Monday, September 26, 2011

Of Fire and Shadow

The other day I put on brown eyeshadow.  Unimpressive, I know, especially considering the sheer amount of makeup I own and have tested. For every item in my drawer, I have probably passed on 3 pieces of briefly tested goods to friends and their nieces.  Then there are the ones which cannot be shared--all those mascaras I subjected my lashes to, assigning all the annoying ones in the bin.  So many foundations, concealers, liners, lipsticks and oh-oh-ohhh so many shadows.....

Rimmel's quads have been my recent discovery and I LOVE THEM.  Also checking out the 'new' winter Fiery Lips and Gloss trends, I picked up Maybelline, Revlon and L'Oreal glosses, and a Revlon lip stain in Gothic red.  The Revlon gloss is in Fiery, just bright and warm enough but not too yellow for a pale Irish girl.  I say "Trend" but have Red Lips ever gone out of style? It shifted to Orange over summer which I considered an affront to anyone with normal skin tones. 

What? Really, Orange?

Now the fashion world has returned to it's Crimson senses.  But for Fiery Lips, one requires Neutral Eyes.  Thus Brown Shadow.
Glameyes Quatro
Glam'Eyes Smokey Brun

Which I have not worn in nearly ten years.  Thinking back now, Brown Shadow seems to be a Ten Year Cycle for me.

Something sniggled in my head as I walked the aisle, considering the Neutral shadows of Cosmetic Powerhouses, selecting the high-quality, versatile Rimmel one. Brown brown brown.  I have brown tops and sweaters but rarely wear them. I have brown pants, and wear them with green tops and red danskos. The bright reds of my hair are founded by a dark mahogany layer, but it's the boldness of the cherry red that people see.  My life is filled and surrounded by color, very little of it, save home furnishings, anything as bland as brown.

I've been chewing this over and over all weekend until I realised the Legacy of Brown.

Kathryn Sharkey would be 105 years old this year.  She married a Sicilian immigrant, Angelo Campello, and their first son was born in 1928.  Their second son was born in 1946, and he is my father.  His brother's children are much older than my older sister and I've never met them, but I've seen photos of the entire immediate family.  I introduce you to Kathryn here because we are the only two people in three generations who look alike.  Pale, creamy Irish girls, tendency to blonde and red, the only difference being our eyes and nose which my sisters, father, cousins and uncle all derive directly from our Sicilian heritage.  It's hilarious, really--we all look disparately different until you line up all the photos and follow the eyes/noses alllllll the way down the generations.

Then there are Kathryn (Grammy) and Me.  Growing up, once my parents bought our house and we moved from our apartment, I had a huge double-closet.  Half of it was taken up with storage of everyone else's stuff--a hideaway bed, boxes of--hell, I've no idea what was in there, but then--ohohohoh my, there was the Dress Up Stuff.

Hanging bags of Grammy's most glamourous clothes, a couple of hat boxes, clear plastic boxes of accessories and oooohhhh the furs! And if you ever see me in these, don't you dare throw red paint, these things are nearly 80 years old, those critters ain't never comin' back.

But what about the box of accessories?  Some pretty little powder compacts, a small box marked 'Mad Money!'.  And a small compact of brown powder.  On the lid was printed the name of a bank, so this was a premium for opening an account, like a toaster or a change purse, but such a strange thing to offer....

I would dress in these beautiful clothes with my tiny little sister, the two of us as adorably ridiculous as a Hallmark commercial, wearing an equally ridiculous hat of incongruous style, then crack open the little tortoise-shell shadow box and just fluff it on all over the place, then assault my sister with it.  It was just so plain. It was the past-- it was a box that closed, placed on a shelf and left.

Several years later I entered the realm of Adolescent Grooming, and unfortunately, this was in the 80's.  This was about the time Revlon created a black compact with a white hinged insert that would lift up and you could buy colors to pop in then click the white plate down to hold them into place.  Your choices were Pink, Baby Pink and Blue.  Which went with our Feathered Hair, Plaid Flannel Shirts and Stirrup Pants.  As I started my first job, my Grandmother Naomi decided to fix my errant taste with the gift of a color consultation by Beauty for All Seasons so I wouldn't be Wasting My Money and would Look Like a Lady.  

