March 17, 2013

Asian meets Midwestern: Barbecue Bison Bao!

(3B - Like 3M, but tastier!)

So, one thing that happens when I watch too much Big Bang Theory is that I start craving Chinese food (or takeout in general, but usually Chinese). And one thing that's grown on me over the years is the idea of dumplings - steamed, fried, whatever. Samosas are great. So are bao. So, several months after our wedding, I decided to pull out the bamboo steamer we got and have a go at making bao.

Now, you can fill these with whatever you want. There's a specific kind of pork filling you can make, and it's delicious, but I went with what I had on hand: ground venison, and some leftover bison pot roast. It worked wonderfully. But, vegetarian is an option. Vegan is even an option, because the dough has no dairy or eggs.

The dough is an important starter. This was pretty much my first time working with yeast, so I was a bit nervous - but I'm hoping this will be a "gateway dough" into making more complex breads. Stay tuned!

To make the dough, combine the dry ingredients in one bowl, and in a measuring cup, combine the warm water with the yeast. Let the yeast sit for a minute or two to wake up and start doing its thing. Then mix the oil into the water and yeast, and pour that mixture into the dry ingredients ...

Stir until a loose sort of dough forms, then turn out onto a floured surface and knead a bit. Not too much, you don't want to make the dough tough. I'd say three to five turns is enough. (For those who have not kneaded dough before, here's the idea: you flatten the dough out by pressing away from yourself and fold it over. This makes it long and thin-ish, so you turn it a quarter turn, press away, and then fold it in half again. And so on. You can find a good video of it here.)

Then you put the dough into a lightly oiled bowl (put some oil on a paper towel and squish that around), then put the dough in a warmish place to rise for 35-45 minutes.

Look at that! But don't just sit around while the dough is rising. There are things to do. First! Question: how much scrubbing does it take to get dried bits of bao dough off a bamboo steamer? Answer: I have done this before, and determined that you do not want to know. So you will want to put cabbage leaves on the bottom of your steamer. 

 Next, you'll want to get your fillings ready. Use whatever is on hand - for me, left to right, that was carrots from the pot roast, bison pot roast, and some ground venison and pork. Warm these up a little bit, and set them aside.

 When the dough has risen, clear a workspace and set out the dough, your fillings, a little bowl of water, a clean plate to work on (or clean counter), and your bamboo steamer. What you'll want to do is take a little ball of dough, 1 1/2 - 2 inches in diameter, flaaaaaaatten it out and put in a couple of teaspoons of your chosen filling. Now, dip your fingers in the water and run them around the edge of the dough, then sqwoosh (it's a word) the dough up at the center to form a dumpling. Yay!

Place your dumplings in the steamer like so, only further apart (you'll see why in a moment). Put on the lid, place the steamer in a skillet with maybe a half an inch of water, turn the heat up to medium-high, and let the dumplings steam for about 8-10 minutes, and ...


(This is why I recommended you do less. As my second
shot through, this batch was for a house party. Thankfully,
they were all very laid back and so did not mind slightly
marred dumplings. I love my friends. In any case, if you
do this, it is NOT the end of the world - there may be holes on 
the sides of some dumplings, but they will still taste to DIE for.)

Here's the dough recipe! It is from here, where you can find a recipe for the steamed pork as well. You will need:
  • 1 cup warm water (100° to 110°)
  • 3 tablespoons sugar 
  • 1 package dry yeast (about 2 1/4 teaspoons)
  • 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (about 14 2/3 ounces) 
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil 
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
Combine the ingredients as stated above, working in your favorite filling, and enjoy!

Thoughts? Questions? Leave a comment?

November 28, 2012


We were featured on A Practical Wedding yesterday! How exciting!

(I will be doing my own post as well. The next post will be wedding details: jewelry, shoes, and so on.)

November 18, 2012

Wedding: The Programs

It happened! The wedding actually happened!

And it was incredible, truly wonderful. It was the most relaxed whirlwind I have ever been a part of. I was going to do a wedding post, and then I thought I would spread it out a little... And so, I am going to do a series of posts, each about aspects of the wedding that saved us money and still looked awesome.

