Friday, March 2, 2012

Note to Self:

Do not, ever, surf for Food Porn again. Truly.

Particularly not when you're contemplating this week's grocery list and budget. is the website. Be warned: it's evil.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Biscuits... This is why I'm Fat

I adore food.

Let me just get that out there on the table. 'Cause, really, food is a very big motivator in my life. Indeed, there are weeks now (while I'm unemployed) when there's only two things that will get me out of the house:

1. Alternate-side street parking for street cleaning; annoyingly, the street-cleaning days are every Monday and Tuesday, from 8am to noon. To avoid a ticket and, possibly, having my car towed (which, in the lovely city of Newark will cost you $275 just for the towing company and another $45 (minimum) for the parking ticket, plus whatever storage and admin fees they can tack on), I have to move my car every Sunday and Monday night; and

2. Food shopping. I like food shopping; it's the check-out process that sucks. Especially lately, when grocery prices are really starting to get jacked up. Have you noticed this? Egads, I feed just one person and I have to really debate over some food items. Fortunately, I'm a good cook and can make cheap ingredients into something good.

Yes, I'm a reclusive foodie.

Anyway... lately, I've been making it a point to really enjoy what I cook. Before, when I was working, I'd barely have the energy to boil pasta and mix it with cheese and sauce; that'd be dinner more often than not - no wonder my cholesterol was sky-high (263, total; 77 for HDL).

I'm making sure I enjoy food now because, in just about a month, I'm taking a step that'll force me onto a liquid diet for at least six weeks. Yes, I'm having my stomach partially removed; it's called vertical sleeve gastrectomy.

Before I take that step, I'm getting in all the foods I haven't eaten in years and I'm doing it with no concern about calories, fat content, or anything else us dieters are supposed to guard against. I'm also testing recipes for the 'full liquids' and 'mushies' phases, and have discovered that beans, a ham hock and a cube of beef bouillon makes for one hell of a good bean'n'ham soup. Same with split peas/split pea soup.

For the past few weeks, I've been researching biscuits (one of those things that was not on my 'perpetual diet/healthy living diet' because of the carbs and butter involved). My semi-obsession with biscuits stems from a recipe for "butter-dip biscuits". For those who aren't clicking that link: think a slab of biscuit dough sunk into a pan of melted butter then baked. Yeah, my arteries are hardening just thinking of that. And they should: I've made the butter dip biscuits twice. The first time, meh; the dough seemed a touch tough and too salty (partly my fault: I used table salt not kosher salt). The second time, angels sang... I used half the salt called for. But... still, there was a toughness to the biscuits. Since I didn't knead the dough at all, I couldn't put a finger on why they were tough.

Now, I need not wonder. I've moved on to making 'real' biscuits. During my research into biscuit making, I've learned about leavening with baking soda, baking powder, buttermilk; why a biscuit maker shouldn't knead the dough too much; and how to make 'cutting' butter into the flour easy.  I won't bore anyone with the re-telling of the first two; the third one? Genius! And I've forgotten where on the web I learned it. But, the key is to freeze your butter stick then grate it using the large holes on a cheese grater. For mine, I grated the butter then put it back in the freezer while I gathered the other ingredients and started a batch of split pea soup in the crockpot.

Here's the biscuit recipe:
The Most Awesome Buttermilk Biscuits

6 Tablespoons of frozen, grated butter (salted)

2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 Tablespoon baking powder

1 cup very cold buttermilk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Keep the butter frozen till after you've mixed the dry ingredients together. Toss the grated butter into the flour mix and gently fold it all together. Break up any bigger chunks of butter. Working quickly, add the buttermilk and fold the ingredients together until most of the flour mix is wet.

You want the dough to be wet but still not a cohesive whole.

Dump the dough out onto a floured work surface and, treating it gently, press it together, then press it flat (about an inch/inch-and-a-half thick) and fold it over. Do this routine quickly four or five more times, till the dough is together, soft, and still cold, adding a bit of flour if the dough wants to stick to your hands or the surface.

At this point, pat it out (don't roll it) to an even thickness. I used a knife and just cut square biscuits so that I wouldn't need to press any scraps together. If you're using a round cutter, press down and lift up, don't twist. Ball your scraps together, pat out and cut again. The biscuits from the second handling/cutting will be less fluffy than the first batch.

Once the biscuits are cut, put 'em on a lightly greased baking sheet (touching if you want soft sides; about an inch apart if you want crispy sides), and leave 'em in the oven (400 degrees) for 10 to 12 minutes. Please don't overbake 'em. If the tops are turning golden, they're good. Of course, if you like dry, hard biscuits, by all means, bake 'em longer.

These are awesome all by themselves or with butter or honey or sausage gravy!

