Crème Brûlée: Ooo la la!

•May 8, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Hi again! Per my earlier post, I made crème brûlée as a way of breaking in our new kitchen because, really, you should make something sweet for your first creation in a new kitchen. Good energy all around.

Crème brûlée can seem intimidating but it really isn’t. The key is to GO SLOWLY. When adding the eggs, they really mean it when they say to add a little at a time and stir frequently. Otherwise, cold egg yolks + boiling cream = decadent scrambled eggs. Awesome but not exactly what we were going for. If you’re going for luscious, decadent, sexy sexy custard, this is the recipe to try. And don’t be shy with the vanilla bean…add a little more to make it extra mwah.

Recipe courtesy of Alton Brown:  http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/creme-brulee-recipe/index.html

Oh, another thing of note: have you all discovered vanilla bean paste? Umm..it’s awesome. Looks like this:

Vanilla

(photo courtesy of Amazon)

It’s a paste containing the cherished insides of the vanilla bean. Per the label, 1 tbsp of the paste = the goods from 1 vanilla bean. It’s pricey but again, if you have it in your kitchen, you’re likely to find excuses to use it and vanilla beans, for whatever reason, are too complicated to work with when I’m feeling lazy but really want custard. So, if you’re able, splurge and add this to your pantry.

Oh! And vanilla sugar…it’s great too! We brought ours back from Austria (well now…that sounds schmancy) but I believe it’s pretty easy to make yourself. I’ll research and get back to you.

Quick note about the blow torch: while possible to get the crisp sugar cap via sugar under a broiler, it’s just better to bust out the pyro. I snagged one in the clearance bin at Bed, Bath, & Beyond but found out later that smoke shops sell them too. I thought that was odd but Mr. Fluvial said that food grade torches also serve to facilitate crack cocaine delivery. The more you know kids..the more you know. I did wonder why the shop owner was particularly nosey about my need for butane.

Anyway, here’s the final product:

Brulee

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Change the conversation.

•March 18, 2013 • 2 Comments

Hello Fluvial Fans,

Been a while, eh?  Life keeps flowing here at Chez Fluvial and I can’t tell you how excited I am for spring.  Spring has historically been the time when my mood dips the most (odd, right?) but this season, I’ve been blessed with feelings of excitement and joy rather than the blues.  Hurrah! (I also was hit with a nasty case of S.A.D. in deep winter so maybe my body just got sick of being sick.)

Winter is a great time to reflect.  What’s working?  What’s not?  Any stories about yourself or the world that need a rewrite?  Are you happy?  Do you have full experiences?  These are the questions that come through my head and when a thought pops up, I do my best to sit with it and answer honestly for myself.  Both Mr. Fluvial and I are ambitious and passionate about our careers and we both feel that our career (and life) goals are more likely to be accomplished if we are living a present life.  As in being present.  Feeling the feelings.  Having the hard conversations and being open to growth.  One of the less pleasant impacts of this kind of emotional honesty (for me, at least) is an increased awareness and sensitivity to anything other than supportive language both in every day life but also in the larger social context.  Sarcasm becomes more pronounced and irritating and, on a larger scale, I’ve become especially sensitive to racism, sexism, and other unproductive ‘isms.  Of course, the Ohio rape trials haven’t helped and have placed my brain squarely on the target of ‘Change the conversation’.  

What do I mean by ‘Change the conversation’?  The amount of victim-blaming and sorrow over the ‘ruined lives’ of the teenage rapists is astonishing and I can’t believe that in 2013, this is where we are at as a culture.  Seriously.  On the positive side, there’s also the increasingly louder talk of not just teaching our girls how to not get raped but also..teaching our boys not to rape in the first place.  All of this is good and I’m glad that we’re finally talking about the root cause of rape and other sexual violence (hint: it’s not because a girl drank too much or wore a low cut top).  But even while we’re talking openly about sexual violence and a cultural shift towards a society where women can walk outside and not fear the stranger walking too closely behind her, I keep hearing hateful language towards women usually focusing on insults of gender.  How is this helpful?  Can’t we change the conversation?

