Friday, November 28, 2014

Xan, Catherine, Kathleen, Jenny: Chicago Thanksgiving!

After a disappointing turnout of zero physical guests last year -- although Linden and Chris did join us digitally via Skype! -- we were excited for Mom and Kathleen's visit to Chicago for Thanksgiving 2014.  We had a great time and made too much food, which is the point of course.

After years of dissatisfaction, I decided to go ahead and separate the dark and white meat. I did an especially fine job of encasing the breast in bacon this time. In fact I attained 100% bacon coverage:

However, the oven temp was a bit too low and the bacon did not render and brown enough. It was still good though!

Meanwhile, the dark meat was braised in wine and stock:

Elsewhere, Kathleen and Catherine worked on the braiding of the herb bread:

As you can see, they have both contracted an acute case of PaulaDeenitis, also known as The Orange Horror. That's what happens when you sneak sweet potato biscuit after sweet potato biscuit before dinner, even though it is expressly forbidden:

"I only ate three!"

Here is a full plate:

Turkey breast with gravy, turkey thigh, stuffing, brussels sprouts, roast potatoes, sweet potato biscuits, herb bread, salad.

There was also some caramelized pumpkin soup:

And finally, pie!

It looks like I've been thoroughly shut out of the pie-making decisions at Thanksgiving time, although I anticipate this changing soon. As you can see, the King of Pies is clearly absent. Apple pie is good, but pecan pie will always be the best. That is an objective fact. Furthermore, I'm not a big fan of pumpkin pie, although apparently this was the best pumpkin pie anyone had ever had.  As you can see from its extra-deep orangeness, it is a Paula Deen recipe, which also means it is the worst pumpkin pie anyone has ever had.  This pie has butter and half-and-half and cream cheese and whipped cream. I am now completely surrounded by orange people, and they're orangening more with every slice. In fact I can hear them in the other room right now, eating pumpkin pie for breakfast. I give them a week, tops.  After that, I will be making all the pie decisions!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Kathleen's chili salsa!

Kathleen sends in a picture of the prepping her famous All-Chili Salsa!  In this salsa, she dispenses altogether with the usual "filler" of tomatoes, onions, and other unspicy foodstuffs, using a variety of hot peppers in their place. After chopping up the peppers, the salsa needs just a squeeze of lime to be complete.

Here is the cast of characters, ready to be diced:

You may ask yourself, if tomatoes have been replaced by peppers, then what are peppers replaced by?  I mean, as you can see, Kathleen has replaced tomatoes with habaneros (in the back) and chocolate habaneros (the dark ones), onions with lemon peppers (yellow), and cilantro with fish peppers (green). Where can we go from there? What are those wrinkly red and orange things?

Brace yourself.  I'm sorry to report that Kathleen has just progressed into Stage VI of the Heat Madness. I did not even know her affliction had a Stage VI, yet here we are, undeniably. The mystery pepper is none other than the Bhut Jolokia, the fabled ghost pepper, and Kathleen has obtained no fewer than five of them. Yes, you should be scared. The Ghost pepper clocks in at over 1 million Scoville units. (For comparison, jalapenos are rated at about 1,000 Scovilles).

In case you haven't noticed, ghost peppers are a primary hallmark of insanity in the 21st century. There are dozens of lunatics on Youtube taking the "Ghost Pepper Challenge," and it never ends well. For example:

Family, friends, I beseech you. No longer can we stand idly by. No longer can we ignore the warning signs. It is time and past time to stage an intervention, or we will lose Kathleen forever to the deepest depths of the Heat Madness. The time for actions is upon us. What say you?

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Xan: Sous-vide pork tenderloin

All things considered, pork tenderloin is not my favorite cut.  I'm just not on board with the emphasis on tenderness over flavor.  If I have to choose between them, I will take flavor any day.

Technically, now that I have my immersion circulator, I don't have to choose between them.  I can take tough, flavorful cuts and make them tender, with a longer cook.  Even so, I'm not going to completely stop eating the naturally tender cuts.

