19 November 2008

For the love of beans!

For many years, I have put the same two items on my parent-requested Christmas gift list: leather gloves and a coffee grinder. If Miguel and Mama Crow request a list this year, I know it will be two items long and look a lot like last year's list.

I have you know that my cat is going to provide them with a seemingly greedier three item list. Were I to cast bets on this sort of thing, I would say that Buster will most assuredly receive the kitty fishing pole, laser pointer, and the obnoxious plastic ring of fun that he is requesting from either my parents or from that jolly old elf, Santa Claus. This is because I know that Miguel likes to spoil my nephew rotten and provides his own "damn cat" Charley with an allowance for treats. No joke. I owe that cat $12 or a package of Liv-a-Littles.

In any case, I'm never terribly disappointed about receiving something other than the items on my list. Except last year when I went to the trouble of providing the exact name, list price, color and retailer of the precise glove pairing and coffee grinder I wanted, while also providing feasible and acceptable alternatives in the price points below and above my preferred choice.

Honestly, were I not a self-proclaimed Broke Ass Ho, I would have bought these items for myself. Okay. I would have bought the grinder because I'm superstitious about losing the gloves I buy for myself within a week of purchase. But I am a Broke Ass Ho, hence my recent propensity for borrowing other people's shit. Thanks for all the books and movies, friends!

So, yesterday I decided to buy myself a pound of coffee. I was finally out of beans and I'd had a day filled with back spasms, two accidentally de-potted houseplants, and a tiff with my psychiatrist. This-- coupled with the fact that I'd been drinking awful to barely palatable coffee since last February-- meant that I decided that this Broke Ass Ho was going to spring for the splurge-tastic Stumptown coffee beans. It's locally roast, directly traded, and tastes like liquid magic every time.

What does one do when the very recently re-potted plant is again splayed across on the rug of your living space? One makes coffee with their new beans! Right?

Not so fast.

Here's where the problem begins. I forgot to have my beans ground. I was too busy trying to use my extensive theatre training to observe the appropriate level of flirtation in the exchange between myself and the espresso slinger that rang me up. I've applied to some seasonal jobs in retail, and I am convinced that a certain level of sugar is necessary in all retail transactions. Being that outward display of such flirty sweetness does not come naturally to me, I need to prepare for the role in the improbable case that I am actually cast.

So, how does one get coffee without ground beans and without a coffee grinder? There are two ways. One not so effective, but perfectly kosher. The other less legal route requires a little more strategy. I will share both methods here.

The first way to grind your beans is to take out your blender, rolling pin and tenderizing hammer to bash up your beans. This is both messy and ineffective. Plus, getting shards of beans in the eye is no picnic. I have not attempted this means of grinding beans since I first took note to avoid it about 2 years ago.

The second method is simple, but borderline legal. Essentially, it requires using a service without the purchase of any goods. It's not as shady as shoplifting, because your beans are bought and paid for, but the grinder you use has not been provided for your specific beans.

The first step to this process is dressing the part. The idea is to blend in with the crowd of shoppers. I suggest going for a business casual look as it provides enough comfort while also maintaining the practical edge of looking like you are there for legitimate business practices. Bonus points if this outfit can reveal just enough of one of your best assets to distract fellow shoppers and supermarket employees from what you are doing. I like to wear a skirt because I have nice ankles and shapely calves. When costuming oneself, it is important to bring a purse or some sort of bag in which to stash your beans.

Devise an exit strategy in case one is caught by any store employees. My current plan involves turning on the tears and intermittently blurting out the words "forgot", "prescription" and "psychiatrist" in some order between sobs.

Enter the store and pick up a basket. Head over to the produce department and select an orange or any other easily attainable piece of produce. Put this fruit and your handbag into the shopping basket. While you are walking over to the coffee aisle, remove the beans from your bag.

When you locate the coffee grinder, set down the basket. Locate the paintbrush that the Courtesy Clerk must use to clean out the coffee grinders in the store's closing rituals. It will most likely be located alongside the machine or up high on the coffee display. It may or may not have a chain depending on how many paintbrushes have wandered off in this store's location. Flip the cover on the grinder's chute a couple times and brush off any grinds debris. This step may seem unnecessary, but it is a pivotal part in establishing that you look like you belong there at the coffee grinder to any passersby.

Bend down, pick up your coffee, and grind as instructed. When coffee is ground and the bag or bin is resealed, drop coffee into open purse (still located inside basket).

