Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Am I the only one who finds it hilarious that CampMor felt compelled to note "dog not included"?
I emailed the Colorado Geologic Survey and sent the photos, not really expecting to hear back because I only had the general e-ddress for them. To my delight, I got a reply today... and not just a form letter, but an actual reply from an actual geologist who gave me props! Whoo hoo!
Here is his answer (in my original email, I had mentioned my theory that the formation was a tertiary igneous dike):
[Pirate], good observation. That is a "radial dike," just like at the Spanish Peaks. Magma feeding a volcano filled in fissures that spread radially out from the throat of the volcano. The solidified rock is much more resistant to erosion than the surrounding material so becomes preserved. Those were some great photos, with the snow. I have photographed that feature several times and I never got a photo as good as those. Maybe I can use those sometime (with permission and with credit provided.)
Colorado Geological Survey
Yee hah! I don't know if it means my life is so lame that getting a reply about a rock formation can make my day, but I'll take it.
And now I can rest easier know it's just a radial dike and not a portal to a fourth dimension kingdom run by flying monkeys. Because, you know, the thought had crossed my mind.
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
I'd watch his cooking show any day.
Chris, if you need an assistant/guest pastry chef, call me.
Monday, April 28, 2008
Friday, April 25, 2008
I should know. I've been a tour guide and oh, the tales I've told. Not only that, but when she and I went hiking on the Isle of Man, we did have a couple of tour guides at medieval sites who excelled in truthiness.
So I did a little research. If, like me, your interest in Mormon chick hair and making homemade skyr is bested only by a deep fascination with cannibalism, here's some, er, food for thought that supports Ranger Craig's statements.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
This is one of my favorite photos of Wiley ever, taken at Four Corners Monument:
Barking in four states at once. That's living the dream. (I'm not surprised I got him to bark on cue... this is Wiley we're talking about, after all, but I am delighted that I got him to stand right on the actual Four Corners.)
Here he is in the new Kelty Grand Mesa tent I ordered from Camp-Mor in New Jersey... only days before learning Kelty was based in Boulder, about 15 miles from me as the crow flies (but on the other side of the Front Range, so it's a two-hour drive each way):
"Hmmm... comfy... but I wonder where the human will sleep?"
I am stretched out in my sleeping bag, beside a very smelly (great night to have gas, Wiley), very tired dog who is managing to take up about 2/3 of the small two-person tent I recently bought to replace my coffin-sized (really) Tomb Tent. We are in the Hovenweep National Monument Campground, about 80 miles from anything else in any direction, on the Colorado-Utah border.
And I, my friends, am online.
I brought my laptop and nifty Verizon wireless card just to see how good the network was and, whaddya know, that geeky guy with the glasses apparently did come out here to check if it would work.
I have a couple days off from work because of the notoriously slow Mud Season, so I came down here to the Four Corners area to visit Hovenweep, known for its 13th century stone Puebloan towers, Four Corners itself and Mesa Verde National Park, famous for its cliff dwellings.
I have photos to post, but for now just let me say I was paid the ultimate compliment this morning while taking the ranger-led tour of The Cliff Palace, the largest of the complexes.
After explaining to the group that the trail involved tight squeezes, uneven surfaces and ladders, the ranger opened the gate down into the site and said he'd stand there to take tickets and then bring up the rear.
No one moved. Eager to avoid fanny packs in my photos, I started heading for the gate. The ranger smiled as he took my ticket and said "I'm glad you're going first. You look like you know what you're doing."
Two other people were right behind me and the three of us made it down to the site about five minutes ahead of everyone else (and it's a short climb down). As we stood around taking pictures for each other and talking, I learned the woman was from Dusseldorf and the guy, also traveling alone, was from Tokyo.
Not to stereotype or anything but... the Japanese, the German and the Pirate. I think we all knew what we were doing.
Now I'll post some pictures if I can do so without disturbing Wiley, whose nose is almost in the USB port.
Saturday, April 19, 2008
Friday, April 18, 2008
Go to WeatherPixie to get your own weather pixie, weather goth or even weather geisha to reflect the weather conditions of wherever you live!
Now, if only I could figure out how to put my pixie in the sidebar... I've tried a bunch of different things on the Blogger Dashboard, but nothing worked. Any tips?
