Looking for Agar Agar

About a year ago I found some agar agar at the oriental market. It was a big package for only a dollar. I bought it. Not because it was only a dollar but because I have very fond memories of an agar agar dessert made by a xangan, ZSA_MD that she served after a wonderful dinner many years ago. Her dessert was made with milk and flavored with Rose Water. It was delicious. After sorting through my pantry I found the forgotten agar agar. For those of you not familiar with agar agar it comes from a red algae and has many uses. Agar has been used as an ingredient in desserts throughout Asia, and also as a substrate for culture media for microbiological work. Agar can be used as an appetite suppressant, a vegetarian substitute for gelatin, a thickener for soups, in fruit preserves, ice cream, and other desserts, as a clarifying agent in brewing, and for sizing paper and fabrics. It is really amazing stuff!

So I went about making the dessert with Dr. Z’s encouragement and a framework of her recipe. First problem was getting it soaking overnight. I decided to use only half the package. It was all woven together like the fancy pasta that comes in little nests. Extracting half resulted in little brittle bits all over the place. I managed to get it in the big bowl and covered with water and also sweep up the floor, wipe down the counters, and pick pieces off the stove. It wasn’t until I was getting ready for bed that I discovered little chunks of it in my hair.

The next day I came home from work exhausted and had the house to myself since my husband, Sparky, was working the late shift. Perfect I thought – I’ll make this dessert and it just might be ready when he comes home at 11:30 PM. The first thing I discovered is that we were nearly out of milk. How can this be?? There was half a gallon when I left in the morning. Seems Sparky decided to dilute some cream soup (that was a generous cup) and then he ate cereal (another cup). He made 3 mugs of coffee and I’m talking 16 oz mugs, which are at least half milk (3 more cups). As I measured it into the sauce pan I had a scant 2 cups. So I debated whether to run to the store or improvise. I looked in the pantry and noted that I had 6 cans of coconut milk. Perfect. I selected 2 cans of the full fat variety and added them to my existing milk. I drained and cut up the agar.

As I brought it to a boil stirring gently, I rummaged through the cupboard looking for my bottle of rose water. I had bought it at the Indian Grocery and had never opened it. I looked all over. It was nowhere to be found. I found some other items – the Garam Masala, a small package of powdered wasabi, a forgotten bottle of star anise, and a few whole nutmegs rattling around in a spice grinder. Alas, I had to choose between imitation vanilla flavoring, lavender oil, clove oil, almond extract, and peppermint oil. This was not going as planned. I settled on the vanilla.

Once it was boiling I gave it a few gentle stirs. The agar had melted away and disappeared – gone were gooey strands. Now was the time to add the vanilla and the sugar. I opened my sugar canister and IT WAS EMPTY! I was able to scrape together about 1/3 cup from the bottom of the canister plus the sugar in the sugar shake on the kitchen table and the good sugar bowl in the cupboard. By this time it was too late to go running over to my neighbor’s house (they have 2 babies and there was no way I’d risk waking them). Panic was setting in. I made the executive decision to open a can of tropical fruit and use the syrup in the agar.

I decided to put the fruit in the bottom of my glass pan. As I was standing on a chair to lift it off the top shelf, I accidentally bumped a casserole. The 2 quart casserole dish is fine, not even a chip. The 9″ rectangular glass pan now is in the trash. It developed a crack that started at the corner and ran along one side just under the lip. *sigh* Plan B – I finally used the 10 custard cups I bought at a garage sale last summer. So I divided the fruit into the cups and poured in the agar agar.

For a first somewhat botched attempt amid a comedy of errors, it isn’t bad. Sparky really liked it. He loves coconut anything. He hates really sweet things (except for me). Plus he is a big fan of mango, pineapple and papaya. I like it too.


Looking for Sherlock

This is episode 27 of “Looking Back” – enjoy!

Every once in a while you come across a book that resonates with your soul. It is a book you can read over and over. Each time you read it something new jumps out at you. I suppose that is how a lot of people feel about the Bible. My parents didn’t really expose us to organized religion and I don’t think we had a Bible in the house. The book that really gets me going is the Complete Sherlock Holmes.

I suppose I’m drawn to the completely brilliant and totally flawed detective. The tales are so real. There is enough of a twist in the stories to keep me interested even after having read them at least 20 times. Sherlock was a loner and I relate to that. He was a chameleon and I admire that. I’m led to believe he was a rogue too, or at least one who thumbed his nose at societal conventions. I enjoy reading the book repeatedly and discovering yet another perspective on human nature. Unlike Sherlock, I don’t have a heroin addiction or play the violin. Well, I played at the violin. I took lessons in 5th grade and played in the middle school orchestra briefly. I don’t want to think about that. Suffice to say, it was extremely fortunate that insurance covered all the costs of repair to the rental instrument. Of course the rules prohibit any instruments or loud music.

