Sunday, October 10, 2021

Cooking with carbon steel.

For the past several years, I've been having eggs every morning for breakfast. (My doctor says my cholesterol level is just fine, thanks.) (I have theories about the fixation doctors and dieticians have on cholesterol, but that's a whole 'nother post.) I've also been a fan of nonstick pans ever since I bought my first set of cookware. So every day for the past several years, I've cooked my eggs in a nonstick skillet. And every year or so, I'd have to buy a new skillet because the nonstick finish would go hooey.

To be clear, I don't mistreat my nonstick pans -- I never use metal utensils on them -- but the finish only stays nice for a year or so, regardless. And once you can see it getting pitted and scratched, you kind of don't want to use it anymore, because how much of that stuff is getting into your food, right?

So a few months ago, when the frying pan I bought last year started to show signs of wear, I asked Mama Google if there was another alternative. "Carbon steel!" she said. "It's it's an alloy of steel and iron! It's lighter than cast iron and there's no chemical coating!" She then showed me a number of blog posts that rated the best carbon steel frying pans. Some were cheap, some were pricey, and I couldn't really tell what made one better than another. 

I dithered. Then I got sick of dithering and dropped the whole idea for a while. Finally, I went to a place at the mall and bought the brand they had in stock: A Ballarini Professionale 3000. (The link will take you to Amazon but you won't make me any money for buying a pan there; I don't do affiliate links.)

Photo stolen from Amazon.

The next step was to season the pan. I've never owned any cast iron, so this was a new thing for me. The pan came with instructions for seasoning, but the translation didn't seem to be the greatest, so back I went to Mama Google. Once again, there was tons of advice. The first instruction was always to scrub off the manufacturer's coating, which keeps the pan from rusting 'til you bring it home. But after that, things started to diverge: Coat it with oil, inside and out -- the handle, too -- but different people recommended different types of oils (canola, grapeseed, vegetable). And then came the actual technique: Heat the pan on top of your stove, but it's going to smoke like crazy! Or cook a mixture of oil, salt, and the peels from two potatoes in it! Or put it upside down in the oven at 450 degrees -- no, 400 -- no, 500 degrees -- and let it bake for an hour -- no, two hours! Then let it sit in the oven 'til it cools, and ta-da! It's done! Except you'll need to redo it several times in order to build up that patina so it's really nonstick.

And to clean it, don't ever soak it -- just scrape off the food residue with a wooden utensil and wipe the pan clean with a paper towel. No washing with soap. Well, maybe use a little water, but then heat the empty pan over a burner again 'til you're sure it's dry. Then oil it again to protect it from rust. Unless you use it a lot, in which case you can skip oiling it.

The process seemed daunting. But I looked up smoke points for oils, settled on vegetable oil as my seasoner of choice, and picked the oven method. Set it at 425 degrees, if I recall correctly. Left it in there for two hours for good measure, then allowed it to cool for another two hours. When it came out, it looked gorgeous, all evenly dark like it was supposed to look.

I used it several times. And then I made chickpea and spinach stew in it, forgetting one of the other rules of cooking with carbon steel: if you put anything acidic in it -- like oh, say, sherry vinegar -- it'll take the patina right off.

The solution, it turns out, is to keep using the pan in order to build the patina back up. It took about a week of daily use. This morning, I made fried eggs in it. Even with the patchy finish along the sides, the eggs turned out beautifully and they didn't stick at all.

Lynne Cantwell 2021

I'm really starting to like this pan. I might even buy another one.

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I'm going to have to give myself an arbitrary deadline for getting the Atherton Vampire books out or it will never happen. So let's say the first Atherton Vampire book will go live on Kindle next Thursday, October 21st, just in time for your Samhain/Halloween reading pleasure. The second book has to stay exclusive to Kindle Vella until late November, so I'll aim for a release for that one just before Thanksgiving (the American one, I mean, and happy Thanksgiving today to my Canadian friends!). That will allow me to write the third book during NaNoWriMo and release it just before Yule. 

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These moments of bloggy seasoning have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed!

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Ah, festival season.

Probably the thing I've missed the most over the past year and a half of this pandemic is outdoor festivals. Yarn festivals in particular, of course, but really any gathering in the fresh air where participating crafters offer their items for sale in booths. It's fun to walk around and see everything.

I hit the jackpot this weekend: the annual harvest festival at El Rancho de los Golondrinas in Santa Fe and the Taos Wool Festival in Taos. If I'd been paying attention, I would have gone to one yesterday and the other one today. Alas, I wasn't paying attention, so I ended up doing both today. 

Lynne Cantwell 2021

El Rancho de los Golondrinas (which means "the ranch of the swallows") used to be a stop on the Camino Real from Mexico City to Santa Fe. Now it's a living history museum. This was their 40th annual harvest festival, and it featured all kinds of craft demonstrations. But mostly, I took pictures of the animals.

At the sorghum mill, the interpreter mentioned that they had planned to make sorghum syrup but they'd run into several issues -- among them, recalcitrant burros for running the press. By the time I saw the critters later, they were okay with posing for photos.

