Come and play with us…

You are the cocktailer. You have always been the cocktailer.

You are the cocktailer. You have always been the cocktailer.

“It’s February. The winter holidays are long over, the lights are coming down, and the dark is creeping in. It’s time to invite some friends over for a night of bright, lighthearted fun – quick, before the metaphorical winter closes in around you and snows you into the labyrinthian hotel of your heart.” – All Play and No Work

Today on The Toast, my menu – complete with recipes! – for a terrifyingly easy The Shining viewing party.

Come and play with us forever… and ever… and ever…

that’s just my face

We join this conversation in progress:

The Fella: Is there anything I can do to help?
Elsa: Naw, I’m fine, just trying to write [thing], get it sorted out in my head. There’s no way to help.
The Fella: Would some chocolate help?
Elsa: … yeeeeeeEEEEEESSSSS. [as he walks to the kitchen] Was I making an “I wish I had chocolate” face? Do I have an “I wish I had chocolate” face? … is that just my face?
The Fella: Your face has elements of that in it, yes.

cookie cutters

Let me tell you about my cookie cutters.

Memory is a tricky thing, so bear with me. I was small when these memories formed, and at the distance of decades, it’s hard to tell the difference between true memory, corroborated reconstructions, and childhood imagination.

But I remember the cookies. I’m certain the cookies were exactly as I describe.

My Uncle B and Aunt M (really my father’s much older uncle and aunt, and rather terrifying in demeanor and voice) gave the same gift each year: a homemade cookie cutter shaped out of an old tin can and a tin or box of cookies made from their own collection of cutters. Uncle B made the cutters and Aunt M made the cookies, every year until I turned seven and we moved away.

Their cookies are among my earliest memories, and certainly my very first memories of Christmas. They were rolled vellum-thin, baked ’til they were just tinged with brown at the edges, and decorated with sparse perfection, a dragée here and a sprinkle of colored sugar there, just enough to lend some details to their shapes. The first one I remember is a whole train of sugar cookies – a locomotive, a string of different cars, and a caboose. I think (but I can’t rely on such an early memory) that there might have been a puff of smoke riding jauntily atop the train.

My family accumulated quite a collection of perfectly turned, finely detailed cookie cutters from this unlikely and intimidating source. My mother passed some of them on to me over the years – when I moved into my first apartment, when she moved to a new home, when I baked Christmas cookies in her new kitchen.

One Christmas over a decade ago, I pulled out my cookie cutters and baked and shaped and frosted cookies. And then, overcome with memory, I washed my hands and sat down at the kitchen table, adrift in the faintly sweet scent of sugar and butter, and I wrote a letter to my Uncle B. It was my first letter to him since Aunt M had died a few years ago, and the second letter I’d ever sent him, excepting my childish scrawl on the thank-you letters we’d send for those cookie gifts.

I wrote about using his cookie cutters that day, how these cutters had always symbolized Christmas to me, and of my fond and formative memories of their cookies. I thanked him both for the long-ago cookies and for the cutters, and I let him know they had been long and well loved.

He didn’t write back, not surprisingly. My family isn’t close-knit, and I was one of a swarm of great-nieces and great-nephews. He probably had little idea who I was, probably couldn’t pick me out of a group as a child or an adult.

In fact, I found out this was more-or-less true a few years later; he could only identify me by my remarkable resemblance to my mother. At the reception after a family funeral, Uncle B walked up to me and my sister, looked at my face, and announced imperiously “You must be one of [_____]‘s daughters!” I told him he was right, and I told him my name and my sister’s.

His stern craggy face washed over with softness. “You’re the one who bakes cookies,” he said with wonder, and this man – who’d rarely smiled at me and never hugged me or even shaken my hand – pulled up a chair and sat down knee-to-knee with me, his hand reaching out gently over and over but never quite touching me, and talked. And talked. And talked. All his hardness smoothed away; he was full of memories himself, and he found me to share them with. When it was time to leave, he hugged me. And then he did it again.

I’m grateful whenever I have a chance to revisit that story. It’s a potent reminder that those small thanks are always worth sending, because you never know how meaningful they may be to the person you’re thanking. It’s a reminder to be grateful, to be mindful, to be kinder than necessary. It’s a reminder to keep trying – and failing, but trying! – to be my best self.

[This story is cross-posted to Metafilter.]

Can I eat this?

It’s that time again, everyone! Time for another round-up of “Can I eat this?” questions from Ask Metafilter. As always, excerpts retain original spelling and punctuation; any editing is noted in brackets.

[See more questions under the "Can I eat this?" tag.]

soups, stews, and savory simmers

I have four packets of Tasty Bites with an expiration date of July 30 (or in the case of the Trader Joe’s version, the even-more-vaguely-worded “End of July”)

I opened a store bought can of tomatoes and poured it into a pot of chili. Now that the chili’s simmering, the empty can smells like fish and I noticed a dent at the bottom near the seam.

I ran out of tomato paste and used an old can of tomato sauce. Just added a tablespoon or so and poured the rest out in the sink. It’s then that I noticed that the expiration on the tomato sauce was two years ago.