Most recently (as in, an hour ago), I read a thread on Facebook centering on Facebook COO Sheryl Sanderg and the authors dislike of her.  The author’s opinion is neither here nor there but one comment really shocked me: “Is that the FB twat?”  Again I ask: how is that helpful?  How does that comment help to rid this culture of sexual violence?  

Comments like that are made ALL THE TIME and it’s infuriating.  Especially infuriating when they come from people who should really know better. (for the record, I do not know the individual who made that comment so I can’t speak to his awareness of the crass nature of his words.)  

Let’s change the conversation, shall we?  Let’s be pro-happiness.  Instead of using hateful, catty, unproductive words, let’s lift each other up.  I’m not perfect…like, seriously, but I do know how it feels to be bullied, sexually wounded, and insecure.  So why would I contribute to those feelings in another woman?  Or human for that matter.

I challenge you to change 1 conversation today.  Lift someone up when you were about to put them down (even if it wasn’t to their face).  Feel real emotion.  I’d like to think that as conversations change and demeaning insulting and otherwise damaging language is weeded out of our collective lexicon (specifically towards women), we may inch closer to a safer world.

For more information about conversation starters on this topic specifically, check out King County Sexual Assault Resource Center’s ‘100 Conversations’ campaign here: http://www.100conversations.org/  The goal of the program is to “…promote respect, consent, and health relationships both on and off-line.”  Couldn’t have said it better myself. 🙂

Now hear this…

•December 5, 2012 • 2 Comments

Warning:  I’m angry.  This post will be (mostly) an angry rant but, true to Fluvial form, I’ll do my best to convey emotion without stooping to low levels and will attempt to end on a positive note.

Let me tell you a story…all of which is true….

Today, I happened to sit next to two elderly people at lunch.  I began to dig into my caprese melt and was trying to get NetFlix to load on my phone (to enjoy some lunch time Gossip Girl, of course) and while I fought with the connection, I was startled to hear the following (doing my best to paraphrase):

‘It’s ridiculous that we have to take this course every two years just to be a troop leader.  It’s all those liars.  Because of them, we have to get retrained.  Such a waste.  You know, I’ve been with the Boy Scouts for a long time and I’ve NEVER seen or heard of anyone abusing children.  These kids are too young to know what sex is so how do they know about pedophilia?!  They just want attention.”

Not.  Joking.  As I felt my outrage and anger build, I wasn’t given a time to recover because then came this:

“Can you believe that Medicare is requiring us to report if we got a flu shot and where?  It’s conspiracy.”

A few seconds later, there was this:

“Now, I’ve seen a few good lady-pilots but I don’t know about on the ground combat.  What are you going to do?  That’s Women’s Lib for ya.”

As he spoke, his (female) companion listened half interested and didn’t say anything and, in total, this ‘conversation’ lasted less than 5 minutes.   Actually, it probably went on longer but I was so disgusted and didn’t want to lose my job for yelling at people so I got up and moved to a table across the room.

Now hear this sir:  Your anger and hatred does not mask your intense fear of a changing world.  I’m on to you.  But, if I may, point out a flaw in your logic regarding pedophilia:  You may never have seen it but, hey, I’ve never seen a panda and I know they exist.  Also, you work in a place that’s supposed to HEAL people.  I sincerely hope you’re on duty when a  5 year old male rape survivor is brought in.  It could bring some perspective to your life.

The other stuff…sigh.    You may have been too old to appreciate this song the first time it came around but I’d like to play it again for you just in case:

I am sorry that you’re angry.  I feel empathy for you.  But your hate has no place in this world anymore.  It is my hope that your heart will soften or, at the very least, you’ll learn some manners and not subject non-consenting people to your rants.

Sincerely,

Fluvial

The Joy of Simple

•November 20, 2012 • Leave a Comment

The holidays are coming up and I’m totally stoked.  Mr. Fluvial and I are taking our first real vacation just two of us (can we call it a honeymoon even though we were married over 2 years ago?) and, of course, there’s all the yummy smells and food and an opportunity to strengthen relationships.  It really is the most wonderful time of the year.