I was an Autumn, and ended up with a lot of green and brown eyeshadow. There was the brilliant Clarion Cosmetics computer system at the drugstore where you entered your eye, hair and complexion colors and it gave you number-letter combinations to find on their product packaging.  Lots of brown and gold. That christmas my family, in an attempt to lure me out of a closetful of black, bestowed upon me what must have been $400 worth of brown, cream, green and red clothing from Limited.  Didn't last long.

But as I said, I seem to return every so often the shades of Fall and forests and chocolate and deep wood.  Yet this time, I realised how I've come full-circle, or rather, realised that there is A Circle Unbroken.  Since Naomi passed last summer, I've spoken of her and the influence she had on my life as the person who was with me so often.  She also had style, a mid-century, cosmopolitan, international style full of clean lines and jewelry from foreign countries she had visited with Rotary.

Grammy, however, died when I was about 6 1/2, and while I remember nearly every single square inch of her beautiful home in Los Altos, 32 years later I remember precious little of her (except that she could apparently see through walls an entire house away,  knowing I was shoving peas under my mashed potatoes).  But the photographic evidence belies her early-century refined style.  I have her rhinestone and pearl brooches and jewelry which have stayed in fashion for nearly a century.  I cover our creamy, fragile complexion with levels of SPF unimaginable in her lifetime.  I still have her black velvet cocktail dress with a full circular beaded crystal collar. I'd need to lose about 110 pounds to get close to fitting into it, so I'm looking for a beautiful mannequin to display it.

And in order to assume the mantle of Beautiful Fiery Lips, we see this Circle described:  At the dawn of modern cosmetics, Max Factor and Revlon created a powerful, cultural icon in their Red lipsticks.  Think of a 30's Lucille Ball:

Not Just a Funny Dame

...or the 19-year-old Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not --black and white, but you know just how Red those lips are when she turns to Bogie...


....she just puts them together and blows....

In all of those early black-and-white photos, Grammy's dresses and suits are carefully adorned with accessories and scarves and hats, her lips are that same Red-- the Revlon Red I stained my own with Saturday morning before work.  And her eyelids were the same smokey brown.

A Strong, Powerful, Fiery Mouth.

Stubborn, Proud, Resiliant Brown Eyes.

100 Years of Legends. Hope I'm living up to it.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011


So this contest was fascinating.  There were two comments, one from Kathy, a purple-crazed knitter with an envy-inducing garden who I love dearly and myveryown Jedi Jasmin.  JJ wants to tackle Candy.  This will become an area of continuing study, as neither of us has ever attempted wrangling what basically constitutes Culinary Napalm in search of Inner-Child Fulfillment.  
Kathy’s one comment spurred many others, the first of whom was Mary Kay Carol, a busy single mom, to approach me in the line of “She read my mind EXACTLY!!!!”. So to the Pink and Purple Ladies go The Prize.  As devout readers they own JoC and will receive a Spice Grant from You Know Where.  Kathy’s entry:
"My worst problem is getting started! Once I get started, I'm okay. I can easily psych myself out with "oh darn, I don't have enough time" or "well, I don't have the right ingredients and I'm not confident enough to substitute". I can plan forever on what I want to make, but get stuck even before I start pulling out bowls and pans.

Other than that, my next biggest problem is seasonings. I can taste and know that it's "missing something", but I don't know how to "fix" it. Ms.JoCF who works with spices all the time, help!”
A multi-faceted problem which will become the next few blog posts, and dovetail nicely with my promise of Mac N Cheese, as this will give you a foundation in these premises. So here we have the three most common problems that befall every one of us-yes, me- who venture into a kitchen:

1. Project Planning:  We see it in every third TV advert for convenience foods--At some point in our week, time may be against us, so we need to stock up on freezer convenience goods or plan, plan, plan. Then what? After we get to be very good at that focused weeknight game plan, on any given Saturday when we’re gagging lollies on the back patio, trying to get something new going in our culinary repertoire can be even harder to achieve.  Both parts of this problem can be solved with a little JoC Fairy Brand OCD Planning (TM).  Not really that OCD, but maybe a new approach to shake things up a bit and get you going!

