Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 had a lot of food-and-drink firsts for me.  It was the first time I had:

Fresh huckleberries, yuzu, Rangpur limes, limequats, Bergamots, jackfruit, and young dates;

durian, at least in unprocessed form (I had had, and much prefer, durian cookies and candies);

soft-shell crawfish;

St Germain elderflower liqueur, St Elizabeth allspice dram, Castries peanut cream liqueur, Zirbenz stone pine liqueur, douglas fir eau de vie, Old Gristmill corn whiskey, Cynar, Aperol, Averna, Old Tom gin, genever, Mozart Dry.

I found two unflavored vodkas I like -- Stolichnaya Gold and Heart of the Hudson.

I rediscovered my love for both lamb and lambic.

I continued to explore my tastes in beer and cheese -- discovering that I like feta now, that I love Pecorino Romano, that I don't particularly like stouts or barleywines or beers that are too sweet.  One of my favorite beers, maybe my favorite beer period, was one I discovered right at the tail end of 2008 -- Dogfish Head Palo Santo Marron -- but damn near counts for 2009.

Technique-wise, I didn't break a lot of new ground.  I did use the country ham style of curing for lamb and bacon, which I hadn't done before, and used bourbon in a cure for the first time.  I discovered how excellent smoked grits are, not only because of the smokiness but because of the way the stovetop smoker slow-cooks them.  

I got a juicer, and used it mainly to make peach gelatin, apple cider, and unsweetened cranberry juice for cocktails.  I got a bread machine and mainly use it to knead pizza dough and baguettes.

I more or less stopped making sort-of-Indian curries in favor of sort-of-Thai curries -- when I do order curry powder now, it's for Country Captain chicken, not Indian-style curries, and I have seven or eight different Thai curry pastes in my pantry and refrigerator.  

When my coffeemaker died, I replaced it with a 32-ounce French press, and I've stuck with that -- my only means of making coffee are the French press and the Bialetti Moka for the stove.  I haven't yet talked myself into buying a burr grinder.  After being frustrated between buying "the affordable but barely tolerable coffee" or "the extravagant but excellent coffee," I placed a bulk order of the extravagant coffee, ordering straight from the roaster so that the per-pound price came out to less than the affordable-but-barely-tolerable.  

I don't feel like I did anything radically new this year, but I think that's okay.  I certainly played with some radical new ingredients, and when I was making a yuzu meringue pie, I thought to myself, you know, sometimes this is the way to do it -- the yuzu doesn't KNOW it's much more rare than a lemon.  There is no property of rarity written into it, reflected in how it tastes.  Sometimes you don't want to do something unusual just because you're working with an unusual ingredient -- you want, rather, for its unusualness to stand out because the context you've put it in is so ordinary and familiar.  A little saffron and malted milk powder folded into the meringue of the pie, to give that topping more interest; straight up filling with yuzu juice, sweetened condensed milk, and egg yolks; and it's a remarkable dessert, very yuzu-forward, without needing a more dramatic pedestal than that.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

everybody knows about the curd

My camera is maybe dying, so I couldn't get a good photo of this, which is a shame since the color is so distinctive.

You have probably had lemon curd, because if nothing else, the filling in lemon bars is essentially lemon curd that forms in the oven, stiffened with a little flour.  Curd is a custard, with butter instead of milk or cream, making a spread or condiment rather than something you'd serve by the bowlful -- though everyone who makes it does seem to eat it by the spoonful.

Traditionally made with citrus, you occasionally see it made with other tart fruit -- passion fruit, pomegranate -- and even more occasionally, with other things completely, like vanilla bean.  But the creamy richness of it offsets citrus the best, and because the other ingredients don't add much flavor, it makes for a great showcase for citrus.  I had both Seville oranges and Yuzu to use up before they passed their prime, and basically made a list of citrus-centric preparations and then decided which I'd use the Seville for, and which the Yuzu.  For now, curd landed in Camp Seville.

Seville oranges are one of several oranges known as sour or bitter oranges -- oranges that aren't suited for eating out of hand, not only because they have many large seeds but because the juice is almost as sour as a lemon's.  The tradeoff is that the rind and oil are much richer in flavor than those of sweet oranges.  Seville oranges are traditionally used in marmalade, while the peel is used to flavor gin, beer, and candy.  I add a little Seville orange peel to the French press when I make coffee sometimes.

There are many recipes for citrus curd out there, with major differences in their approach -- double boilers are common, to keep the egg from overcooking.  I used David Lebovitz's simple and effective method without a double boiler, whisking constantly with the whisk attachment on my new immersion blender.  Despite the pot having a particularly thin bottom (my thick pots are unenameled cast iron, which isn't suited for acidic things like citrus), it came out terrifically -- and maybe because of the whisking, maybe because of other factors, it came out light and somewhat fluffy, instead of thick and jam-like the way I'm used to.

David's recipe uses less sugar because the Meyer lemons he uses are sweeter than real lemons; I used the same reduced sugar proportions for the same reason.  I also added about a shot of Campari, and about a shot of Aperol, the combination of which gave everything a slightly embarrassed peach color.  

