Trixie’s Dark Side

I actually wasn’t even thinking of that last post as product advertisement until your comments came in. I was just show and tell-ing my new toy. But of course it would make you all want one too! And hell, if you can get ’em at Costco for $30, make haste! My online order was a full $100, and even that was worth it to me.

But just so we have it out in the open, ole Trixeroo ain’t perfect. The biggest fault for me is that the insert pot is teflon, or some such non-stick. I swore teflon out of my life years ago, but here it is again. When I swore it out, we were living in such a way that various hippies were often in my kitchen, cooking in my pans and washing my dishes, and I hated standing behind them as the Teflon Nazi. Now, for better or for worse, it’s usually just lil’ ole’ me cooking and washing my very own dishes, so it’ll be easier to ensure that this pot is treated with ultimate care.

This is especially important because, other downside, I don’t know if it’s possible to order a replacement pot. A few of the bad reviews on Amazon were from people who had had various problems but had been unable to illicit a response from the company. I actually intend to try to order a replacement pot immediately, so that I have it and am ready for the inevitable Scratch and subsequent Flaking. But, we’ll see if that happens.

And you couldn’t rig in a different, unrelated pot. The bottom heat element is slightly convex, fitting into the slight concave of the pot. I guess to transfer heat more efficiently? Also, the top lip of the pot is what hits the rubber gasket of the lid to seal for pressure cooking.

Hmmm…. what else?

I guess I really can’t think of anything else. Otherwise, Practically Perfect in Every Way. Oh. I see I should have named it Mary.

Every Mama Needs a Birthday Toy

And mine came in the form of a Fagor 3-in-1 Electric Cooker. We all have our little quirks. To each their own. And all that.

This brilliant little device is a pressure cooker, slow cooker and rice cooker all in one square foot of counter space. I had never used a pressure cooker before, and didn’t even know I wanted one. What I thought I wanted was a slow cooker that could adjust to higher temperatures for browning onions and whatnot. I have used a pressure canner lots of times, but never a pressure cooker. Though the quick cooking was alluring, I never particularly liked the idea of including 4 foot steam jets and manic jiggling weights in the process of cooking dinner.

But when I found this device online, and read all the reviews, it sounded worth a try. Even if the pressure cooker part was a blow out, I would still have a very nice slow cooker, with both “brown” and “warm” settings. I gave it a go.

The first time I used it I was afraid it wasn’t working. I mean literally I was thinking I would have to send it back. No steam was coming out, no jiggling or any other noise at all. It just sat there quietly, supposedly cooking my beans.

When the programmed 25 minutes were up, and it clicked off, I went over to see just what was up. There is a little knob on top that you flip closed for “pressure” or open to let the steam out. I flipped it. Hello geiser of garbanzo steam!!! Wow. I guess it really was working. When it finally cooled enough to open, I found beautifully cooked beans, ready for a giant batch of hummus. It took 25 minutes of pressure. I was impressed.

Since then I have cooked in it every day, often more than once. I have named it Trixie. I’m pretty certain it’s trans-gendered, but I can’t figure if she used to be a he, or vice-versa. So, I’ll stick with “it” till they invent a gender neutral animate pronoun. Sorry, Trix.

see what i mean?

I have thus far cooked all my favorite beans, in big batches for the freezer, cuz Trixie’s got back, if ya know what I mean. 6 quart capacity to be exact.

The chick peas as mentioned took 25 minutes of pressure. Black beans took only 11 (who knew they’d be so different?) and French lentils a mere 7 minutes!!! The first two were soaked overnight. But the lentils, just straight into the pot and on. Of course, it takes a few minutes to heat up to pressure, then you have to wait for it to cool unless you want to unleash The Geiser into your already hot and sweaty kitchen. So, that was maybe 30 minutes from start to finish for the lentils. Still. Pretty fabulous. And the waste heat is very minimal. The sides and top are hot when it’s on, but not too hot to touch. There is a very little amount of steam jetting right at first, just as it sets the pressure. But after that, the electronic sensors I guess keep everything in perfect balance so that there is no steam escaping.

Brilliant. You know that I am a ludite at heart, but I can be convinced towards “appropriate technology,” and lemme tell ya, this baby is appropriate.

The slow cooker function has actually taken a full back seat. I mean, why take all day to cook something I can cook in less than an hour? The point anyway was just to keep my kitchen cooler.

I have used it though, once for a casserole of yams, sausage and greens, which was very good. Once for a moose roast which I cooked for an untrackable number of hours (somewhere between 12 and 20!), and it was still not truly tender…?