2.  Substitutions and 911’s:  The Right Stuff problem can be approached with planning and organization, but we will take a look at 911 Substitutions and where to find Quick References.  We’ll also start to explore your creativity here, as this can help find ways around immediate shortages and last-minute situations.  

3.  Finding Your Flavor:  Here’s an idea I’ve been chewing on for a long time.  It's really been a dream of mine, and while we start looking into these other solutions, we’ll start building:
A Taste Dictionary for Your Tongue

...Yes, you read that right, and I am really quite confident we can do this.  

Q:  When people who have very little experience cooking come into a Spice Shop, are they:

A. Intrigued
B. Intimidated

Answer? Both.  Example:  They may have read that one type of cinnamon is considered the most refined or exotic among Gourmets and Chefs.  I gather the sniffer jars and introduce them to my secret guru: 

M. Toucan Sam, Olefactory Consultant

Yah, you heard me.  Just Follow Your Nose!  What your senses tell you is delicious, what actually makes you happy or warm or turned on when you smell it is what is right for you!  We’re gonna start looking through some basic recipes and their required seasonings.  We’re gonna taste those seasonings raw, straight from the container, and begin to follow their flavor development through the end of the recipe. Remember the flour and seasonings in the White Sauce from last week?  After creating the roux with butter and adding the milk, the careful application of Heat + (Time X Whisking) = Creamy White Sauce which no longer tastes of raw flour and cold milk with a sharp dash of peppery blackness.

Once we’ve nailed where those more familiar flavors come from, we can begin to adjust amounts, then begin to add new ones.   From there you’ll feel more confident that since you used curry in this recipe that throwing a bit in that slightly similar recipe might  liven things up nicely.  You’ll find you really are a GENIUS!  
Because you are.  I encourage you to start a notebook and write it all down.  Make sections, use tabs and flags and colored pens if it makes you giggle.  These problems are presented as flat, one-dimensional predicaments solved in 60-second product commercials, but--BUT!!!!--AND PAY ATTENTION HERE!!! --- Food is important.  You are important, and you are way waaaay smarter and more capable than you probably give yourself credit for.  I can give you a couple of facile answers about making a menu and a shopping list and blah blah, but that’s handing y’all a fish today and not a pole to fish on your own forever.  
You can take these bits of information and start to build your own confidence. You will jump the hurdle into getting your dish started, learning substitutions and learning to build flavors.  From there, you are well-fed, you are loved, you are unstoppable.

Legal Notice:  No Toucans or Sams were harmed in the making of this Blog.  The Fairy does wonder, however, why Adrian Brody's image was included in the Google Image Search for "Toucan Photo".  Haunting, is all we're saying...
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Monday, September 12, 2011