Walk away from the grinder and over to the artisan cheese display. Pick up some Gruyere, cock head as if to say, "Am I forgetting something? Did I leave the oven on?" Remove purse from the basket and walk back to the produce department. Ditch your decoy fruit. Put the shopping basket back in the pile of baskets. Exit the store at a medium pace, enjoying the aroma of freshly ground beans.

Ah yes, and to cap it all off thank your liberal arts education for providing you with the appropriate tools to work the system while still producing the appearance of ethical standards. Woo! A cup of that quasi-illegally ground coffee tastes extra delicious while pondering the profundity of your deviance. Make a second cup and write about it on your blog.

17 November 2008

Weekend trip to Cookieville

I went a little nuts with the cookie baking this weekend, ending up with a grand total of 9 different baked treats. Really. It is crazy to bake this many cookies in one weekend. I would say that this was the result of some sort of manic phase were it not for the massive amounts of lithium already coursing through my veins. I should still probably mention it to my psychiatrist. Would it be inappropriate to bring him a goodie bag?

The baking crusade began when my sister complained that all she wanted to do was sit at home and eat homemade cookies. But, being that her life is consumed by being a workaholic, mother of an 18 month old "demonic child beastie" (her exact words-- which, I happen to know is a term of extreme affection from J), and a chronic migraine sufferer, she had resigned herself to pouting about cookies instead of baking and eating them. I, being a bored, childless, and a chronic cookie baker decided that I could afford the postage required to brighten her day.

So, since my favorite recipes were feeling a little worn around the edges, I walked up to the library where I checked out a book of cookie recipes and a very tattered copy of Neil LaBute's The Shape of Things on DVD. If anyone is going to do a marathon cookie make, may I suggest having a movie lined up. It is quite a nice way to recharge one's batteries. May I also suggest parchment paper, particularly if you do not own a dishwasher.

I will be delivering cookies to willing recipients once I recover slightly from this sugar hangover. So, if I know where you live and I didn't see you this weekend, expect a knock at your door and a bag full of cookies.

I'll go through the cookies and describe them one by one.

Scandinavian Sand Cookies

These unfortunately named cookies (who wants to eat sand?) are basically a dry version of a snickerdoodle with cardamom. They taste great with milky black tea. My chances of writing down the recipe are somewhat high, but only because I have yet to find a snickerdoodle recipe that is up to snuff.

White Chocolate Oatmeal Cranberry Cookies

These are probably my second favorite of the bunch. Not only is the cookie a tasty breakfast substitute, it also taught me a trick to making your thick-grained cookies taste extra delicious. These also have the distinction of being the only cookie here that I mixed entirely by hand. Not because I am a bad ass, but because my little had mixer was starting show evidence of transmission problems. Oops. Remember how I've said that if anyone is ever dumb enough to get married to me I will only be registering for sharp knives? Well, I'm going have to add a Kitchen Aid mixer to that list, too.

Chocolate Crinkles

So I used to have a pretty gnarly allergy to chocolate. Or, really, since it affects my digestive tract rather than making my throat swell shut, I had a nasty intolerance to chocolate. Being that my eating habits were developed prior to the realization that I could eat chocolate again, the recipes I selected were not particularly chocolaty. As it turns out, this was a good thing. The dough for these cookies requires refrigeration. So, I went to town making the dough before I went over to a friend's house for dinner. I don't typically do a lot of tasting while I bake, but I do some. And I know I'm guilty of tasting this more than usual because I was worried that the ratio of sugar to unsweetened chocolate was not right. Fast-forward through dinner (and a slice of tiramisu torte that could not be refused) and it turns out that I still can't eat chocolate like the best of 'em.

Sugar Pretzels
I'm a sucker for the pretzel shaped cookies in those blue tins of Dutch Butter Cookies people start give at this time of year. I thought it would be nice to make them myself. Nope it's not nice at all. The dough for this cookie (even when refrigerated overnight) is pretty flaky. Thus, I made a round of pretzels before rolling out the rest of the dough to make cut out hearts. By the 100th heart, I was glad I switched.

Toffee Almond Bars
I'm typically not a fan of cookie bars, but I made these because I like almonds and I like toffee. This was the one recipe where my amateur baker felt that I could improve the recipe by using vanilla instead of almond extract, adding some cocoa to the dough so it was chocolaty throughout, and baking it a few minutes less. My friend's kid seemed to like them, but not enough to reprise this performance:

Benne Wafers

Crispy Sesame Chips that do not like humidity. They were delicious until they all stuck to one another. I am thinking of melting them down to try again.