Trixie makes me dinner. don't worry, it's purely platonic

And I’ve used Trix several times for what will be it’s prime function I think– baking.

I am still working on this, I’ve had some success and some failure. Steamed bread is very moist, sometimes to a fault. There is no crust at all, and the top is damp and sticky. I inherited (from my dad) a love of Boston brown bread, a traditional steamed bread, heavy on the molasses and raisins. So of course I tried a batch of that, and it was perfect. I’ve done a couple of loaves of yeasted bread and a chocolate cake. One of the breads was the 5-minute artisan recipe, which was a dismal failure. It was pretty far fetched, since it’s supposed to bake at 450, and is half about the crunchy crust. The natural moistness of that recipe made a positively gluey, pretty much inedible bread when steamed.

But my whole wheat bread, with a normal amount of yeast, worked pretty well. A quite different texture than oven baked, to be sure. The day of “baking” it was too sticky and moist for my taste. But two days later, when my oven baked wheat would have been dry and stiff, the steamed bread was soft and moist. Reminded me of store bought, not in flavor because of course mine had the clean, wholesome flavor of real food, but in texture– soft and moist with a close, fine crumb. Not as good as oven baked for toast, but better for sandwiches. And since I had thought the Hot Season meant an end to homemade bread, I am pretty excited about this. The amount of waste heat is extremely minimal compared with an oven.

The chocolate cake was good, but I suspect would have been better if I had not forgotten about it overnight!!! Yes, Trixie has the sometimes handy, sometimes not so, feature of switching to “warm” when the preset time on either “slow cook” or “pressure” has finished. So my chocolate cake, which I put on for one hour if I remember right, then sat at “warm” for another 8 or 9 hours. It was still surprisingly good, but not so moist and yummy as I imagine it could be. I will certainly be doing more experimentation with that.

Wow. Why are you still reading? You people have an incredible appetite for my completely over the top analyzations of anything and everything! I’m so glad! And for your reading pleasure I will doubtlessly continue to over-analyze everything related to homemaking, at every available opportunity.

Lucky you!

And lucky me.

If You Can’t Stand the Heat, Get Out of the Kitchen

It’s not so completely selfless of me, the staying in New Orleans this summer. I was really looking forward to being in Cordova, but to be perfectly honest, I was not enjoying the part where we have to move our family again, second time in one year. I was packing boxes with a restrained grimace. Looking for subletters here, after a winter of dealing with tenants in our Cordova house was not exactly blowing my skirt up. So, although I will miss a summer of wilderness out the back door, and good friends gathered round, I’m not as heartbroken as you (or I) might have thought.

What I’m perhaps most disappointed about is missing the opportunity to share the parenting duties. It’s just not very realistic to think that My Man might find a part time job fighting the good fight. Not at this point. There is surely an explosion of stuff to be done, and I have no doubt he will work as hard this summer as he did during the school year.

Sigh.

But, of course as the Babe gets older, he gets easier. So hopefully I’ll survive, as many many mamas have before me, a seemingly endless spell of full time mothering.

After that, my main concern is the heat. We arrived here last August, so we did get a chance to see quite a heavy dose of it (August is usually the worst month of all, so we hear. And it really didn’t cool off till late October!) but now we have a full six months of uncomfortable to unbearable heat stretching before us.

Yes, starting now. We’ve been running the AC every afternoon for awhile now. It has been getting hot for months, but it just now got to where it doesn’t cool off at night. That’s when it starts to bug me. I don’t mind hiding in the house during the hot afternoons, but when it’s just a relentless press of hot non-stop hot, I wilt.

Of course, it’s not the heat alone that’s doing me in. It’s the wet too. Yesterday was only 84 degrees, but the air was thick. It was like swimming through warm chocolate pudding. Without the benefit of the occasional slurps. Yu-uck. I don’t want to do a damn thing when it’s like that. Sit on my ass, and maybe read some blogs. I hardly want to snuggle my sticky babies. I certainly don’t want to get up, go into the kitchen and turn on the stove to cook my family dinner!!!

So, planner-girl has been busy making some lists. I do love me a list.