I am going to start with the programs, because they were my one DIY project and I am incredibly proud of them! We made 50 programs, and the cost was about $25. A quick search shows me that programs are going from about $3-5 apiece if you have them printed, so you may seriously want to consider this option!

Scroll Wedding Programs

 You will need: a single hole punch, half-inch-wide ribbon in whatever color you choose (we used blue and gold, to go with B's dress blues), and card stock. I got all of this at Michael's, but any office supply store should have the paper and the hole punch. We used 50 sheets of card stock and 3 rolls of ribbon.

Step 1: Choose what you want your programs to say.
Step 2: Choose fonts. Ideally, you want enough fonts to differentiate your text, but not so many that it looks like you have a different one for each line. I suggest the same font for all of the service information, one font for the couple's names, and perhaps one more for accents. I've blurred the text in the photo below, but our names were in a header font, all capitals.
Step 3: Print your programs on the card stock.
Step 4: Punch a hole at the bottom of each program, in the center of the page, maybe half an inch from the bottom.
Step 5: Cut the ribbon into 15-inch pieces.
Step 6: Thread a piece of ribbon through the hole you've punched, then roll the program into a scroll and secure it by tying the ribbon into a bow. It will take one or two tries to get right, but is more do-able than you will think, the first time you try!
Step 7: Ta-da!

November 12, 2012

Minnesota Cold

It's winter--maybe not officially, but this denizen of the frozen wastes says that this week's cold snap makes it so! In any case, as you may have gathered, winter is cold, and winter gives people colds, so clearly there's nothing for it but a hot drink round up!

Step 1: Find a mug that makes you smile. You will use this for all drinks. Mine is an Aladdin mug I got for $0.50 at a yard sale a few summers ago.

Step 2: Round up your winter drink ingredients. The staples here are warming spices (cloves, cinnamon sticks, nutmeg ... nuts ... , and ginger), lemon juice, honey, and whiskey.

Step 3: Read recipes below and make delicious drinks.

Drink the first: the Minnesota Chic Hot Toddy

This drink is incredibly simple. At its base, it's ginger tea made with fresh ginger--a tip from a Malay friend during one of my worst bouts of strep. You'll need fresh ginger, honey, lemon juice, spices, and a dash of whiskey (optional, but highly recommended).

Peel a small chunk of ginger (maybe as big as the top part of your thumb) and slice it into a few slices. Put it into the bottom of your mug, and maybe mash it a bit for good measure. Drizzle the honey on top, and throw in a chunk of cinnamon bark and a couple of cloves. Pour hot water over this and let it sit for a minute or two, then add a dash of lemon juice and the whiskey. Voila!

If you're sick, the Minnesota Chic Hot Toddy is best sipped while wearing elastic-waistband flannel pants and wrapped in a blanket. If you're not sick, just sip and enjoy!

Drink the second: the Best Mulled Cider

You're going to want to start with some really, really good cider. The kind you can only get in half gallons at Whole Foods (or, if you're brave, the farmer's market--good luck with the cold, wear some gloves). My first job was at an orchard, and I'm a sucker for tasty cider.

Pour two or three cups of cider (depending on your audience) into a small saucepan, and add a few cloves, a stick of cinnamon, and a halved nutmeg pod. To this, I highly suggest adding a dash of Southern Comfort. Yes, I am both a cider snob and a whiskey snob, but Southern Comfort makes a wonderful additive to drinks.

Let all of this steep on low heat, then strain into mugs and enjoy in front of a roaring fire. Alternately, set this to heat and go shovel or rake leaves. It will be just the thing when you get back inside!