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
I make a cheater's version that approximates the real thing: pour a pint of heavy cream into a container (I like to use glass) and stir in a few tablespoons plain yogurt. I like a tangier creme fraiche, so I use more yogurt. Cover the container and let it sit out overnight at room temperature until it is thick and luxurious and makes you want to roll around in it. Or maybe that's just me. In any case, once it sets, stick it in the fridge and it's yours to use with fresh strawberries, in omelets, on fresh-baked bread, straight from the fridge with a spoon...
Anyway, aware of the trans-fat-palooza creme fraiche offers, earlier this week I tried to make a healthier, or at least less evil, version, using fat-free yogurt, half and half and reduced fat milk (as an aside, I always use fat-free yogurt, as it's all I ever have on hand). It wouldn't set, so after 24 hours at room temperature, I stuck it in a 175F oven for a couple hours. It got thick and delicious, but a day later, after resting in the fridge, the top also turned green and black. I scraped that off and have been eating it without dire consequences, but it's not as creamy or delicious.
My semi-failed experiment got me thinking about my favorite food: skyr. It's an Icelandic thing, and essentially, it tastes like creme fraiche only it's really low in fat. All the goodness, none of the guilt. I eat embarrassing amounts of it whenver I visit that wonderful little pile of rocks and sheep in the North Atlantic.
As neither my budget nor work schedule will allow a trip to Leif Eriksen International Airport anytime soon, I did some research and decided I'm going to make my own damn skyr.
Step one: get my hands on some rennet. I ordered two kinds from a Vermont cheesemaking company, both animal-based and vegan, because quite frankly when I think about what traditional animal-based rennet is, I get a little grossed out. And I'm thinking, since I've got the rennet, I might as well explore cheesemaking, which quite frankly is a little like a crystal meth addict deciding to set up a home lab.
So look for posts in the coming weeks about adventures in skyr- and cheese-making!
Unless, of course, I succumb to the bacteria rampant in my low-rent, low-fat creme semi-fraiche.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
In any case, if, like me, you are fascinated by the fashion coming out of that compound, check this out. If you have somehow missed it, YahooNews has a great slideshow. It's like the spring collection at Milan, only not.
Tomorrow: polygamy-free news about creme fraiche and an intern cook-off! (No, sadly, we did not cook the interns. They cooked for us, which wasn't nearly as exciting.)
Friday, April 11, 2008
Having gotten the Despotic Baker Tirade out of my system yesterday, and having seen that the cinnamon rolls were properly baked this morning, I felt freer to work with the intern currently assigned to me and also try out a few new menu ideas.
A sidenote: in addition to live target practice with pastry yesterday, I also made a killer sorbet out of random things I found in the kitchen. I realize that sounds totally full-of-myself to say, but kitchen survey says it's a winner. Someone left frozen mixed berries thawing overnight but never claimed them, so I mixed them with simple syrup, candied Meyer lemon peel and a splash of raspberry vodka, spun it in the machine and wound up with a sexy deep burgundy sorbet that tasted like berries soaked in love and sunshine. One of the line cooks who tried it said "berry sorbet" didn't do it justice and we should call it "Magic Mountain Berry." So we did.
Today, in addition to showing Bubba* some bread braiding techniques, I worked on a carrot cake dessert.
*Bubba is the intern currently working with me, a good ol' Southern boy who claims to have no talent in the baking and pastry arena (shades of Honorephobia!) yet has put in terrific effort. He hasn't had to remake a single thing once, and his piping is nearly as good as mine.
The carrot cake is still in play, but so far it consists of layers of a moist cake with carrots, of course, raisins and spice, apple cumin butter and a cream cheese frosting I actually like -- I hate the kind made with confectioner's sugar, but the one I came up with is creamy-cheesy yet light. There are egg whites involved. Chef suggested adding grilled pineapple and a spicy ice cream, so tomorrow I'll be experimenting with Sichuan pepper ice cream.
Why? Because I can.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
Background: despite my best efforts, I've been frustrated with the quality of the baked products served in our coffee shop. I (and sometimes my temporary minions) make the scones and cinnamon rolls and then freeze them and send them to the other kitchen, which does breakfast service and therefore has staff on hand to bake the items off at six in the morning. Day after day, the croissants are overproofed and underbaked, or the cinnamon rolls sloppily glazed, or the scones overbaked. The sous chef who runs that kitchen, known as LouReed on this blog, has Issues With The World and cannot be reasoned with. He has a whole passive aggressive thing about baking and pastry in particular, and dumps the coffee shop products off on the nearest hapless (and often clueless) intern with no instruction. I've tried arguing, pleading, ratting on him to Chef and nothing works. Sigh.
