Getting Back Into The Swing

First, a confession: I made bread -- baguettes, to be precise -- and didn't photograph them. They are all eaten and gone, probably within 18 hours of them coming out, warm and smelling delicious, out of the oven. I was working from my dad's King Arthur Flour recipe, and only during the shaping watched the accompanying DVD. I see now that there were things I could have done to make it better. I shall have to try again. [big sigh]

I'm also making progress on the BITB project. I spent some of Saturday finishing some tiling and cleaning up the tiling mess, then most of Sunday priming the walls. It gave me enough of a taste of the tedium that is painting that I flashed back to the tiresome few weeks just after I bought the house, during which I, mostly by myself, painted almost every room in the house. I remember thinking "What in the [heck] was I thinking? I hate this!" Of course, it all paid off during the last few years when I've had a lovely, colorful house with hardly any painting tasks. And this will pay off too, in having a lovely new bathroom, laundry room, and walk-in closet for myself and guests.

After the monster house-cleaning effort (as opposed to the monster-house cleaning, which is a different story altogether), I really felt like I was clicking back into sync with my home and my life. When the house is messy, I feel the weight of all the "should be doing" and when it's tidy and clean, I can really relax and enjoy my time out, whether it be reading, watching a movie, or baking/cooking.

I'll be busy again for the rest of the week, not on home improvement items, unfortunately, but I'll report on my activities probably on the weekend. (Unless, of course, something extremely entertaining or thought-provoking occurs, in which case, I'm sure I can find a few minutes to log on.

Until then, enjoy your week!


Boys on the Move

I can't wait to meet my new canine nephew. He and Alex are going to have a wonderful time growing up together!


King of the DMs

I've told you all about finding some D&D voyeur fun --
listening to some web comic guys and a geek blogger icon play D&D
. One of the things I rhapsodized about was the excellent roleplaying. I did not specify, but should have, that some of the excellent roleplaying was by the DM ("Dungeon Master"), Chris Perkins. He really knows how to lead the entertainment without being controlling.

Recently, I was checking to see if there was a new PA/PvP D&D podcast. (I neglected to post about series 3, in which there is more excellent roleplaying, even to the detriment of the characters. I will remedy that below.) I discovered that they had done a *video* podcast with Chris Perkins and the guys who write and produce Robot Chicken. (No Seth Green, unfortunately.) They are a more subdued group than the PA/PvP boys, but that's probably because several of them are new to D&D. It throws into an even greater relief what a great storyteller Chris Perkins really is.

So, if you want to partake, here is the RSS feed for Robot Chicken plays D&D. There is an MP4 version and one for iPhones/iPods. It does take a few minutes to download, but it's done in a pretty high quality video and it's worth it to be able to see the action.

I rarely get fangirly over anyone, but his brand of awesomeness hits me where I live -- as a storyteller and creator. In the lingo of "kids these days," I <3 Chris Perkins.

Here, belatedly, are the links for the PA/PvP/WW D&D audio podcast, series 3:
Episode 1
Episode 2
Episode 3
Episode 4
Episode 5
Episode 6
Episode 7
Episode 8

And, periodically Chris has something interesting to say on his blog at Wizards of the Coast.

Here is a better resource page for the Robot Chicken Plays DnD. They've switched to a YouTube format that is much quicker to download AND there are links to the same videos, but with Chris Perkins [sigh, cue starry eyes a la The Monkees] doing a running commentary on the game and on DMing.


No Architect Barbie

Barbie apparently decided to make the "big bucks" of a computer engineer rather than the little bucks and big reputation of an architect. In some ways, I applaud her choice.
Here's a funny opinion piece about Barbie Not Becoming An Architect.


Bakery Goodness

Eeek! Naked Sugar Cookies!

The Rosemary Butter Cookies that I need to work on to perfect. (I also need to get some "sanding sugar.")

There, all dressed and ready for Valentine's Day. :D

Who will be the lucky recipients? ;)


Spring Roll Fun

A few years back when I was dating a fellow who was into everything Asian, I had a few revelations regarding Asian cuisine. One of those was Vietnamese spring rolls. I found from various online resources like this one that they were even easier to make than sushi.

On her last visit (after we were done tiling), my mum and I had spring rolls at a local restaurant. They were fine. Not great, but not bad either. She commented on what a nice healthy snack they would make and I pointed out how simple they are to make with the right ingredients. I gave her my stash of rice paper disks and promised to send the recipe (which are more like assembly instructions really). Then, either forgetting or being too busy, I didn't.

SO! Now it's time to show mum how to make them.

Here are the ingredients:
- rice paper wrappers (thin "paper" disks made of rice and tapioca, some are thicker than others. I like the thin ones, since the thick ones can be a bit too rubbery.)
- rice noodles (I use the "vermicelli" style, since the small texture is more to my taste. These must be "cooked" by softening in boiling hot water for a few minutes. Monitor for doneness, then stop cooking by drenching in cold water.)
- lettuce, chiffonade(ed?) (I use red or green leaf, but you could experiment with other leafy greens)
- carrots, shredded or julienned
- cucumber, julienned (use an English cucumber if you don't want the work of cutting out the central seed portion of the typical cucumber)
- bean sprouts
- minced herbs, Thai basil, mint, and coriander are best, but regular basil would be ok too.
though it's typically done with steamed shrimp, I've done it with sauteed tofu here. (Fresh, baked tofu bought at a local Asian market sauteed in toasted sesame oil.)