Drink the third: Cold Season Essential

Now, if you know me, you'll know that I have had ... well, let's just call it "ALL the tonsil problems." My tonsils have turned, I kid you not, completely black. It was unpleasant. However, the silver lining for all of you is that I know the magic combination for throat troubles. It goes like this...
  1. Gargle with salt water. I hate doing that, too. But you really should. Now go rinse your mouth out.
  2. Now, mix your favorite green or white tea (or just plain hot water) with honey and lemon. You need BOTH. Drink this in large quantities.
  3. Every once in a while, have a tiiiiiiiny bit (maybe a shot) of blackberry brandy.
  4. Wash, rinse, repeat. Trust me, this is just about the best regimen ever.
Gentle readers, share your favorite cold weather drinks! What do you drink when the weather outside is frosty?

August 23, 2012

Fresh Plums! And Health. And Chocolate Plum Cake.

So, I've been through a lot the past few weeks. Nothing really earth-shatteringly awful, just some very intense time that I've needed to go through in my own head, not even in the anonymity of the internet...

Pushed by a mix of legitimate fear about health (my parents are getting to a point where their friends who haven't taken care of themselves are dying "young"), and a dose of vanity and culturally-inspired pressure, I have launched myself headlong into a healthy-eating-and-exercise routine. Over this time, I have lose 22 pounds - we're not to the end yet, there's still a bit to go, but I've gone from barely being able to run a mile without wanting to throw up, to running 5ks without stopping.


One of the biggest truths about the human experience, in my opinion, comes from the novel Cyteen, where the main character observes, "the interaction between sex and ego nets gets very messy." In normal human speak - our role as a potential mate has a disproportionate effect on our psyche. In this time, I've been struggling against my own feminist leanings, i.e., "it's wrong to work out because you want to be more attractive."

But it gets all muddled. My life is better when I'm proud of myself - when I remember to get all the bills in the mail, when I cook an especially challenging dish, when I make healthy choices for the day (go running, eat well). My life is better when I have the endorphins in my system from working out. My life is, genuinely, better when I am in good shape because my body isn't coping with extra weight on its joints. All of these are legitimate reasons to work out and reduce weight.

Where does that end, and the cultural narrative of "thinner is better" begin? If there's one thing I've learned over the past months, it's that I have no idea. The two intertwine. And the fact is, in a way I'm saved - I'm too short to be a model, I know from my high school years of working out ever day (sports practice) that I will never be a size 0. I don't hope to look like Gisele or Adriana Lima.

But it says a lot that one of my biggest struggles has not been implementing healthy (yes, healthy - my fiance keeps me in check, promise) behaviors, it's been guilt over why I'm doing so. Enough of that! I'm feeling great - also, like a boss. Running is awesome, I encourage you to try it.

Also? Food is delicious. I've been re-setting my ideas around "indulgence." Namely: a portion of nourishing food is more of an indulgence than, say, cheetos. Flavors composed of fresh ingredients and spices are better than flavors that come packaged.

In that vein, I give you an adapted recipe: Chocolate Plum Cake, made with fresh plums from a coworker's garden!

Chocolate Plum Cake
  •  1 cup all-purpose flour
  •  1/3 cup whole wheat flour
  •  2 teaspoons baking powder
  •  1/4 teaspoon salt
  •  1/2 cup white sugar
  •  1/2 cup brown sugar
  •  1/2 cup butter
  •  1 large egg
  •  1/2 cup milk
  •  1/2 cup (scant) chocolate chips
  •  5 plums, pitted and halved
  1. In a bowl, mix flours, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugars.
  3. To the creamed butter and sugar, add the vanilla, egg, and milk. Beat until relatively smooth.
  4. Add the flour mixture, one third at a time, mix until smooth - the batter will be thick.
  5. Fold in chocolate chips.
  6. Grease your baking dish - I used a loaf dish, and lay the plums cut-side down on the bottom.
  7. Pour batter over plums, smooth as well as possible.
  8. Bake at 350F for 40 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
  9. Enjoy!
Thoughts? Questions? Leave a comment!

July 29, 2012

Guerrilla Weddings!

Guerrilla Wedding (n.) - an event wherein
the prospective spouses show up with an officiant,
any other guests they would like to have,
make a quick ceremony of it...
and hightail it before the fuzz shows up.

What is a guerrilla wedding, you ask? What is this strange trend that you never heard of before, but is suddenly making the news (not to mention the blogs) big time? Do adults really rush onto private (or public) property, having a quick ceremony, and then dash away, giggling?