Serving suggestion: with dense, powerful gingerbread; poundcake; or homemade biscuits.

Friday, December 18, 2009

the seaweed is always greener in somebody else's lake

For my birthday -- six months ago -- I got some soft-shell crawfish, which have been sitting in my freezer ever since, because they were damn expensive and I wanted to be sure I did something "worthwhile" with them.  Then I realized it had been six months, and that I should just make a dinner I liked.

Now, you probably remember from your biology classes in some single-digit grade that many crustaceans (and other arthropods) molt as they grow, shedding its old exoskeleton so that it can grow a new larger one.  The softshell so-and-so is the so-and-so right after molting, before that hard shell has developed.

I was familiar with two kinds of softshells: crabs and lobsters.  Softshell lobsters are just like regular lobsters to all appearances, except that there is proportionately less meat inside -- but you eat them the same way, boiling them and breaking them open and whatnot.  Softshell crabs, on the other hand, have a soft, pliable shell, and can be eaten whole, shell and all.  In New Orleans, they're usually battered and deep-fried.  The softshell crab poboy is something I'd get two or three times a year; the flavor isn't quite the same as regular crab, but I always liked it.

Softshell crawfish are like softshell crab.  The whole thing is edible, shell and claws and the whole nine yards.  I'm guessing the reason they're so expensive is because of rarity -- for all the years I lived in New Orleans, I'd never heard of them or seen them offered anywhere, though since then the softshell crawfish poboy has become a frequently blogged-about item at Jazzfest.

I really didn't know what to expect.  When I opened the container, many of the crawfish claws had either become detached from the bodies, or detached themselves as I picked them up.  These are fragile things compared to regular hardshell crawfish -- maybe that's another reason for the rarity and expense?  I don't know.

I decided to cook up just a few of them, in case I discovered something critical about them in the process.  It worked out fantastically, and I made the same thing with the rest the next day.

Soft-shell crawfish

Softshell crawfish, tomato sauce, smoked grits.

Softshell crawfish: deep-fried in a batter of buttermilk, cornmeal, self-rising flour, and Old Bay.

Tomato sauce: bacon debris (left over from making the sweet potato bacon hash), roasted tomato puree, chopped hot cherry peppers, demiglace, malt vinegar.

Smoked grits: grits cooked in the stovetop smoker; mixed with boiled peanuts, peppadews, and two cheeses (aged gouda and cave-aged gruyere).  Cooled overnight, cut into squares, reheated in the oven.

So good.  I don't know how to describe the softshell crawfish.  There's a definite crawfish flavor, obviously, which a texture sort of ... halfway between softshell crab and sauteed crawfish tails.  There's not as noticeable a distinction between the shell and the inside as with softshell crab -- it doesn't feel as much like, well, eating a whole animal.  And the crawfish flavor is ... it's like discovering a new part of the crawfish.  You can tell it's crawfish -- not shrimp, not crab, not lobster, but crawfish -- but it's noticeably different from the crawfish you've had before.

I figured there was a chance this was something I'd just have once out of curiosity, but no, I would definitely do this again.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

and shut my mouth

Believe it or not, I think the sweet potato is underrated -- that is, I think sweet potato fries have stolen some of the thunder of a plain baked sweet potato, the best savory preparation of the vegetable.  You do nothing to the sweet potato -- you just stick it in the oven, right on the rack if you like, at about 400 degrees for an hour or more.  It's hard to overcook, though it will LOOK like you've overcooked it, perhaps -- the skin may look a little scorched, the potato may look dried out.

It's not dried out.  The skin will peel away like paper, and the inside is soft and sumptuous, having lost its fibrousness.  It really needs nothing more than salt and maybe a pat of butter, but of course you can do other things to it:

Sweet potato with pecan vinaigrette

Baked sweet potato with pecan vinaigrette.  Toasted pecans (just drop them in a hot dry pan for thirty seconds), pecan oil, malt vinegar, and a little sorghum to sweeten it.

Sweet potato bacon hash, with fried eggs and mustard

Sweet potato bacon hash, with fried eggs and mustard.  

Must mention the bacon here.  Garfields Smoked Bacon, smoked over a blend of corncobs and hardwood, has shown up in various food magazines, as a selection of the Splendid Palate's Bacon of the Month Club, etc.  It happens to be made in New Hampshire, so for most of the year I have easy access to it, and it's fantastic.  I've had a pretty wide variety of great bacon -- fatty beef bacon in Louisiana, double-smoked Hungarian bacon, jowl bacon in Indiana, pancetta, ventreche, guanciale, and of course my own bourbon-cured country bacon -- and Garfield's is very very high on my list.  I would have to try it side by side with the best of the jowl bacons to decide between them.

Onward.  For one fairly large sweet potato, I used six slices of bacon -- thick-cut, remember.  This is two servings of hash, and most of the fat of the bacon doesn't wind up in the final product, thankfully.  Grind the bacon up in a food processor and cook it slowly over medium-low heat until most of the fat has rendered out.  Drain the fat (use for cornbread or biscuits), mix with the baked mashed sweet potato and diced hot cherry peppers, and cook slowly in cast-iron until a crust forms.  That "blackening" isn't burnt sweet potato, just the sugars caramelized.