Cooking sous-vide for a short time (1-4 hours) has its own advantages.  Over this short time, the meat truly loses almost no moisture, ending up noticeably juicier than meat cooked either the conventional way or over an extended stay in the water bath.

Here is pork tenderloin cooked at 138 F for 3 hours:

Pink and juicy.
And if anyone is wondering about the safety of cooking pork to 138 degrees: The idea is that bacteria die much quicker at higher temperatures, but by holding the meat at 138 for long enough, the same number of bacteria are killed. This pork has been completely pasteurized, which sous-vide allows me to do at a lower temperature than other cooking methods allow.

So not only is the meat cooked evenly from edge to edge, but it can also be safely cooked to a lower temperature throughout, if desired.  We could go down even further from here, although at this point the binding constraint has nothing to do with science.  I must always ask myself: Will Catherine eat it?

Anyway, this is easily the best pork tenderloin I've made.

Unless it was this one a few days before:

Yo dawg, I herd you like two-packs, so I put a two-pack in your two-pack so you can eat while you eat...

I'm not sure, but I had two chances to experiment because Costco sells pork tenderloin in two packs.  I gave half of my two-pack to Ryan, but it turns out each half of the two pack is also a two-pack, because Costco is the eternal trailblazer of embiggening.

I served one of these with squash soup:

Really excellent, but that's for another post. (Forthcoming!)

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Xan: Sous-vide leg of lamb for Easter!

As usual, we had leg of lamb for Easter!  I was really excited to sous-vide it, because leg of lamb is a cut with wide swaths of fairly lean meat, yet also a decent amount of connective tissue.  So I hypothesized that it would really benefit from an extended stay in the water bath.  I did 24 hours at 137 degrees F, but next time I might even go down to 12 as it did not need that much tenderizing.

Before we get to the cooking, though, I want to say a quick word about how I trim meat. Look at this leg:

There's a pretty thick fat cap. People tend to either take it all off or leave it all on, but I think that's missing a great opportunity. My goal is to take most of it off, leaving just a thin layer of fat:

It doesn't require super butcher skills. It doesn't have to be pretty. Just make it look something like that, and don't worry, it will be beautiful after it cooks.

Ode to crispy fat. 
Shall I compare thee to a simmer's bay leaf?

No, because that would be silly.  But I will tell you why you should bother to follow my trimming instructions.

You should bother because there's nothing so delicious as browned, crispy fat, and only the outermost surface of the fat will ever get crispy.  Non-crispy fat can be good too, although frankly it doesn't hold a candle to crispy fat, and if you leave a lot of fat on, most Americans will simply cut it all off anyway.  But everyone loves a thin layer of crispy fat.

I mean, that's basically what bacon is.  That's the reason everyone loves bacon, even though it is 50% fat, even though they trim the fat off their steak without a second thought.

Nevertheless, you could conceivably go your whole life without explicitly noticing that crispy fat is the component producing max deliciousness.  So I'm here to beat you over the head with this obvious-in-retrospect fact.  It's easy to verify.  The next time you are trimming your steak at the table, try cutting off the very outer edge of the fat and eating it.  You won't be disappointed.

And, by the way, I think you should mostly ignore recipes that tell you to leave a big fat cap so the meat will be basted while it roasts in the oven.  Basting action can serve a purpose (effectively frying the outside of the roast), but a little goes a long way, and fat takes a long time to render. After the roast is done, you will probably be left with a thick layer of all the unrendered fat that did not baste your meat, so what was the point of it?  If you happen to be surrounded by people who like to eat that stuff, then by all means, leave it on.  Otherwise, you can get 95% of the flavor boost with 5% of the waistline boost by trimming most of it away.

Anyway, so I bagged the lamb with olive oil, garlic, and thyme:

After cooking, the lamb was quickly seared, to produce this:

I served it with carrots and asparagus, and Israeli couscous which I combined with my egg-lemon soup recipe, which turned out to be a really good idea:

As you can see, the meat is perfectly pink.  There is no visible fat, only a thin crispy layer working its invisible magic on the look and taste of the final product.