Lynne Cantwell 2021

The burros live at the ranch, and so do these Churro sheep. The breed is descended from Churra sheep brought to the New World from Spain by the conquistadores. It's a popular breed around here -- the Navajo raise them, among others. They're prized these days for their soft woolly undercoat, which museum volunteers spin, dye, and weave into blankets and other items.

Lynne Cantwell 2021

Not far from the burros was a portable corral for a few alpacas. Some kids were trying to pet them, but the alpacas seemed more interested in their feed bags. 

Lynne Cantwell 2021

If there are sheep and alpacas, there must be yarn. And there was some yarn for sale from vendors at the museum, but I didn't pull out my magic plastic card 'til I got to Taos. The wool festival there is nothing like Maryland Sheep and Wool, which takes up a huge county fairground, but I managed to put a dent in my bank account anyway. No photos from Taos -- I was too busy petting the yarn. But I wish I'd gotten a shot of the gentleman who was leading around a yak on a leash. He -- the yak, not his owner -- was about five months old and looked a lot like a cow.

What was a yak doing at a fiber festival? Like sheep and alpacas, yak fur can be made into yarn. Their undercoat feels like cashmere, or so Mama Google tells me. It's pricey, of course, so I'm not in a hurry to buy any. Maybe next year. Or not.

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These moments of bloggy critter stories have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed! 

Sunday, September 26, 2021

It's Banned Books Week.


Today is the first day of this year's Banned Books Week. The event is sponsored by a coalition of groups, including the American Library Association (ALA), the American Booksellers Association, the Association of University Presses, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, the Freedom to Read Foundation, the National Coalition Against Censorship, the National Council of Teachers of English, PEN America, and the People for the American Way Foundation.

This year's slogan is: "Books Unite Us -- Censorship Divides Us." The organizers are sponsoring a whole bunch of events this week, many of them virtual; if you're not Zoomed out yet, you can check out the list here.

So which books are we talking about? The ALA put out a list earlier this year of the top 10 most-often-challenged books of 2020. Here they are, with title, author(s), and a short description of the reason why people didn't want them in their library.

  1. George by Alex Gino. LGBTQIA+ content and conflicting with a religious viewpoint.
  2. Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You, by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds. "Selective storytelling incidents" and "does not encompass racism among all people." Also folks didn't like Kendi's public comments.
  3. All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. Profanity, drug use, alcoholism, and containing anti-police views and "divisive topics".
  4. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. Rape, profanity, contained a political viewpoint, and was biased against male students.
  5. The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. Profanity and sexual references.
  6. Something Happened in Our Town: A Child's Story About Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard, illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin. "Divisive language" and was thought to promote anti-police views.
  7. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Racial slurs and its perception of the Black experience.
  8. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. Racial slurs and racial stereotypes.
  9. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. Sexually explicit and contains child sexual abuse.
  10. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Profanity and was thought to promote an anti-police message.
You might have noted a theme here: Seven of the ten books are about race or an "anti-police message" -- which is to say the challenges might be the result of the Black Lives Matter protests last year, although To Kill a Mockingbird and The Bluest Eye are perennials on the list. 

And these are just the top 10. In all, more than 270 books were challenged last year, and while there was an increase in requests to ban books about minority issues, the biggest reason people wanted certain books gone was LGBTQIA+ content.

Every year I say I'm going to read more banned books, and every year I realize I've only read a couple of the books on the list. For example, I've yet to pick up Sherman Alexie's book, even though it has been on the list more than once over the past several years, and I'm kicking myself because he is hilarious. So on the Kindle it goes -- along with George, which I just found out is about a girl who was born a boy. Hoo boy, no wonder the prudes want it banned. Looking forward to reading that one!

Happy reading!

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These moments of subversive blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed!

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Gratuitous kitty photos.

I owe y'all a blog post, since it's Sunday and all. But I don't have much to say tonight, and I'm sure you'd rather just look at pictures of my new kitty anyhow.

So here's Tigger, a.k.a. Tigs, a.k.a. the Tiggenator. He's just shy of four years old and still pretty playful. He's settling in okay; I only caught him hiding on top of the kitchen cabinets for the first few days. Today, I clipped his front claws for the first time. He wasn't happy about it -- there was a lot of growling and complaining -- but I didn't end up bleeding, so I'm calling it a win. And he got treats afterward for Being Such a Good Boy, so maybe he'll let me do it again sometime.

Here he is, trying to be a loaf cat. He needs a little more practice -- gotta get that tail tucked up under him.

Lynne Cantwell 2021
He is much better at helping me knit. Well, actually, what he's good at is keeping me from knitting. Here he's lying on my pattern with his head pillowed on the project itself.
Lynne Cantwell 2021
I bought a tall cat condo so he could see out the living room windows (and also to encourage him to quit jumping up on top of the kitchen cabinets, as if that would work). He was a little leery of that top level, but a spritz of catnip spray took care of his reluctance. 
Lynne Cantwell 2021
And finally, here he is, being his snuggly and adorable self.
Lynne Cantwell 2021

That's it. That's my life right now. Have a great week.

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These moments of unbelievably adorable blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed!