Discoveries in the Field of Macaroni and Cheese

My first discovery, in the field of Macaroni and Cheese, was that my pantry has a distinct lack of macaroni. Or, indeed, any of the short-tube pasta family. This leads to my second discovery: Orecchiette makes perfectly serviceable macaroni and cheese. Although the name seems a little misleading, alas Orecchiette and Cheese just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

"Macaroni" Cheese + Pickles

My third Macaroni and Cheese discovery is an important one: when faced with a pile of richness, such as comes with Macaroni and Cheese, possibly the very finest accompaniment is pickled red onions. I imagine that it is the case there are many other perfectly wonderful pickles that would also offer the tangy flavour contrast that pickled red onions offer, although it is important to bear in mind just how beautiful and bright they are in contrast to the shades of white in Macaroni and Cheese.

The fourth, is another insight into the making of Macaroni and Cheese: making a roux from duck fat instead of butter is a splendid idea, and works really well. The fifth – if you’re going to add something delicious and porky to it, then it’s going to be even more delicious if you brown it at the start, and allow it to cook in the white sauce.

The sixth discovery I made, is that I really should keep better track of the quantities of ingredients as I cook. The trouble with making this kind of thing by eye, is that next time your eye might lie. So here is a vague sort of a guide.

For making enough for one hungry person, or two people who don’t eat enormously…

  • In a large saucepan, start boiling water for the pasta.
  • Meanwhile, finely dice one shallot, and roughly chop anything delicious and porky you were thinking about adding (You do not, of course, have to add anything porky, and you could, indeed, add anything your heart desired. Mushroomy things seem like they would be delicious.)
  • In a smaller pot, on medium heat, combine the shallots and porky-things with about a tablespoon of duck fat (or butter), and gently cook until it all smells delicious. Around about now, the water for the pasta is probably boiling, so go right ahead and add three’ish handfuls of pasta. You’ll get about the right amount. I trust you. It’ll get a little larger when you cook it, so imagine what your casserole dish would look like mostly filled with cooked pasta, and add about the right amount for that to happen (:
  • Add some flour to the smaller pot. Within my recollection, I think I added about a teaspoon and a half; but really I shook the bag at it (carefully) until it looked right (which is not useful at all to anyone who doesn’t know what I mean. And if you already knew, you’d be making up your own Macaroni and Cheese as you went along). If you don’t add enough, you’ll end up with a sauce which is a little too liquidy. If you add too much, however, you’ll end up with something gluey. Be sure to whisk the flour in until there are no lumps. Otherwise doom..
  • Once the flour has had a chance to cook, add a cup or so of milk to the pot, and embark on another round of whisking to ensure there are no lumps. Because lumps are not delicious.
  • Keep on whisking while you wait for the pasta to finish cooking. It’ll thicken up after a while.
  • Then, realise you haven’t done anything about cheese. Grab a wedge of blue cheese from yonder fridge. Chop it up roughly into chunks (about 1cm/half inch bits), and stir into the sauce. At this point, if the pasta hasn’t quite finished, you can turn the element off and allow the sauce to continue to be warmed by residual heat.
  • Once the pasta is done, drain, then combine with the sauce. The sides of my saucepan are higher than my casserole dish, so I dump pasta on the sauce, stir to coat, and then transfer to a casserole dish. On top, I added finely grated pecorino, since that’s what lives in my fridge. I hear breadcrumbs are popular (panko, in particular), but breadcrumbs are not something that lives in my pantry, so no breadcrumbs for me.
  • Casserole goes into the oven (About 180°C) until it smells delicious and has browned on top. I’m not sure how long it was, I was hungry and in a trance, waiting for my delicious food. It was probably about 15 minutes. However, the kind of time dilation that takes place while you are waiting for pizza to be delivered was taking place, so there’s no way to be sure.
  • Once done, let it sit for five minutes before attempting to eat. That gives a chance for the sauce and such to make friends and be more delicious. And if you did try and eat it, you’d go “Ow, my mouth. My burning mouth”. So it’s for the best, really. You’ll thank me.

Then the eating! Don’t forget to add pickles (: They really are a very nice flavour and texture contrast to the carby-cheesy delight that is… Macaroni and Cheese.

Not-Macaroni and Cheese

(Here’s a funny thing about me and Macaroni and Cheese: For a ridiculously long time I’ve been terrified of making bechamel sauces. To say that I am terrified is to overstate massively, I assure you. It’s less terror and more aware of my incompetence – the times I tried, they turned out horribly. Turns out I was probably adding too much flour all along. Oh well, now I know. For Christmas dinner, I was recruited as chief sous chef. Job number one, the most important job among all jobs I had to do: make four cups of mornay sauce. Oh the horror. As it turns out, it worked out amazingly, and thus, I appear to have inadvertently gained the super power of making bechamel based sauces. Victory for me! I rather suspect that I should make efforts to conquer my other sauce nemesises: mayonnaise and hollandaise.)