To Victory!
And now I would like to make a very special announcement: Victory!  As we know, lamb is an acquired taste, and one that most Americans have not acquired.  Less than one pound of lamb is consumed for every 100 pounds of chicken in the US.  And there was a time when Catherine too did not like lamb. She would eat it, but only begrudgingly.  I have worked hard to change that, because lamb is one of my very favorite meats.

Recent months have seen considerable progress.  First, she started to complain when I would cook lamb for myself and chicken for her.  Then I started to get actual positive reactions.  And with this dish, I got a genuine rave review!

Wolf me down, and your journey towards the lamb side will be complete! 

Furthermore, I have since replicated my results with a lamb shoulder roast (forthcoming), so it wasn't just a fluke.  It's safe to say that Catherine now loves lamb, just like me and many of my fellow Vongsas.  Huzzah!  It's only fitting, now that she's a Vongsa too :)

Monday, June 23, 2014

Xan: Sous-vide short ribs!

72-hour sous-vide short ribs at 144 degrees, and sous vide eggs:

As you can see, at 144 they are still fairly pink, and because of the long cooking time they were hard to get out of the bag without falling apart.  They were pretty good, although next time I think I will go down to 135 degrees for 72 hours.

I don't have a gratuitous shot of breaking those egg yolks, so here's one from a similar adventure a couple weeks later:

That would be Ryan's hand...

Didn't I tell you before that I just serve everything inside a spaghetti squash now?  Apparently I was actually being serious.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Xan: Sous-vide beef chuck!

Kris and Cammy got us an Anova immersion circulator off our wedding registry. You Vongsafooders probably know that already, because I have been going on about it for 2 months now.  I know, I know, that's a lot of talk and no pictures for a guy who has a food blog. But don't worry, your patience will be rewarded.  Today!


Sorry, but I have to give some background on sous-vide at least once.  If you just want to see the results, scroll down to the next section.

To quote from wikipedia,
Sous-vide (/sˈvd/; French for "under vacuum") is a method of cooking food sealed in airtight plastic bags in a water bath...for longer than normal cooking times—72 hours in some cases—at an accurately regulated temperature much lower than normally used for cooking.
Much like the internet, meat is basically a series of tubes, except full of water instead of the NSA. And when you heat it to a given temperature, the tubes contract, squeezing out water that will never come back.  (Unfortunately, the internet doesn't quite work that way).

Ordinary cooking methods produce a gradient of doneness. By the time the center is cooked to the desired temperature of, say, 130 degrees, the outer layers of meat are overcooked. Sous-vide cooking gets around this by cooking the meat in a water bath at the exact temperature you wish your meat to end up.  As a result, it can never overcook and stays pink from edge to edge.

Furthermore, consider a tough cut like beef chuck.  Normally, you would cook it at a higher temperature (say 190 degrees) to break down all the tough connective tissue.  Unfortunately, the tubes still contract and you are left with dry, gray meat.  Of course, chuck is full of fat so it's still delicious.  But what if you could have the best of both worlds?

It turns out that connective tissue will break down at lower temperatures, but much more slowly. Enter sous-vide. By holding the water bath at 135 degrees for 24-72 hours, the chuck becomes tender while remaining pink and juicy.  (Photographic proof below!)

Because I love meat, I've been excited about sous-vide cooking for a while now. I did some experimenting back in January 2011, but I certainly wasn't going to cough up $500 for a large countertop appliance, plus another $150 for a large vacuum sealer gadget.

A few years later, immersion circulators are just starting to become affordable for home cooks. They are smaller (you just attach them to any pot), much cheaper, and actually outperform the countertop appliances anyway.  And I discovered Ziploc vacuum bags that you pump the air out of with a small, $5 plastic vacuum pump.  What's not to love?  It was clearly time to jump aboard.

Great, let's get to the meat of it!

The very first thing I cooked was beef chuck, and it was amazing.

I sealed the meat in a vacuum ziploc and pumped out the air.  Then I put it in a water bath at 135 degrees F:

24 hours later, this emerged:

It's nothing special to look at yet.  All the magic is on the inside. Since meat doesn't really brown at 135 degrees, next we give it a quick sear on all sides:

After a couple minutes...

...the meat is transformed into this:

Now let's cut into it and see what we have:

Yep. As promised, it is pink from edge to edge.  This is beef chuck with the consistency of a good steak, and more flavor to boot.  Dinner is served!

The texture can be adjusted by varying the cooking time.  To produce a more falling-apart texture, we could increase the time to 48 (or even 72) hours.  But we really like the 24-hour chuck and have cooked it several times now.

More to come!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Xan: Assorted pics

I am dreadfully overdue for a food update.  But I am also dreadfully overdue for bed.  So here are a few pictures from months ago, to hold you over.

Pac-Man meets pulled pork:

These go very well together, maybe I'll make it into a thing.  Cornbread pork sandwiches?

Also, apples. And maple syrup and barbecue sauce, courtesy of Anne!

Actually we started eating a lot of cornbread.

Sometimes Catherine complains about chili, but I learned that she doesn't complain if there's cornbread.


Next up, here is Catherine's muffins with Linden's granola:

And here is a photo titled, The Lean Tower of Papa:

Incidentally, here is one titled, A Sight: Four Sore Eyes:

I don't know who comes up with these titles...


Next up: Adventures in sous-vide and pressure cooking!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Xan: Roast Chicken with Spaghetti Squash. It's magically delicious!

Wouldn't it be amazing if we lived in a world where you could cut a squash in half and find this:

Unfortunately, plants haven't quite mastered pseudo-meat yet.  Even when they're trying to be eaten, at best they are sweet, not meat.  Or maybe nature is just messing with us.  Maybe the carrion flower is nature's way of saying, "Well...we can make meat grow on trees...but instead we're just going to torture you."

Well if nature won't lend a hand, we'll just have to do it ourselves.

Or not.  It really depends who you are.

Like Maru box cat, Catherine loves the white meat.  And like Maru, she doesn't have to lift a paw to get it.  From her perspective, this world is observationally equivalent to one in which you could cut open a squash and magically find chicken.

What magic is this?

Actually, that's not quite true.  Catherine doesn't even have to cut the squash. In fact, I would go so far as to say that she can't cut the squash.  For this mighty task requires a mighty tool.  Behold, Mewlnir the Mouse Hammer!

Take heed, for I am called many things.  The Bane of Bones.  The Crusher of Cutting Boards. The Squasher of Squashes. The cabinets will quake when I am unsheathed. Lo, my gleam will slice through the air and you will know that I am come.  You will know me then by my One True Name.  Fear me!  I am Mewlnir the Mouse Hammer,  the Destroyer of All Things.

With a name such as Mewlnir, you will surely want a backstory, and here at Vongsafood we sure do love our utterly foodless and completely superfluous Vongsatangents!

A Tale of Two Tangents.  
It was the best of tangents, it was the worst of tangents.  Depending who you ask, it was either a really good or a really bad idea for Kathleen to get a cat.  Is there a Schroedinger joke in there somewhere, or not?  Two things are known: first, that Dad would prefer the cat dead and nameless, and second, that Kathleen would prefer the cat alive and, well, named, but not necessarily well-named.  

When Kathleen got a cat, she solicited name suggestions.  Dad's only comment was:
It doesn't deserve to be named, but in order to avoid the whole Love
Symbol: "Cat formerly known as It" awkwordity, I will refer to it as
I, on the other hand, offered literally dozens of excellent suggestions for cat names.  From the Periodic Table alone, I generated so many good ones: Fluoraline. Chloraline. Mrs. Iodine! Mrs. Dr. Iodine! Beryllia. Zinc.

Yet somehow she rejected those.  So I looked to my pantry and Greek mythology.  Parslephone!  Shallothalia!  Thymelpomene! Paprikat!  All rejected.  It seems that Kathleen has no taste, although in retrospect I clearly should have suggested something spicy.  Death Stalker? Ghost in the Darkness?

