Thursday, October 29, 2009

National Novel Writers Month (NaNoWriMo)

Rick has become this little voice I hear inside my head... ha ha inside joke. Kidding aside, he is very motivating for this voice that I just met a little over a week or so ago. He is pushing me outside my comfort zone and into writing with a goal in mind. He swears this will be a transformative experience and that I won't regret it.

Okay, he only had to push a little. He was very convincing.

So now I find myself officially committed to attempting to write 50,000 words in 30 days. What the hell?!

I had no freaking idea what to even write, but in telling him about my husband, Rick yelled out, "There's your story!" I had to stop and think about it for a second, but he was right. Jeff is the perfect basis for a character for my 50,000 word novel in a month.

Now I am excited. I literally could not get to the site fast enough to get myself officially entered in the grand experiment.

This will be a fun book to write because Jeff is my favorite person and although this will be a work of fiction, I can't wait to dedicate it to him. And the big "IF" I actually accomplish something that is worthy of publishing, I will be thanking that little voice in my head for the big push. I will probably thank him anyway for helping me to grow.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

My quest for perfect hash browns

I know most of you just buy the frozen hash browns and cook 'em up and call it good. But I feel a lot of push-back on convenience foods. They are often over processed. I don't trust the source of where the processed foods come from, and I don't like any additives or preservatives that they often put in foods to make them last longer in the market on the shelves.

I like to buy my foods from the farmer's markets and try to get foods locally when I can. I like to cook fresh foods from scratch so I know what and where the ingredients come from and that there are no hidden ingredients that I did not put in.

For all of you cooks who have ever made hash browns from scratch and ended up with less than desired results, I used to flunk at hash browns. But I am happy to report that I have solved the home-made hash brown riddle.

In the past, I have painstakingly sliced potatoes by hand getting uneven slices. I have hand grated them to get more evenly sized hashbrowns. I used a food processor to grate them in a flash. I have sliced my potatoes with the hash brown slicing blade of my expensive mandoline that I bought at an upscale kitchen gadget store at the mall.

Once I had the perfect sliced taters, I would invariably mess them up in the grease as they stuck to my perfectly seasoned cast iron skillet. I would mutter to myself as I would try to flip the hash browns but always losing some to bottom of the pan which had welded themselves in place. I would have to use a chisel and hammer to get them off the bottom or boil them off while cleaning.

What was I doing wrong?

The insides of the potatoes were a gluey texture inside and not very palatable. The outsides were crisp and done, but the insides were not. Hmmm? Maybe the oil was not hot enough. I upped the heat. They burned.

I tried using different types of spuds; red, russet, golden... I got mixed results. The nests of hash browns would still suffer from uneven browning ranging from very light to blackened round the edges. Sometimes the potatoes would weld themselves to the spatula.

I tried rinsing off the excess potato starch by giving them a swish in a bath of ice cold water and toweling them off until dry with an entire roll of paper towels.

I tried using different oils; vegetable, corn, canola, and against my better judgement, artery clogging vegetable shortening. I use about 3/4" of oil in my skillet. Then it hit me, restaurants use deep fryers with baskets.

The potatoes at the restaurants don't have a chance to stick to the bottom because they fry so quickly and evenly in the deep oil. Well this is my problem, I don't have a deep fryer. I will think about getting one, but in the mean time, I still have to make due with the skillet that I have.

So I cut up my simple red potatoes (skins on) with my trusty mandoline for perfect hash brown slices onto a doubled up sheet of paper toweling, I took another doubled up paper towel and blotted the potatoes thoroughly to get rid of excess moisture.

I heated 3/4" of canola oil in my skillet. I put in the potatoes, BUT instead of letting them sit there to cook on the one side before flipping them, I kept them moving. I used my wooden spatula to keep them from touching the bottom of the skillet for any length of time. I kept stirring them in the oil as if they were in a deep fryer, and they cooked very evenly. Plumes of steam came off the oil getting rid of the unwanted moisture in the potatoes that would turn them gloppy. The outsides crisped perfectly and I finally had achieved the perfect hash brown.

I gathered them up quickly with my largest asian frying-strainer spoon and placed them on paper toweling to drain excess oil. My final touch was to sprinkle them with grated sea salt and pepper, and just a touch of dried onion powder.

Maybe I won't have to purchase an expensive deep fryer after all.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Am starting a new blog today

Okay I'm saying it out loud... I am retired from graphic design (except for the occasional project from my friends at Creighton University.)

I thought about designing my new blog in the latest iteration of Word Press, but every time there is an update I fall behind in updating the code and things eventually stop working. I guess I just don't want to work that hard anymore to put my thoughts out there. The excitement of designing and creating my own blog has worn off and I just want to write and not worry about code updates. Blogger is an easy add to my Google lifestyle. Yes, I miss my PandaPause site, but there you go, stuff stopped working and eventually I could no longer post.

My new daily journal/blog is called "Through the looking glass" because I have always been a fan of Alice and her madcap adventures. This seemed appropriate for my own madcap reflections on being a wife, a daughter, a sister, a mom and a grandmother. I will also be reflecting on my adventures at my new career working in an elementary school and loving every minute. Who'd have thought it, I love working at Miller Park Elementary School.

I am also writing in earnest at which is a community of writers and would-be published authors. I have met and joined a sub group there called The Crucible, who meet in a weekly round-table on Skype. We discuss writing, editing, ideas and push each other to meet goals in writing. They help me grow as a writer and I am excited to actually work at my writing, to make it better. It's a great group of serious writers and meeting new friends is truly an adventure, look out Rick, Jan, Bruce and Amber.

My current WeBook submissions include:
I am going to try to keep my political self at bay here. Even though I am truly a Centrist, I can become too passionate on certain Liberal views and thoroughly piss off the beloved Conservatives in my life. Let's just say, I love our President and I am not going to apologize for that.

Lastly, although I love the social aspect of Facebook and Twitter, it is a great time waster. I don't plan to quit either, but I am going to resolve to limit myself to two times a day on both of those sites. And what can I say about my other time-wasting hobby, poker... I've reached $1M on Facebook Poker and I continue to lose at PokerStars. UGH! It is super frustrating. I have to do something about that.