I made a pilaf with young hen-of-the-woods/maitake mushrooms on Monday night. It was delicious. This morning I nuked some leftovers for breakfast (it’s been refrigerated for the past 36 hrs), and the mushroom pieces are now shockingly bitter. What happened?

meat

Asking for my sister: “Accidentally left the fridge door a crack open last night. Inside was a pound of ground lamb. When discovered this morning, a thermometer registered the meat at 50 degrees. Is the meat ruined, or still within temperature limits?”

Dish of fully cooked kosher chicken parts in barbecue sauce left on kitchen counter uncovered overnight (approx 12-14 hours). The apartment isn’t air conditioned, but it stays reasonably cool, so I don’t think internal apartment temp got up to the 80-some degrees the outside sdid last night.

The belly’s been sitting in the fridge for the past week. It smells fine. It feels firm. I am prepared to hot smoke it tomorrow, and now I’m panicking because of a bunch of smoker/BBQ posts I’ve read that say I’m dooming myself and my family to botulism. Am I?

Is it ok to mail a jar of “bacon jam? that I made? [...] the recipe says to refrigerate, but is it ok to spend a few days in transit to Hawaii? It’s cooked bacon with a healthy dose of vinegar in the recipe – would it go bad before it got there?

Have I ruined my 7 lb turkey by leaving it uncovered at room temperature for 12 hours?

Organic ground beef, purchased at Trader Joe’s on Friday and opened Friday evening. [...] It’s turned brown in the meantime, not surprisingly. More concerning, the meat has an odd smell to it. Not a routine bad-meat smell, but smells sort of like vinegar.

Help needed on my first tenderloin. My apples touched my pork! Now what?

eggs

Can I Eat This Filter – Christmas Breakfast Emergency Edition: Last night I made a breakfast casserole that was supposed to cook overnight in the crock pot. I set it on low but forgot to plug it in. There’s a dozen eggs in it. If I cook it this morning, will it poison us all?

preserved seafood!

I have been soaking cod outside the fridge (my first mistake?) for a little over 4 days now. Are we going to get sick if I cook it?

The jar was opened 7 days ago and has been in the fridge since. The ingredients are octopus, canola oil, vinegar, spices and salt. It says “No preservatives. Keep refridgerated” and the expiry date is in July 2013. Does the vinegar mean it’s pickled and good for an extended period? Would I just know by tasting one?

The brined, rinsed smelts sat out for about ninety minutes – maybe as long as two hours – in a room that was about seventy degrees. I finished step two, but now I am afraid to eat them. I thought due to the brining it might be OK. Can I eat it?

I’m trying to find technical information on why refreezing seafood is bad. [...] Bonus points if anyone can also point me to something that explains the problem with long term freezer storage of shellfish, again, specifically what nutrients break down and how.

My husband ate a small jar of opened caviar that has been in the fridge an undetermined amount of time (longer than several months).

unpreserved seafood!

Do I have to throw out fish stew left overnight by mistake?

produce

I bought some fresh yellow sweet corn about a week ago, shucked it and stored it in a plastic bag in my fridge. Tonight I boiled it for supper and when it came out of the pot, several kernels on each ear had turned brown. Some are light brown, some are a bit darker and some are nearly black. The corn looked and smelled fine when I put in the pot. Why did this happen? Is it safe to eat?

A friend of mine recently brought back a bag of crushed red pepper from her home city in China. I had the idea of trying to plant some of the seeds in my plot at a local community garden and seeing if they’d grow. My concern is whether this would be safe and legal to do.

Last night, around 9:00 pm, I sliced up some yellow and red onions, threw them in a crockpot with a stick of butter, set them on low (timer set to 8 hours) and went to bed. (this a faux-carmelizing technique I’ve done before). Bad dreams about the onions and leaving a crockpot going overnight. [...] They were not refrigerated overnight. They sat in a warm crockpot with butter all night. They smell delicious. Is it safe to serve them to guests tonight?

The contender: a pouch Farmhouse Culture Smoked Jalepeno Sauerkraut, left out overnight on its side. Package says “keep bag upright” and “perishable, please keep refrigerated,” but it’s still cool to the touch.

Do I have to wash the inside of my romaine lettuce?

tofu

A naive shopper sent to the Chinese market to buy dried tofu ended up with something labeled as dried tofu but it is not really dry and it is long and skinny. It smells a bit funny even in the packaging.

grains, pasta, legumes

I found a few boxes of steel cut oats in the pantry that I’d completely forgotten about. They expired in February 2013. Are they safe to eat or should I toss them?

How would you handle finding a worm in your pasta, especially given that I can’t be sure if it came from the sauce or noodles? Also, any idea on what type of worm this might be so I can research it more and figure out if it’s invasive or not? I threw the worm, the jar of sauce, and box of noodles away so far.

I have a bag of “black rice” and after six weeks or so the black color has flaked off the outside of the rice grains.

I have a recipe for cold beans soaked in oil and vinegar that I make all the time. Could I can these beans, so that I don’t have to prepare them every day?

