Wednesday, December 19, 2007

a recipe

It's potluck time for my Bible study group tonight at our annual Christmas party/white elephant gift exchange. Last year the highlights were an amazing pomegranate guacamole and a mannequin leg. We shall see what this year brings. The maker of the guac and the giver of the leg will not be there this year, so perhaps there will not be such exciting stories to tell.

I was inspired to make some gnocchi to bring to the potluck tonight. So yesterday (at 9:30p.m. for some odd reason) I tried my hand. Gnocchi is a delightful potato-based pasta which I had not eaten or even heard of until just a few years ago, but it is one of my favorites. I believe it's also a suitable "buy local-and-in-season" option for this time of year -- the ingredients are potatoes (which should be abundant in much of the US now), flour (assuming you've done your threshing and grinding already, that should be somewhere in your kitchen), and eggs (hens function throughout the year). If I can make it, you definitely can make it!! Just follow these easy steps...

1. Fill a large saucepan or pot with water, put on the cover, and heat it to boiling.

2. While waiting for the pot to boil, peel potatoes. You can use regular potatoes or sweet potatoes/yams. I used fingerling potatoes. You'll want to use enough to end up with 1 cup mashed. I used about 6 fingerlings. Cut the potatoes up into chunks to help them cook in the next step, if you'd like.

3. Boil the potatoes. Some people say this takes 15 minutes. I don't know because I didn't cook mine long enough. They should be done (fully smushable) but not dry.

4. While boiling the potatoes, measure out 2 cups of flour and set aside. Also get out one egg. Think about if you'd like some flavoring. Basil? Salt? Butter? If you're working with sweet potatoes, maybe some nutmeg and cinnamon? Olive oil? Pepper? Garlic? If you want flavor, get that out, too. Suggested amounts for butter and olive oil: 2T butter, 1T oil.

5. When potatoes are done, scoop out from pot and remove pot from heat. Keep the water, because you'll use it later and it's such a waste to dump it. An authentic Italian just told me that you should let the potatoes cool completely to ensure success. Mash the potatoes really, really, really well in a big bowl. Use a ricer, use a hand mixer to whip them, whatever it takes to get them good and smushy.

6. Add egg and mix. At this point I started using my hands to mix, because I figured it would help mush the potatoes even more.

7. Stir in any flavoring you desire at this point.

8. Gradually add flour to the potato-egg mixture, kneading it in with your hands. You might not need all 2 cups of flour or you might need a bit more depending on the potato-egg consistency. Continue adding flour and kneading until you get a dough that sticks more to itself than to your hands. It shouldn't be too dry, but it certainly should hold its own and not get gook on you when you touch it.

9. Once the dough is formed, turn on the heat to heat the water to a boil again.

10. Make a little rope of dough (about 1/2 inch in diameter) either by rubbing between your hands or rolling on a floured or plastic surface.

11. If you are using a plastic surface (like a cutting board, which I recommend) on which to form your ropes, ensure that it is far enough from the heating element so as not to melt. Otherwise, the following may occur...If you smell something that is sort of yucky and reminds you of wax candles burning, that is bad.Oops.

12. Cut the ropes into about 1-1/2 inch pieces, and roll them in half. I guess the traditional thing is to have the impression of fork tines on the dough, so use a fork if you want to. Or a spoon. I used my fingers.

13. Put the rolled up gnocchi pieces into the boiling water. They'll sink to the bottom. Put the cover back on the pot and boil for about 3 to 5 minutes.14. If you haven't roped and rolled all of the dough, continue doing this while the gnocchi cook.

15. When the gnocchi are done cooking...they will float to the top!That means they're done, and you can drain them and eat them alone or with butter or with tomato sauce or anything else you want! Yum!

Friday, December 14, 2007

for health, for the earth...or for the steelers?

A short skit recounting an actual conversation:

(A green compact car pulls into the parking lot of a grocery store in a semi-shady part of town. The driver, a single young woman, has been duped in this area before by a pan-handler...and she has grown to dislike the lewd comments thrown at her by many a straggler on the street. Thus, as she parks the car and exits she is cautious as a man smoking a cigarette approaches.)