I’m lucky to have been part of an intentional community that places much emphasis on connection, community, expressing love, and emotional/spiritual fulfillment over material possessions (mostly…we’ll just ignore the sheer enormity of Burning Man expenses :)).   I met these folks when I was 18 so, really, I grew up with them always there to guide me along a more interesting path.  Thanks to them, I’ve had the courage to do things that I may have never considered otherwise.  (Burning Man, tango, different relationship models, etc.)  I’ve also been exposed to an INSANE amount of smarts…we’ve always been early adopters of new technologies and, in many cases, were involved the very creation of that technology!  We’re basically awesome.  But we’re also a HUGE community.  It’s hard to keep connection with all the people we’d like to and, many times, our outward expressions of love are also..HUGE and overly inclusive.  And documented.  All over the internet.  And sometimes, just sometimes, we alienate people and make them feel less important.  Which damages the very community we intend to support.

Where am I going with this?

My personal challenge this holiday season is to revel in the joy of simple.  I hope to reach out 1:1 or in small groups (less than 6 people) and spend time with the people I love.  I want to reach out and tell them I care about them.  I promise not to post messages on FB tagging people who are with me.  It could make someone else who’s not with us feel bad.  Mr. Fluvial and I have set a ‘No Phones at Parties’ rule for our gatherings which is meant to encourage people to enjoy the moment they’re in rather than record every last detail in a virtual world and miss out on what’s actually happening.  It’s also meant to discourage the posting of photos without specific consent from those who are IN the photos.

Rather than focus on big expressions of love, I’m going to focus on small.  And I will expect small in return.  As an  introvert, I find that I stop fighting against my nature when I embrace the concept of ‘small’.

My community will always favor HUGE and the HUGE will always be focused on specific MVPs (deservedly so, trust me).  That’s ok.   But that doesn’t mean us non-MVPs should feel ‘less than’ or sad.  This holiday season, let’s be under the radar with our affections.  Let’s make an effort to tell people they are important to us and give that message to them only.  Let’s be sustainable with our love.  Never give more than you can afford to lose.  Let’s accept the gift of the simple.

Oh, and the revolution will not be televised. 🙂

Ok, Cupid, Let’s Be Safe

•October 26, 2012 • Leave a Comment

For those living in the States, by now you’ve probably heard about the horrible horrible person in NYC who was arrested and charged with intent to kidnap, cook, and eat more than 100 women.  I’ve purposely chosen to not read anything about this case because it’s so disturbing but it’s hard to avoid headlines so I know at least that much.

Apparently, this person had an OKCupid profile and used it to find his intended victims.  By most accounts, his profile wasn’t anything alarming.  Mostly mundane things about his favorite books and a generic description of the kind of woman he was looking for.  And yet……  the horror.

This got me thinking:  Remember the early days of online dating?  Pre- Craigslist.  Think Friendster, LavaLife, LustLab, Match (the early years) and even good old fashion AIM.  Remember how most people saw online dating as inherently dangerous?  I remember watching glossy tv shows, clearly aimed at women, as they implored early adopters to follow some basic rules when meeting people online:  Let your friends know where you are and check in when you’re home, don’t share your phone number/address and, likewise, don’t let your date pick you up at home, never ever leave your drink unattended, bring cash always in case you need to make a quick escape, don’t give your last name, etc. My (fond) memories of that time were that, for the most part, it was common practice for people to follow most of these guidelines and treat the whole online dating thing with a degree of caution.

Not so much anymore.  When was the last time you gave someone your number in an email in advance of a first date in case your date needed to cancel last minute?  Did you share your regular email which may include your last name?  Etc.  These seemingly harmless things can, of course, put you in the grey area of safety.