How to Cook Dinner with as Little Actual Cooking as Possible

(This is a work in progress, and I would appreciate help. That means you, you hot Ozzie housewives!)

cook in big batches for freezer:

  • rice, plain beans of all kinds, dahl, refried black beans, hummus

salads, big batches to eat throughout the week for lunches:

  • potato, pasta, rice, quinoa
  • chick pea, lentil, 5 bean
  • grated carrot, coleslaw, beet

spreads for sandwiches:

  • hummus, eggplant, walnut

other cool goodies:

  • sushi
  • Vietnamese summer rolls
  • gazpacho and other cold soups

Of course, you may notice that most of these things do require cooking. Well, the strategy for whatever cooking can’t be avoided is my new toy– the Fagor 3-In-One Electric Cooker. Slow cooker, pressure cooker and rice cooker in one convenient appliance! I have so much to say about this fancy pants appliance, that I’m gonna save it for the next post.

One of the sadnesses of the heat for me is not being able to bake. I love baking, and love eating yummy home baked treats. I am in the process of figuring out solar baking, but apparently I’ve got a lot left to learn. I actually did make a cardboard box solar oven, but the two times I’ve tried it were pretty unimpressive (read: failures). The first time I tried brown rice. That is so typically me. Way to start out with failure!

the brown rice failure. it got about half cooked, in four hours. note I hadn't gotten the reflector around yet though.

Then just the other day I was inspired by one of y’alls frabjuous blogs (sorry, can’t remember who, please feel free to pipe up in the comments) to try baking cookies. Not having been smart enough to make my box sized to a cookie sheet, I had to make “bars” in a smaller baking dish instead. After quite some time they had puffed, and looked half done, but then the sun was gone from our yard and I had to finish them off in the toaster oven.

Surely I can figure this out. The sun here gets hot! Like the back yard is completely uninhabitable mid-day. The sidewalks can burn bare feet. Whoever’s lovely blog just reinspired me was baking her cookies on a cold day, and they cooked! WTF?

I have moved the toaster oven out to the laundry shed, which is good. It’s perched atop the unused dryer. If I hadn’t just blown my wad on the fancy Fagor cooker, I would spring for a fancy new toaster oven. Instead I’ll have to make do with my really crappy thrifted dinosaur. Too bad for me.

Many things that are traditionally baked can actually be steam “baked” in the slow cooker. The results are not the same, but substitutable. You can bake bread in it, I did last week! It doesn’t brown, and there’s no crust to speak of, but it’s still bread. It’s a little on the moist/soft side for my taste right off, but then after a few days it’s great! Not dry at all like my homemade wheat bread usually is after two days. Perfect for sandwiches. More on this subject to come!

Lastly, I need to get a gas grill. We have used the resident charcoal grill a few times over the winter, and of course charcoal does produce far superior results, but it’s just not easy, and certainly not a cooling experience. I would use a gas grill lots more I think. I’m about to really be in the squash (just like I’ve always read about! So exciting for my Alaskan gardener spirit!) and I could get used to grilled squash as a regular part of my diet. Mmmmm….

Plus I could get creative, grilled pizza anyone? Barbecued peach pie?

I wish I could just come around to eating plain raw fruits and vegetables all the time. But although I enjoy a raw midday meal in the heat of the day, dinner to me needs to be cooked. Let alone My Man who honestly doesn’t understand why people waste their energy eating salad.

How do you all keep your families fed and happy in the heat of summer?

shushi yunch, a toddler fave

Things In General II

Wow. The kitchen is a complete wreck. My new dishwasher arrived yesterday, and I’m gonna need to really contemplate how to arrange my very small kitchen to fit it. Where the dishwasher itself goes is no question, it has to live right by the sink. But where to put the big storage shelf and trash that lived there before, I have not figured out.

Haven’t used the thing yet. My Man did the dishes by hand last night while I was putting the Babe to sleep, long story. Now I have to wait to make some dishes, which will be hard with such a messy kitchen!

I see one fatal flaw though. I knew it would need a prime spot next to the sink, and I was willing to give that up. But the hose that has to attach to the faucet is only (literally) two feet long! And since it exits the wrong side of the machine, which is itself two feet wide, this means that the dishwasher has to sit immediately in front of the sink, and even turned to face out, whenever it’s running!!!! That is going to be a pain in the ass. I mean, it’s on good casters, and we can run it at night, but nevertheless. C’mon people. Give up a few more bucks for a 6 fucking foot hose. Jesus.

If I were a real handy person, I’d put in a longer hose myself. But it would be pretty complicated. I guess I’m not real.

I got a bunch of exciting things (sort of) for my birthday. The dishwasher from my MIL, all the rest I bought myself. My Man and I don’t usually exchange presents for b-days. I don’t usually splurge thusly on myself either, but there were a few things I had wanted for awhile and now seemed a good time.

