ graduation from Culinary School, join us in a bleated (very belated!) wedding party, and basically make sure I wasn’t keeping Sweets in squalor (I kid!  I kid!).  The graduation was very nice, and I can’t adequately express how fiercely proud I am of her.

Sweets has written up the visit, complete with pictures, HERE.  She’s done such an elegant job of it, that I won’t shame myself by endeavoring to do it again. (see paragraph 1, i.e. “being lazy”).

And, most recently, Sweets and I finally brewed our first batch of beer.  It’s a lovely Belgian Golden Ale, similar to Duvel, and it was a blast to make.  I spent the preceding ten days doing massive research into the brewing process, basically discarding the generic process that comes along with the recipe kit.  I learned a tremendous amount about the overall process, what shortcuts can be taken, the very specific stages of mashing grains and making a wort, the hows and whys of the specific gravities of the liquid at every stage, and so much more.  I also learned that for all the minutiae that can and should be paid attention to, that you can just chill and not worry about it.  There is a popular phrase I’ve read a lot while doing my homework: “RDWHAHB Relax, Don’t Worry, Have A Homebrew.”

The hooch is in the primary fermenter where it will live until the yeasties have done most of their work converting the sugars into alcohol (about a week), then it gets moved into a secondary fermenter where it basically clarifies for two weeks, then into bottles for conditioning and natural carbonating for 3-4 weeks.  Yup, it’s a lot of time to wait, and that’s why most home brewers have multiple batches going at once.  Time, equipment, and experience will eventually allow us to do that to.  Eventually.

For now, I’m enjoying the sheer adventure and creativity of the process, and I’m learning a hell of a lot of new things as well.  When you stop learning, you may as well lie down and die.

That’s it for now, kiddies.  Expect to hear a lot more about homebrew from me.

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Breadcrumbs.

Posted by DmentD | Links,Rambling | Saturday 9 January 2010 11:14 am

Finding my way back here after the holiday absence, general laziness, a kidney stone and the chest cold I have right now.

For the time being, as a way of priming the pump again, here’s a nice little bit of fiction I just stumbled across.  It’s a story told from the Thing’s point of view from John Carpenter’s Sci-Fi/Horror flick, The Thing.  Surprisingly well thought out and written.

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Jalalujah.

Posted by DmentD | Cooking,Coolness,Rambling | Wednesday 9 December 2009 9:00 am

Our jalapeño plants have just about reached the end of their pepper production for the year, and we found ourselves with a nice collection of peppers to do something with.  All told, we ended up with somewhere in the neighborhood of 165 – 175 peppers from five plants that didn’t start producing until late in the season.  We anticipate more next year.

After having used 30 or so while cooking, we were left with about 135 peppers to do something with before they went off.  I have a dehydrator, and that is the best choice for preserving the peppers long term… you can store them in an airtight container almost indefinitely, they can be re-hydrated for use in recipes, or ground up and sprinkled on like salt.  But what about making chipotles?

I used this as an opportunity to experiment with a little project I’ve wanted to work on for a little bit.  I have a gas grill with lots of acreage, and it’s everything I need for most of my outdoor cooking needs.  I’ve never desired a full-blown smoker as I don’t feel I’d get as much use out of it as I’d spend on it, and storing it is another consideration.  What I wanted was something that was cheap, I could store in a small space, and could easily pull out on the few times I wanted to smoke something.

Enter the “ghetto smoker”.  It’s a concept I first discovered while watching Good Eats, and I’ve seen a lot of different adaptations around the web as well.  Basically you take a hot plate and a cast-iron skillet and put it in a “something” (garbage can, large box, a large terracotta pot with another pot inverted over it, etc), and add wood chunks/chips/sawdust to it and turn it on, then place a rack over it and close the whole thing up and go, occasionally adding more wood to it as it runs out.  That’s the gist.

I wanted to spend as little as possible on the whole shebang, otherwise it wasn’t worth my time or money.  I have a large grill, so there is my smoking chamber already accounted for, and it’s now a multitasker.  I picked up a cheap-ass hot plate at the grocery store for $7, and an 8″ cast-iron skillet at Goodwill for $4.  Done and done.  Wood for smoking can be had at Home Depot year round.

A few notes on making and using a ghetto smoker:

  • Whatever you’re smoking must be at an elevation above the smoke/heat source or you’ll get no love.  This elevation cannot be too close to the heat/smoke source or you’ll cook too quickly.
  • Wood chips soaked in water for 30 minutes or so will start smoking quickly, generate more heat, but will be exhausted in less than an hour… wood chunks however will last considerably longer — soaked will last up to 3 hours but are slower to catch and start smoking, dry will catch and smoke right away, but only last about 60 – 90 minutes.  The trick is to refuel with soaked wood before the old wood is completely used up.
  • Eliminate as many air-drafts as you can to keep heat and smoke in, but make sure there are some small holes to let some smoke out.
  • Keep a probe thermometer near whatever you’re smoking to monitor the ambient temperature.  You want this to be between 170 and 200 degrees (depending on what you’re smoking).  Adjust the wood, or the location of the smoked goods to change this.
  • If you’re smoking meat, put a second probe thermometer into the meat to monitor the internal temperature.  There are no set times to follow, temperature is the only way to get it right.
  • Anything that is in the smoke will get smoked.  Thermometers, grills, etc will get covered and stained by a layer of smoke.