Now, it should be said that I am a BIG FAN of online dating.  I met Mr. Fluvial online and I came of age in a time where online dating was becoming more and more common.  But, I took risks that in hindsight were dangerous.  Like the time I had to make a speedy exit after my date told me that ‘No doesn’t always mean no’ when it came to sex.  (Glad I had cash on hand because that cab ride was really expensive!)  And other stories that I’m saving for my future tell-all.  🙂

So, how can you make yourself 100% safe and still date online?  In short: you can’t.  But honestly, you’re not any safer meeting people in bars.  Or Trader Joes.  Or at a party.  Connecting with people in an intimate way always involves a level of risk.  But here are some of the guidelines I developed for myself over the years that, I feel, help stack the odds in your favor.

1. When writing your profile, don’t include your address, phone number, employer, etc.  Most of you will say ‘Duh’ but I’ve seen profiles where plenty of that kind of information was displayed.

2. When reviewing potential matches, read their profiles carefully.  Do they sound like a coherent human being?  Proper spelling/grammar?  Any hints of aggression or misogyny?  Do they complain a lot?  These are potential clues that you may be dealing with someone unlikely to be a good friend, let alone a good match.  I’ve gotten  a lot of flack for the spelling/grammar issue but I stand firm on this point.  Your online profile is just like a cover letter.  People should care enough to put their best foot forward.

3. Pictures:  Do potential matches only have 1 picture?  Is that one picture a bathroom cellphone shot?   In my mind, this screams “I DO NOT HAVE ANY FRIENDS!” which may not make you a murderer but, again, using the lens of cover letter…put some effort into your profile.

4. When on a date, meet for coffee first.  If you decide to meet at a bar, don’t get hammered.  Really. You’ll be a sloppy drunk and more vulnerable.  If you need to use the restroom, assume that your drink has been roofied and ask for water and claim you’re thirsty.  Again, it’s unlikely that anyone would roofie your drink but take it from the girl that got drugged at a frat party while drinking water….you never ever know.

Looks like a Gin & Tonic.  Is actually Gin & Tonic & GHB.

(a note about that frat party: I was the victim of a frat hazing ritual.  The pledges were told to drug X number of girls as part of the initiation checklist.  I was NOT a party girl and was drinking water.  Thankfully, I was there with friends and they saw me in an altered state and took me home.  I never found out who the guy was and only heard about the initiation checklist much later.  Too bad I was 18 years old and totally unaware that these were things you should tell the police about.  Ugh.)

5. DO NOT ACCEPT INVITATIONS TO SEE HIS FISH TANK ON THE FIRST DATE.  I don’t care how great your connection is…you don’t know this person and his ‘fish tank’ can wait.

“Want to meet my cats?”

6. Use your intuition.  Like my mom always told me, if it feels icky…it probably is.  Here’s the thing, there are so many fish in the sea so if you get a sinking sense that the person you’re on a date with is a) dangerous, b) a jerk, c) boring, etc.  just leave.  It’s ok and he will get over it.  And thankfully, you haven’t shared any personal information with him so he can’t stalk you. 😉

Those are some basic rules.  And I’ve broken all of them at some point and let me state to the Universe how grateful I am that nothing happened to me.

The take-away is:  dating is fun and online dating is (usually) even more fun.  But you never really know who’s on the other side of the interwebs and while you are awesome…they could very well not be.  No one can advocate for your own safety like YOU can.  So, be safe.

Now, go forth and date!

Fall Canning: Pear Jam w/ Raw Vanilla Bean

•October 9, 2012 • Leave a Comment

When pears are $0.88/lb, you can’t stand by idle.  Must. Can.  I bought about 11 pounds of pears and 2 vanilla beans for this project and a quick note about vanilla bean…don’t be scared off by the $65.00/lb price tag in the bulk section.  A pound of vanilla bean is A LOT of vanilla bean.  Total cost for 2 vanilla bean pods?  A mere $0.60.