On Being a Woman in the World

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This, changes things.

I was walking home from a gig by myself, at not particularly late on a Sunday night. Walking up St-Laurent, someone walking the other way stopped to talk at me. Someone asking for change is more passive. I stopped to listen. They wanted to go get a drink somewhere. I declined, and continued to walk, they continued to talk. Decline, decline, decline, leave me alone.

Still following me, a couple blocks from where I live, people walking on the sidewalk towards us, I said, “Do I need to make a fuss in front of these people for you to leave me alone?”.

Several steps further along, with a group of people milling across the street, I yelled at him to fuck off. Apparently that makes me a bitch. But, really, I feel extremely lucky that name-calling is all he did, and that he walked back away in the opposite direction – because what if he hit me for having the audacity to yell, and to not do what he wanted. You know?

I did get the rest of the way home, uneventfully. Although the saga continues.

Skip forward a couple of days, and I was at dork-Xmas party at a bar. There are many dorks. Who are generally polite. There was also a bouncer who was less polite. A half dozen sentences of small talk, and they had the audacity to squeeze at my belly/waist in a how-ripe-is-this-fruit kind of manner. Bad Touch. That, was a little easier to deal with – filthy look with an “I’m going over there, now”, because, y’know, what could he do about it?

Although when I left the bar, he was standing outside at the front door; and I had a what-if-he-follows-me-home freak out, which doesn’t seem rational.

Skip forward a couple of days, and I was going to be meeting someone at a metro station. I got to the foyer at street level, and there were a bunch of guys milling around. Rather than standing around inside, in case one of them started to bother me, I waited outside, which doesn’t seem rational.

Skip forward a couple of days, and you get to today. I have a ticket to go to concert tonight. And I now have an expectation that by being a woman who isn’t walking around with a guy, that I will be considered fair game, and that unless I am defensive, another man will feel that it’s appropriate to touch or squeeze at me.

I’m not sure what I can do to change that. I am, at a fundamental level, someone who is polite, and nice, and pleasant, and open; and I don’t know how I can become someone who is closed. I do not like being a person who is overcautious to irrationality.

I really do not like being a person who is being evaluated almost entirely on how I look – Neither man who touched me uninvited had any information to suggest that I am the crazy-freaky-interesting person that I am.

On Becoming a Woman in Tech

I am a woman in the tech field, because I’m not sure there’s another field that I could have grown into.

When I was a small person, not very tall at all, I was the kind of kid who played with lego. I think I might have had a My Little Pony, maybe, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t have a barbie doll (although for one Christmas I did end up with some kind of a very pink hair salon type thing).

When I was a little taller, but still very small, I started to program. Bits of it, using logo to draw pictures. Then meticulously typing in programs from magazines for simple games, and the inevitable jump to making my own games.

By now, I was almost as tall as I am now, but not quite. The next step towards the career I have was a modem as a Christmas gift (: I BBS’ed for a few years, and, heavens, in 1995, I think, I ended up with an internet account through the university in Wellington (which is oddness in my timeline). International traffic was expensive, and I had a shell, so for a long time, the internet was a lot like email and IRC (:

Then I got PPP access. Oh boy! PPP! And Mosaic! And my very first homepage! (It was at http://tao.sans.vuw.ac.nz/~chrisfox clearly, very clearly, it is long gone) I’m told it was regarded as high falutin’ and fancy at the time. It had Javascript!

Which brings us to the end of high school, and figuring out what to study at at university. Chemistry and Computer Science were the two things I was considering as a major. Chemistry was going to take six thousand years of grad work before I’d do anything more complicated than cleaning test tubes. Computer Science, not so much. It’s a co-incidence that the computer science schedule was over three days, mostly in the afternoon. An amazing co-incidence.

So here I am, doing coder stuff professionally (Argh! I started working doing systems stuff at an ISP 10 years ago, now. I feel old). I don’t think anyone particularly intervened to push me here along the way; and I suspect that if they had I would have been resistant to participating.

I’m going to guess that it’s the kind path that most guys take to end up as a coder. Which makes it really hard for me to constructively help get other women to take the light path to coder.

