juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Last weekend was fantastic and hugely busy. On Saturday, Dee and I made a day trip down to Corvallis. We brought Odi to board the day in grandparents's outdoor dog kennel, and went with Devon and my family (parents and sister) to the Fall Festival, an outdoor fair of local artists. I usually go just with my father, or sometimes with my sister as well; having such a large group was a bit like herding cats (oh, the yelled cell phone conversations), but it was also lovely. The weather held at mostly sunny but not hot, my parents bought some metal work for the garden, and I got to show off one of my favorite artists, Cameron Kaseberg. When we were done with the booths, we split up and Devon, Dee, and I went across the street to the library book sale, where everything was half price for the end of the day; I am absolutely drowning in books over here, but I still managed to find Dracula, some Atwood and Woolf, and a Southern Gothic novel of questionable potential for $6, and who can say no to that. Then we went out to a delightful dinner.

Back at Devon's grandparents's house we discovered that—true story—as soon as we'd left, Odi had managed to pull up the chain link sides to the kennel, wriggle underneath, and follow Devon's scent trail across the yard and back to Devon's house, where he had found Devon's father and invited himself inside and spent the day gorging on found bags of cat food and playing. We're exceedingly lucky that he wasn't hurt in the escape and that he immediately found a safe place to go (as a one-eyed dog he's pretty identifiable, so Devon's folks recognized him), but: WHUT.

On Sunday, Dee and I took the bus to Hawthorne—one of my old Portland stomping grounds out in SE—for the Under Wildwood release party. The Wildwood Chronicles take place in St. Johns (our neighborhood here in Portland) and the vast park visible from the neighborhood; at the release party we got a pre-release signed copy of the second book in the series, and the author and illustrator did a joint talk which was all about the book as a collaboration—their joint approach to creating its world, and then exploring it in their respective mediums as author and illustrator. Afterward, we went to an early dinner at Chez Machin—I'd never had savory crêpes, and they make theirs with chewy robust buckwheat; mine was filled with mozzarella, mushrooms, and tomatoes, and topped with a pesto sauce. I'm an extremely picky eater, mostly in regards to texture and new foods, so it was a bit of a risk but a complete success: A+, would love to eat again.

On one hand this is exactly what I want of autumn: more to do, more desire to do it, the delicious exhaustion and enthusiastic downtime that follows having done it. That said, we noticed this week that Kuzco has been having some troubles eating: he lost a top incisor a bit ago, which is totally normal, but I think he lost this one way down at the root and the root got infected. It's just broken through, so he's probably fine, but he's lost a bit of weight in the meantime and the infection may still linger. He has a vet appointment tomorrow just to make sure he's fine, but here's the thing: Kuz is 7 years old, and guinea pigs live between 5 and 8 years. He's developed a cataract in one eye; when he's eating well (which is usually) he gets rotund but the weight is all in his tummy—he's never been a very plump pig, but he's on the bonier side now. What I'm saying is that he's an old man, the last of his herd. This tooth issue is probably unrelated to aging, but it sort of makes his mortality hit home. I'm not dreading or even anticipating his death—Kuzco has had a good life, and he can stick around for as much more of it as fate determines—but this comes while we have a cat in limbo and while I just feel ... exhausted.

It's money issues (even if Devon doesn't seem to think there ... are any), it's fear of commitment and responsibility, it's general exhaustion and the need for some downtime. Two weeks ago I was exhausted and went to escape in Corvallis, and spent the whole time having an extended nervous breakdown. Then there was cat, then there was social stuff, now Kuzco, and I haven't showered in a couple of days and when I'm not surfeited with distraction (making stars while watching a show, reading a book while watching video games) I'm on the verge of a crying jag.

Gillian is fine! He managed to groom the section that he had groomed to the skin, so that's still healing, but most all of his scabs have flaked off and he's no longer vibrating with itchy frustration. No other health problems, he's on the second half of his preventative medication course, and really the only thing he hates is being trapped in one room. I'm just having a hard time bonding, because right now I don't see "cat I love"—I see "ongoing responsibility and monetary investment." That's selfish, and it doesn't mean I don't love him, but it's a connotation I can't shake right now.

If sleep were easier (not having nightmares, just sleeping restlessly), I'd want to sleep for a week. Devon wants me to come back to Corvallis for another try at downtime, but it depends on what Kuzco's vet visit turns up. I just wish there were an off button for the world, or for me.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
My mother has been making Spinach Ricotta Pie for as long as I can remember, and when I started doing some cooking here in Portland I asked her for the recipe. Since then, it's become my go-to dish (I even cooked it when I was visiting Express in San Francisco, and took it on the train on the trips there and back), and I've been meaning to write it up to share here.

This dish is similar to quiche, but the ricotta (rather than egg) base makes it unique, firmer and less like custard, with no eggy taste. It's fantastic warm and cold at any time of day, keeps well in the fridge and freezes well if sliced into servings. The recipe has been modified to increase the amount of veggies and cheese, and you really can't have too much of either. I also like to play around with alternate veggie/cheese combinations, and this version of the recipe reflects that.

(Spinach) Ricotta Quiche/Pie
Family recipe, adapted from Mollie Katzen's Moosewood Cookbook

1 pie crust
1 tablespoon butter
1 small onion, diced
1 small green bell pepper, diced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
16 oz. vegetable filling*
16 oz. ricotta cheese
3 eggs
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup cheese, grated*
1/4 cup cheese for topping, grated

Preheat oven to 375.

Saute onion and green pepper in butter over medium heat for 7 minutes, until onion is translucent. Add seasonings and vegetable filling, and cook until ingredients are combined and excess moisture has evaporated.

In a large bowl, combine remaining ingredients except topping cheese, and mix well. Stir in vegetable mixture. Spoon into prepared pie crust, and top with remaining cheese.

Bake on lowest oven shelf for 50 to 55 minutes, until crust and cheese topping are golden brown and filling is firm to the touch. Cool at least ten minutes before serving; serve warm, cool, or reheated. Freezes well.

Notes: I usually double this recipe, as frozen pie crusts come in pairs and quiche keeps well. Use whatever vegetable/cheese pairing strikes your fancy: spinach and Swiss are my staples, but I also love broccoli cheddar and have had good luck with mushroom Swiss. Spinach can be frozen (squeeze out as much water as you can) or freshly wilted, broccoli should be trimmed and lightly steamed, mushrooms should be sauteed—the vegetables won't cook too much more in the oven, so have them pretty close to how you want them to be. You may want to modify spices to match: garlic is an awesome addition, spinach is fantastic with some mustard or basil, broccoli loves extra cayenne, etc. The nutmeg, however, should stay: it's classic to quiches, and makes the dish. Do or don't omit the green pepper—I find that if diced small, it disappears into the dish. Parmesan makes a fantastic topping cheese.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
I've been eating a lot of peanut butter and banana lately. It's something I just discovered—I'm sure I had it as a kid, but not so that I remember—and when I discover something I like I rarely do it by halves. I do peanut butter and banana sandwiches on English muffins, or whip together peanut butter and bananas into a spread (it has a sweeter, stronger banana flavor and a fluffy texture). And the internet tells me that peanut butter can substitute fat in almost all baking as long as you're careful not to overmix the flour, so I've also been in search of a peanut butter banana bread.