So here goes:

 

  • 11 lbs pears (I used Bartlett) (Make sure your pears are very ripe when you make the jam)
  • 2 vanilla bean pods (Next time I make this, I’ll likely double this to 4)
  • 2 cups water (Or pear juice if you want added sweetness)
  • 9 tbsp low/no-sugar pectin
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice

Dice pears removing cores and stems.  Don’t worry about peeling them (but wash them first!!).  Place pears, lemon juice, and water in a non-reactive pot and bring to a boil.  Add pectin stirring constantly.   Stir in seeds from vanilla bean pods.  Bring back to boiling and keep boiling until set is achieved (jam is ready when a small teaspoon of jam sits viscously on a cool plate).

Fill hot/sterilized jars and process in a boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes.

Voila!

Fall Canning: Plum Ginger Jam

•October 2, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Phew, it’s been a busy few days over at Chez Fluvial.  I was part of a team launching a really key piece of IT infrastructure which required an overnight activation sequence and now I feel like I have jet lag.  The running joke last night was that I was actually in Taiwan.  So, when you’re drunk with jet lag and sleep deprivation, why not make jam?  Whoops.

I’ve been neglecting the fresh summer produce and only did small canning batches and now I’m regretting it.  We ran out of pickles and I realized that I’d missed the season by just a few weeks and we’re out of luck until  next year!  Sadness but hey, lesson learned.  So, when I saw plums and pears on sale for $0.99/pound, I knew I had to get some to turn into jam.  And once you buy fruit, you kinda have to can it within a certain window otherwise your fruit rots and you’ve not only wasted food, you’ve missed your opportunity to can!

Over the past few months, I’ve been perfecting truly sugar free jams.  It seems like there are a lot of recipes out there claiming to be sugar free but, in reality, they call for Splenda, Stevia, etc. in equal amounts to regular old cane sugar!  Liers.  That recipe is not sugar free.  I’ve been developing my own jam recipes that are truly sugar free but also don’t rely on the laborious step of extracting pectin from fruit.  I’ve had some pretty good successes:  Strawberry Rhubarb (we ate it all and now I can’t make more until next summer.  Tears), Peach Cinnamon (we’ve got PLENTY of that left because I went crazy and made about 12 half pint jars), and now Plum Ginger.  Recipe for Plum Ginger is below:

Ginger Plum Jam

(If you look in the back, you’ll see my stock of Peach Cinnamon)

You can safely say that 1 plum = 1 cup of fruit.

11 cups plums (finely diced w/ pits removed.  Skin can stay on)

25 tsp lemon juice

2.5 cups water

1/4 cup candied ginger (cut into teeny tiny pieces)

10 tbsp low-sugar/no-sugar pectin (I like the Ball brand)

1/2 cup sugar (for macerating the plums)

1. Since the plums weren’t quite ripe, I decided to try macerating them to draw out the juices.  To macerate any fruit, simply cut it up, pour a little sugar on top, mix, and let it sit.  I let mine sit for about 3 hours and they were plenty juicy by that point.

(NOTE: Normally, I don’t use ANY sugar in my jams but felt I had to for this one to compensate for the not-quite-ripe fruit.  If you have ripe fruit, feel free to skip this step.

2. Throw fruit, lemon juice, candied ginger, and water into a non-reactive pot.  Bring to full boil and once that starts, stir constantly.  Slowly add pectin and return to full boil.

3.  Cooking time varies and I’ve learned when jam is done cooking by using trial/error.  You can tell if a jam is ready to be processed by putting a plate in the freezer and once cold, placing a small bit of jam on the plate.  If it’s viscous, it’s ready to be put into jars and processed.

4. Fill your (sterilized) jars and process for 10 minutes in a water bath.

5.  (and this is the hardest part) Resist the urge to poke at the lids to check for seal until 24 hours after processing.  Seriously, just ignore the jam for 24 hours.

Due to jet lag, I added more pectin than I should have so my jam came out a bit firmer than I’d like.  It reminds me of the jam you get in the blue bucket with the lid.  I was also concerned with sweetness but I tasted it this morning and the sweetness had definitely died down.  And what a treat to get a little bite of candied ginger!

All in all, this was a 75% successful trial.  In the future, I would not macerate the fruit and I would add less pectin.  But still…very tasty!