Monday, September 26, 2011

Stripping as metaphor

Paint, folks.  I'm stripping paint.

Lately I've undertaken home improvement projects with new zeal.  I guess I'm finally ready to accept this home as my own and I'm taking steps to get it to a state where it feels that way.  My biggest project at the moment is redoing the spare bedroom  Bye bye pre-teen boy cammo colors.  The first major accomplishment in the room was ceiling painting.  Gross.

My house is pushing 85 years old and there must be at least 50 years of paint slathered on my window moldings, especially in the room I'm working on now.  You could hardly see the detail in the molding and I knew yet another coat of primer and paint would only make it worse so I'm undertaking the very messy project of stripping the wood.  My first adventure in this realm has taught me many lessons:

1. Sometimes something that won't open isn't meant to be opened.  The first can of stripper I bought was IMPOSSIBLE to open.  I tried multiple times, and while I'm not a brute, I'm also not a weakling.  A return trip to the store yielded me a better smelling, more protective product that works better than the first even claimed to.  Giving up on the old and moving on to the new was a good call.

2. Patience is a virtue.  The new stripping agent can sit on the wood for up to 24 hours.  If you just back the hell off and let it do it's work, life is much easier.  I'm not so good at patience.

3. A little hard work never killed anyone.  See # 2.  As I'm not patient, I've been working harder than I should have to.  I find it therapeutic to dig and scrape at 10 layers of paint.

4. You can only put so much work in to something.  While I've enjoyed digging and scraping, it comes to a point where I just had to chill out, sit back, and let the chemical do its job.  At some point, work for work's sake becomes futile and you need to step back, have a beer and take a break.

5. Don't worry if what you find under the surface isn't perfect.  Nothing is.  My plan all along was to repaint right over the wood.  I thought maybe if I found something spectacular under all that paint I'd work extra hard to get it perfect and stain instead of paint.  I'm not yet sure which conclusion I reach.  If I get what I planned for, great.  Should I find something unexpected, fantastic.  Either way, I win.

Ok, time to inhale some more fumes.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Roasting Chiles

As chili season is rapidly approaching, I grabbed a handful of peppers at a farm stand recently and I've begun to build up my supply of roasted chiles.  I'm very much looking forward to chilly fall mornings, spending hours slowly building a flavor base for a big 'ole pot of chili and I learned last year that taking the time to roast my own chiles makes a difference.  However, if I can cut some time off a dish, I most certainly will and pre-roasting and freezing chiles is a great way to go.  I have a handful of packets of jalapenos already in this fridge and this was a mix of fairly tepid peppers.  I need to grab some gloves before playing with anything too spicy...I've learned that lesson before!
The process, while sometimes time-consuming, is fairly simple.  Toss the peppers in some oil, throw them in a hot oven and away until the skin starts to pucker and blacken in spots.  If you're lucky like I was this go around, it will be fairly easy to separate the skin from the pepper with a sharp knife (I keep both my favorite chef's knife and paring knife handy).  Give the seeds a scrape - this is where the heat is, so adjust accordingly - and you're set.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Desperately Seeking: Carne Asada

On a few evenings this August, we took our track winnings and headed to Cantina in Saratoga for some tasty dinner.  Ok, some of us went to drown our losses in tequila, but you get the idea.  Over the past few years, I've learned to develop a taste for "real" Mexican food.  While it's tough to come by around here, I've rarely been disappointed with a meal at Cantina.  My dining companion was thrilled by his discovery of this gem and was especially taken with their carne asada.  Now obsessed, he's been on the lookout for a pre-made carne asada marinade and has been unable to find one.

Frankly, I think this is a good thing because I'm guessing I can do better than some bottled, processed junk.  Maybe I'm being immodest, but I'm guessing some fresh ingridients and a little help from Penzey's will be a much better way to go.  I've been doing some research and think I can come up with a decent mix of dried spices that can be added to liquid/acid along with, maybe, some fresh ingredients like cilantro, onion and garlic.  I am, however, hoping to perfect "easy" and be able to say "here, throw a few tablespoons of this in with lime juice and you're good to go."

I've done some research and have my ideas, but as there is no "official" recipie, I thought I'd throw it to my loyal following to see if there are any good tips to be had.  I'll be sure to share details of my quest for the perfect spice blend as it moves forward.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Blueberry-Peach Crisp

It's always risky taking a new dish to a gathering.  It's especially risky when you're the new dish going to the gathering.  But, liking to plant my flag in the culinary prowess camp early with new folks, I faced the challenge head on.  And I - gasp - baked.

Those of you who read the blog regularly know I'm not one for recipes or measuring per se.  So baking and I have a touchy relationship, being that such things are important in baking.  I can, however, handle crisps and cobblers because other than remembering some proportions for the topping (and there's even some flexibility there) I get to play around a bit and usually not mess things up too bad.

I've done some mixed berry crisps before, but I decided to take a new spin - peach and blueberry crisp.  I had blueberries leftover from last season but I was a little worried about texture after so long in the freezer.  I decided to make a blueberry syrup - bit of water, bit more sugar and a nice slow boil and I was good to go.  I tossed the peach slices in a little sugar (less than normal because I'd sweetened the blueberries) and corn starch.  Then I drizzled the blueberry syrup over the peaches.  I was worried about how soupy the mix would be so I started to cook the fruit a bit before adding the topping.  When I was comfortable that it wouldn't be a total mess, on went the topping.

The crisp came out pretty good - a tad soupier than I would have liked but the flavor was good and my hosts were very gracious and seemed to enjoy it.  I even ended up with some extra blueberry syrup.  I sense some vanilla ice cream in my future!