My batch made nine roughly equal-sized biscuits and two slightly smaller biscuits... so... call it ten and a half? Yeah. Either way, only six of them made it to the fridge.

And by the time I thought to take a photo, there were only five survivors:

(Yes, there are six in the photo... only five of them made back into the fridge after their photo shoot.)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Oh... Introductions are in order

After my earlier post today, I realized that I hadn't ever introduced three of the four rulers of the house.

My bad. So sorry.

It's been one of those years - the kind where I intend to do so much and then get distracted by other things. "Other things" were, mostly: a broken nose while on vacation in India and the resulting rhinoplasty, with all the accompanying pain and discomfort. Oh, and food. I've been busy in the kitchen.

Anyway. The Rulers of the House:

Of course, there's Bug, the oldest, who came to power after the reigning Diva, AJ, passed away in March. He's the coolest of cats and just loves everyone. After AJ's death, though, he got a bit destructive due to his loneliness.

I quickly set about looking for a companion for him. My intent was to adopt one female, preferably a little calico.

Yeah. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, right?

My hell came in the form of two brothers: Pumbaa and Timon. Both are an inky black with white stars on their chests. Both have their own little quirks that make them uniquely... feline (recall that I live in a realm where 'feline' can often be used in place of 'annoying').

I thought long and hard about adopting 'twins'; it wasn't just that they looked alike, it was that (1) they both looked like AJ, if AJ had taken steroids as a kitten; and (2) there's two of them, meaning that I'd have three cats. Two cats in a house is good; three? eeh, gods, that's a lot of kitty. But... other factors weighed in the twins' favor: they were oh-so-cuddly and purry when I met them at PetCo; they were the same size, roughly, as Bug, so they'd make great companions for him; there'd be one cat to keep Bug company and one cat to keep me company. Plus, I know that black animals, particularly black animals that are no longer puppies or kittens, are really difficult to adopt out. In other words, I knew that those twins had less of a chance of being adopted than any of the other cats I was considering. I'm a sucker for the sad story.

I adopted them and life was disruptive for a while. Even now, nearly a year after adopting them, there are times when I'm not sure which twin is which. Seriously. In that photo, I know the one whose chest star is showing is Timon; the other one is Pumbaa. How do I know that? Well, for one, I took the photo. For two, Pumbaa is the fat one and Timon's star is a little larger. But there are times when I have to resort to the only coloration difference on the two: Pumbaa has a few white hairs on the tip of his tail.

Pumbaa tries to be the King of the house. Bug, Timon and I placate him and let him pretend he rules us. In reality, everyone in the house knows that the hierarchy is as follows:

1. Kohana
2. Bug
3. Timon
4. Pumbaa

Who is Kohana? Oh, yes. The little princess of the house. Shortly after adopting Pumbaa and Timon, I realized that I had room to foster a kitten for the rescue I'd adopted the twins from. We had a tiny little kitten named Sophie stay with us. She was absolutely precious - and fearless. She'd get up on her hind legs, front paws splayed, and run at the boys. This was her way to initiate play with the boys. Now... one boy outweighed Sophie by at least twelve pounds; the other two by fourteen pounds, but that didn't daunt her. No, no, she'd go after them and Pumbaa would run away from her. Being such a great little kitten, Sophie was quickly adopted and the house returned to just the three boys and me.

Soon, though, the rescue asked if I could foster 'Chrissy'. Chrissy had been adopted, but the adopter decided, after just a couple of weeks, that Chrissy wasn't enough of a 'velcro' kitty for her taste. As a result, Chrissy went back into the system and came to stay with me. At first, she was a stand-offish little girl with me; with the boys, she was good. All four of them would play together. It took a little while, but she eventually warmed up to me (probably because I ignored her - I'm one of those horrible servants who has to be constantly reminded of her duties by the cats).

She went to the rescue's adoption events a couple of times. The first time was okay. The second... was terrible. At home without her, you'd have thought I had killed the boys' best friend. All three sulked and spent time in my lap, doing various things that let me know they were unhappy. When Chrissy came home, the rescue reported that she was not a happy kitty at the event: she'd been sulky and hissy all day. It was their plan that she'd no longer go to adoption events; instead, potential adopters would meet her in my house.

Over the next few weeks, I realized that the little girl had become a princess amongst the boys - each one of them adored her in his own way. Even Pumbaa liked her! She'd developed into a lynchpin for the three. I had no choice: I had to adopt her.

So I did. And she immediately got a name change: KiokoKohana (Japanese, roughly: "happy little flower"). She doesn't photograph well - she's usually in motion. The boys all defer to her, even though she's much smaller than they are. With the feeder balls, if she noses in to eat the kibble a boy has knocked free of the ball, the boy lets her take it. Even when I was still feeding them, all three would wait patiently while she ate her fill.