Ultimately, you can put in whatever you like. Feel free to experiment (though I can tell you right now, celery is a little too difficult to bite through to be easily incorporated). The Steamy Kitchen cookbook I got recently has a pork filling similar to this one. Ultimately, I'll probably try that. But the one I'm showing here is the one I know best.

One must is to have a dipping sauce or two. How good of a sauce determines some of your success. This recipe has two fairly basic ones, a dip based on fish sauce and one based on hoisin sauce and peanuts (though another one somewhere said to mix chunky peanut butter and hoisin sauce, with warm water to thin it). I, unfortunately, went with packaged sauces and wasn't super happy with the results.

Well, on to the procedure:

Collect all your ingredients. As with stir-fry, there is no time to do prep after you've started.

Once you have everything ready to go, put a disk of rice paper wrapper into a bowl of hot water. It will begin to soften gradually. Take it out when it's softened but you can still feel a little bit of the structure of the wrap. It will continue to soften after you take it out. Leaving it in longer risks easy tearing.

Lay out the softened disk carefully.

Layer on the fillings you want. Here, I've done lettuce, then a bit of the rice noodle, then the sauteed tofu, then carrots, cucumber, bean sprouts, and herbs. Later, I put the tofu down first so that it showed better through the thin wrapper when I rolled it up. Try not to do too much (this one probably is close to being too much) and keep it contained to the lower half of the wrapper.

Pull up the lower half of the wrapper, rolling the filling into a log. Try and keep it nice and tight. (Hint: doing this one handed while taking a picture with the other is NOT a good way to do this.)

Fold in the two sides. Luckily, the wrapper will stick to itself, making this easier. Then, continue rolling into a log.

Presto. Finished product. Eat these fairly soon after making, as rice noodles and rice paper don't keep well in the fridge. Experiment with fillings, find your favorites. Have fun with it.


Ramen Test, Part 2

Some time back, JTS sent me a care package full of imported ramen soups:

The intention was to give me a REAL selection for the second phase of my ramen test tasting.

It took me a while, but I have the final results:

Flavorful and spicy

This one surprised me. It's beef flavored, but has spices that make it taste like pho. (As much as any pre-packaged product can approximate that deliciousness.)

This one is much like the first, flavorful and spicy.

The final three, the Sapporo Ichiban and the Tung-I, I saved for the last, as they were cited as favorites by MWT and JTS's lovely wife. That is endorsement enough for me!

I wasn't sure what to expect (would it have the same pho flavoring?), but what I found was that this is a simple, but well done soup. The flavor is tasty and not flashy. I was not sure what to think. Then...

Here's the funny thing. I'm not a big fan of the shrimp flavored ramen. I don't dislike it, but I generally choose something else. The spicy shrimp flavor is better (as with the ones tested above). However, when I had the shrimp flavored Sapporo, it was the answer to the question generated by the beef flavored Sapporo. I'm not a big fan of shrimp flavor and this one... was GOOD. Really good. Nothing hidden with extra salt or hot spices, just very good flavor. That is what Sapporo Ichiban does well -- nothing flashy, just smooth, good flavor.

After the revelation of the Sapporo, the Tung-I was a little anti-climactic. It was good, but the flavorings were a little different, a little alien to me. It was a little heavy on the star of anise than I usually like. I would like to try Tung-I with a different flavor, so I'll keep my eyes peeled.

I HAVE been visiting the local Asian markets lately. I went to one on Federal that I'm sure (from the ahem style of the chaos) is visited by the local immigrants. Very different in tone is the one at Sakura Square. I'm sure that one is mainly visited by Western urbanites with a "yen" for authentic Asian ingredients. To be perfectly honest, I liked the tidy vegetable section with the beds of ice. The selection was better too. There's a third one I'd like to look into, on Alameda between Sheridan and Wadsworth. It looks bigger than the other two put together, so I'm looking forward to seeing what they have. And I could have sworn there was an Asian market on the way to my sister's, but it doesn't seem to be on Sheridan, so I'm guessing it was on my old route on Lowell. We'll see.

Any who... the results. I'm now a big fan of Sapporo's mellow flavor. I'd like to try other flavors of the Tung-I if I can find them. And, although it's not as good as having real pho, I'd like to see if I can find the "yummy red man" brand (take a look at the package if you wonder where I came up with that). I'm sure none of these choices are as cheap as the ramen one can get at King Soopers or Safeway (I've found Sapporo Ichiban for about $.75 a package) but I would say it's generally worthwhile. Sapporo is less salty than those more convenient brands. I will still get Maruchan's Creamy Chicken flavor, since it's one of my favorites and I've seen no other brand with that flavor. However, since I plan to visit an Asian market more often in the future, I think I can manage to keep stocked up with Sapporo.

Thank you again, John. This was fun. :D