These oat muffins are the best so far. I don't do flavors by halves, so I added extra peanut butter and banana; some of the banana should be chunked, not mushed, so there are bits of baked banana in the muffin. The oats are chewy, the bread is moist, the flavor is a little salty and a little sweet. I halved this recipe, but that means pouring out some egg—so deal with proportions as you like.

(No pictures, sorry, the lighting was just too low today for it, and anyway I'm in a hurry—heading to Corvallis this evening, and there are things to do before then!)

Peanut Butter Banana Oat Muffins
Adapted from Honey and Jam

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 heaping cup rolled oats
1/2 scant cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
3/4 cup milk (or soy milk)
1/3 to 2/3 cup peanut butter (chunky preferred)
4 ripe bananas, partially mashed

Combine flour, oats, sugar, baking powder, soda, and salt in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, beat the egg lightly. Stir in the milk and peanut butter. Add the banana and combine—there should be some reasonably sized chunks of banana in the mix. Stir the flour mixture into the banana mixture until just combined. Grease or line a 12-cup muffin tin, and divide the batter among them. Bake at 400 degrees F for 18 to 20 minutes. For best results, let cool and then wrap and store in fridge at least until cold or overnight. Makes 12 generous muffins.

The more peanut butter, the stronger the peanut butter flavor. Chunky peanut butter well compliments the chewy texture of the oats, but consider leaning towards 2/3 cups peanut butter if you use it—to account for the mass that won't act as a replacement fat. Bananas should be ripe, but don't need to be overripe; overripe bananas will yield fewer chunks and need less sugar.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Thanksgiving was:

Mashed potatoes, turkey and vegetarian (Quorn-brand) turkey, gravy and vegetarian gravy, and stuffing
Cranberry relish and jelly
Stuffed mushrooms
Sweet potatoes with ginger
Green bean casserole
Crunchy salad with fruits and nuts
Cheddar and roast garlic biscuits and cheddar and jalapeno bisuits
One cream-based pumpkin pie and one tofu-based pumpkin pie, with whipped cream

and miracle of miracles, there was minimal battling for kitchen space and it all finished at the same time—and it was fantastic. The fake turkey was pretty tasty and I actually liked the stuffing (usually I find stuffing's texture too varied; this was dense and uniform) but the delight for me was gravy—I've never had the chance to have it because it's never been vegetarian, and Mike's was fantastic, savory and rich, salty enough to be the only flavoring the mashed potatoes needed but not so salty as to be overpowering. Savory sweet potatoes are a breath of fresh air and I actually liked them (sweet potato is usually to sweet for me); I'd never had parsnips before, and they were lovely. At Thanksgiving I usually eat to be polite, except for dessert. This time, I had seconds of almost everything.

But the delight of the evening was the biscuits—not because they were better than everything else, but because I decided to make them on a whim, had never made biscuits before, and they still turned out fantastic. I did a double batch, which is a mixed blessing because now all I want to eat is biscuits—and I can. The biscuit base came from here, with adjustments as always because I can never leave well enough alone.

For a dozen buttermilk drop buscuits:

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 cup cheese of choice, shredded or crumbled
1/2 cup secondary flavoring (roast garlic, jalapenos, etc) chopped or crumbled or smushed
1 cup buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar. Cut in cold butter with your fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal.

Add inclusions and mix until combined. Add buttermilk and stir with a spatula until just combined.

Drop round spoonfuls of dough, about three tablespoons, onto prepared baking sheet at least one inch apart. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until tops are golden brown. Remove from oven and serve warm.

I used extra sharp cheddar in both, with chopped fresh jalapenos (mostly deseeded) and mostly-smushed roasted garlic cloves. They biscuits have lift without losing density and pull apart in beautiful, flaky chunks. They carry their flavors beautifully and the dough itself is savory and golden. Some recipes add melted butter on top before or after baking, but they really don't need it. I imagine it'd be a lot of fun to play with fillings—and I will, in a billion months when I can justify making them again. I like them too much to have them around all the time. I just can't stop eating them.

Adopt one today! Adopt one today! Adopt one today! Adopt one today! Adopt one today! Adopt one today!
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
I have a pumpkin pie in the oven. The pumpkin pie has always been my Thansgiving thing, but this is the first time I've done Thanksgiving as someone with anything approaching an interest in cooking or baking. After much deliberation I made my own crust (based on this tutorial), and I put too much water in it so the first few minutes of pie baking were quite boily, but I can already tell that this is far more flaky than any storebought thing. After even more deliberation I decided to stick with an evaporated milk base—as opposed to cream or milk—because I know what sort of texture it renders; instead I put effort into the sweeteners and spices, using brown sugar and a bit of molasses as opposed to white sugar, adding a touch of cardamom and allspice to the usual mix and then allowing the filling to rest uncooked overnight so that the spices can meld. I even pushed the filling through a strainer, although that was mostly to incorporate a tablespoon of last-minute flour—although I hear that straining it makes for a nice smooth texture, so fingers crossed. The filling spilled up over one side and I didn't put my usual crust-leaves on top because I was sick of wrestling with dough—it doesn't look anything special, but I expect good things of it.

I also have last-second biscuits (roast garlic and cheddar, and cheddar and jalapeno) planned for when the turkey is resting.

And tomorrow morning, while we watch the Macy's Day Parade (it's tradition) and dog show, I'll make for anyone who wants some the pumpkin drink that I've been making for myself for a few weeks now. It's why I sat down to write. Hell if I can find the recipe I stole this from—I'll add it if I do find it—but it's pretty simple, anyway.

For one cup of hot pumpkin milk:

5 to 8 ounces milk
1/4 to 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1/4 cup or less brown sugar (or dark brown sugar, or mixture of brown sugar and maple syrup)
A shake or two of cinnamon
Optional: other spices (ginger, nutmeg, clove, cardamon, allspice) to taste

Pour out enough milk to almost fill a mug. Heat milk in saucepan over low heat. While heating, add pumpkin puree, sweetener, and spice. Whisk together. When heated, whisk thoroughly to form a head of foam. Pour into mug and serve.

Notes: Soy milk holds foam particularly well. Add as much pumpkin as you want; the more you add, the thicker the foam will become. Add as much or little sugar as you want. Plenty of cinnamon substitutes well for other spices, and is easier to incorporate. Whisking is necessary to incorporate everything.

