Musing on food and cooking ...

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

I Don't Think CapitalOne Wants Me as a Customer Anymore

I returned home from my vacation and started going through my mail. There was an envelope there from CapitalOne. Urgent information about your account - Open Immediately! I normally don't look at these because they are usually just purchase checks or some other attempt to get me to spend more moolah. But I opened this one for some reason and am I ever glad I did.

It seems that CapitalOne has decided they are not making enough money and have decided to raise their interest rates more than 6%, making my rate almost 16%.

Now I have had my CapitalOne card for more than a decade. I have had a 9.9% interest rate since the beginning, even when the standard going rate was something close to 20%. I have never missed a payment, and I do carry a balance and so I know they are making money hand over fist on my account. Of course, I rarely use my card for new purchases, but I still have a fairly large balance to pay off over the next five years so they are not in any danger of loosing money on me any time soon. So why this almost putative increase in the APR?

CapitalOne claims it is because interests rates have increased so much over the last couple of years they simply must raise their rates. I call bullshit.

Interest rates are not that much higher than they were three years ago. The interest rate I got on my home mortgage in 2007 is almost identical to the mortage rate we had when we purchased our Massachusetts home in 2002. Really, I think it is CapitalOne's way of trying to increase the money they are making or of getting rid of customers who are "too good" and never have late fees.

So, in the letter, they give me a choice of bending over and taking it or freezing my account and never using it again. I think I will take another road... transfer over to Chase Bank's 18 month 0.0% APR on balance transfer (with a transfer fee of $99) with a fixed 9.9% after the 18 months are up or go to Bank of America and get a personal loan at 8.9%, pay off CapitalOne, and never have a credit card for general purchases again. Either way, I think I will be telling CapitalOne it is no longer what is in my wallet.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Today's Episode, in Which Heather Tempts Fate

I began my three day summer vacation on Thursday. I am attending a family reunion, so I don't know that it really counts as vacation, but still. I decided to fly to Minneapolis, because it cost the same as driving but took less time.

Heh. Right.

I had a mid-morning flight scheduled, just in case I couldn't get a ride and needed to get to O'Hare by train. I did manage to get a ride and was to the airport around 9 am. I had already checked in the night before and I had no luggage, so I breezed through security and went to the monitor only to discover that my flight was leaving 45 minutes late. Ok, that gives me time for breakfast. So I wandered down to the gate, and in the five minutes it took me to get there, my flight had been cancelled. Due to weather, or so they claimed. I went to the agent only to learn that they had rebooked me on a 4 pm flight to detroit and then a 7 pm flight to Minneapolis, getting me there around 9 pm. The agent claimed there were no other possibilities as everything was being cancelled because of a bad storm moving in. Nonononononono!

So, I quick went to the gate where the next flight and put my name on the priority stand by and then waited. Truly if there were bad weather that flight would also be cancelled, and I would know that I was well and truly screwed. But 11:30 rolled around and the flight started boarding, not even delayed. Obviously the weather excuse was a lie. I made some pointed comments about this fact.

I waited and waited, and they started calling names for stand by seating. Finally, I was called, likely due to the fact that a few people called before me were no where to be found! Apparently one of the benefits of travelling as a single person is that you can get on flights when families can't. Frankly, it was a bit like winning the lottery. And a good thing too! I hit Minneapolis around 1:30 and a huge storm did roll in around 2:30. I never would have made it if I had had to be on that 4 pm to Detroit.

Really the whole thing is my own damn fault. I wore the t-shirt that tempted fate. I wore it the last day of my previous job. It states simply, in bright yellow letters on brown cotton, "I'm Going Places."

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

My Harry Potter Results

I haven't read the latest Harry Potter and I doubt I will any time soon. However, since the plot is not out there online, I can post the results of my Harry Potter predictions.

1. Well, I guess Dumbledore really is dead, although he does show up as a spirit guide at one point in the novel. I give myself half a point for being kinda right and kinda wrong.
2. Snape was not on Voldemort's side. Whole point for Heather!
3. Voldemort was killed and killed in the traditional sense of the word. There is some argument about whether or not he counts as one of the two main characters that are killed, however. Some claim the two main characters killed are Fred Weasley and Snape. I personally don't think of Fred Weasley as a main character. I am giving myself a point for this one. Disagree if you like.
4. Harry's kinda death is a bit more complicated. A part of him certainly die. However, since my prediction was that he would lose his wizard powers and he didn't, I get no points for this prediction.
5. So Ron and Hermione do get together, but apparently it happens sometime in the Epilogue and not during the main thrust of the story. Still since it is between the covers of the book, I must deny myself any points here as well.