Yes! Yes, they do!

Since the topic has been covered fairly exhaustively in the news media, and in the blogosphere, I will let others cover the pictures and social implications. Instead, I have decided to do a handy-dandy FAQ for the occasion!

Um...what exactly do I need for a guerrilla wedding? A location, you and your significant other, any guests and officiants you would like to have. Since this will probably be somewhere public(ish), I also suggest some sort of clothes. That is it. I am serious.

Is that legal? Ah, now that depends. It really isn't, necessarily. If you're on private property, well...dubious. If it's a privately owned park or something, there may be rules about this. If it's public property, there may be different rules. You know. Bear in mind that if you're tromping around in the woods somewhere, or off in a large rural (non-crop) field, the odds that anyone will care are quite slim. On the flip side, do your research and know where your own lines in the sand are! Are you comfortable hopping fences, or are you not? This is a relevant question.
Is a guerrilla wedding really for me? This one is actually quite easy. When I gave the definition of a guerrilla wedding, right at the start, what was your reaction? Was it, "Erm..." or was it, "WHOA, SUPERCOOL"? A guerrilla wedding is for you, or it's not, and the decision is completely up to you, your significant other and, if you have one, the officiant.

What if I still want cake/decorations/an altar/flowers? It all depends on the confluence of several factors: (A) your chosen location; (B) how many guests you have to carry the things that aren't at your chosen location, and then hie them away quickly; (C) how willing you are to improvise - for instance, will a large rock strewn with wildflowers be a good approximation of an altar for you? Only you can know the answer to this?

I can't decide between a guerrilla wedding and a more traditional wedding - help! Have you considered eloping and then having a traditional wedding later? This fits a variety of scenarios, such as, "I want my wedding to reflect me but my parents are paying for it and it has morphed into some strange frou frou thing," or, "I am a very private person and would like the wedding itself to be a small event," or, "I don't want to be bothered with the paperwork on my celebration day." Whatever the case, remember this: when it comes to weddings, there are many ways to make beautiful compromises.

So, dear readers! Any other questions about guerrilla weddings? What are your thoughts on the matter? Leave a comment!

July 5, 2012

...Something Blue

It's been a while since a wedding post! Today, I thought I would tackle "Something Blue," which, as it turns out, is not a problem at all in my case. B got me an engagement ring with sapphires on the sides, my earrings are blue (shhhhh, he doesn't know yet!), and, of course, B will be wearing dress blues. (I asked around, though, and apparently the groom in dress blues is not allowed to be the Something Blue. Pfft.)

We've all seen the decals for the bottom of the shoes ("I do" in cursive), but what about something a little bit different? It turns out that brides from all over the internet have tackled just this problem!

This one, for instance, painted her ring finger. If that seems too "out there" for you, what about a gorgeous blue pedicure under peep-toe shoes? (You know me, I'm all for kicky shoes. And the bridesmaid that is reading this should close the e-bay window and remember that the shoes she already has are GREAT for the wedding. Yes, you.)

 This bride carried a blue-and-white bouquet with bluebells and other (naturally! Not carnations in colored water!) blue flowers. And it was gorgeous. (Photo originally found here.)

You could wear a blue dress - yes, that's right! Not your bridesmaids, you. There are plenty of dresses that range from a touch of blue to deep blue, very flowy and gorgeous. Some of them are perhaps more appropriate for an outside/beach wedding, but you could always sew up the thigh-high part, there!

And just to wander back to the shoes concept briefly, consider wearing blue shoes! Wonderful, wonderful blue shoes! I would personally go with something a little lower than these, but hey, what do I know? In any case, you have a LOT to choose from - baby blue, aqua, teal, prussian blue...

 If blue shoes aren't your thing, consider a blue veil, or a blue accent on your veil! There are lots of ways to go on this one, including the ever-awesome fascinator...

And of course, there is always the option of having your undergarments be blue... No pictures of that, though!

Any more ideas? Thoughts? Questions? Leave a comment!