Today, when I dropped off the second delivery of baked goods (the ones I not only make but also finish, the brownies, cream puffs, cookies and eclairs), the woman who runs the coffee shop showed me the morning's cinnamon rolls and asked if I thought they should be sold.
Ho. Ly. Crap.
They were burned. I don't mean overbaked. I mean actually charred.
Anyone standing near me that moment might have heard the actual snap of my last straw regarding the AM bake-off. I took the rolls from her, marched over to the other kitchen and demanded to know who'd baked them. LouReed wasn't in, as luck would have it, but an intern (from my own alma mater Cookin' School, no less!) copped to the deed. I haven't worked closely with her yet, but my general observation is that she is cute and pretty and uses that to her advantage, and also that she thinks she knows everything, and anyone who disagrees with her simply hasn't noticed how cute and pretty she is.
This did not help matters.
I won't go into the specifics, but let's just say that the 15 minutes that followed included me pelting her with one cinnamon roll after another while roaring "do you think we can actually sell this?! Did you notice it was charred when you took it out of the oven?! How about this one? Were you making Cajun blackened cinnamon rolls?" I repeated this with each individual roll, noting that they were rock-hard enough that, if I threw with serious force and directed it at her head instead of her shoulder, I would actually give her a concussion.
She got defensive. Not hands-up-shielding-her-cute-and-pretty-face defensive, but "I'm not a baker!" defensive, which only made me lose it more. I don't expect the cooks, especially the students, to know about gluten development or starch gelatinization, but Christ on a crutch a learning-challenged lower primate would have noticed the product was suffering from third-degree burns. The rolls were black! I also snapped that when Chef has told me to plate a salad course or make bernaise sauce, I don't whine "I'm not a cook!" I do it and, if I don't know how, I ask so that I can do it.
When the carny-dishwasher with multiple piercings in his face stops what he's doing to come over and watch the drama, you know you've stepped over the line.
Anyway, I had Delilah with me because, in addition to my smackdown of the unrepentant non-baker, we were there to steal stuff. So after I dealt with Britni (not her real name, but it fits), we took all their ramekins (I had a creme brulee order for a party) and platters (we had to plate-up for a conference luncheon). Out of pure spite I also stole a dozen of their half sheet trays.
And I'm not sorry. I'm also not sorry for throwing blackened cinnamon rolls at Britni in front of all the other line cooks and aforementioned dishwasher, either. It felt good to wipe that cute and pretty arrogance off her face and replace it with alarm.
The only fallout was from Fredo, the sous chef I like, who came up from that kitchen in the afternoon to tell me "you've got a psycho-bone in you."
He said it approvingly.
(*Technically, the resort/condos complex where I live offers free wi-fi in the lobby, but I discovered that my laptop can only get a signal when I sit on the floor beside the reception area and log on before noon on a weekday before all the kids with more powerful laptops log on and stream videos non-stop.)
I bought a Verizon Internet Access acount, essentially a cell phone for my laptop, on Wednesday.
The good news is that I can now get online anytime from the comfort of my sofa, so both my blogs and emails should be more frequent.
The bad news is that, after opening a bottle of Herding Cats Merlot/Pinotage to celebrate my newfound online freedom, I wandered back to my old addiction, Sephora, and quickly ordered all sorts of sexy fragrance, lipstick and eyeliner that I really have no need for, considering my life consists of: wake up, put on snow boots, walk Wiley, drive to work, put on baggy pants and baggy jacket and non-skid clogs and pull hair up to affect appearance that is as sexy as a cafeteria hash-slinger, clock out, put on snow boots, drive home, walk dog and squander evening watching back-to-back episodes of Law and Order: SVU and Law and Order:CI on the USA network.
In the spirit of total disclosure, I also visited Aveda to order their Intensive Hydrating Masque, which I've found to be, without question, the best remedy for bad oven burns (even though it's intended as a facial for sensitive and/or sunburned skins). This week, I needed it.
Yesterday, Delilah, one of the interns, was trying to bake the goat cheese tarts needed for starters for a wedding dinner. After expressing uncertainty to me over whether the tarts were done (I told her no), she attracted Chef's attention. He came over and, made some whitheringly sarcastic comments. Delilah became upset. Upset enough that, as I was defending her, she threw the oven doors open and returned the questionably baked tarts to the oven.