So, all in all, out of five possible points, I scored 2.5. 50%. Not bad for someone who only started reading the books a couple of years ago.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Summer Veggie Stew

It was cool enough this weekend to think about eating actual hot food, so I decided to use up a lot of the veggies from my CSA veggie box. Enjoy!

2 zucchinis
3-4 patty pan squash
1 yellow squash
5 small onions or 2 medium onions
3 T Penzy's Bangkok Blend Spice
1 pint seasoned tomato juice
1 package frozen green garbanzo beans or 32 ounces canned (drained and rinsed)

Chunk all the veggies into large pieces and then throw in a pot with some olive oil. Cook until they just start to get color and then throw in the tomato juice. Add the garbazos and then let simmer away until everything is soft and delicious. Serve with brown rice.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

They're Back!

Well, I went out this morning and momma cat and her kittens are returned, with said kittens much bigger. And they are all hissier than ever, possibly because it was a dark and stormy night. Unfortunately, it is not the right tmie of year for the Spay N'Go folks to attempt to catch them, so I don't know what I am going to do. The bushes definitely have to go, however. I don;t want my front yard to start harboring a whole colony of ferals.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Asian Cucumber Salad

I love cucumbers in the summer. Cool and water, with a delicious cruch. Really, not much is better. Except maybe watermelon. So, here is my favorite summer cucumber salad.

two 6-8 inch cucumbers
1/4 cup soy sauce (I use sushi style sauce)
1/2 cup seasoned rice vinegar
1 T sesame oil (optional)
red pepper to taste (optional)

Wash the cucumbers and cut off the ends. Then slice the in half and then slice again to make good bite-sized chunks. Put in a bowl. Mix soy sauce and rice vinegar. Add sesame oil and red pepper is using. Pour over cucumbers and toss well. Let sit for 20 minutes in fridge and then toss again. Let sit for another 20 minutes and then serve. This method ensures that each slice gets a good infusion of dressing but doesn't get mushy. If you need to keep it in the fridge overnight, do the following: cut the cucumbers and mix the dressing. Pour the dressing over the cucumbers and then add water until the cucumbers are just covered. Stir well. Adding the water seems to help keep the cucumbers from getting too mushy while steeping overnight. With this method, make sure to drain well, and then spike the salad with a dash of soy and vinegar just before serving.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Seven Wonders

Well, I didn't do so well in the new Seven Wonders of the World Voting. My choices way back yonder were Angkor Wat temple, Easter Island statues, the Great Wall, Petra, the Great Pyramids, Stonehenge, and one that isn't listed: Serpent Mound in Ohio.

And the worldwide voters picked: The Great Wall, Petra, Christ Redeemer of Brazil, Machu Picchu, Chicken Itza, the Taj Mahal, and the Colosseum. So I was two of seven, and I believe that the Pyramids got some sort of special honor for being the only original Seven Wonder still standing.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Why a License Should be Required to Reproduce

Contrary as I am, I truly believe that there are far too many people out there who should not be allowed to reproduce without a license. Simply because they are idiots. Take for example, this recent column from Dear Prudence,'s advice columnist:

Dear Prudie,

My daughter is 5 years old and has, like most girls her age, a hamper's worth of stuffed animals. While she has her favorites, she constantly wants more and usually connives to get someone (read: her grandparents) into procuring a new one every couple of weeks. The new one immediately becomes her favorite and she must sleep with it every night and haul it around half the day. My question is: Does this behavior indicate she'll be overly promiscuous as an adult, or at least unable to commit to a single partner?

—Perhaps Overly Worried Father

Um, ok. What kind of a moron would even think to ask whether or not his five-year-old's stuffed animal habits indicate whether or not she will be a slut? I mean, even if stuffed animal sleeping habits indicated some sort of sexual habit, from the description here, at the very worst the girl would become a serial monogamist, which basically means she is just like almost everyone else.

Luckily, Prudence is an intelligent and *ahem* prudent woman, and her answer was thus:

Dear Perhaps,

Of course that's what it indicates. You'd better start thinking now about what you're going to do when she's a young woman and throws over that big, chubby guy with the annoying laugh, Barney, for the sexually ambiguous Tinky-Winky, whom she then dumps for that moron, Elmo, who every time they come over asks you to get down on the floor and tickle him.


Way to snark, Prudie! I hereby nominate Prudence to hand out licenses to reproduce!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Today's Episode, in Which Heather Learns that She Must Win the Lottery

So, I have started doing work on my home. You know, the old bungalow. It has held up really well, considering that is is nearly 80 years old. But some parts I just don't like and some need to be updated badly.