Man: Are you going to The Store?

Woman, continuing to walk to the entrance to the store: Yes, I am going to The Store.

Man: Do you work there?

Woman, wondering what makes this man think that he should be allowed to pry into a vulnerable young woman's personal business, especially in this neighborhood: No.

Man: Are you going shopping there?

Woman, becoming more wary of the guy as he is obviously not going to leave her alone and thinking caustically, "No, I'm just going to take a tour of the meat counter and then flirt with the cute baggers. Why else would I be going into The Store?!": Yes.

Man: Okay, I'm just checking because we're ticketing and towing today.

Woman whirls around and looks at the sign above the parking spot where her car is located. It clearly reads "For customers of The Store only while shopping." And that is what she is doing. She says: What, can't I park here for The Store today?

Man: I just wondered why you parked so far away.

(Truth be told, the woman had parked approximately fifty paces away from the entrance to the store. Not "far away" by a terribly large portion of the population, but obviously the man had a different frame of reference.)

Woman, with more than a little irritation in her voice: Well, I use less gas, create fewer emissions, and get some exercise if I park there.

(This is 100% true. It was actually what the woman had been thinking as she entered the parking lot and selected her parking space.)

Man: Okay! There's a Steelers game today, and we don't want anyone trying to use our parking lot while they go to the game.

(Well, that explains it - I guess. The store is within walking distance to the stadium where the Steelers play football. Not that the woman really appears to be going to a Steelers game...she is dressed in her Sunday best, having just left from church a few minutes before, and that is not typically the attire individuals wear to football games, particularly ones that are occurring on drizzly days. The woman walks away, enters the store, is disappointed to find that the store does not carry any organic yogurt - the single item on her list, which she was hoping to find at this store since it was on her way and would therefore be a more environmentally-friendly choice for shopping than driving to another store on the other side of town where she knows they sell yogurt that has been produced using sustainable practices. Feeling afraid that the man in the parking lot is going to see her return to her car empty-handed and assume she was lying all along about not trying to stealthily usurp the parking space for her own ulterior football-viewing purposes, the woman grudgingly grabs a package of (non-organic) cookies off of the shelf, buys them, and returns to the car to proceed home where she can allow the comfort of buttery shortbread to console her in her misunderstood state. Bleh!)


Thursday, December 06, 2007

the sounds of the holidays

Last week I completed the last "experiment" I need to do for my dissertation (unless some thesis committee members unexpectedly bust out some new demands, but I'm going to assume the chances of that are slim). I need to do some data analysis and potentially run a few more samples if I can possibly get that particular assay to start working again in our lab...but other than that life needs to stop being about doing experiments and start being about writing a dissertation and finding a new job. Just simple tasks, really...

Anyhow, that is why I have been absent for a while. Since I last posted, Thanksgiving has come and gone. For Thanksgiving I went to a cabin in Lake Hope State Park in Ohio, where my mom, dad, and brother gathered for a lovely time of turkey and all the fixings (and 4 pies). I try very hard to not "start" Christmas until after Thanksgiving, but let me tell soon as I was "out of the woods" on my drive back to Pittsburgh on Black Friday...I opened up the newly released Relient K Christmas album and put it into the CD player!

If you like Christmas; if you hate Christmas and feel especially lonely and sad during this time; if you get sick of the snowy, cold weather of winter; if you have ever wondered what a partridge is and what it's doing in a pear tree...then you should run - not walk, run! - to the store (or website) and buy Let It Snow Baby...Let It Reindeer. This newest release from my favorite rockin' guys has several songs that were on their previous Christmas album (which...I do not have), one from an older release, and a few new ones - both originals and traditional Christmas songs. I'm rather sorry that I never picked up the old Christmas album, because it (and the new one) contains what is my current favorite song: "I Celebrate the Day". And...I hate to admit it, but my second favorite is the kind of farcical rendition of a traditional carol that is the "hidden track."

That's what I've been listening to as I've been driving to and fro in the snow and sitting for long, long hours in the lab! If I could just figure out what I did with my camera, I'll share some sights of the holidays in the next couple of days...

Have a cuppa cheer!