Okay, we’re gonna tackle the most bestest, basic-est of the Mother Sauces (TM; France, all of modern time).  White Sauce (a/k/a Béchemel).  Which I promised you ages ago, which is gonna get us into all kinds of trouble down the road.  Trouble I promise you will kick off right now.  White sauce combines Fat and Starch, then adds Dairy to produce a creamy sauce.  Just keep it in mind--That’s All, Folks.  Buttah, Flour, Milk.  Maybe a little seasoning.  
The Basic will get you a yummy sauce for baked potatoes.  If you have, perhaps, sautéed some onions, garlic and mushrooms, then stir these into the sauce and add some steamed fresh green beans, you have the start of real, yummy Green Bean Casserole.  See what I mean? Trouble already--When baked for a short time with buttery panko breadcrumbs on top, many of you would hole up in the back pantry snarfing this with the serving spoon at Thanksgiving dinner.
But wait! What’s this? You need a substantial Winter Dinner with Meatless Protein?  MAC ‘N’ CHEESE!  Yes, this is the darkest, dirtiest, yummiest level of White Sauce.  Cook some pasta for a very short time, make the basic sauce, add egg, shredded cheese and some spices, et, voilà, Mac ‘n’ Cheese ready for the freezer to defrost during the day and bake 30 mins at night.
And that way lies MADNESS!!  I have a couple of variations, some favorite add-ins, but then I saw one of those “Best of Blah-Blah” shows on Food Network which featured a restaurant famous for their Mac.  Not just some ol’ mac (small letters) made in large hotel pans, very good recipe, baked and warmed all day.  Noooooo, this dude was using these small cast iron sauté pans he found in France to make the stuff fresh for each diner.  Diners who could order Mac Combos from a List of Ingredients.  So I laid it out to Knitting Group--Name Your Combo! That will follow in my very very next post because the variations were, frankly (and this will surprise absolutely no knitters whatsoeveratall), borderline lewd and licentious, food-wise.  Feel free to imagine your own and post it here!
Needless to say, this is just round the corner and down the block from Fettucine Alfredo and all kinds of delightful nonsense and creativity.
So White Sauce truly is the Mother Sauce of all Evil.  
Tasty, Tasty Evil.
This weekend’s Evil Incarnate was Biscuits ‘N’ Gravy.  Ridiculously easy when you get the groove, and a little practice will buy you a pretty good groove, my friend.  Of course, I refer to the Joy of Cooking for the basic recipes, but they are reminders of elementary principals and proportions, which we will see shortly.
I use a Drop Biscuit recipe, which utilizes the bare minimum ingredients: Flour, Salt, Baking Powder, Butter, Milk.  Most basic cookbooks will have this recipe, and the rest is all technique:
1.  Scoop and Sweep to measure Flour:  Scoop with the measuring cup, sweep the top level with a knife to achieve an even measure.  If it calls for partial cups, e.g. “1 3/4 cups”, use the 1 cup and the 1/4 cups 3 times.   

Keep it simple, Keep it accurate.

2  Butter:  When they say “Chilled”, keep it in the fridge till you’re ready to use it, take it out, use those handy measuring lines on the wrapper and cut it.  Then cut it in little cubes touching it as little as possible and toss it in the dry goods.  If you have a pastry cutter, use it.  Recipes will say use two knives, but I’ve found that a fork works really well. What matters is SPEED--the colder that butter stays, the better. When the recipe says “Cut [butter and flour] together until the size of small peas”, basically it’s smooshing the butter into the flour until it looks a bit sandy--then STOP!  You don’t want to completely mix the two like a cookie dough.  What you’re doing is dispersing fat in uneven bits throughout the dough. 

"Blend to the size of small peas" 

3.  Finally, make a well in the middle, gently pour in the milk and gently stir with either a wooden or silicon spatula till it only just comes together. Don’t get gooey, HOWEVER-- Your directions may not say it, but have a small amount of milk handy, to add a bit at a time if the dough isn’t coming together as one mass.  If it really looks too dry and stuff isn’t sticking together, dribble in some milk and gently mix one or two more times.

Just Keeping It Together

At this point, spoon out onto parchment-lined, sil-mat lined or greased baking sheet according to directions.  

Golden, Brown & Delicious

So there’s the delivery system, let’s get to the goods!

This is all a game of Proportions and Watching:
BASIC WHITE SAUCE RATIO: Fat-2parts:Starch-2parts:Dairy-2parts
Recipe:  2Tbsp Butter: 2Tbsp Flour: 2Cups Whole Milk, Salt, Pepper

The Big Secret is Proportions:  You will be able to increase or decrease as much as you need.  I have never decreased.  Ha.  However, if you like the Practice Makes Perfect approach, pare this down to the minimum ratio (1:1:1) and try a batch of White Sauce several nights in a row.  You will find a way to use it and discover you are, indeed, a GENIUS!

1.  Watch Your Fats:  When making the Basic White Sauce, you will use only Butter.  Butter will burn if left in the pan too long without actually cooking stuff.  The First Stage is Melting.  Second Stage is Foaming.  Third Stage is Slight Browning, and this is just as far as you should get until slinging food into the pan, because:  Fourth Stage is Burned.  It will smell bitter and taste worse.  Just pour it out, swipe the pan with kitchen roll and start again, no big, you’re learning!  