I made these cookies at the request of my friend Chrissy. She flipped through the cookbook and chose these because they had her two favorite ingredients: honey and walnuts. Even though the recipe looked difficult, I agreed to make them because Chrissy is the type of friend to remember that you want a new hair dryer even when you yourself do not remember such things. I was also intrigued because it said the recipe might date back to the Phoenicians.

I'm going cut out the niceties and just say that these cookies are a bitch to make. They required toasting and chopping about a million walnuts. They required zests of lemon and oranges and fresh squeezed orange juice and I don't have the right tools to do these quickly. It also called for me to cry a half cup of brandy tears. When all was said and done, I think these cookies took about 7 hours to make.

I didn't even want to eat one when it was fully "ripened" the next morning. When I did, I decided it was like the love child of Baklava and a dry cookie. I decided that I like the parents better than the child. I also decided never again to make me a cookie with a name reminiscent of skin cancer.

Pumpkin Ginger Pillows
These cookies were the last ones I baked. They are good, but I was in a bit of a cookie coma when I finished them. Their secret ingredient? Crystallized ginger. This turned out to come in handy when I was having tummy trouble from the near-lethal Chocolate Crinkle dough-tiramisu torte combo.

Chocolate Walnut Meringues
I love a good meringue cookie. This dates back to my days as a wee little Crowling. There was a family owned grocery store around the corner from my parent's house. We didn't go there often, partly because it was pricey, but mostly because the family's son had gotten into some trouble for shooting the neighborhood cats with a crossbow.

When my parents did shop there, they would often bring home a giant meringue cookie from the bakery department. It was piped into a perfect swirl and topped with rainbow nonpareils. I looked at this recipe and figured-- barring some huge meringue error on my part (meringue takes patience and an eye for what type of foamy peak one is dealing with)-- that I would be in love. I was right. I loved these cookies. Notice the past tense.

10 November 2008

Smells Fishy

I know I am far to late to be jumping on the anti-Prop 8 bandwagon, but hear me out. It stinks big time.

Follow me now to Tangentville... Buster, a healthy eater, typically does not show any sort of enthusiasm for canned cat food with one exception. He goes nuts for this whole mackerel in gravy which is exactly what it sounds like: small, whole curled up stinky fish in an oily brown sauce. This is the only canned food that makes him lick his plate clean. It stinks up my entire apartment. My hands smell like fish even after a good soapy scrub. Forget aromatic cheeses. This cat food trumps all in its rank of smells offensive to my olfactory sense.

In fact, the only thing that I can think of that might smell worse is taking a dip in a jacuzzi filled with vomit. But even that would be a relatively bearable smell when compared with the injustice of Prop 8.

As a recovering Californian with two Californian parents, I usually hear a smattering about the state's political issues, even when they do not merit national attention. Everything I have heard about this proposition reeks of absurd levels of ugly.

My parents (who sent Buster a Frisbee in the mail today ?!??) have put to light some of the brand of crazy that propagated this stench-ridden issue. My mom, an elementary school counselor, spoke of a little girl who's parents participated in an official "re-commitment ceremony" of marriage in their church as a way to promote the measure. Religion mixed with ritual and spectacle. Seems quite literally medieval to this performance scholar.

My dad's reaction to Prop 8 almost caught me off guard. As the most conservative of the birds in our immediate nest, I thought he might be a hard sell. Instead, he had a lot of really fantastic and rational arguments against the passage of the measure. It was the sole reason he voted (he proudly wrote in "None of the above" for president, but that's another story). In fact, Miguel was sort of fired up about the whole thing. "Why is this even on the ballot? Does the Supreme Court even matter anymore?" he asked. He pointed out a lot of instances of organizations illustrating their lack of backbone by remaining neutral in respect to the measure. "Fucking hypocrites!" Mike shouted into the phone receiver. Fucking hypocrites indeed.

I tried to collect my thoughts on the matter, but between looking for a job and imagining a Japanese-style game show called Ichiban Alcoholic with my friends, I watched this video from MSNBC. It is far more eloquent than I can muster, and it pretty much says it all.

Anyway, I think it's time to do something about that awful smell.