So, armed with all this I smoked about a third of my red, ripe jalapeños.  It took about 8 hours, and lots of fiddling to figure things out, but it worked, and worked well.  I pronounce the grill as a ghetto smoker a success… with the caveats being that I cannot get the smoked material directly over the smoke as it’s too close, but to one side and just above, and I now have a very old towel that is dedicated to the task of draping over the back of my grill to close off the gaps that are there by design to let smoke out.

I’ll continue to use this as I see fit to try out some other smoker projects, and if I find myself enjoying it more and more, I’ll make the minimal investment in a $40 smoker from Home Depot.  Now that I have muddled through discovering the basics of what is involved in the process, I have found that I don’t need anything elaborate or huge, just something that satisfies the needs.

Even so, it’s been a fun and cheap project.

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Stars.

Posted by DmentD | Cakes,Links,Pictures | Tuesday 8 December 2009 9:00 am

stars_001

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Chili Winter Evening.

Posted by DmentD | Cooking,Coolness,Links | Monday 7 December 2009 11:37 am

I’ve been wanting to find a good, tried and true chili recipe for a while… a full-bore, proper chili that didn’t use chili powder or canned chili sauce.  The kind of recipe that’s handed down from person to person, not found on the web.

I finally got one.

A coworker friend of mine had been boasting about his chili, and how his wife had this dynamite chili sauce that was made from scratch, and well, that sounded about right to me.  The problem was that they hadn’t written anything down, they just made it “by feel”.  When I asked for the recipe, he used it as a good excuse to make a batch of chili and take down notes.  Those notes ended up in my inbox on Saturday.  I cobbled together a more formal recipe from what he sent and promptly went shopping.

Armed with this recipe I set to putting it all together, starting with the chili sauce.  The sauce is simple, and flavorful, consisting of sauteed onions, dried peppers and broth simmered for the better part of an hour, then blended to within an inch of its life then strained.  It’s thick, dark and powerful stuff… precisely as it should be.  This is the key to a good chili — this is the make or break part.

The second part, the actual chili, is straightforward as well.  Cubed stew meat, after being browned off, is combined with sauteed onions and garlic, seasonings and some water or broth, then allowed to simmer until tender.  The rest of the ingredients are added, as is the chili sauce.  Adjust the seasonings and heat to suit your tastes, then cut the heat to low and abandon all hopes of eating it for at least 5 or 6 hours.  Allow the whole melange to simmer slowly and thicken up, further tenderizing the meat and letting all those flavors co-mingle and mature.

Your patience will be rewarded.

Eleven people demolished 6½ quarts of chili, 2 loaves of fresh bread, and a pot of rice in record time.  It was worth every minute of bloating that came afterward.

The recipe can be found HERE.

I know there are some heat-hounds reading this, and I tell you now that this is a “½ alarm” chili that is suited for the widest range of pepper tolerances, so you’ll want to spice it up to suit your own tastes.  I strongly suggest doing it during the chili sauce phase.  You can either leave all the pepper seeds in to boost it a bit, or substitute hotter chilies in the “Optional Additional Peppers” section (habaneros or scotch bonnets perhaps?).  I used fresh jalapeños, half of them with the seeds intact to get the mild heat I like.  The ancho and cascabel chilies are necessary to get the right basic flavor and texture, so leave those be.  Finding the right balance of other peppers is your problem, not mine.

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Two Horrible Things That Go Great Together!

Posted by DmentD | Domestica,Links,Pictures,Rambling | Wednesday 25 November 2009 2:00 pm

It’s well known that I’m a coffee snob.  We’ve covered this already, and it’s one of my most endearing features (why does everyone tell me that in such a strange tone of voice?).  I very purposefully nursed and encouraged this snobbery from the very beginning, from my “awakening” moment with coffee — thank you GonzO for your enlightenment and wisdom… it’s all your fault.

I came to enjoy coffee late in life, very specifically because I was born in a town that luxuriates in combining perfectly good coffee with funk-ass chicory — a throwback first to it’s French heritage, and secondly to World War II when coffee was scarce and chicory was used to bulk it out or replace it altogether.  Chicory lends a bitter, eye-squinting taste to coffee, masking or completely obliterating many of the essential and desirable flavors standard coffee offers.  As such, coffee and I never saw eye to eye.

The most popular and well known variety of coffee and chicory in NOLA is CDM, aka Café du Monde, and comes in an iconic golden yellow can that can be found in every grocery store in the South, not to mention in NOLA itself.  It’s the blend of coffee and chicory made famous by Café du Monde’s café au lait that is served alongside yummy orders of powder sugar heaped beignets.