I use this product in my smoothies that I eat quite often. How concerned should I be about aflatoxin?

Is eating peanut shells on a regular basis a bad idea?

Does old peanut butter make these delicious cookies … OF DOOM?

cheese and dairy

I bought some goat, gruyere, fontina, blue, and fancy cheddar cheeses from a gourmet cheese shop last night and left it in my car overnight (it only gets down to about 70 degrees — if that — at night where I live). Can I still eat it?

My SO and I were having some italian-themed chicken wings, and had some fresh-grated parmesan cheese on the side in a copper bowl. After our meal, we were cleaning up and transferring the leftovers to the fridge for storage, and the cheese on the bottom of the bowl had turned a light blue.

wine

We’re hitting -25C here for the next few days, so I thought I’d indulge in an experiment — putting 2.5L of cheap kit Shiraz into a food-safe container with a loose-fitting lid outside and fishing the ice out at the end of every day. What should I expect? When should I stop?

I bought three bottles of Veuve Clicquot. They are thank you gifts after a big project. One bottle went into the fridge to be shared out in person. The other two I left in a room to be sent home with two different individuals. The room was then sealed off for 8 off the hottest days of the year with no open windows or a/c. Oops. Have I ruined them?

water

Is this green film at the bottom of my Keurig water tank going to kill me?

wild yeast

I would like to serve my guests bread prepared with fermented wild yeast (wild wheat yeast+spring water, fermented). Are there any safety concerns I should be aware of? My guests include older people, people taking medicines, children and nursing mothers.
bathroom produce

I have a large bathroom/shower room. It is a Japanese bathroom where the whole room gets wet and has a drain in the middle. I am looking for edible plants that like that type of wet/humid/warm environment. The room has a large northerly facing window but does not get any direct light. Maybe some kind of tropical fruit?

aaaaand everything

Another one of metafilter’s favorite topics. Fridge left open since 7am (CDT) this morning. Just discovered 20 minutes ago, so approximately 5 hours ago. It was only left open a crack because one of the drawers was part way open. Is everything a totally loss? Some things are still cool to the touch.

Unfortunately, we just took a trip to the grocery store last night, so our frig is full. Most with yogurt, fruits, veggies, milk, and condiments. My partner and I accidentally left our compact frig open an inch or so, and I’m wondering about whether the food within is still okay to eat?

My power has been out for almost 48 hours. I’m assuming all processed foods in the fridge have to be thrown out, but I hesitate with a couple items because they feel somewhat cold through the plastic, look fine, and haven’t been opened.

Either my fridge is dying or I’ve forgotten how to shut the door properly. Twice in the last two or three days I’ve opened the fridge to a whiffy smell and a noticeable lack of cold.

can I juice this?

Is anyone here in the hive aware of there being an affordable home testing kit for pesticides/toxicity? Something that will allow me to see what I may be consuming. My other question is if I am juicing this quantity am I putting my self at greater risk of poisoning?

can I spit this?

I accidentally left an unopened plastic bottle of mouthwash in my car for 3 weeks in high temperatures. Is it still safe to use?

can I spoon this?

Can I use found wood to make spoons for cooking? How can I know whether it is food safe or not?

can I stone this?

Did I just ruin my pizza stone? I washed it in water and was then told that was a big no-no…so how bad is it and is there a way to recover from it?

can I sink this?

Is bathroom sink water any different than kitchen sink water? I have a sink in my room now, so I’ve been drinking out of that faucet.. but before, I’ve always felt a little skittish (maybe based on cultural norms).

can I can opener this

The can of soup hissed at me so I tossed it. Can the can opener be saved?

and finally, can I brew this spew?

My dog ate nearly a pound of coffee beans. The vet gave him some drugs to get him to vomit them up. (He’ll be fine.) The beans came up largely whole/intact, and they… bagged them up for us. If we were to rinse the beans, grind, and brew them, what’s the worst that happens?

established

Establishing my food-critic cred: my slapped-together ten-minute lunch includes a tuna melt (tuna mixed with labneh and scallions, grilled between local-ish American cheese on English muffin bread), red potato salad (also in a dressing of labneh, olive oil, lemon, and scallion), green beans with butter-toasted almonds, and a dish of fresh pineapple spears. These are the joys of preparedness, chickadees.

Establishing my blogger cred: I changed back into pajamas to eat it.

Establishing my willingness to experiment within highly gendered expectations: am wearing new shoes with said pajamas and watching the “Sex and the City” pilot for the first time. For the latter, I credit Emily Nussbaum. For the former, I have no excuse.

splat

Places I managed to drop bits of avocado from this sandwich:

- onto the countertop
– onto the cutting board
– onto the other-than-intended sandwich half
– onto the the plate
– onto the napkin
– onto the floor
– onto the MacBook trackpad
– into my cleavage
– down the front of my hoodie
– onto my chin
– I don’t know; I never found that bit. Uh-oh.

updated to add: I stopped typing, hit post, and went back to the second half of my sandwich, only to find a bit of avocado on the sofa next to the plate. And no, that was not the missing piece from the list.