And that's the household.

One more picture to share:

Jelly Bean Toes!!

That's my Bug!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

How to Make Your Cats Hate You.

My cats used to love me. They would take turns sitting in my lap, just letting me pet them, while casting the occasional adoring look up at me. Life was good; indeed, life was wonderful.

Then everything changed.

I stopped feeding them. I failed to put food in a bowl at their whim. I refused to be cowed by their stares, by their plaintive whines and pushy demands that I obey them and give them food in a bowl. The cats grew to hate me.

As a servant, I was terrible. The four of them would take turns giving me the evil eye (you know the one - the one that all cats inherently know how to use against humans). Two took turns howling in the kitchen, begging me to return to my appointed task; two took turns sitting on me and brushing my lips with their paws, trying to convince me of how hungry they were.

But I ignored it all.

I had, after all, provided them with a source of food. They just didn't like that source because that source forces them to do the work. How dare I expect them to *work* for food?

I switched the cats from getting freely available food in a bowl to having to get their food from 'foraging balls'. The balls are blue plastic, roughly the size of a baseball, with holes in them that release food when knocked around.

It took my oldest, Bug, exactly two seconds to figure out this new food delivery system. He was fine with it. I attribute this to the fact that he, most likely, was a street kitten for his first three months and then lived in a small steel cage for six months. He knows what hardship is; what he has in my house? It ain't hardship.

The youngest, Kohana, watched Bug get his own food from the balls. She would wait for him to spill a few kibbles out then, while he scarfed one, she'd nose in and take the rest. She's since come around to pushing the balls around to get her own dinner.

The thinnest of them all, Timon, didn't get it at first. He's generally a recluse, though, and it seems he thought he was just missing out on the feeding times. Once he saw Bug and Kohana getting kibble from the feeder balls, though, he was all over it. Well... sort of. He'd move the ball then look at me; move the ball a little more then come hop into my lap and paw my face. Eventually, he did finally understand that I wasn't going to feed him - he'd have to do it himself.

Pumbaa, however, was another matter. Pumbaa lives up to his name: he's a hog. A big fat hog. He's the reason the cats lost their free-feeding ways.

Why? Because I have two prejudices: one is against stupidity; the other is against... of all things, obesity. I'm obese and I can't stand it. My cat is obese and it drives me nuts. Since I can't put the obese cat on a diet without punishing the others, I decided to make them work for their food.

Pumbaa... lovely, fat, dumb Pumbaa. *sigh* I adore him, but... seriously, he could cause bladder damage with the way he pounces into my lap - front two feet held together, pinpointing the exact place where my bladder is weakest, he leaps into my lap and focuses all eighteen of his fat-laden pounds right *there*. Oi. Sometimes, just to avoid any issues with ...wetness... I'll stop him before he pounces, go pee, then come back and let him pounce.

But Pumbaa has had the most traumatic transition from free-feeding via bowls to self-feeding via foraging. He'd watch Bug, Kohana and his brother, Timon, as they happily pushed the balls around and got food in return. But he didn't seem to get it. He'd go over, smell the food inside the balls, and just sort of stare at the balls, as if that alone would convince the balls to fork over the kibble. He would then look at me, as if demanding that I make the balls produce kibble.

Every time I went into the kitchen, he'd run in and put his head in the food bowl (cruelly, I've left the food bowl on the floor; it isn't just a tease: every once in a while, I'll drop bits of raw meat or fish in there, usually when none of the cats are in the kitchen. It's like the magic raw food fairy comes to visit them). When Pumbaa finds no kibble in the bowl (he doesn't eat the raw food... I'm guessing it's 'too healthy' for him), he watches me as I move around the kitchen, doing whatever it is I'm doing. If I take up a position where he can't see my face, he'll do one of two things: either station himself directly behind me, where he'll be certain to trip me if I move; or stretch up and pat my elbow with his paws. Neither one works to get him any food; the first one has only succeeded in having me nearly break his tail by stepping on it. That was a scary day.

The big boy didn't seem to understand the concept of the foraging balls until, one random day, I saw him playing - actually actively playing! - with one of the empty balls. He was dancing around it, batting it a foot then chasing after it. Oh! He understood, I thought! I quickly filled the ball with food which, suddenly, seemed to confuse Pumbaa. He tapped the ball a couple of times but it didn't really move; it just rocked in place. His taps got a little harder and a few pieces of kibble sprang forth. Poor Pumbaa actually jumped back, as if the appearance of food was highly unexpected. From there, though, he's gotten more comfortable with the idea and more proficient at making the feeder balls produce food.

Now his only use for me is as a soft spot to pounce upon and nap.