Looking forward to six months of heat I have been trying to scheme ways to cook without heating the kitchen up any extra. It just seems wrong to have to run the AC to counteract the stove, and anyway the kitchen is the one room without an AC unit. I bought a crock pot last fall at the sally, only to find that the really old models have a non-removable pot?!?! Meaning you can’t take it out to wash it, you have to lug the whole thing over to the sink, and then try to keep the electric parts dry. Stupidest thing I ever heard.

Believe it or not, I actually continued to use that MF quite a number of times. I’d spent $10 on it! I’m cheap! I knew I needed to get another crock pot, which seem great for cooking in the heat, but this time I wanted to spring for a really good one. I had dreams that there ought to be a crock pot with a more adjustable heat. After a little looking online I found out that there is such a thing as a “multi-cooker” which is slow cooker, pressure cooker, and rice cooker in one. Beautiful! I’ll take it! I did a little research, and bought a $100 unit made by Fagor.

I’ve never cooked with a pressure cooker before, though I’ve used them tons for canning. This little electric model is pretty damn slick. When I first used it (as soon as I got it, yesterday morning) I was disappointed to see it wasn’t making any kind of hissing or steam geiser. I thought it must not be working. I had read a review of someone who’s unit just didn’t work, and they had trouble getting the company to care. But no, after 25 minutes my chick peas were perfectly tender and delicious! I guess when an electric sensor is regulating the heat, you don’t need to have the geiser, which when I think about it is waste heat anyway.

But, I don’t want to tell you too much about my new toy, because I’m working on an If You Can’t Stand the Heat, Get Out of the Kitchen post. For all you Ozzies. And other hot climaters.

Other happy birthday to me things include the book Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason by Alfie Kohn, and a Meyer lemon tree! The book was recommended by a friend, and looks really good. The tree is only four feet tall but the nursery assured me that since it is grafted, it’s a mature tree (?) and will set fruit this year. I hope so. I don’t know why I didn’t just go out and buy myself a lemon tree the moment we got off the plane. They are $30, and did I mention I’m cheap? and there’s lots of free lemons to be had here. But still and yet. I have always wanted a lemon tree, and when else in my otherwise Alaskan life am I going to get to have one??? I was so happy bringing my new baby home. I tucked her into a nice big pot with the sunniest location in the entire yard, gave her some composted chicken manure to munch on, and a thick layer of leaves. I hope she likes it here. I hope she gives me lemons.

The down side of a lemon tree is that now that damn Peter, Paul and Mary song is stuck on repeat forever after in my brain.

In family news, My Man has started looking for a job. It’s going to be a bit tricky, since he isn’t necessarily looking for a pre-existing job, but more to create and fulfil his own. We’ll see.

The spill is just a continually depressing subject. He went to a preliminary investigation/hearing type of thing yesterday, re: why the explosion happened in the first place. And I was reminded about what I don’t like about his work. He has to get caught up in the details of what went wrong, when the real issue (to my mind) is that things are going to go wrong, and we shouldn’t have been drilling there in the first place.

Of course, I saw some people at a Sierra Club rally with a sign that said, ‘No Drill, No Spill’ and it’s all well and good to be against offshore drilling, against ANWAR, against wars in the middle east for oil, against nuclear power, but you have to be against getting in your car to go along with it.

It’s not like I am going on any car fast to protest, though I’ve heard of some other kick-ass folks doing so. But the issue needs to be addressed, and no one ever wants to stand up and hold a sign that says ‘Use Less.’

Not in America, land of the free (enterprise).

Besides, where’s the ring to ‘Use Less?’ No one could sell bumper stickers with that slogan.

(Though I was thinking of putting a sign in the back window of our car that says, “Mad about the spill? Pledge to keep your car in the driveway one day/week” But since our car stays in the driveway most days of the week, not many people would see it….)

(Not that we’re any kind of heros. We’ll be flying back to Cordova for a few weeks in July, using up way more than the extra days worth of fuel.)

And the kids? I think we’re on the uphill of our cycle. Things are looking up, some days are pretty good. But some still quite rough. Last night, from 7 to 9:30 we were putting babies to sleep. The Babe took a full hour, and the Toddler an hour and a half. I was valiantly trying to stay up so I could speak more than 3 words in a row to my beloved. But I didn’t make it. Sleep has a powerful undertow. Well, apparently not for our babies, but for me!

And friends, that’s that. Gotta go clean the kitchen!