It doesn't taste like a pumpkin spice latte, but it is its purer cousin: smooth thick earthy pumpkin, warm and (when I make it) lightly sweet. It's become my comfort drink of choice, but isn't too heavy; ideal for the start of a too-much-good-food day.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
Today: Guest from out of town and on the other side of town, people that Dee knows from online/the Sims community, two of which I'd met before. We went out to dinner and then came back for cookies (mine, but I'm not so happy with them that I'd comment on the recipe) and conversation; when the out-of-towners left to make the drive home, we three remaining played two rounds of Dominion (one round to learn the rules, one to use them; I enjoyed the game and would play it again). It was a really nice evening—fulfilling without entirely exhausting me, and people liked my cookies even if I am unhappy with them, and August was social and beautiful and adorable. The last was fantastic to see, since this is the first time she's had guests that were neither Devon (who is known and safe, but also competes for my attention and therefore not her favorite person) nor accompanied by a dog of never-go-downstairsness. She was more calm and sociable than I was expecting, and it was lovely to have her around.

This weekend (and/or Monday): I have some quiche (two pies, both broccoli and cheddar, one spicy and one mild) and cookies (leaning towards caramel apple) to bake, because—

Next Monday: We'll probably drive out to Beaverton for dinner with the across-towner, and to stop by Uwajimaya, and then—

Next Tuesday: Express is in town on business, and I'll head into downtown to stay with him, bringing quiche and cookies so that we don't have to eat out every night. And then—

Next Friday: Dee joins us downtown for the afternoon so that she can meet Express before he leaves town.

Next weekend: Devon may or may not visit.

Week after next: Thanksgiving in Portland with Dee's family. (Also Dee's birthday!)

Weekend after next, or within a few days of it: Probable visit to Corvallis for belated Thanksgiving brunch with my family.

So what I'm saying is that I'm busy. It's good busy, with quite a few down days scheduled in between, and time with Express will mostly be spent curling up on a couch and watching bad anime, but man it sure be busy nonetheless. I don't really have a point to make with that, at least not one that I've yet to make, or one that wouldn't take too long to type and really I should be resting and reading by now, seriously Juu. A few weeks back I had a missed opportunity and was sitting on about three spoons and sort of felt like—why did I ever move up here, I'm wasting the time away and doing nothing, and I have no life and I'm useless, and I can't do anything on my own, and. And those things are still 90% true, but the 10% that is making food and visiting people and filling up the calendar is making such a ruckus that right now it's all I have time to notice.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Chocolate Salted Caramel Cookies
I made these yesterday: Salted Chocolate Caramel Cookies.

One more shot of cookies. )

They're these cookies, with a few modifications (slightly decreased the sugar because I expected the caramels would make them plenty sweet, substituted sour cream + water for the yogurt since that's what we had in the fridge, and cut the caramels in half to make smaller cookies). Next time I'll use a cookie recipe that also contains melted chocolate in the dough, because these could stand to be darker. But I wanted to bake at midnight, so I used what we had and they turned out not half bad. The cookie is crumbly and slightly powdery, which here provides a nice contrast to the thick chewy caramel; halving the cookie size makes for adorable two-bite cookies, with I prefer to the full-sized test cookies I made; the salt on top is what makes them, contrasting and setting off the other flavors. The biggest downside is that they were best about ten minutes after coming out of the oven—and that it's hard to eat just one cute little cookie.

This is the first step in my grand effort to use up all the non-gnawed caramels from Halloween. The blessing and downside of a small batch of half-sized cookies is that there's approximately a billion caramels left. Caramel apple cookies are on the list, and I want to give salted chocolate and caramel another try, but I like sticking to small batches so we aren't buried by dessert.

Tomorrow evening I'm heading to Corvallis for a few days; I'll take some cookies to homemade pizza night with my parents. On the 10th we have out of state company for the day; on the 15th, Express is in town on business (!!!), I'll crash at his hotel room so that we can maximize our time together, and before he leaves down he can meet Dee; I plan to bring quiche and cookies so that we don't have to eat out for every meal. I begrudge this time of year for having all the good food, but to have people so share it with is lovely. These days I find that not only do I have to keep a calendar, as soon as I sit down to hash out the month's plans I find that that calendar has filled up—my only unscheduled week this month is Thanksgiving, which is unscheduled only because I still have so many plans (with my parents, with Devon's grandparents, with Dee's family) still up in the air.

On a similar note: On Wednesday I went into downtown to meet [livejournal.com profile] notsuchastrangr. We went to school together but never actually met there, so this was another first-time-in-real-life meeting—I seem awash in them these days. We went to Powell's where I picked up a book with a dodgy cover, and then had coffee at the Starbucks on the corner, and had many hours of surprisingly natural, gratifying conversation.

I find that I am beginning to have the friendships and conversations that I've always wanted to have. I used to envy people with clans/chosen family, and have to remind myself that I still had years to develop those sorts of relationships; now I live with Dee in Portland, and can go to San Francisco and be as at home with Express as if he were a sibling. As an adolescent I envied my parents's social circle, and wished that I could sit with the adults and talk about Big Issues; it disappointed me to find that those conversations didn't interest me (and weren't particularly Big), but now I can talk about everything from poetry to mental health with someone I "just" knew online, and build a meaningful dialog.

We ended up hanging out together for an extra hour or so, and by the time I came back I was in pain and exhausted. I can never overlook the trade-offs, my limitations, and the fact that these things—simple friendships—wouldn't be so remarkable or long in coming to someone else. But these days I can make those trade-offs willingly, say yes I'll stay a little longer and know that then I'll do nothing tomorrow; I schedule as many down days into my calendar as I do busy ones. I won't pretend to be content with who I am, but I am at least satisfied with so much, now.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
An addendum: And then August threw up her stolen treats and the next-morning's mini-breakfast. She's been punished enough by now, I think. For that matter, so have we all.

Today, Devon was in town. I haven't seen him in some time, because I was traveling and then because I was wiped out from traveling, so even a one day visit was glorious—although I am not yet sure if tomorrow I want all the distractions (so that I don't think about missing him) or nothing to do at all (because I may be spoonless and morose). Either way, today we made cream cheese-stuffed pumpkin bread French toast (the barely-sweet bread was fantastic for this, because the maple syrup really popped and all the flavors came together; in the future, however, I'd do bigger pieces of bread and plop some cream cheese on top, as the filling-to-bread ratio was low and the stuffing was unnecessary work) and carved some pumpkins—the first time I've done so in many years, and they will look fantastic on the front porch just as soon as we grab candles. If I have spoons and want distractions, perhaps there will be some seasonal stuff tomorrow; regardless, we have caramels for Halloween, I found a way to stream Hocus Pocus to the PS3 so we can watch it while waiting for the doorbell to ring, and I'll wear my cat-eared hoodie and my bell-and-tag collar. I even have some intentions for the leftover caramels (read: make stuffed cookies). These may not be the huge seasonal plans I had, but they are much more than I've done in some time and they're brilliant. (But I do wish my boy were still here.)
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
Yesterday night I made these:

Pumpkin chocolate chunk espresso muffins
Pumpkin chocolate chunk espresso muffins

I riffed off my family's pumpkin bread recipe with Handle the Heat's Banana Espresso Chocolate Chip Espresso Muffins and some simple experimentation, with an approximate resulting recipe of:

Pumpkin chocolate chunk espresso muffins recipe. )

If I did it again, I'd either cut down on the sugar (which I'd already decreased from the family recipe), or omit the chocolate or use darker chocolate (this was 68%); as it is, they're a little sweet. Chocolate chips may be better than chocolate chunks, for better distribution and so that they don't all sink into the heart of the muffin, which tastes fine but looks boring. I went heavy on the spices, which is lovely; it could probably use even more espresso powder, however, so that that flavor is more distinct. I might also increase the pumpkin and decrease the oil just a touch.