The kitchen, for example, is disfunctional. It is set up wrong. It's small. It has no counter space. It's old and cruddy looking. This weekend I had the first contractor come in and look at it to see what can be done. The best solution is to knock out a wall, relocate a staircase, reorient the entire kitchen (requiring the rerouting of plumbing, eletric, and gas), and put in all new custom cabinets. Cost? $35K. Yes, 35000. Which effectively prices my house right out of the market, because I wouldn't be able to recoup such an investment if I sell the house in the next five years. Another suggestion he had would be to finish the attic - putting in two bedrooms and a bath upstairs, taking the two bedrooms downstairs, knocking down a wall, and turning that space into a huge kitchen. Still huge dollar signs. My next options is to figure out how to make what I have at least a bit more functional and attractive, which can be done but will still be at least $10K, which I currently don't have. I might be able to get it lower but that requires relying on relatives to help me with the work. That makes me nervous.

I guess I am just going to have to live with a crap ass kitchen for now.

The bathroom also needs to be updated, so I had him look at that as well. The primary things I want fix in the bath are the very stained cast iron tub and the window that spits water into the driveway. He had no real suggestions on the window other than to have a vinyl one installed. It is, sadly, a custom size, so I would have to have one made special. And the tub is also a custom size and so to replace it will cost thousands. He suggested a bath mat. But, he can redo the plumbing fixtures (which need updating), put in a nicer vanity and sink and redo the floor for my budget, which is damn small and it makes me wonder if I might not be better off just not doing anything right now.

Ugh ugh and triple ugh. I so need to win the lottery!

Friday, July 06, 2007

Today's Episode, in Which Heather Learns to Read Labels

Entire labels, that is.

My yoga ball lost its plug, forcing me to go and purchase a new yoga ball. I went to marshall's where I can normally find decent yoga stuff at discount prices only to find that they had nothing. Nada. Zilch. Nevertheless, I decided to give a quick run through the store and see if there were any other treasures around. And man, did I hit the jackpot. Nice picture frames, a beautiful planter that I will use when I bring my herb garden indoors for the winter, a nice laundry hamper, some snacks. One snack I picked up I was terribly excited by. They were called "Honey Crunchers" and the ingredients were rice flour, honey, and water. Sounded plain but nice. A little bit-size yumminess while sitting at my desk.

On the way back home, I opened them up to have a taste. Um, a bit dry. A bit mealy. Almost no honey flavor. What the hell? So I looked closer.

The Honey Crunchers were made by the Colorado Barkery.

Yes, dear friends, Honey Crunchers are dog treats.

At least they tasted better than liver snaps.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Heather Takes on Top Chef

Like most civilian foodies, I am a big fan of the cooking shows Hell's Kitchen and Top Chef. As I watch the shows, I always wander what I would make. So I decided to play along this season.

Playing along with Hell's Kitchen is a bit difficult as there really aren't individual challenges I can respond to. After all, I doubt I have a flounder anywhere in my kitchen, let alone a fresh whole flounder that needs to be skinned and de-roed. Nor do I have a hyper-masculine rugby player screaming at me military style, trying to break my spirit so he can then build it back up again with my desperate need to please the all-powerful authority figure (Gordon Ramsey, you know who you are). However, I can - to some extent - play along with Top Chef.

Now, I am a bit behind schedule, but here goes.

Each episode of Top Chef consists of two major challenges. The first is a 30 minutes or less quickfire challenge, in which the chefs must make some sort of a dish off the top of their heads using a dictated theme or specified ingredient. The second is where they cook a larger entre, also often themed. They just have longer to plan the dish.

In episode 1, they started the show by having to create an amuse bouche (or one-bite appetizer) from the remains of a buffet table. Now, I have no idea of what was on the buffet table, so I can't really play along with this one, but I would be likely to make something that was both salty and sweet at the same time, as those are two flavors that really wake my tongue up. Their second challenge involved making an exotic surf and turf. Unfortunately, the chefs were not allow to select their own surf and turf proteins, because if given free reign, I would have done a landlock surf and turf, using buffalo and freshwater fish. Instead, I decided to play with what the contestants had to pick from and selected buffalo rib eye and abalone. Now taking abalone as my starting point, as an ingredient I never ever use, I have eaten it mostly in Chinese restaurants. And my favorite take on it is steamed with a delicious sauce of Chinese rice wine, ginger, and scallions. Ginger and scallions/green onions are both key ingredients in that dish that is usally so popular and evil in Chinese establishments - Mongolian beef. I would cut the buffalo rib eye into strips, marinate it in ginger, soy, garlic and scallions, with a little ginger ale or cola thrown in. After it had gotten all yummy and full of marinade, I would throw it on a very hot wok and stir fry it so that it was caramelized on the outside and soft and rare in the inside. I would make a sauce with the marinade and then serve it over an abalone fried rice, making certain not to overcook the abalone.