2.  A Word About Flour:  I use a super-fine milled flour, my life-long favorite is Gold Medal Wondra.  It blends beeeyoooootifully and creates a smooth sauce.  Any All-Purpose Flour, however, will work. Do not use Arrowroot or Corn Starch, these have really different thickening characteristics and will NOT work the same way.  Your sauce will not act the same and you will be unhappy. Measure flour first into a dish and have it ready, as the Sauce Steps go quickly.

3.  Heeere We Go!  Melt the butter, allow to foam and subside a bit.  Sprinkle flour evenly over and start whisking. Sprinkle in Salt&Pepper.  Allow this to brown slightly, whisking gently, creating a Roux.  

Sprinkle Flour from a Dish                      Whisk that Roux!

4.  Adjust your heat down to low-medium.  Pour in Milk sloooowly to start.  First, this prevents splashing and burnt milk on your hot stove. SECOND: Pouring a small amount of milk into the roux, gradually adding liquid into the paste loosens it up, whisking very well the whole time.  The more thorough you are in this stage, the more insurance you have against lumps.  Slow, complete blending in the start wins the game.  As the mix becomes smoother, pour the milk all the way in and keep whisking.  This is now your primary job, so do NOT leave off till the sauce looks thick and finished.  Helpful Tip:  Taste the Sauce Now.  Tastes like raw flour and milk, yes? Turn the heat back up to Med-High and Keep going!

Milk, Meet Roux--Easy Does It!  In The Beginning, It was Grainy.

5.  Are We There Yet?  When you have just finished pouring in the milk, a spoon dipped in will show the sauce is not yet well-incorporated and has a grainy appearance.  When the sauce has been lovingly whisked and has thickened, the same spoon, when dipped again, will show the sauce to have become silky, creamy white.  Turn the heat off immediately.  Taste the Sauce NOW.  Tastes like DINNER, YES???


From here, I simply added in some cooked pork sausage and a bit of hot sauce to the JoC recipe and ladled it over the biscuits.   I served with my favorite vegetable, Bacon.

---->But YOU could add cheese and pasta, veggies and cheese, etc, etc, etc.  Remember---YOU'RE A GENIUS!!
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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Cross Words, At a Loss For Words...OH LOOK! A CONTEST!

I started doing crossword puzzles!

Yah, yippee-kai-yay for you, right?

I never could before, somehow.  But we get the local paper at work and I started looking the puzzle over as I munched my PB&J a few weeks ago, and I got one here, one there, three more over yonder in the bottom corner.  I feel smart!

Except I have started to *forget* words.  Words I have known for years.  Odd words. Weird words. Arcane, archaic, trivial, esoteric words that have crowded my brain for yeeeaaars.  Remember the map of my brain? Left side: Trivia, Right side: Jingles, That's All, Folks

GingerMan informed me I share this condition with none other than Homer Simpson.

Clue: "Slippery"
Me: "---------"
Dictionary: "Greasy, Oily, Slick, etc etc etc...."
Me:  "--------"

Which brings me to last week's existential quandry concerning Knowledge of the Universe*.  GingerMan toddled off to Boy's Night last saturday so I popped down to Recycle Books in Campbell and cleaned up their Science section  quite a bit.  Some of which I actually owned myownself till they ended up a donation box I didn't look all the way through. Derp.  Supporting Local Business, Non?

Bought  back my book on Paul Erdos, a buncha Richard (saaawoooooon) Feynman books and a couple by Brian Greene (Elegant Universe and The Fabric of the Universe).  And this one called:

Like the Hitchhiker's Guide, it just seemed non-threatening, welcoming, even.

Vacuums, voids, the origins of the universe.  I've got two outta three nailed, right here in my little coconut.

*Mine= Notalot.


Okay, people.  At the tender age of 38, I finally understood a physics experiment because someone inserted a little extra clause in once sentence which illuminated Everything.  Think about what you cook, think about what you WANT to cook, but getting through the instructions and to the practical it seems like something vital  is....missing!

Is it an incomplete description? A technique poorly explained?  Something about a recipe that just doesn't make sense yet?  Unburden your heart here and I, your Joy of Cooking Fairy, will attempt to Enlighten Us All!  Rules and Entry in the Comments here: Missing Piece Meets the Big OOOOOHHH!!!  Prize is your very own Joy of Cooking! Pin It Now!