I'm heading down to Corvallis this evening to spend a few days there, and I'll bring about a dozen of these to spread around. It's good timing: I can show Mum how my first version of our pumpkin bread recipe turned out, and with others to help us eat these Dee and I won't drown in dessert. This weekend is also the Fall Festival, an unintended and delightful coincidence—I was thinking of going to the farmer's market with Papa, and now we can do both, and I can't wait. The weather has been a bit warmer these last few days, but the young maple one house down is going gold, and so help me autumn is here.

(In fact, I made pumpkin muffins because we had extra pumpkin puree after Dee made a simple, fantastic pumpkin soup. We had it with grilled (fake) chicken/havarti/arugula/kalamata sandwiches that night, and the next day we had it with toasted crusty bread with topped cream cheese. Both were fantastic, and you wish you had been there to have some.)
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
Yesterday evening I began planning out my calendar as far as the beginning of November. Who am I, and what have I become? I'm a person with a calendar, and substantial plans—because while it's not as full as I would like with local events, it does have entire weeks given over to events like "Jessica in San Francisco." Have I mentioned these plans yet? October 7 through 14 I'll be in San Francisco, meeting Express for the first time. We've been friends for approximately forever (five years, I think) but never met. This is an overnight train journey and a landmark event. That trip is now soon enough that I have to begin preparing for it, which is only mildly terrifying. (Express has been busy with work and I've been distracted with my own issues, or else we'd be at incredibly terrifying by now.) I need a cell phone with a working battery, and a second piece of luggage so that I can haul down half my bedding. The pragmatic minutiae makes it seem much more real.

The kitten has taken to pawing my face when waiting for food. It's the floofiest gentle little poke, and it's adorable, and she still has to wait until six. She also walks on my keyboard, and bites my hand, and cheek-rubs my nose. My kitty is cuter than your kitty, and I don't care whether you have one. When our weather changed overnight, August became the cuddliest of cats, thrilled to see me lay down and happiest at bedtime, all for a chance at warm snuggles. Last night she fell asleep tucked into the crook of my arm and under my blanket, so warm that she stretched from a little round into a longcat, so deep asleep that her paws began to twitch.

I have these moments when I seem to snap out of the reality of my life and see it as if from the outside in; moments when, converse to the distance I find myself with, my life seems so real and it raw that it hurts. I usually find it difficult to see anything at a distance, to comprehend trends or big pictures; recognizing all of that is surreal and terrifying. I do this with Devon. He gets a short shrift, because I so often see only the limitations and sins of the present—but in those moments I can see the entire span of our relationship, and I almost drown in all those years. I find I do this with August, now. She has become a part of my daily life, my black shadow, my pain in the butt, and much of the novelty and constant awareness that I have a cat! has subsided. But then I snap out, step back, and see with painful clarity the fact that my life has changed, and that I love her the way I love the person I love best. I may be complacent about the risk, but I can still drown.

Devon and I have been experimenting with French toast when he visits, ever since he made me breakfast in bed on a whim (my whim: the request for French toast; his whim: to fulfill it, even if I was still sleeping). Two weeks ago, we burnt sugar (the first attempt failed, but the house smelled quite lovely afterward) and topped French toast with caramelized bananas and pecans. The chewy bread, gushy bananas, and crunchy nuts were a fantastic combination, and cooked bananas are so decadent that you want nothing to do with French toast for some days. A few days ago, we made peanut butter stuffed apple French toast (variations from recipe: Italian bread, thinner cut, so that the finished product wasn't quite so overwhelming; future variations from recipe: thicker apple slices finished on a higher heat for more body and caramelization). The combination was classic, delightfully salty/sweet, and decadent—I'm sold on stuffed French toast, now. Future experiments will include pumpkin French toast (as in, with pumpkin bread—and potentially stuffed with cream cheese), and peanut butter/banana stuffed French toast. Anyone with any other ideas, I would love to have them. If you're hungry now, I'm sorry. So am I.

On the other hand, the first thing I saw this morning was Netflix's circumspect Qwikster announcement, via an email from Reed Hastings, Co-Founder and CEO of Netflix, which began, "Dear Jessica, I messed up. I owe you an explanation." Putting aside the incredible stupidity of this move (and the name—Quikster, seriously?) to focus on the wildly inappropriate tone of the email: It turns out there are few things as triggering to my sleep-addled brain as the combination of Reed* and a personal, conciliatory tone. I wasn't sure if it was more insurance application information or just another college nightmare, but whatever it was my brain hated it so thanks for that, Netflix. (Yes, insurance applications are still unfinished. Yes, I am grateful for the comments and support. No, I have no spoons to discuss it.)

No rhyme or reason to any of this, I guess. Above insurance business combined with a short visit with Devon and no visit with Lyz et al. (this is not passive aggression! I totally understand. I can still be bummed, though) means that I'm still a little out of it, halfway escapist, somewhat quiet and distracted. On the other hand there is an essential rightness all around me—gray skies, a bed that smells of Boomslang, a floofy cat. It always surprises me when I find more to say about that latter, about the good—and that, I think, is reason enough to say it.

* Reed College was my second college, and I loved it there but also dropped out of school there because of my mental health; I continue to have college nightmares and phobias to this day, four years later.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
It is 70 degrees Fahrenheit outside and the sun is still setting. Perhaps this shouldn't feel like a minor miracle, but it does, and I'll take it.

On Saturday, Dee and I drove into downtown Portland to meet [livejournal.com profile] sisterite/Lyz and a whole flock of others—Lyz's boyfriend, their roommate, the roomate's friend, a friend, and the friend's boyfriend, if I'm remembering it all correctly. They were visiting Powell's because, well, wouldn't you? And then we all went to Deschutes Brewery for lunch, which was surprisingly nice (not that I had my doubts)—I had the spinach flatbread (garlic cream sauce, sun dried tomatoes, whole milk mozzarella, chanterelle mushrooms, fresh local spinach, finished with garlic parmesan aioli) which was pretty much a sauceless pizza, rich and savory but, without sauce, not too heavy, with a wonderful kick from the aioli. When Lyz and her gang left—we only had about two hours with them, but, given that they were driving a round trip through Washington, that's understandable—Dee and I dropped back into Powell's. We browsed a bit, and in the last room as we were thinking of leaving we found the $1 "literature" section where I picked up a book about dog people (thus the sarcasm quotes) and another random fantasy of manners-esque find. Then we went across the corner to a roomy, all-amenities Starbucks, and I had my first pumpkin spice latte of the season. I hate it when these go away each year, but the blessing of their seasonal nature may be that the first is the best you will have all year: creamy and golden and spiced and just ask Dee, I would not shut up about how delicious my coffee was.