Episode 2 featured a citrus quickfire challenge, which totally made sense as the show is located in Florida this year. I would have made a quick salad of exotic citrus (blood oranges, key limes, pomelos) with garlic oil-cured olives, thinly sliced red onions, and chopped cilantro. Again, a play on the salty-sweet that I like so much and a way to really highlight the interesting variety of citrus that is out there. I served a similar salad at my Sold! BBQ in Attleboro, MA a couple of years ago. It was a huge hit. The second challenge was to create a dish for an upscale BBQ. Now, one thing I notice is that vegetarians also get treated like red-headed stepchildren at BBQs, which is totally stupid as there are many wonderful veggie dishes that can be on the BBQ. And no, I don't mean just veggie kabobs. In my case, I would have made a tandori tofu - extra firm tofu sliced and then soaked in a yogurt and spice mixture. The tandori spice is bright red and when it hits the grill, the sliced tofu would get nice black grill marks, making a beautiful red and black contrast. Then, it could be sliced, to show off the creamy white inside, and then served on a vibrant green banana leaf. A beautiful dish.

The third episode featured a quickfire in which the chefs had to net their own shellfish, clean it and then prepare a shellfish dish. I probably would have kept it fairly simply, as cleaning the shellfish would have taken up a lot of time. Likely I would have made my version of a healthy Rhode island seafood chowder, which involves very crispy turkey bacon and soy creamer. The second challenge involved updating an American classic like frank n'beans, meatloaf and mashed potatoes and making it healthy and low cholesterol. Again, which dish the chef got depending on the order in which they got to pick. I have no idea what kind of dish I would have been reinventing but I think a frank n'beans dish in which the sausage was made from ground chicken and edamame beans and then served with some sort of warm multi-bean and barley salad would have been interesting. Redoing fish and chips would also have been fun, as there are many interesting things you can do in the oven. I might also have jumped at redoing the cabbage roll, as this is something I made on a regular basis. My cabbage rolls are made with a mixture of ground chicken or venison, wild rice, barley, onions and garlic. Once rolled in the cabbage lead, they are then steamed in a vinegar water bath and served with ketchup. To make it a bit nicer for the foodie crowd, I might make a nice sweet tomato salsa to go with the rolls.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Humble Pie is Going Down!

My good friend Ruth, of Cookie Sweet baking fame, called me on Saturday just to chat but also to lay down a challenge.

See, Ruth is a great baker. She's good enough that she is about to launch her business full-time any day now. For the last year, I have been doing experimental cookies, hoping to find some good enough that she can use in her business, especially as I focus on healthy low-sugar cookies, and her cookies are only really healthy for your soul. I have had some moderate success and there are a few that, I think, by this fall will be perfected. And I am working on some new ones, too. I had a dream last night that I was a cheftestant on Top Chef and the challenge was to create a gourmet version of chocolate chip cookies that would appeal to adults. In my dream, I created a cherry chocolate chip cookie, so I am going to get right on trying to make that a reality, because it actually sounds like a winner to me.

Anyway, during the summers, Ruth makes the rounds at the farmer's markets and sells cookies by the bushel. Her cookies are so well-received that some people have started proclaiming, "You're the Humble Pie lady!"

The Humble Pie lady is a baker who started off in the farmer's markets around Boston, focusing on selling pies, and now has a major contract selling pies to Whole Foods. Being ranked as good as the Humble Pie Lady has gotten Ruth thinking that maybe she should add some pies to her bullpen, and she has asked me to think of some pie recipes for her.

Which is funny, because I have actually never made a pie in my life, except for an ice cream pie, which really doesn't count because it involves throwing things in a blender with ice cream, whizzing it, dumping it in a graham cracker crust, and refreesing it. Nor do I really eat pie. But I do like a challenge.

So right now in my freezer I have rhubarb and cranberries. I will start with those. And then, this weekend, I was at the Indian store stalking up curry mixes, and I saw something that gave me a great deal of inspiration. Rose jelly. Yes, jelly made from rose petlas. here's my idea. I am going to take a pudding or custard mix, infuse it with cardamon, and let it set in a sweet crust. then I will spread the rose jelly then pre-slice it into servings. Then I will take organic rose petals and place them over the rose jelly in a beautiful pattern. I think that would be a lovely and sophisticated pie.