Thursday, December 31, 2009

Dear 2009: I've changed the locks and you can send for your stuff later.

This miserable dungheap of a year is finally ending. The only thing that could be said for 2009 is that it made 2008 look good, and that's not really a compliment.

So, much like Mme. LeFarge would prepare something excellent to knit to celebrate the rolling of the heads of assorted aristocrats, I am getting ready for this year's sendoff.

Ideally, NYE would find me in black tie and holding court, but this isn't the year for that. Between the Very Bad Stuff and the Stuff About Which I Am Hopeful*, I'm dog-tired. So, as it turns out, are everyone in our immediate circle of influence, so we're just having a sort of foodie potluck cocktail thing.

So I've spent the last couple of days preparing cocktail mixes and garnishes (lemon mix, lime mix, REAL cocktail cherries, orgeat, falernum, simple syrup, etc.) and some cocktailish edibles. This year, as it turns out hyper-expensive Caspian sea caviar is unavailable at ANY price. Which is convenient since we're in the middle of the Great Recession and people are broke. Cynical people would spot something suspicious about this...not you, natch, but suspicious people.

Anyway, this led me to gravlax. Next year I may go utterly insane and smoke my own salmon, but for now, 'tis enough, t'will serve.

For this sort of cured salmony goodness, I am utterly enamored -- so much so I have hardly altered it over the years, which speaks volumes -- this recipe. It replaces the sugar normally found in the cure with molasses (treacle?) and gives the salmon a lovely dark ring.

1½lb (+/-700gm) salmon (I like it skinned, you do whatever)
¼ c. (NFI what the metric equivalent is) coarse salt
1 T. sugar (I like light brown or "raw" sugar)
1 t. ground cumin
½ t. EACH ground allspice and sweet unsmoked paprika
¼ t. EACH ground cayenne pepper and nutmeg
¼ c. molasses (I prefer the mild stuff)
2 T. soy sauce (I like San-J "lite" tamari)

Mix all the solids together and rub all over the salmon (if you keep the skin, score it lightly to get some flavor penetration), wrap in cling wrap and weigh it down (I have heavy tomato cans for this very purpose). Stash it in the fridge AT LEAST overnight, and 12 hours would be even better. Remove from the wrap, shake off the seasoning, and pat dry. (This is key.) Mix soy sauce with the molasses and coat the salmon. Rewrap, tightly. Refrigerate overnight or longer.

Unwrap, pat dry and slice as thinly as your patience will allow.

Now, what I have decided to do for this is a simple blini and a chive creme fraiche.

Happy New Year (belatedly so for my pals down undah).


P.S. For all the cocktail excellentness, I have some lovely Finlandia in the freezer.

* Still chanting, praying, sacrificing vermin by the light of the full moon? Good. Just checking.

Posted by Joke at 9:25 AM 2 comments

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Fridge-cleaning, part 2.

I've noted with some delight that several of you have posted entries along these lines. Excellent. World domination cannot be far away.

1- Turns out my 5th Blog-O-Versary was last week. Ooops.

2- As we speak, I am doing this. It's kind of a PITA to have two big nights during the Christmas season, but I am stamina personified. I have always liked to believe that, if needed, I could have jogged the entire Bataan Death March.

Actually, the way it works is that (and we're going by Iberic tradition ovah heah) we gather at my parents' -- more on that in a later post -- do the entire Iberic thing with people whom I have been assured are related to me by ties of blood. The Christmas Day we schlep up to my BiL's and do something brunchy, then schlep back down to my sister's and do something dinner-y (again with people whom I have been assured are related to me by ties of blood) and engage in The Public Opening of Gifts, another tradition. (More on that anon.) Then, at long last Boxing Day, whereby we host a brunch whereby we invite people we like and rarely see.

3- If 2008 sucked, 2009 was a nightmare. Easily the worst year of my professional life, by several orders of magnitude. Goodbye and good riddance. More on what is expected in 2010.