Rant in the Key of Women at Conferences

.conf { border: 1px solid #ddd; margin-left: 10px; background: #fff; padding:10px; width:250px; } .bucket, .conf { float: left; } .bucket { width: 50%; font-size: 2em; line-height: 1.2em } .ladies { color: #B5509C; } .fellas {color: #62B1F6;} .conf h5 { padding: 0px; margin: 0px;}

The under-representation of women who work in technology is an important issue. It’s not one that I know how to fix. But one of the ways that it shows up, is in the lack of women who speak at conferences. I don’t know why women don’t speak at conferences in general; speaking for myself, I’m just not that great at public speaking (:

In the past couple of years, I have been to two stellar conferences (Webstock ’08, in Wellington; and BitNorth, just outside Montréal) and a few more that were okay-I-guess. This is what the gender breakdown of the amazing conferences looked like:

Webstock
♀ ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀
♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂


BitNorth
♀ ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀
♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂


I speculate that when conference organizers care about trying to fix the hard problems, they’re going to care about all of the little things that go into a conference.

I am not going to this one.
♀ ♀
♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂ ♂



I mentioned the absurd gender disparity of this conference to a (white, privileged, technical, male) friend of mine, in what turned into quite a surreal conversation.

me: (I count three of ladies.)
him: heh
that’s pretty common
ON one hand, i’d like to see a better balance
On the other, I’m kind of tired of hearing about “women in open source”
me: Did you, uh, complain about hearing women talking at conferences?
him: I complained about hearing about women talking at conferences about women talking at conferences

I am horrified that he felt that the content of womens’ talks was some how a way to rationalize the lack of women at a conference. I am also horrified that women feel the need to speak about their place in the technical eco-system that there is a perception that it’s the only thing they talk about (I don’t think I’ve ever been to a rah-rah women in technology talk, but I have heard women speak on all sorts of technical subjects). I remain horrified that he thought this was a position that was worth vigorously defending; and I have The Fear that this is a common perception.

And that makes me really fucking angry.

Macaroni and Cute

Bunny Macaroni Cheese

In an odd confluence of influences, I ended up with a box of bunny macaroni and cheese. Just the other day, discussions were had about the lack of KraftTM©® Dinner that I have experienced. Anyone who knows me at all knows that rabbity things keep showing up around me. Clearly, when I walked past a box of macaroni and cheese, except bunnies, I was going to buy it.

Push the bunnies tail! Push it!Bunny Approves!Bunny Macaroni Cheese

It really did come in a very cute box (:

Although, I gotta be honest, it tasted about as good as pasta-cheese from a box can aspire to.

Crabapple Jelly

Crabapple Jelly

I think I just finished making a jar of crabapple jelly. I guess I will find out if it worked out tomorrow once it has had time to set up. In the meantime, however, it looks very pretty. And sometimes, in this world, being pretty is enough.

It is, ostensibly, cranberry jelly with rosemary and juniper; although I’m not sure that the resinousness particularly shines through, from what I have tasted so far.

Take your crabapples, cut in half, get rid of the flowery endy bit, and the stalk. Place in a pot. Add enough water to cover by a little bit (although they do float. so I guess enough water so that there’s a little underneath). I had not much more than a single layer in a large pot. Then, forget to add juniper berries and rosemary. If I was doing this again, I would attempt to not forget the juniper berries and rosemary.

Cook the crabapples until they’re soft, then squish them up a bit. My kitchen is woefully under equipped, so I used my wooden spoon. A potato masher, or anything with more of a flat edge than a wooden spoon would work much better, I am sure.

Then, place the mashed up fruit along with all of the water into a jelly straining bag. I bought a jelly straining bad because it seemed important. In retrospect, a piece of cloth in a strainer would have probably worked fine. Leave it to strain for a while, until it stops being drippy.

Once that’s done, put the drippies into a pot, along with the same volume of sugar. If you forgot to add juniper berries and rosemary earlier, add these too. I had about 8 juniper berries, along with a stalk of rosemary.

Heat it up until it starts to boil. When it’s looking like it’s getting close to boiling, start hauling out berries and rosemary; because it gets harder the more everything is moving around (p.s. this is why you should try and remember to add the juniper/rosemary at the start).

Boil it until it reaches the “gel stage”. I’m a little fuzzy on what the “gel stage” really entails. However, I dutifully placed a puddle of the jelly on to a cold plate and placed it back in the freezer. After a minute or so, when you push at the edge of the puddle, it should get wrinkled. I had the requisite wrinkling, but I’m not sure if it was okay that the wrinkles dispersed. Oh well, I guess I’ll find out if it sets / turns into candy / is a liquid, tomorrow.

Once you’re pretty sure you’ve made it to the gel stage, transfer to a jar. I am a preserves cowboy, so I make no attempt at making these sorts of things shelf stable, and leave this kind of thing in the fridge; but I hear there are more steps you should take. This is not the place to find them.