Unfortunately, I was standing beside her, and my forearm took the full force of the oven doors. After just a couple hours, a dollar-bill-sized spot on my arm was blistering nicely. Delilah felt terrible about it and offered to leave work early to buy me some natural, homeopathic burn cream at a co-op ten miles away (she and I share the same appreciation for overpriced "natural" remedies), but I knew all I needed was Aveda. And a bottle of Herding Cats.
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
As I commented on her blog, the perfect six word memoir for me already has been written (by Tolkien):
Not all who wander are lost.
What? I can't have my six word memoir ghostwritten, as it were, by one of the greatest authors in the English language, who also gifted to me my enjoyable Boromir/Faramir/Eomer/Witchking crushes? (Oh yeah... Witchking? Totally hot. Like Darth Vader but medievally.)
Well, okay. Then here it is, in my own (six) words:
It seemed like a good idea.
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
I’ve mentioned in previous posts that the interns get to work with me for a couple weeks. My first minion was Delilah, the southern girl who was very anxious about baking but, by the end of our time together, seemed to really warm to it.
My current henchcook is a guy I’ll call Ghostdog (yes, after the underappreciated Forest Whitaker character). He’s very cute, and smart, and quiet, and decent, an ex-military dude who served in Iraq and grew up on a farm but has been working in restaurants for most of his life. And I like him (no, not that way... I like him as a person, and as a henchcook).
But wow, this has been a frustrating week.
He knows his way around the kitchen. He has a good work ethic. He is a bright guy with a particular interest in the chemistry behind cooking.
But sadly, Ghostdog suffers from Honorephobia (ON-a-ray-FO-bi-a).
That’s the term I’ve just coined to explain the condition I have witnessed among many, if not most, cooks. In some, it presents as a mild anxiety, such as my fave line cooks Jerry and Keanu (named for their respective resemblances to Jerry Cantrell and Keanu Reeves), who wander past my station frequently, looking for (and getting) scraps, declaring their love for me and my pastry wizardry (I know they want me only for my brownies), and then... pausing a moment to watch me pipe or knead or whatever I’m doing, saying nervously “I could never do that. I don’t have the patience.”
In others, such as Delilah, Honorephobia is a moderately debilitating but treatable anxiety disorder where the simple act of removing a cheesecake from its springform pan causes trembling and audible wincing.
Poor Ghostdog has full-blown, severe Honorephobia, symptoms of which include a complete loss of basic knife skills and common sense. I asked him to supreme oranges for my cardamom and roasted orange creme brulee that sold out (hell yeah!) and he gave me a pint of segments full of membranes and pith. When he was making a batch of cookie dough for the third time, having improperly mixed the first batch and erroneously scaled the second, I peeked in the bowl and asked if that was all the sugar.
“Yep,” he said, re-reading the recipe aloud.
“Is that really six cups of brown sugar?” I prodded.
Ghostdog looked in the bowl for a long moment. “Uh, no. I guess I forgot five cups. Good catch.”
Thing is, I know he’s not doing it intentionally. I know he’s not trying to sabotage our damn cookie dough or make some kind of statement about working as the Pastry Pirate’s lackey for a fortnight. Just like I know he knows how to supreme a freakin' orange (he has excellent knife skills when cooking). It’s the Honorephobia. When many cooks I’ve met have to do anything baking or pastry related, they freeze. They lose half their IQ points. Their hands shake, they sweat. They make ice cream but forget the cream, or confuse the salt with the sugar.
I’ll set aside the why of it, because I don’t understand that (I mean, when Chef asked me to do the salad course or whip up some bernaise sauce, I did. Nothing in the kitchen is rocket science.). But what I do know is that, as the sole pastry person here at the ranch, I need to figure out how to deal with Honorephobes*.
(*St. Honore is the patron saint of bakers and pastry chefs. Naming the condition after him just felt right.)
With Delilah, a nurturing, “hey I made mistakes too, but eventually I got it right” big sister approach worked, but Ghostdog’s more severe case bedevils me. I tried the big sister approach. I tried the demanding “do it again until it’s right” chef strategy. I tried the scowl-and-silent treatment. I even tried to be a therapist (actual words: “so, when you started making the dough, how did you feel? What was going through your head?”). Nothing seems to work.