The one thing that Sherlock had that I wish for was his friend Dr. Watson. I suspect that I would be an easier friend than Sherlock since I wouldn’t be chasing murderers or slinking around in unsavory environs. But since I’m chronicling my own life I don’t really need a friend to document my adventures, such as they are.

Looking at My Muse Unchained

I am guilty of self-censoring to the extreme. It comes from years of employment in a hostile work environment where any and every comment made could be sharpened and hurled at the target on my back. I learned very quickly to keep my own counsel, apply a heavy duty filter to my words, and to trust very few people. I carved a niche for myself. And more importantly, I survived. The self preservation tactics worked but my muse was stifled. She wore a gag and I certainly had her in chains lest she run wild and sabotage my efforts to “fly under the radar” and avoid all notice. Times have changed but old habits die hard.

So I’m taking the chains off my muse. It may take awhile for her to realize that she is free to dance and run and to scream profanities into the wind. (I’m hoping she doesn’t go all rumspringa!) Her one big act of rebellion so far has been to say “NOPE” in a loud voice when asked to help me compose a little get well verse for a coworker. So that didn’t happen. *sigh* I’m beginning to understand Dr. Z’s frustration with her fickle and unpredictable muse…
Since my muse is MIA, all I have to offer is this little orb.

This is another representation of the Influenza Virus. It was made using a mixture of white stoneware and porcelain at a 3:1 ratio. This clay body has enough porcelain clay to make the glaze colors more vivid and not enough to complicate the hand-building technique. It was glazed with Turner’s Celadon with Blue Glaze accents. It is the size of an orange and has a pleasant texture and good colors. I’m very satisfied with the result!

Looking at Vessels?

My good friend and fashion consultant has suggested (with a strident voice and having put me in a full nelson) that I enter a couple ceramic pieces into the Fire Arts show. The theme of the show is “Vessels” and all the pieces should be some form of a vessel. Well, I’ve been thinking about it and trying to come up with an artist’s statement to justify calling any of my orbs a vessel. So here’s what I’ve got so far:

Title: BlueTongueVirus: A Pirate Ship

This representation of the Blue Tongue Virus is a perfect vessel. Contained within the microscopic outer shell are the most fierce pirate RNA ever to sail. As the ship encounters new cells, it comes along side and with deadly precision, tosses grappling hooks to anchor itself to the cell and pierce the hull of it’s victim. The pirates take over. Once in charge of the cell, it’s cargo and crew are hijacked to begin building additional pirate vessels. The original cell’s crew is pressed into service and either joins the pirates or walks the plank!

Looking Murderous

This is episode 26 of the Looking Back story.

I met my new neighbor yesterday. I try not to be judgmental but it is really hard sometimes. Generally I don’t see anyone out and about but I was coming back from another appointment with the psychologist when I bumped into her. It was pretty obvious she was unfriendly when she looked me up and down and then lunged at me. I have excellent reflexes and awesome evasive maneuvers so she completely failed to make any physical contact. My door was right there and I slipped inside while listening to her curse. I poked my head into the hall to see where she was headed. Sure enough she was two doors down. The whole encounter left me unsettled.

My mind wandered back to a chance encounter I had when living in Saginaw, Michigan. My boss had demanded that I cover the latest “snow-pocalypse” by interviewing shoppers at the local grocery store. I had no desire to accost strangers as they rushed to purchase milk, bread and beer. Knowing that my boss was likely to check up on me, I dragged myself to the store and attempted to snag an interview or two. Not having any success getting anyone to give me more than a grunt and dirty looks; I decided to pick up a few groceries for myself. That’s when I met Winston. He was trying to decide between whole wheat and white bread. He was my interview. It was a pleasant exchange until I asked if he had any memories of the Blizzard of 1978. That’s when he went nuts. He grabbed my arm and ripped the pen from my hand. In a nanosecond he had the pen against my throat and had pinned me against the doughnut display case. I locked eyes with him. That was a defining moment for me. I should have been terrified. I could feel his hunger for my fear and I resolved not to give him what he wanted. My lack of reaction caused him to back up. He lowered the pen. I continued to stare into his eyes. Years of being bullied exploded in my head and I became the aggressor. Without breaking my gaze, I snatched the pen back. Then I advanced on him. Nearly growling I told him that he was lucky I hadn’t killed him. He sensed that it was the truth. We became casual acquaintances. And when I needed the opinion of “the man on the street” I’d contact him. When I left Saginaw, I called him to let him know I was moving on. His parting words were, “Try not to kill anyone.” That still makes me laugh when I think about it.