Lyz should be coming back through town this weekend, and we hope to grab her for a little longer if we can. One day we may even kidnap her and keep her overnight in the living room, with its delux pull-out couch—but shhhh, don't tell her that. The short visit was nice, and the day in downtown was quietly spectacular (and escaping into air conditioning was quite the added bonus), but I like a visit I can dig my teeth into, with less noise and fewer people and longer conversations, and a BPAL smellathon might be nice too.

Today we woke up to overcast skies and fresh cool air. The max temperature today was ten degrees cooler than yesterday, and it's looking to do so again tomorrow, and then so help us we may actually have low 70s for the rest of the month and see the actual advent of autumn. That's a cause for celebration, here. Dee dropped me off at Starbucks while she ran all number of shopping errands, because cooking food becomes more appealing when the house isn't already cooking you. I had a conversation about the book I was reading and OryCon with one not particularly socially adept middle-aged male, and then a 20-some indie artsy female thing brought in a large bag containing a small and mewling cat so that she could feed it about a cup of whipped cream. Something tells me that the average Portland Starbucks is a mite bit stranger than your average Corvallis Starbucks. I convinced (well, asked) the barista to take a slightly-expired free birthday drink card (because the hot weather has not been conducive to coffee drinking, either) and had a second pumpkin spice latte which so help me was just as good. I wrote a review, and figured out that my back is still not recovered from these last few days of pain, and when I left it was still a reasonable temperature outside.

I could get used to this, you guys. My eyes are peeled for turning leaves. My pumpkin necklace should be in the mail. We have the energy to do things again, energy that these long days have summer have been draining out of us. Today we had stir fry. Not burritos! And now the sun has set, and there's a cool breeze. Dee brought Spike out of prison and downstairs, and August is trying so desperately to get him to chase her around the house. And I'm happy.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
So then. More about the cruise. Something deeper than towel animals, in three parts.

First, let us talk of food. Or rather, of a lack. Not that there's ever a lack of food on a cruise ship, but this one had no idea what it was doing about vegetarian options. On the last cruise ship, which was on the Royal Caribbean line, all vegetarian dishes were marked vegetarian and there was a fair variety of them. On this one...

The general cafeteria, the Lido, had a tolerable selection but didn't mark foods one way or the other so every meal was a guessing game. The quality there was mediocre, with unripe ingredients and general inconstancy, but I could usually find something to eat (although it was often bread and cheese). The main restaurant, the Rembrandt, had one vegetarian dinner menu with about four or five selections for each course—and the menu didn't change during the entire week. The quality was hit and miss (the sushi appetizer was decent; the tempura entré was greasy, burned, and had gone mushy), sometimes from night to night (the celery and Stilton soup was delicious and rich on Friday and disgusting and watery on Saturday). To make matters worse, you had to order your vegetarian options the day before, and orders were taken right before the dessert course—precisely when you were no longer hungry. There were a few incidental vegetation options off the main menu, but hidden meat was everywhere and each dish had to be verified vegetarian at the kitchen. The ship also had two specialty restaurants: Tamarind was Asian fusion, it had no vegetarian options for anything but the entré (which was had only one flavor: salt, and lots of it); the other courses had to be prepared on the fly, and included a tasteless broccoli soup which was lacking both Asian influence and, I swear, any ingredient but broccoli (I think they just put one in a blender and heated it up). Canaletto was Italian, with exactly one vegetarian entré—which was actually pretty good, to be fair, but the antipasto was destroyed by low-quality ingredients. As was to be expected, desserts were universally mediocre, dragged down by syrupy fruits, a heavy hand with the sugar, and low quality chocolate, although there was one flourless lava cake which was pretty tasty.

The wait staff was incredible, and whenever I asked to verify if a dish was vegetarian they were happy to oblige—and they were caught entirely unawares by the request. When you push vegetarian dishes off to a second menu, you treat it as this strange rare thing—something that no one actually wants, something that doesn't need to meet the standards of the rest of the menu, something not really worrying about until someone goes "um" and you have to scramble to throw together a meal for that weird picky eater.

And this, while there were five vegetarians in our group. The others I think were either less strict or more trusting—it was cute, actually, when I was seated with the kids (12 and, er ... under ten, I'm shit at estimating ages) and helping them find something to eat, because they had never thought that soups might contain meat stocks (all those not on the vegetarian menus did), that salad dressing might have anchovies (most do, but it's the specific trademark of Caesar dressing), or all the other ways that meat is hidden in or sprinkled on food. But my point is that while it is a minority choice, being a vegetarian isn't all that weird. For that matter, omnivores can eat vegetarian dishes—and maybe they'd like to try the Stilton soup (on its good days, anyhow).

When you treat vegetarians as a strange, rare minority that doesn't really need to be worried over until they're sitting there in front of you, a bizarre exception to the rule of how "normal" people eat, you more or less guarantee that they will eat second-class food.

And I did, for a week. So there's that on that.

Dev and I went out to Thai food at a weird place called The Woodsman yesterday, and it was surprisingly delicious and surprisingly spicy (spice is another thing you're hard-pressed to find on a cruise ship—that dish burned going down, let me tell you, I was so out of practice); we are already making inroads on our journey back to good food. Today I hope to get my hands on a shortbread cookie, because cruise ships have universally blah desserts. If nothing else, this has reminded us how much we do enjoy food which is actually worth eating.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
I just had my birthday dessert with Devon's family, a Trader Joe's Handmade Chocolate Ganache Torte which I am pleased to say was actually pretty good. As we know I prefer my chocolate simple, pure, and dark; I dislike the texture and dilution of cakes, and I'm actually not a fan of ganache (again, I don't like the texture). This torte is chocolate mousse (fairly dense, and stored frozen which only makes it thicker) sandwiched between chocolate cake (low on flour, but not flourless—it's a dense cake without the crumb-texture of most cake) glazed with bittersweet chocolate ganache. It's dense and flavorful, rich chocolate without too much sugar, and the combination of textures makes for a lovely midpoint between creamy and chewy. I would still prefer a simple flourless torte (or chocolate souflé), but for something store-bought this was surprisingly lovely.

I finally instituted an obsession: chocolate tag. It's about time!

I sat down not to write about this, but about something else entirely. I'll get to that post soon. In the meanwhile, a blurb about chocolate. So there we go.
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

I would post a different lolcat, because this is the same one I used last year—but I used it then, and use it now, because it's my favorite. Perhaps it's a tradition now, too? (I still don't even like cake.)

Today's my birthday! I'm 25.

My birthday is, this year, as low key as always—and I prefer it that way. Yesterday I finished rereading To Charles Fort, With Love (my reveiw), which Dee ([livejournal.com profile] century_eyes) gave me—and it is a perfect gift because I love it more each time I reread it, and now I can stop borrowing the library's copy over and over again in an attempt to pretend it is mine own. (Ironically, my copy is a used library copy.) I started reading one of the four books I bought at Powell's during the Portland trip, which, while not explicitly a birthday gift, fall close enough to the date to feel like one—and I am throughly enjoying this book so far. This morning I caught my dear Bart ([livejournal.com profile] aep) on IM, and the chance to talk to him was a gift in itself. Devon gave me the ultimate edition of The Fifth Element, because I wanted a copy of the film with special features, and were thinking of BPAL for my big birthday present, because the Halloween update is, as always, glorious*—but I'll wait to see what I get from my parents before we make an order. And tonight my parents are taking Devon and me to dinner at Nirvana, one of my favorite local restaurants. It will be a good day.

ETA: And indeed it was—if a bit tiring. We had a lovely dinner with my family, and then went to New Morning Bakery where I had a flourless chocolate and cinnamon torte (interesting and enjoyable, but not quite as dense and flavorful as my preferred Chocolate Sin). My parents gave me a modal body pillow cover, which I'm very grateful to receive, and Travel Fresh Sleep Sack, which will be something of an experiment—I tend to take a modal sheet with me when I travel because I'm a picky little sleeping princess, so this may be an easier alternative. They also gave me some spending money which will probably go to BPAL, and some blue cheese stuffed green olives, which are my current favorite food in the whole wide world. Devon's family also gave me edible indulgences, which is never a bad choice: a chocolate torte to try when I'm not full on a different chocolate torte, some bree, and three varieties of dark chocolate bars (60-90%)—two of which I know I love. The festivities are done now, and I'm full and exhausted and it's time to curl up in quiet with a book—but yes, it was a lovely day. Thanks to everyone for the well wishes!

So happy birthday to me!

* For the curious: My tentative BPAL Halloween 2010 order. )
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
I spent last weekend in Portland (Oregon) with Dee ([livejournal.com profile] century_eyes), and have about a dozen entries I could make on the subject. But while catching up with Devon on the first evening, I mentioned where we'd gone to eat and he replied with, "You review everything." He meant it in a good way. ^_^ And so we begin with: Portland restaurant reviews, from this non-foody, vegetarian, picky eater who nonetheless found a lot of good food over the weekend. For the most part I can only speak to my own biased, limited experience, but nonetheless...

Doug Fir Lounge
We stayed at the Jupiter Inn, so it only made sense to visit their restaurant. I had the Farmer Sandwich with a side of tomato soup for lunch, and while the sandwich was damn hard to eat with anything approaching grace—chunky vegetables and extra cheese make for disobedient filling—the flavor of everything was wonderful: green veg, sweet red pepper, savory cheese, and a touch of bite from the onion in the sandwich with a rich, savory, flavorful soup. We both had the Mac-n-Cheese for a late dinner the next day, which was enjoyable but not quite as good: the breadcrumb topping adds wonderful texture, and the dish is warm and comfort-foody, but the pasta was a touch overcooked and the sauce could have used more garlic to make it pop (keep in mind, I eat a lot more garlic than most folk). All in all, a convenient, quirky place (the atmosphere is wonderful) with a nice menu. We were both impressed.

The Farm Café
Just down the street was this busy little restaurant, but the wait for a table was worth it. Most of the menu is preprepared, so turnaround is speedy—but they sacrifice no quality. I had the Goat Cheese Ravioli and while the cherry tomatoes and hazelnuts on top made for too much textural froo-froo, the flavor—especially of the tomato cream sauce—was divine, and the goat cheese gave it personality and kick. For dessert we split the Sunken Chocolate Soufflé with Coffee Ice Cream, which is made to order. A rich, hot bitter chocolate soufflé with a crispy top and moist heart, topped with sweet, cold, creamy ice cream—the combination of textures and flavors was delicious and decadent, and there are few things in this world better than a great chocolate dessert. We both loved this place and want to return—I think it's my pick for best of the weekend. The menu is extensively vegetarian friendly, and the outdoor seating has an atmosphere which is simultaneously classy, airy, and relaxed.

Grendel's Coffee House (get your website together, guys!)
Across the street from the hotel, and another lovely find. We went here for two light breakfasts, and they offer drinks, pastries, and sandwiches, a variety which makes this a flexible option. The food is simple, slightly above average in quality, with and special attention paid to little details like veg*n alternatives and tea variety. The atmosphere is what sells the place: low-key and off-beat, with friendly staff and interesting patrons, it's a good place for a nice long chat over coffee. This is the sort of local coffee shop that I wish I had in my hometown.

Old Wives' Tales
We came here for a light lunch, and I wish we'd been able to come back for more. Extensively vegetarian- and dietary restrictions-friendly, I love the ethos of this restaurant as well as its relaxed atmosphere. I had the Greek Melt half sandwich with a tossed salad—the salad was good but unremarkable, but the sandwich was lovely: again hard to eat, because it's served open-face and the ingredients are chunky, but the classic combination of Greek flavors in the feta, artichoke hearts, olives, and herbs was just delightful and everything was cooked to perfection. I only wish I'd had the chance to try their Pumpkin Pudding, because it sounds divine.

Café Umbria
Picked as a random choice within walking distance of Powell's, this was a nice little café. Selection is limited, which made for only one vegetarian sandwich—but it's hard to go wrong with a mozzarella/tomato/basil panini and this one was far above average: it was perfectly cooked, the bread texture was wonderful, the ingredients were fresh, and best of all a touch of balsamic vinegar brushed on the bread gave it a punch of flavor that I don't usually see in this type of sandwich and really enjoyed. The staff seemed a little harried—perhaps it was a busy day—which dampened the atmosphere, but the food itself was quite satisfying.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
Today Devon and I stopped by the local bakery/café and I had what they call chocolate sin. I've been phoning them and we've been stopping by, but it wasn't until today (after a month of trying) that they finally had it by the slice—it seems they offer it infrequently over the summer, but perhaps that's just coincidence. Chocolate sin is one of my favorite desserts. It is a flourless chocolate torte with whipped cream—flourless chocolate torte is as simple as chocolate, eggs, and butter, and it is everything that cake is not: rich and dense, flavorful and profoundly chocolate; the slightly sweetened whipped cream helps cut the density of both the flavor and texture, and so makes it a bit easier to eat. I am a purest, after all: chocolate needs little dilution, needs no other flavor, but it can be beautifully presented and prepared—this is that. It was amazing. It always is, but this time was particularly perfect.

Today I smell of coffee shops and used books, of Lurid Library (the incense-tinged scent of forbidden tomes and the musk-laden remnants of infernal servants) with just a touch of Miskatonic University (the scent of Irish coffee, dusty tomes and polished oakwood halls)—perhaps my favorite BPAL layering combination. It's the scent of poring over creamy, old parchment while drinking sweetened coffee, warm and ivory, non-foody but palatable, comforting and comfortable.

