Sunday, September 22, 2013

Four Sorbets

A couple weeks ago, my friends Ben and Elizabeth moved to a new house, the fifth place that they've lived in the six or so years that I've known them. As part of moving this time, they decided to clear out a whole bunch of stuff and sell everything from Elizabeth's mother's storage unit in a giant moving sale, and I helped by buying their ice cream maker.

I already own an ice cream maker, but it's the kind where you have to pack in ice and rock salt, and it's messy and hard to use, and really only good in the summer months when you can run it on the porch, out of sight and out of mind. Elizabeth and Ben's was one of those kind with the detachable bowl that you put in the freezer, so for $5 I decided it was worth a shot. When I got home, I carefully unpacked the box, read the recipe booklet, and noticed that the instructions were missing. The pictures on the box were pretty good at showing how to assemble it, and I had the recipes, but I had no idea how long to leave the mixes in the machine for.

Fortunately, googling the make and model number produced dozens of YouTube videos of people using it, so I could guess.

"God, people will take video of anything to post on the web," I thought, shaking my head, as I set my camera down on the counter so that I could take pictures of my results and post them on the web.

The recipes in the booklet seemed kind of complicated, with a lot of pre-cooking and straining and pushing ingredients through sieves, but the one for three-citrus sorbet seemed relatively simple. I'm not a big fan of ice cream anyway, but I love sorbet, so the other day I picked up some orange juice, mint, and grapefruit juice (I always have lemon juice in case I need to make hummus), mixed them all together with honey, chilled the mixture in the refrigerator overnight, and gave the machine a whirl.

three-citrus sorbet

It's not terrible, but I'm not 100% in love with the flavor. It's a little too acidic (shocking, I know, given the three juices that went into it) and the texture is a little icy rather than smooth. I recognized the potential for better, though, so I drank all the orange juice and did some web research. After wading through a lot of recipes that were as annoyingly complicated as the ones in the book, I ran across this blog entry on how to make sorbet out of any kind of juice in your refrigerator. This seemed simple enough, and appeared to have worked multiple times, so I decided to head back out to the grocery store for some other juice besides the leftover grapefruit juice.

Since the recipe calls for a cup of sugar, I decided that I didn't want to get diabetes, and opted to spend a little extra for the juices that don't have high fructose corn syrup.

And then I made White Grape Juice Sorbet:

white grape sorbet

It's really sweet, with a tart undertone, and a little zing from the grape. It's so delicious.

Loading that into the freezer, I decided to try some Grapefruit Sorbet after I refroze the bowl:

grapefruit sorbet

and that turned out delicious, too. The simple syrup sweetens the grapefruit juice enough so that it stops tasting like soil, so it comes out kind of like a sour candy.

Packing that away into the freezer (thank God I have so much Gladware), I refroze the bowl again, and tonight created Cranberry Juice Sorbet:

cranberry sorbet

I've gotten the best results so far by processing it to that consistency, then packing it in Gladware and letting it hard-freeze for a few more hours in the freezer.

Which is now full of four kinds of sorbet.

I guess we know what's for dessert for the next couple of weeks.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

"I'm full of blood": My letter to the editor

You may or may not already know that I'm not the biggest fan of cell phones. Because of that, I have a lot of rules about when I call and when I answer, but it didn't occur to me until today that my rules are so rigid that any deviation from them is likely to strike others as some kind of trouble.

What happened today to make me realize this?

I called my mom at lunchtime.


"Why are you calling in the middle of the day? You never call anyone before five on weekdays! What's wrong?"

"Nothing. Nothing's wrong. I just have a question."

"Are you sure everything's ok? You don't use your phone at work."

"No, it's fine. I'm on lunch. What's my blood type?"


I really should have thought this through more before calling, right?

I wasn't calling from the hospital, and nothing was wrong except for the overall problems with our heteronormative society. See, I was calling because we are having a blood drive on campus this week, and so many people asked me over the past few days if I had donated blood that I posted a status about it on Facebook this morning explaining that the Department of Health and Human Services still bans gay males from donating. The fact that such a ban exists was news to a lot of people, based on comments, so I decided to write a letter to the editor of the school paper.