Once I grew to appreciate actual coffee — not the bastard hybrid that almost ruined me for life — I also discovered that I couldn’t abide cold coffee, and more specifically iced coffee.  There was something about how the flavor changed, and the way your taste buds were dulled by the cold that made the taste unpalatable to me… for lack of a better explanation, it “cheapens” the flavor.

After moving to Austin, GonzO — my coffee mentor — decided to blow my mind again by introducing me to my own personal contradiction addiction.

Cà phê sữa đá (aka, Café su da).

It’s a Vietnamese style coffee that is brewed using CDM (specifically in the South due to its availability and similarity to the coffee used in Vietnam) in a specially designed metal drip coffee filter (cà phê phin) that drips into a glass containing sweetened condensed milk, stirred then served over ice.

Iced.  CDM.

I know! Dude… I know, I know, I know.  I have a hard time explaining it other than to say that the sweetness of the condensed milk and the bitterness of the coffee work some kind of voodoo when combined with each other over ice to make a blissful little bit of heaven in a glass.  It’s a bold flavored cup of coffee that will make our eyes pop open with an audible snap and keep you moving for hours.  Combine a glass of that with a huge bowl of phở (a Vietnamese beef and noodle soup), and you have the perfect start to a late, lazy weekend day, or the perfect cure for a hangover (whichever it happens to be, and that’s not to say they are mutually exclusive).

No respectable Vietnamese restaurant would exclude cà phê sữa đá from their menu, and it has become one of the core criteria we use to judge a restaurant by here.  Vietnamese has become one of my staple nationalities when dining out — the restaurants are plentiful, inexpensive, and filling without being horrible for you.  The food is fresh and simple, and let’s face it, they have the miracle coffee.

One of the gifts from Sweets’ for my birthday was a pair of cà phê phin filters so I could make cà phê sữa đá at home.  I promptly went out an bought a can each of CDM and sweetened condensed milk.  The process goes like this:

Pour 3 TBS (50 GR) of sweetened condensed milk into a shallow tumbler.

Ca Phe Sua Da

Unscrew the screen from the inside of the filter, add 2 TBS of CDM coffee, and screw the filter back down, tightening moderately.  Place the filter on top of the tumbler.

Ca Phe Sua Da

Fill the filter ¼ full of boiling water and wait 20-30 seconds.  Unscrew the filter screen at least 2 full turns then fill it the rest of the way with the boiled water.  It should take approximately 5 minutes for the water to drip completely through the filter.

Ca Phe Sua Da

Thoroughly stir the coffee into the condensed milk while it is hot, taking care to scrape the sides and bottom of the tumbler clean.

Ca Phe Sua Da

Allow the coffee to enjoy one last moment of life as a hot drink as it contemplates the glass of ice next to it.

Ca Phe Sua Da

Pour the coffee over the ice, mix, and enjoy.  If this is a new drink to you, you may want to be sitting comfortably, keeping clear of anything that could be kicked when you take your first sip, or knocked over when you stand suddenly, shouting “my god, I can see tomorrow!”

Ca Phe Sua Da

And I can rationalize enjoying this under the umbrella of coffee snobbery as there is special equipment involved, and a whole little ritual to be adhered to.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

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Roman Black Marble Cake.

Posted by DmentD | Cakes,Links,Pictures | Tuesday 24 November 2009 8:00 am

roman_003

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Belated Birthday.

Posted by DmentD | Domestica,Friends,Reflection | Monday 23 November 2009 11:11 am

Birthdays are birthdays… they are the most convenient way to mark the passage of time in one’s life, and frankly their only real significance is to alert your doctor to the opportunity to commence inflicting more thorough and uncomfortably invasive exams upon your person.

My 40th birthday has come and gone, and the inevitable question was asked numerous times: “So, how does it feel to be 40?” About the same as it did when I woke up yesterday when I was still 39 — I could use more sleep, less work, a strong cup of coffee, and a couple of undisturbed hours in a hammock or a comfortable chair reading without distraction… but then again, I’ve felt that way most of my life anyway, so this is nothing new.

At any rate, to me birthdays are birthdays, just another day with a bit of personal significance but no need for anyone to make a fuss over.  I don’t demand a big party, lots of gifts or overt amounts of attention… which does not mean I won’t happily — gleefully even — accept any of that, hell, who doesn’t like gifts and a fun party?  The most I would ever ask for myself is a decent meal and the company of good friends in a low-key, comfortable environment, which is pretty much the same thing I’d ask of any given weekend anyway.

We went to Peony, a nice Asian restaurant that serves Japanese and Chinese cuisines, and I loaded up on sushi.  I hadn’t had sushi in a long while, and had been in the mood for it for quite some time.  T’was yummy, and priced well too.  Apparently some of the selections from the Chinese menu were tasty as well.

Afterward we went back to Sweets and my place to light the fire-pit, have some drinks and enjoy a cigar.  I finally opened the bottle of Scotch I was gifted for the housewarming over a year ago, and it was definitely worth the wait.

All told, it was precisely the evening I had hoped for.

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