Today I am listening to S.J. Tucker's Neptune, from her new album Mischief.

And ah, it is beautiful.

In other words, today is a good day.

In fact, more and more days are so—I seem to be somewhat improved. I'm still a little subdued, a little moody, but this is as normal for me as breathing. I'm still a little incoherent—this particular downturn has been marked by a combined lack of will and lack of ability to deal with words, which has been unusual and unwelcome—but I'm finding it a little easier, day by day, to write and speak, and that I have more and more that I want to say. I'm still distracting myself with media consumption, but without the same sense of desperation. As always I am trying not to get my hopes up, so that if my mood takes another downturn I'm won't be disappointed. But I think it's safe to say that I'm crawling out of this funk. This is welcome.

I've missed a lot of congratulations and sympathies and simple interaction in my silence. If I've been ignoring you, I apologize! Know that I have been reading. There are some of you that I wish were here right now, to share this evening with me. Until then, you're in my thoughts.

Adopt one today! Adopt one today! Adopt one today! Adopt one today! Adopt one today!
juushika: Photograph of the torso and legs of a female-bodied figure with a teddy bear. (Bear)
Yesterday I went with my papa to the farmer's market. Every autumn a local orchard sells Liberty apples, the apples that which have spoiled me for all others. I am eating one now and trust me, after a Liberty apple all others are mushy and miserable—they're small, crisp, tart red and green apples with lovely flavor and crunch. My family buys them by the crateful as soon as they come into season and then feast on them through autumn and winter, and so I went with Papa and the family dog Jamie to buy them today. The weather the day before (and again today it seems) was mild and warm—so I went out in a short-sleeved hoodie, and of course the rain came down in buckets.

I pulled my hood up over my (freshly-washed, still wet hair) and Papa asked me, what, was I trying to keep my hair dry? By the end of our little walk I was able to wring water from that hood. Papa's hair was plastered to his scalp, and Jamie looked like she was covered in inky feathers rather than fine short fur. There were puddles on the side of the road, almost everyone had umbrellas, and the sky was thick and gray. Dogs are allowed at the farmer's market, but they're not in the booths—so James and I waited outside while Papa made quick purchases in each, standing alone on the dark roadway under pouring rain.

But it was still warm. So warm indeed that on my (admittedly cool) skin, I couldn't even feel the rain: the little pats of water droplets, yes, and the flow of water running down my forearms to drip from my fingertips; but it was a thin, gentle sensation, ghostly even—not because it was cool but instead because the water was just as warm as my bare skin.

The rain was intermittent but when it came, it came on heavy. It enveloped me. It washed my skin clean, the air clean, the street clean; it stained roadways and tree trunks to shining black against which autumn leaves glowed like embers. This was the first real rain of the season that I've walked in, soaked myself in, and properly enjoyed. It rains so constantly here that we all do get a bit sick of it, but because of days like yesterday I wouldn't trade it for much of anything. I grew up here, I learned to enjoy the rain from necessity—but now I love it, wholeheartedly. Pouring rain, clean wet streets, and autumn leaves. It was beautiful.

(The irony being: I still hate showering and hold an irrational fear of standing water.)
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
I eat more chocolate than most people. More, darker, purer than most people. I won't touch anything below 60% cacao content, tend towards the 75-85% range, and have happily consumed the mid nineties. I prefer my chocolate in solid bars, but I have a bit of tolerance for inclusions like cocoa nibs or well-done flavors. I feast on single-origin chocolate.

There is no such thing as chocolate too dark, or too much chocolate. And if you believe that, then the following information may be of interest to you. Granted, this information is likely United States-centric. I'm not particularly educated in the way of chocolate—my opinions are mine own, and based only on personal experience. And if you don't eat dark chocolate, I can't help you—indeed perhaps no one can, you poor soul.

The best chocolate I've ever had is Trader Joe's Chocolate Palatte. It's a selection of eight squares of single origin dark chocolate from around the world. The chocolates range between 60-75% cocoa content, and the palette comes with a description of each selection. To my knowledge, it's only available around the winter holidays, and the selections vary a bit from year to year. If you find it, buy it (and mail it to me!). It's always worth it. These chocolates are dark but palatable (very high cocoa percentages can be hard and bitter, but these are smooth and moderately sweet, perfect for eating in any quantity, any time), smooth but never waxy, and each selection is unique. When they say "Tanzania: Subtle fruitiness with a fine hint of vanilla," they mean it: subtle but flavorful, each region's chocolate has its own unique character. As a result there's plenty of variety, and while Venezuela's grasses disappoint me, I think that the peppery bite of Ghana is the perfect chocolate—there is something here for everyone. (Here's 2008's palatte, with descriptions.)

(I like my chocolate bitter—sugar doesn't sit well with me, and I think that solid chocolate should reflect its bitter bean. However, single origins are perfect for infusing subtle flavor while preserving chocolate's true nature. I adore fruitiness and vanillic sweetness, which compliment bitter chocolate to make a well-rounded, palatable bar. But my favorite is pepper and spice, which capitalize on chocolate's inherent bitterness to give it a lovely bite. Outside of single origins, these rules don't apply: I dislike most fruit-flavored chocolate, and I'm not sold on spiced chocolate with the exception of hot peppers.)

Unfortunately the Trader Joe's palette isn't available all year, so I have to make do with other options. I've recently fallen in love with Green & Black's organic chocolate, and it's my second pick. When choosing a dark chocolate, tend towards organic and fair trade—not just because it's the ethical choice, but because these chocolates tend to be higher quality and are, or share qualities with, single origin chocolate. They taste better and have more character. Green & Black's does a lovely, creamy, organic dark chocolate—palatable, but as a trade-off missing some of chocolate's bite. I've only had a couple of their bars so far, but I'm sufficiently impressed to recommend them. Their flavored bars can be a bit strong (Maya Gold is the cloying culprit here), so chose with caution—but sometimes they do a remarkable job, and their Ginger bar is near perfection: the ginger is candied, which makes for a wonderful texture combination—a bit of crunch in the sugar and chewiness in the ginger, but finely chopped to preserve a smooth chocolate texture throughout.

(Chocolate and ginger is startling and wonderful combination, and if you've not tried it then you should. Along with the Green & Black's Ginger I've also had chocolate-dipped ginger, and don't know the maker or I would share, because they are wonderful: rich bites of chewy, fibrous ginger smoothed by dark buttery chocolate. Ginger isn't as sharp as you might think, especially with chocolate; instead, it has a clean, sweet, spiced flavor and a wonderful dense fiberous texture. It's a surprisingly lovely companion to chocolate.)

Before discovering Green & Black's I enjoyed—and I still recommend—Dagoba chocolate. Dagoba generally makes a darker, denser bar; the texture isn't quite as smooth as Green & Black, so it feels less skillful and indulgent. However, their sugar content tastes lower—making for a less palatable chocolate (in the easy-eating sense) which feels a bit more like "real" cocoa. They do a lovely solid dark bar, but my pick from Dagoba is their Xocolatl bar, which is textured with cocoa nibs and flavored with chili. It's a dry, crunchy, bitter, spicy bar that preserves a bit of sweetness and full-flavored fruitiness. It's beautiful and unique, and if you love spicy chocolate this is the bar for you.

I also recommend Scharffen Berger chocolate. It's not an exceptional chocolate and I've not explored much of their range, but their 70% cacao bar is a good, solid, dark chocolate. And I mean that literally: it's also used for baking, and it's thick and dense as a brick. It doesn't have a distinctive taste but it has a nice, deep, rich flavor and it's smooth without being too creamy or waxy. My folks stock this for baking, and I steal if for eating. It's not my first choice but it's a dependable, enjoyable option.

Meanwhile there's plenty of chocolate which I don't recommend—primarily Lindt. Lindt makes a smooth, dark bar and seems like a good idea—but it goes downhill from there. Lindt chocolate is flat and bland, altogether lacking personality, and its smoothness tends towards waxiness. Their darker bars have a lovely low sugar content, but the bland chocolate doesn't have any flavor to round out the bar—so they're bitter and featureless. The flavored bars have a lower cocoa content and more sugar; they start out well (their Chili bar in particular is promising), but end up excessively milky and sickly-sweet. These bars are readily available and they have a famous name and a beautiful image, but skip them—the chocolate itself is disappointing.

I don't recommend Ghiradelli chocolate either, for similar reasons—at least, I think so. It's been so long since I've eaten their chocolate that I barely remember just what factors lead to the apathy that made me search for a new chocolate bar. It's fair to say that their dark chocolate bars are featureless. They do a good balance of darkness vs. palatability, but the texture also leans towards waxy and simply put: a bland, unremarkable chocolate is not a chocolate worth eating.

On that note I also warn away from most commercial supermarket chocolates, even if they have a "dark" flavor. Dove's dark is waxy. Hersey's dark is gritty with sugar. Commercial dark chocolate is best preserved for commercial candy bars (mmmmm, Milky Way Dark). If you want real dark chocolate—dense, smooth, flavorful quality stuff which will do more than satisfy a sugar craving and actually fulfill a need for the darkest cocoa—invest in a specialty bar. The increased cost and decreased accessibility more than pay off, because these bars will last you through more than one sitting and they won't leave you still hungry for real chocolate.

No doubt there are brands that I've not tried—and I'm welcome to suggestions—but discovering Green and Black's has had these thoughts on my mind and so I thought I'd share. I wrote it over the weekend when no one read's LJ, so I shall post in now on a weekday when someone might. On a similar note, a few weekends ago I wrote a post on dealing with chronic lower back pain—information from my experience which may provide advice for yours. If that may be helpful to you, have at!
juushika: Photograph of the torso and legs of a female-bodied figure with a teddy bear. (Bear)
Macaroni, boiled in heavily salted water and drained. Combined in the cooking pot with a small pat of butter, a large handful of cheese, and chopped garlic in olive oil to taste, and warmed over the burner until smoothly combined. I put garlic in everything (it's one of my favorite foods), but in macaroni and cheese it makes for a more nuanced, adult version of the comfort food, and it was damn good. Creamy, rich, and flavorful—perfect for today's cold weather.

Speaking of cold weather: Glancing out the windows, the world looks like my icon (minus, of course, the bear). The Oregon sky is overcast blue, alternating today with flashes of sudden sunshine. The leaves have all turned yellow, orange, rich red, set against the evergreens and grasses. The air smells of rain on leaves. It's perfect weather for oversized sweaters and comfort food...

...and full-on autumn has turned certain BPAL from good to wonderful. Fearful Pleasure (dried orange peels floating in simmering cider, roasted apples, smoldering firewood, chimney smoke, sassafras beer, warm hawthorn wood, and oakmoss) has become my go-to scent, so much better than I first thought—it's rich, warm apple cider is perfect for the weather, and I am so glad I have a bottle. It clings to my clothes, so I've taken to wearing Samhain (damp woods, fir needle, and black patchouli with the gentlest touches of warm pumpkin, clove, nutmeg, allspice, sweet red apple and mullein) afterwards, as they share roast apple—its sweet woodiness was too strong earlier in the season, but has become wonderful sap-sticky warmth now. Today, I'm wearing my beloved Ivanushka (soft, velvety fur and warm musk, brushed by forest woods and dusted by dry leaves) layered with Yggdrasil (nine woods, nine leaves, and three herbs each for Ratatosk and Vidofnir, with three final herbs to placate Nidhogg) which I find too dry to wear alone but brings out the forest in Ivanushka.

As a result, the sweater I've been wearing lately—a big comfortable mossy green affair stolen from the boy—smells like the whiff of spiced cider wafting through dry woods to reach someone sitting indoors, wrapped in a soft fur blanket. It's amazing.

Still speaking of: I'm considering my BPAL holiday order. It looks like it'll wonderfully, relatively, large. I still have my Yule update order on the way via [livejournal.com profile] bookandbroom (it should arrive sooner rather than later, and I'm very excited), but the boy is buying me a Christmas present, I have a very belated birthday gift to pick up, and I may tack on something extra from leftover birthday funds.

I'm considering ordering... ) Either way, it's an order of four or five units (e.g. one bottle or six imps), which is the largest that I've ever ordered. It makes me almost proud, and very excited—and anxious to see what frimps come with it. We plan to order about mid-month, so I have another week or so to talk it over with the boy and finalize the list.

Life is quiet, but good. I hope that everyone is well.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
My love for Mongolian food (yay, dinner tomorrow!) is based largely for my love in the wondrous herb that is cilantro. In fact, I fill my bowl at the Mongolian restaurant with noodles, fried tofu, sliced carrots, broccoli, soy sauce, vinegar, lime juice, salt water, hot oil, and as much cilantro as I can fit in the bowl without strangers staring at me or waiters kindly removing the serving spoon from my hand. There is no such thing as too much, in my taste. I have used whole containers of it.

Since I cannot eat Mongolian every day (a pity, I know), Devon and I bought two bushels of fresh cilantro to try and find a way to discover more uses for this amazing herb. I have a similarly passionate love for garlic (I can eat more garlic in one sitting than most people will eat in a week), and so we bought three heads of garlic for a similar purpose. I'm not actually a big fan of food, I wish people could live without it, but trust me—even to my narrow tastes, this was an experiment well worth trying.

Because two tries later, I am now in a house rich with the spicy green scent of cilantro and my stomach is full, and we have achieved success. The result is incredible. I present (and I would offer pictures, but I didn't think to write a recipe until all the yummy was consumed):

Awesome Cilantro and Garlic Pasta
Prep and cook time: 20 minutes
Serves two

1 bushel fresh cilantro
3-6 cloves of garlic (more to taste)
Olive oil
Handful of your favorite dry pasta (I prefer angel hair)
Grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions )


juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (Default)

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