Just in case they don't publish it, here's what I wrote:

I’m a gay male, and I’m full of blood.

I don’t usually lead with either of those things when I introduce myself to people. The first one tends to come out eventually if you talk to me long enough (especially if, say, we’re standing by a poster for the “Thor” sequel) and I assume that people take the second one as a given based on my non-vampiric status. Both of them have come up fairly regularly in conversation this week, though, because of the ongoing campus blood drive.

For those who don’t know, the Eighth Annual UT/Florida Blood Drive is currently in progress at the University Center. A long running and friendly way to play off of our rivalry with Florida leading into the game this weekend, Tennessee has a long tradition of beating Florida in this competition, and Volunteers have already donated over 400 times according to the current update on the MEDIC Regional Blood Center’s Facebook page. If we keep going at the current rate, we will probably take the competition again this year, but I’m sad to report that I am not able to help.

Several friends have asked if I’ve donated or plan to donate this week. As mentioned above, I am full of blood; O Positive, to be exact. Unfortunately, as also mentioned above, I am a gay male, and am therefore banned for life from donating blood by the Department of Health and Human Services. When I’ve explained this to friends over the past couple of days, reactions have been mixed, but the most common one has been that people are surprised that the ban is still in place.

For many UT students, this ban has existed since before they were born. It is a relic of the early years of the AIDS epidemic, when the virus and viral transmission were not fully understood. Put in place in an era of frantic, reactionary policy decisions, it has unfortunately never been overturned despite growing protests from the medical and scientific community. In June of this year the American Medical Association voted to oppose continuing the policy, but the Food and Drug Administration insists that the ban must remain in place as a safety measure.

Even though I can hand you medical documentation showing that my blood is free of disease or viruses, and I haven’t engaged in any of the behaviors listed as potentially risky enough to temporarily ban me from giving blood, I am apparently still a danger, and need to be kept away from the general population. As a gay male, my blood is more dangerous than that of lesbians and heterosexuals with multiple heterosexual partners, including prostitutes, because I’m the only one of them with a lifetime ban from donating.

Despite the institutional oppression that keeps me from donating, I’m not anti-blood drive. I won’t be in the hallway at the UC with a sign, yelling at people not to give, but I also won’t be down there donating. A friend pointed out that I could just lie, but as a gay male I’ve gone through enough of a struggle with myself and others to be honest about who I am, and I’m not willing to compromise that. If you’re able to give blood this week, I encourage you to, but I also encourage you to keep in mind that it’s not a privilege extended to everyone.

Hopefully this will offer someone, somewhere, some food for thought about privilege, institutional oppression, and blood drives.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

To Nashville and Back

This morning I got up early to drive to Nashville for the Nashville Comic Expo. Both of the friends that I asked to go with me earlier in the week ended up backing out (for totally legitimate reasons), but I really wanted to go since I haven't been to a large scale comic convention in a while and I haven't gotten out of town in a while. Even though it is about three hours one way to Nashville, I decided to go for it. I am a grown adult, and capable of going places by myself.

After I spent a half hour choosing an outfit.

And no, it wasn't a choice of which costume to wear.

My goal for this convention wasn't to see any of the guests, or to participate in the speed dating (what?), or even the "spoken nerd" poetry slam (again, what?). My only goal was to see vendors, which meant that I needed to be ready to haggle. This also meant that I had to plan my outfit carefully, and not wear anything comic-related. This might seem counter-productive, since the goal of a comic fandom expo is to celebrate being a fan, but revealing yourself as a fan of something in particular can also put you at a disadvantage when it comes time to haggle. If I'm wearing a Legion of Superheroes t-shirt (I have four; doesn't everybody?) the message I am sending to the other attendees is "Long Live the Legion", but the message I am sending to a dealer is "Weak spot! I will probably buy your Legion crap anyway unless I already own it, so by all means please don't bother giving me a real deal". I also didn't want to wear anything university-affiliated, since Nashville is Vandy territory, so most of the reason it took so long to find a shirt was that almost all of my t-shirts reference comics or work.