Next I tried dinosaurs (because...dinosaurs!), but to no avail.  Deinonycat, Pterodacatyl, Quetzalcatlus, and more, all extinct before they even had a proper chance.

What about candy?  Everyone likes candy!  I know Kathleen likes candy.  Kitkat?  Snickers? Mrs. Goodpurr?? Jaffa Cat?!?

Alas, no dice.  It was time to weaponize.  Cats are always trying to stick people with their claws, so...Felis Cactus!  Come on, that's great!  Or might she prefer a karate cat?  I know Kathleen likes Harry Potter, so what about Mrs. Chuck Norris?  Such a cat would even come equipped with Mrs. Chuck Norris facts.  Mrs. Chuck Norris is the reason Waldo is hiding.  When the Boogeyman goes to sleep every night, he checks his closet for Mrs. Chuck Norris.  There is no Theory of Evolution; just a list of animals Mrs. Chuck Norris allows to live.

No?  Why ever not?!?

And so we come to my last, best, and most desperate suggestion.  A name never to be used lightly.  A name so powerful that time seems to slow whenever it is uttered.  I am referring, of course, to Mewlnir the Mouse Hammer.  The power! The glory!  Can you hear it?  Can you hear the sound of all the world's mice collectively squeaking in terror?

And so, naturally, she named her cat Grace.  

I think we can agree that "Grace" is what you name your cat if you want it to throw little mouse tea parties and ice cream socials.

Anyway, how Kathleen rejected this frankly awesome cat name, I will never know.  What I do know is that after she did, I was free to claim it for my meat cleaver.  And I don't know how "Grace" is working out for her, but I can tell you that Mewlnir is doing a fine job in my kitchen.

Though my kitchen is a black box from which delicious dinners magically emerge, it is nevertheless full of Catherine's Mickey Mouse plates and Mickey Mouse hot pads and Mickey Mouse pizza cutters.  

So. Many. Mickeys.

But in this sea of Mickeys, one tool rises above the rest.  When the Mouse Hammer comes out to play, the pantry rattles with the fear of all things.  The mice go into hiding, and sanity is restored, if only for a time.

A mighty tool requires a mighty wielder, and only I am mighty enough to wield Mewlnir.  Which is why, as I said 2 hours ago, Catherine cannot cut squash.

[A cleaver is excellent for cutting big things like squash, because it can be halfway through and the top of the cleaver is still sticking well out of the squash.  That means you can whack it right on top, right in the center, and keep driving it through.  A thinner knife gets a couple inches into the squash and then what do you do?  Apply force from the handle?  Good luck.  Maybe put another hand on tip of the knife, sticking out the other side of the squash?  Have fun with that.  By the way, your knife is now stuck in a giant, dense squash.  Furthermore, the deeper you are able to cut, the more stuck it will be, when you eventually have to give up and try a different angle.  Whatever you do, it will not be safe.  Anyway, I'm sure even you, a devoted tiny-print-reader, are tired of hearing about Mewlnir.  Which is a shame, because Mewlnir is awesome.  Mewlnir Mewlnir Mewlnir.]

Nevertheless, though Catherine cannot cut squash, she can still eat this:

Technically this one is mine, as our contract specifies that Catherine gets all the white meat.
Because, as we have established, magic.  It's just chicken, spaghetti squash, carrots, and sweet potatoes.  The chicken has paprika, chili powder, brown sugar, salt, and pepper, and everything else has...chicken. I mean, pan drippings.  Yep, that's about it.  Nothing fancy, but magically delicious!  You can't really go wrong here, which is a lie, but I like the way it sounds.

Using sophisticated econometric methods, I estimate that our relationship is at least 80% magic, of which only about 10% falls in the kitchen.  It's fortunate there is so much magic to go around, because there are Mickeys in all the other rooms as well. Aaaaaaaaaah!