It bugs me because if he were one of those swaggering grill jockeys or simply a moron, I could just write him off, but he seems to be a good guy with talent (at least in cooking) and an interest in learning.
It’s vexing, terribly vexing. I’m terribly vexed.
On a lighter note, here are some photos of what I’ve been up to the past few days:
In addition to our signature petit fours with the ranch’s brand piped on it, rumballs, shortbread and chocolate-covered dried apricots, this weekend I added mini-flowerpots (below) to our after-dinner treat selection. Why? Because I can, dammit! Bwaa ha ha ha ha!
For a sense of scale, it’s 1.5" tall and yes, I got them to stand on their own. It’s a simple matter of cake batter, pate a glacer and Frangelico, some of which went into the cakes.
I mentioned Delilah earlier, and for her dessert, she did a cheesecake that turned into something of a disaster.
(For the time I have them, I make the interns create a plated dessert over the course of a week that we put on the menu as a special. I tell them “I’ll be the midwife, but you’ve got to do the pushing,” because I personally find the most challenging part of creating a dessert to be reigning in my ideas and narrowing down the flavor profile, the neat techniques I could use and what the dessert is really supposed to be, in a Platonic ideal kinda way, if that doesn’t sound too pretentious. I want them to have the same experience of figuring out what fits together and what should be left off the plate, because any monkey can make a mousse. It’s how you flavor the mousse and what you put with it that separates the good from the ugly.)
It’s a long story behind Delilah’s cheesecake, but let’s just say that, at the end of the day, she’d made two five-inch tall, enormo cheesecakes with a thick chocolate poundcake base but utterly no flavor. She wound up glazing one with raspberries and selling some of it, but the second was sitting naked in the freezer.
Monday afternoon, Fredo, who now runs the more casual restaurant onsite, asked Ghostdog to do a dessert of the day. Under the weather physically and worn down mentally by his Honorephobia, he told me he’d really rather not. So I offered to do it.
I didn’t have a lot of time, but I did have that big ass frozen, tasteless cheesecake.
It was round, but I cut it into 2.5x2.5x5 towers, poked vertical holes in it with a chopstick and piped in soft caramel, then glazed it with chocolate and drizzled more caramel on top. A little caramel on the plate with some candied hazelnuts and voila... recycled cheesecake gets an extreme makeover.
The angle doesn’t quite show it’s Tower of Power-like quality, but judging from the lustful looks I got carrying it to the restaurant, it’s gonna be popular. I’m just glad I was able to do something with JumboCake instead of letting it sit in the freezer.
On a related note, I really want a cheesecake on the fancy-pants restaurant menu, but since Chef and I still have not had our meeting about silicone molds he will buy me, I’m at a severe equipment disadvantage. I tried baking a rose-and-orange blossom cheesecake I came up with (yes, shades of my infamous kenefeh obsession!) using a pistachio crust in little square forms the cooks use for risotto. It souffled and collapsed ridiculously (damn altitude!) and the butter in the crust leaked out from the bottom.
Round two was more successful... I call it “Pistachio and Orange Blossom Cheesecake Napoleon with Rose Sorbet and Saffron Gelee.” Why? Because I can:
I left it in the freezer for Chef, who’s been on vacation the past few days, to sample.
He got some Meyer lemons in last week and told me to do something with them, so it seemed the right time to make a dessert I’ve been thinking of for a while... My Darling Lemon-Thyme. Ha! Ha ha ha!
It’s Meyer Lemon panna cotta, thyme custard, lemon reduction and a few dots of raspberry sauce for color. In my original “vision” it started out as a tart, but I think those mini-flowerpots put me over the edge and I went a little cute-crazy. Wheeeeee!
Originally I wanted a bottom layer of pecan joconde (a thin, nut-based cake), and decided to put a candied pecan on top to bring the flavor profile together, but when it came time to assemble the thing, the joconde didn’t seem to fit, so I scraped it off. But I left the candied pecan. It doesn’t fit, and I should practice what I preach and reign myself in, but gosh it’s so cute!
I don’t know if either will make the menu, but it was nice to have time to play around with a couple ideas I had in my head.
And finally... we got another foot of snow Monday, though to be honest I don’t even notice it anymore. What’s more white on top of white, anyway? But I did take a little longer driving home because it was so damn beautiful. The photo doesn’t do it justice, but low clouds just above me were backlit pink and lavender against the dark and ominous snow clouds moving in. Again.