Other people clearly took longer to choose an outfit:

thor cosplay


(cute, but none of those outfits are in canon)

dr. fate cosplay

and I love that the last guy is dressed as a Dr. Fate action figure, rather than as Dr. Fate.

(I say that because, in the comics, the helmet and all of the other non-blue pieces are always colored the same, a shiny golden yellow or yellowish gold. While the "Super Powers" Dr. Fate maintained this color scheme, casting the helmet in yellow plastic and painting the rest of the yellow parts to match, most other Dr. Fate figures have given the helmet a metallic look while leaving the other pieces flat yellow.)

I didn't so much love this:


as I find the Bronies movement a little odd but also because I found it offputting to see so many parents let a random adult who is completely unknown to them hug their children just because said adult is dressed as a stuffed animal. This isn't a mall Santa or anything. It's some guy who bought, created, or rented a My Little Pony costume and now has his hands on your child, and under that mask he could be anybody. Shouldn't that bother a parent? Then again, I saw a mom dressed as female Freddy Krueger and her two kids wearing t-shirts that said "Freddy's Victim", which, given the history between Freddy and his child victims, sends the message that she's dressing up as someone who molested her own kids. Maybe parents aren't nearly as weirded out by things as I think they should be, or maybe I've already established that I spent way too much time thinking about the message that outfits send and couldn't get my mind out of that rut.

No, actually, I think the Bronies hugging children is creepy and I'm not apologizing.

Anyway, my first interaction in the vendor area:

vendor area

did not go well. I was walking past a table, looking at the titles written on the long boxes, when the vendor yelled at me.

"Hey! Don't just look at the boxes! You have to look at the wall, first, where the good stuff is. Then if you see stuff on the wall you like, you know that there's probably something in the boxes you like."

"That makes sense," I said neutrally, even though I was thinking, "Or you could properly label your boxes, and I would know if there's something in them I might like, but hey. You started talking to me. I'll talk back and see what happens."

"Is there anything in particular that you're looking for?"

"Why yes, actually. Do you have any copies of 'Superman's Girlfriend: Lois Lane'?"

"Yeah! Come over here!"

He had seven issues, and they were all priced between $40 and $65 an issue.

"How firm are you on these prices?"

"Well, these are what the priceguides list as."

Not only is that not an answer to the question that I asked, but that also reveals the problem with issues of "Lois Lane". Issues before #100, and especially before #50, tend to be priced high in the guides because they are older and rarer, and it just seems like they should be valuable because they are comics from the 1960's starring iconic characters. However, the pool of collectors out there who will actually buy an issue of Lois Lane is rather small, and with almost 140 issues to track down many of us are not willing to pay those kinds of prices. Since there are so few of us and we are so stingy, comic sellers who are not willing to move on the price of the issues are going to end up sitting on them. If you're not willing to lower your $65 tag to something manageable, you and Lois are going to grow old together, something that probably happens in an issue of "Superman's Girlfriend: Lois Lane".

"So you're asking $65 for this issue, and not willing to move on the price at all?"

"That's a very important issue."

Mister, I already own that issue, and I didn't pay anywhere close to that for it. I don't carry a priceguide around with me, so my only way of evaluating your prices is by benchmarking against something I already own, and that leads me to believe that I should not shop with you.

"Well, I'll think about it."

"Don't think too long! Someone will snap these right up!"


The next table was much more promising, with a number of signs saying "Silver Age Comics 50% Off Marked Price". I decided to give him a try.

"All of the comics in these boxes are half off?"

"As a starting point. I don't want to take any of them home."

"Maybe I can help. Do you have any Lois Lanes in there?"

He grinned, and reached under the table.

"I have a whole box of them. You're looking for them?"

"I am, but that guy over there just tried to sell me some for sixty-five dollars EACH."

Laughter from the vendor. "Wow. Well, look through, and see what you're interested in."

"You don't want to take any of these home, right? I have a proposal."


"I have fifty dollars. Why don't I start pulling issues, and when you feel like I've hit fifty dollars worth, let's see what we think."