Goodnight everyone!  And see you at the wedding!  I'm going to bed now, which is a lie, but I like the way it sounds...

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Xan, Catherine, and Kathleen: Turning up the Heat!

[We break radio silence to bring you this special edition of Vongsafood.  In today's episode, we chronicle one family member's lifelong quest to conquer Spice Mountain. Also, Pizza Madness -- that's making you mad with pizza.  And what does a hedgehog have to do with pie? All this and more on today's episode of Vongsafood!]

The rest of this post will not, however, sound like NPR.

Kathleen came to visit us in Chicago last weekend!  As you are no doubt aware, it is a very good idea to hide the spicies before Kathleen arrives. Unfortunately, things were just a little too hectic on Friday and I missed this crucial hosting step.

So, Dad, I apologize in advance for what you are about to witness.  I just screwed up, and I take full responsibility.  Do not blame Kathleen!  She is basically not a player character where spicy is concerned.  Whatever control she may have in other areas of her life, when food arrives in front of her, the spicy subroutine kicks in and takes over.  It goes like this:
  1. This food is not spicy enough. 
  2. I must apply spice until the food is spicy enough.
  3. This bottle does not dispense spice fast enough.
  4. I must remove the lid so the bottle dispenses spice fast enough.
  5. I must shake the bottle harder to increase the rate of spicing.
  6. I must not stop shaking until spice has attained supermajority status.
  7. Spice has attained supermajority status and now controls the spicing vote on plate.
  8. Request further spicing instructions. Food plate constituents: Please advise.
  9. Spice supermajority has voted for More Spice.  Executing request.
  10. Food is no longer visible beneath Spice Mountain. Finally, it is time to eat!
  11. My mouth is on fire.  It burns so good.
  12. [Cough! Gasp! Wheeze!]
  13. Note to self: Inferior airways still not robust to atmospheric conditions at top of Spice Mountain.  Training regimen must continue.
I cannot emphasize enough that these steps just happen.  Sometimes Kathleen doesn't even like it that much, but she has to do it because eating ultra spice is part of her identity.  There is nothing to be done, except stand back and watch with some combination of awe, amusement, and terror.  In what follows, I document a few of these moments for posterity.

Here Kathleen has just executed Step 4:

Red pepper flakes in full pour mode.

And here is Step 5 in action.  Dear reader, please do not try this at home.  A bottle of red pepper flakes with lid removed should never be shaken vigorously enough to produce motion blur:

As you can see, here we are just starting to lose sight of the People's Pepperoni Party.  This is an important step on the road to attaining a 100% Spice Approval Rating from all visible food constituents, and as such it forms the very foundation of Spice Mountain in Steps 9 and 10.

The individual steps of the subroutine are practiced and automatic, and as such they pass by quickly.  But I was also able to capture the precise moment of Step 12 at Dim Sum the next day:

This is her second dish of chili sauce. She has decided to drop all pretense and simply put it on her plate.

Anyway, you might think that next time I will be more careful to hide my red pepper flakes.  However, you would be wrong.  Your mistake is to presume that I still have any left. 

What a rookie mistake!  Do you even know Kathleen?  The more experienced among you are more likely thinking, "But Xan! So far you've only discussed a single bottle of red pepper flakes and a couple dishes of chili sauce in Chinatown.  Kathleen was there for 3 days!  What happened the rest of the time?"

Pepper Palace is what happened.  Kathleen discovered Pepper Palace.

Kathleen gleefully displays her spoils.
Inside the bag: Ghost in the Darkness, Pain 100%, Death Stalker, and two more monstrosities I can't remember the names of.  This kept Kathleen busy -- and my hot sauce reserves safe -- for the rest of the weekend.

Of course, Kathleen also travels everywhere with at least one bottle of her own personal hot sauce.  Don't mess!  She's always packing heat.  Someone should probably get her a holster.


Okay, can we talk about actual food?  There was actually food, somewhere, underneath all the spice.