But this is Christmas, and professional disappointments and family vexations aside, I remember (and remind) what the real purpose and meaning of this season is.

4- Thanks to all of you who have stuck it out with me even through the rather, er, uneven bloggy output. MWAH.



Posted by Joke at 6:48 AM 7 comments

Monday, December 21, 2009

Unrelated unrelatedness.

This post will be the equivalent of cleaning out my fridge. You've been warned.

1- I had to subject myself to some of the more unsavory outlying members of my gene pool yesterday. Even though it was INFINITELY less bad than feared, it has still soured my mood to this very moment. I simply don't like those people. My little fantasy is that someday it turns out either they or I are adoptees.

2- Numbah One Son is still crushing on a girl 33% older than he. His judgment cannot be faulted, as she seems utterly delightful. Charming, attractive (in an upmarket girl-next-door way), athletic, and all that. Granted, he is growing up to be a young man of admirable standards...but at some point attainability must rear its impertinent head. Compounding the problem is that yesterday at a Christmas not-quite-party, she went up to him, pecked him on the cheek and wished him a lovely Christmas.

It took him almost an hour to descend from the ceiling.

Fortunately, he is still not old enough to do something realllllllly embarrassing. But I am dreading the eventuality of him writing an abysmal sonnet, or something equally ghastly. When I think about the imbecilities which I committed in my early years, I am amazed the tic ever left me.

3- My laptop is dead, long live my laptop. It seems an article of faith that no two models of laptop can ever share a keyboard layout, so I am making even more typing mistakes than usual.

4- My AWESOME espresso machine is on life support. It can wheeze an excellent shot, but before it can perform that little miracle once more, it must be allowed a refractory period best measured with a sundial. This is vexing.

5- The thing I am not trying to jinx could still benefit from your chants, prayers, indigenous dances, etc.

That is all.


Posted by Joke at 5:20 PM 6 comments

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

On a serious, but unrelated note.

This has nothing to do with me, but, rather, a news article and it caused me to blow SUCH a gasket, I simply had to vent share.


Take a look at this BBC report on morally dubious field-testing:

A major trial of a vaginal microbicide has produced no evidence that its use
reduces the risk of HIV infection in women.

The gel, PRO 2000, is intended for use before sexual intercourse to help reduce HIV infection. It was tested in a trial involving 9,385 women in four African

The risk of HIV infection was not significantly different among women supplied with the gel than in women given a placebo gel.
Stop and ponder that for a moment. So as to determine the effectiveness of the microbicide being tested, half of the cough-cough participants were provided a substance with no medicinal properties whatsover -- the placebo -- and then sent forth with the instruction to (re)commence sexual activity in a place where the population has a monumentally high incidence of HIV infection.

What the researchers considered mere guinea pigs in this "experiment" were people. People with families, friends, hopes, jobs, loves, children, fears, desires, and responsibilities. Don't forget, people, the cough-cough participants -- necessarily -- had to be uninfected women when the trial got started. It stands to reason the scientists were hoping the test subjects would be inseminated by men infected with "a lethal disease agent."
(It'd be kinda pointless otherwise, yes?)

Somehow (the article does not specify) the women in question were induced to comply (were they given Ecstasy? or told "I really love you and we'll get married as soon as I can move out of my parents' house."?) but they did get "free condoms and access to counseling about safe sex."
Which is nice.
Not clear eitheris if these women were satisfactorily informed as to
1) what "placebo" means,
2) what the chances of being one of those using the medically worthless substance were,
3) how likely the trial medicine's effectiveness would be.
If you think 9,000 volunteers gathered together without the truth being shaded...well, you must have a black belt in naiveté.

Lo and behold, the gel was not particularly effective in bringing down the transmission rate for HIV.
Which leads us to the money quote and the Bald Faced Gall Award.