See? A vendor was willing to work with me, and we both walked away happy:

lots of lois

That's not even all of the haul. After some dickering back and forth, I ended up with 24 issues, but I couldn't get him to put the one where Lois runs for Senator on an anti-Superman platform (issue #62) back into the pile without losing too many of the cheaper ones after #100, so I had to let it go.

It was a good day, though, but I was saddened to realize on leaving that I'd only stayed an hour. At $20 for entry and $10 for parking, that's fifty cents a minute without even considering the six hours of driving time and the tank of gas. I don't know if I would call the trip a failure, because my God, that pile of Lois Lanes, but it feels like I should have stayed longer or gotten more out of it. I didn't find any of the figures I wanted, and that's actually what I was hoping to get.

Surprisingly, though, the Lois Lanes weren't the only fantastic bargain of the day. Since I left Nashville close to lunchtime to start heading back, it was pretty early in the afternoon when I got close to Crossville, and I decided to stop at the flea market there, which I've never been to.

Crossville flea market (1)

I was pleasantly surprised, as it looks more like the outdoor flea markets I remember from when I was little:

Crossville flea market (2)

although at the back it had a lot of empty (and apparently abandoned) booths:

Crossville flea market (3)

I wasn't expecting much, and was really mostly looking for a drink and maybe a snack for the last part of my drive, but then this happened:

pyrex casserole

I never told you that I have a small collection of vintage Pyrex, have I? I don't buy every piece I see, as I think some of the patterns are fugly (looking at you, Forest Fancies), but I'm ok with that pattern, Golden Hearts. It was only produced on one dish, and for less than a year (late 1958 and early 1959), and the only other time I've seen one it was in the antique store down the street, where they have it priced at $55.

And then this happened:

"Sir, this tag says 'Lid - $5'. How much do you want for the bowl, too?"

"That tag means that the bowl comes with the lid. The pair is five dollars."

"Five dollars?"

"I think that's a fair price."


I don't know which purchase I am more excited about, but damn, I had an exciting day.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Orecchiette with Chorizo and Beans

Every month or so I stop by Earth Fare to pick up my special aromatherapy relaxation soap. It is brown, has exfoliating oatmeal in it, and smells kind of like a french toast breakfast, and I swear to God that it has magical powers to make you forget even the worst day at work. These visits to Earth Fare have to be carefully timed, as I have to get new soap before the old bar runs out but I also can't go to Earth Fare too often, because I am unable to resist the siren song of the fancy cheese case and impulse buys that cost five times more than similar impulse buys at Kroger. I made this month's visit last week, and happened to pick up the most recent issue of "Bon Appetit" magazine.

While paging through, I saw a recipe for orecchiette pasta with chorizo and chickpeas and thought, "Oh, God, that sounds good."

I never really made recipes from magazines before I moved here. A large part of that was due to the fact that I just wasn't really that adventurous about food, and also that my old apartment was completely unsuited to cooking. It only had one counter, which held my microwave and nothing else, and the stove, which only had three burners, was also so small that I referred to it as "my tiny doll-sized oven" and had to buy special pans for it because standard ones were all too big. That meant that any time I made a multi-pot meal (a feat very rarely attempted) there was a slow, dangerous ballet of pots being set on the floor on potholders and trivets and then returned to the stove while I tried not to scald myself, not to kick one of them over by accident, and also not to let the pots slip and touch the melt-prone plastic carpet installed on my floors.

When I moved here, and had counters and a full sized stove and hours to spend with the Food Network running in the background (remember, I moved here in 2006, when Food Network's programming model still included cooking shows rather than shows about secret waiters, health inspectors, and greasy fat guys driving around to diners and making up words), I started cooking in earnest, and it turns out that I'm not a terrible home cook. I'm not professionally traind or anything, but I make Martha Stewart recipes and no one dies. Sometimes the recipe even comes out looking exactly like the picture in the magazine, and those pictures are prepped by professional and highly paid food stylists. I've gotten good at following recipes.

I'm sometimes not so good at following grocery lists.

Case in point: the recipe is called orecchiette pasta with chorizo and chickpeas. I came home with orecchiette pasta and chorizo.