Is this pizza one quarter cheese or three quarters pepperoni.  It depends...are you an optimist or a pessimist?
Kathleen really wanted deep dish, being in Chicago and all, but I refused to make it, and she was pretty happy with this pizza instead.  Because it is so delicious, of course.

In principle this pizza can be very easy to make but I amped it up and it is now more of a maximally delicious pizza than a maximally convenient pizza.  On top of the dough, we have tomato puree, salt, pepper, oregano, basil, paprika, caramelized onions, sundried tomatoes, cheese, pepperoni, and panko bread crumbs.  (Of course I had my own cheeseless one).

That said, it can be done with as little as half an hour of active labor, if you know all of Xan's secrets of timesavingness.

Kathleen really liked this pizza.  In fact, as is her custom, she "praised" it by favorably comparing it to my past "failures."  "You didn't used to make pizzas like this!" she said.  It is always about my what a long way I've come.   However, in this case she completely failed to negate her compliment, because she compared this pizza to my pulled pork pizza, and we know how certain members of the family feel about that one.  So there! I'll take it!

You know what else? Why does everyone in the family always have to say things like, "Don't you dare tell Linden, but this pizza is the best!"  Relax, Kathleen, why would I ever tell Linden you said that?  She would just be mad at both of us.  Especially you, since you're the one who said it and also you forgot her birthday.  And the rest of you lot: I get it, okay?  Mom, I agree it's best if Linden thinks you "like all of your children's pizza equally."  And Dad, I would never reveal that you bestowed upon my pulled pork pizza the highest culinary compliment you are capable of giving, namely the suggestion that I should drop out of school (i.e. fail to graduate) and make pizza instead.  The point is, I think I'm old enough to keep a secret.  Relax, everyone.

And Linden, you too! Don't blame Kathleen for forgetting your birthday.  Unlike me, she does not have a foolproof organizational system for remembering these things.  She relies on her far superior elephantine memory, which means she always remembers your birthday, she just doesn't necessarily remember that it is currently your birthday.  Also, what do you want for your birthday?  I did not want to ruin your birthday by asking.

See?  See how considerate I am?

I feel like I'm five steps ahead of you people.  I know what you're probably thinking right now: Gee, I really, really hope Linden doesn't read this post...because then she would have to think of something for Xan to get her for her birthday.

No no no. You are totally missing the point.  Linden does not want anything for her birthday, but she also doesn't want to be forgotten.  She wants to be asked but doesn't want to have to answer.  So because I am a genius, I have found a way to ask her without making it common knowledge between us that she has been asked, which means she never has to admit she has been asked, even though she has, and thus she never has to answer. (Unless she actually wants to, in which case she can).

And because I am a double genius, she can also never complain about any of the other content of this post without making it common knowledge that she has been asked and therefore has to answer.  More specifically, she can never complain to me.  She can make all your lives super difficult, but the beauty of it is that I never have to live with any of it.  And that, my friends, is called treble genius, because it does treble damages.


Speaking of pizza and Linden and her birthday, when I talked to her on her birthday, she suggested that I replace half of my bread flour with whole wheat flour in my pizzas.  So I tried it, and the results were pretty good!

It's denser than my usual dough, but not that much, and overall I was surprised at just how well it behaved.  It definitely had that whole wheat flavor, and reminded me a bit too much of bread in some bites, but I will definitely be repeating.


Coming back to Kathleen, I will be in big trouble if I don't mention how good this pie was!  Kathleen and Catherine made a chocolate pecan pie. How good? Really good!

Kathleen said multiple times that the pie was "for me." Somehow her eyes told a different story...

"I wish Xan weren't so attentive. Also, this pie is not spicy enough."
You can also see a gratuitous magic bar on my plate.  Just because.

AND look at this hedgehog cookie cutter she got me!  In the background you can even glimpse a second hedgehog cookie cutter in huff-and-puff mode:

Mmm, delicious pie!
We don't have a lot of cookie cutters, but I don't see the purpose of keeping the rest of them at this point.  I can scarcely imagine a scenario where replacing your cookie cutters with hedgehogs wouldn't automatically improve the outcome.