Lead researcher Dr Sheena McCormack, of the Medical Research Council, which
part-funded the study, said: "This result is disheartening."
What one wonders is how disheartened those women (who were shoved out of the proverbial airplane with what turned out to be a knapsack and not a parachute) are these days.
What's holding up Judgment Day?

Posted by Joke at 3:09 PM 3 comments

Monday, December 14, 2009

Hold that thought.

Remember that thing I didn't want to jinx? I really don't want to jinx it now.

Just got back from a long-arse trip. Tired. Happy Chanukah to the Jewish kids.

More to ensue.


Posted by Joke at 4:02 PM 2 comments

Friday, December 04, 2009

Verily it doth sneak up.

We are fast approaching the blackest day in the Googlia boys' calendar: "Making Room" Day.

For those of you who are new* here, or simply maladjusted, Making Room is what we do +/- 2 weeks before Christmas. The kids present their wish list, and are summarily instructed that, should they be really serious about desiring these things, they ought to immediately go through their already colossal pile of "stuff" and cull it without mercy or pity.

This underscores the point the purpose of life is not to accumulate. If you've been blessed with material, um, blessings...fine. Enjoy them. But that's not to the point of this existence. And it also underscores that when we drill them with the importance of sharing we don't mean merely with each other, when we are watching them.

Last year, you will recall, we have a particularly ruthless episode of cleaning out the toy vault chest, producing a ceaseless parade of bags of toys to donate to poor kids.

The reason I post this is that I was reminded by something the lovely and gracious BabBab mentioned about sometimes feeling guilty that we give our kids too much stuff. There is some of that -- at least with me; my beloved grew up in more straitened circumstances and is missing that gene -- at play here, and this mitigates the guilt.

On a related note, this is the first year that giftage is specifically tied to performance in school and at home. NOS's year-end-review, as it were.

Welcome to the real world, kid.



Posted by Joke at 9:09 AM 6 comments

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Thanksgiving: The Turkey, Pt. 2 (UPDATED! With pictures!)

As the more assiduous and mnemonic among the assembled may recall, last year-ish I got a BBQ smoker. You will also recall (if not, the last couple of posts should have reminded you) of my love for Thanksgiving.

So, I have decided to combine the two in the cooking of the 3rd* turkey which will alleviate much oven space stress.

For anyone fool enough to try this, here's what my trial run -- yes, I do that -- hath revealed.

12-20lb Fresh Turkey** (not self-basting, or God forbid, "enhanced") I like Bell & Evans, but any turkey you like will do, the more natural, the better.
Brine with:
4 Cups Coarse Salt
1 Cup White Sugar
3 Gallons Water
4T dried sage
2T dried marjoram
1T dried thyme

Heat up 2 cups of water and make a "tea" with the herbs. Mix everything until sugar and salt are dissolved. (This recipe can be cut by 1/3 and used as an injection if time is short. Inject the turkey an hour or so before you're ready to cook.)

Remove giblets, turkey neck and any metal or plastic trussing. Put turkey in vessel (I like a smallish cooler, supplemened with those blue gel freezer packs) and make sure the entire turkey is submerged. Let brine 8-12 hours or overnight in the fridge. Remove turkey from brine, VIGOROUSLY pat dry, rub the outside with coarse salt (and a little baking soda) and, ideally, let rest in the fridge. The day of the cookery, place on the smoker.
One is s'posed to rinse prior to smoking, but I don't. Smoke using a wood of your choice, I use hickory. Smoke in the 245ºF-260ºF range until the breast reads 160ºF and the thighs are at least 170ºF.

Authorities will have you wrap the turkey with foil and let rest 30 minutes - 1 hour on the counter before slicing. I don't wrap, and only rest it 20-30 min. Covering with foil only steams the otherwise shatteringly crisp skin. This is key.



* There ARE 56 people to feed, after all.

** Do NOT brine if you are using a Kosher turkey -- which are delicious -- as the final result will be more like turkey-flavored salt.

Posted by Joke at 6:58 AM 2 comments