It's kind of not my fault, because I assumed that I already had chickpeas in the house. I always have a couple of cans in my cabinet because I often have sudden cravings to make hummus. Unfortunately I had one of those cravings earlier this week, and forgot to add chickpeas to my grocery list to replace the cans I used for the hummus.

Lois comments

Shut up, Lois Lane.

Checking my cabinets, I decided to substitute great northern beans, as they have a similar mild flavor and are strong enough to hold up to the pan cooking and stirring that the recipe called for. As part of my mis en place (See? I am a good cook. I know words like mis en place.) I drained and rinsed them, then set them aside while I boiled the pasta and ground two shallots down to paste in the food processor.

Once all of that was done, I began frying the shallots in oil:

shallots frying

As they browned and shrank down to nothing, I opened the chorizo:


I've never cooked chorizo before, although I've eaten it lots of times.

(Somewhere in Northern New York my mom just read this and said, "You have? When did that start happening?"

The answer is "at brunch". Tomato Head's brunch menu biscuit with sausage, gravy, eggs, cheese, and chorizo is the most delicious thing I have ever had at brunch ever:


I could eat that every weekend and die happy.

Probably from a gravy-related heart injury.)

It turns out that the easiest way to handle the chorizo is to snip off one end of the plastic casing and just squeeze it out:

chorizo and shallots

and then break it up while it browns and cooks:

browning chorizo

After the chorizo cooked for a while I added tomato paste and red pepper flakes, and then after that cooked for a few more minutes added a can of chicken broth:


and then let it cook down for twenty more minutes. Once that was done, I added the (wrong) beans:

beans added (1)

beans added (2)

and, finally, the pasta:

pasta added

at which point I realized I had just spent an hour and about twelve dollars making Hamburger Helper from scratch.

Except that Hamburger Helper is gross and salty, and this:

pasta with chorizo and beans

This is delicious.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Pulled Pork and Industrial Parks

The other day I was wandering the aisles at Kroger, which happens sometimes when I realize on my way home that I just need one thing but then start thinking of other things while I'm there even though I don't have a list and shouldn't shop without one, and I noticed a new (or just new to me) product with coupons next to it:

slow cooker sauce

Hmmm, I thought, staring. I like pulled pork. I have a slow cooker. Maybe I should try this.

It seemed really easy, but everything in the slow cooker is usually really easy: pour in, walk away. I've even made pulled pork in the slow cooker, using a recipe that calls for rootbeer and onions. I didn't blog it, but did take photos:

loaded cooker

pulled pork sandwiches

Those turned out well, but this seemed even easier, as it didn't require any mixing. Intrigued, I picked up some pork and decided to give it a try.

Following instructions on the pork and the pouch, I removed the netting:

raw pork

placed the pork in the slow cooker, and poured the pouch of sauce over it:

pour sauce over pork

and then got started on ignoring it for eight hours.

To speed the process of ignoring along, I left the house. I promised my friend Kate earlier in the week that I would go somewhere and take photos of something, as part of a goal setting workshop we were doing. I've noticed that I've drifted away from going on little day trips or exploring the city, and want to get back into that, so I set a goal and attempted to follow it. The first place I went to had too many people, so I didn't get out of the car, and then I decided to just drive around until I saw something interesting.

Mission accomplished:





Critter Barn

cement plant (1)

cement plant (2)

truck route


I'm apparently only seeing in black and white, but at least I got out of the house and saw something.

I also went to the store, and when I got home, the pork was almost ready. It was somewhat difficult to continue ignoring, since the whole apartment smelled like barbecue, but I somehow made it, mostly by telling myself that trichinosis kills. Finally, it was time to pull the pork out of the crockpot and shred it, although it partially shredded itself by disintegrating while I tried removing it:

shred the pork

After I fork-shredded it, I returned it to the slow cooker on "warm", so that it could really soak up the sauce:

return to cooker

and then I ate it:

pulled pork sandwich

Will I use this product again?

No, probably not. The pork is fine, but it's salty. The rootbeer pork doesn't come out salty, so I'm sticking with that recipe.

And I've already moved on to wanting to make this pasta recipe I saw in "Food and Wine".