(As a sidenote, remember the boiled peanuts?  Here's the latest use for them: a bacon cheeseburger, with mashed boiled peanuts on the bottom bun.  Fantastic.)

if you want to go where they chain up the sun

Anyone who knows me outside this blog knows that I love citrus fruit.  I mean, my love for it is kind of ridiculous.  Sure, yes, an orange is terrific, or a grapefruit half for breakfast, or some key lime pie.  Lemonade iced tea, aka half and half, aka the Arnold Palmer, depending on where you live.  Margaritas, made correctly with fresh lime juice, not some weird bottled mix.  And so on.

But I tend to take it further.  My love of citrus approaches reverence.  Unfortunately, I live in New Hampshire.  There is not much variety, and too often what you find on the shelves is dry or bland.  Even in the best case scenarios, it's waxed, which is a nuisance if, like me, you regularly candy fruit or use it in liqueurs.

Last year, flush with a wider and woolier revenue stream than I currently enjoy, I bought citrus from several different orchards, the highlights of which were the variety assortments from Friends Ranches and the many offerings from Rising C Ranches (aka Ripe To You, mentioned in the comment discussion about yuzu, which in fact I've now ordered).  This is not a "free stuff" post or anything -- there are a LOT of online citrus sources out there, and these happen to be the two I've had the most luck with.  Friends has particularly good prices, relative to the quality and variety; Ripe To You's selling point is the exotic citrus fruit they sell that few other people do.

For instance, last year, in addition to some lemons, oranges, and grapefruit, I bought Rangpur limes, limequats, Bergamot oranges, Seville oranges, kaffir limes, and a wide variety of mandarin oranges.  I also bought these, which I've picked up again this year:


Calamondin are also known as kalamansi, though I've heard some rumbling that they're not the exact same thing; maybe they're two very similar varieties, I don't know.  (I have bought fruit labeled as each, and the distinctive flavor is there in both, but it is true that the fruit sold as kalamansi was noticeably smaller than the fruit sold as calamondin.)  It might well be my favorite citrus fruit -- which logically makes it my favorite fruit, and thus my favorite food.

Bill, what the hell is a calamondin, you're thinking.

Well, it looks like a small orange, as you can see.  The peel is sweet and edible, like a kumquat, and it's a hybrid between a kumquat and an unknown species.  There are a whole bunch of kumquat hybrids -- limequats are obvious in their parentage -- but the calamondin stands out as having its own distinct flavor.  I've described it to people as "like a cross between a tangerine and a lime," but that isn't quite right (and besides, it also describes the Rangpur lime).  It gets you on the right track, though -- there is definitely a "tangerine-ness" to the flavor.  It's nearly as tart as lemons and limes -- technically you can eat it out of hand, but it'll make your mouth pucker like a Warhead.  (I do it anyway.)  It's not until you juice it and try to substitute the juice for lemon or lime juice that you realize it's not quite as sour as them, and that if you're using it in a cocktail, you'll need slightly less sweetener.

It does make fantastic cocktails, in fact.  I've been working on a "winter margarita" using seasonal citrus and winter-appropriate spices, but it's not ready for the public yet; suffice to say a couple drafts have been made with calamondin juice.  

What it goes terrifically with is Aperol.  I'll probably have a post on Aperol later, but it's a potable bitter (Amaro) like Campari, only slightly less bitter, slightly more sweet, and with a far more pronounced orange flavor.  The "homemade Campari" I made a few years ago was in fact very similar to Aperol, I just didn't know it at the time.  Anyway, Aperol and calamondin juice -- nothing else, no filler like club soda, no need for sugar, just adjust until the sugar in the Aperol balances out the acid in the juice -- is pretty damn amazing, and though I had planned to freeze some of the calamondin juice ... it may not make it.

What else can you do with calamondin?  Marmalade, of course, and you can candy them -- I have a number I'm candying, and after juicing the calamondins, I've been candying the leftover peels as well, to add to yogurt.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

dun dun dun dun

This post mentions some free stuff. Check out the free stuff policy here.


The Mozart Distillery in Salzburg has given me a bottle (well, two bottles, and a glass, and a neck extender, and a list of cocktail recipes) of their new Mozart Dry to play around with, and the first thing you want to note is that this chocolate spirit is 80 proof -- the same as most base liquors -- and unsweetened.

Let's back up and talk about cocktail structure so that you get why that's a big deal.

There are plenty of drinks, and some of them are even good, that are just "let me dump this alcoholic thing into this non-alcoholic mixer."  Rum and Coke, gin and tonic, the Screwdriver, the Mimosa, the Dark and Stormy (Goslings Black Seal rum and ginger beer).  These are generally highballs, like a one-time favorite of Yrs Truly, Scotch and soda.  But I don't want to get too much into the "this is a flip, this is a highball, this is a cobbler" cocktail nomenclature, because I don't find it very instructive or useful except in looking at historical context, which is way beyond our scope right now.

Cocktails, if they involve more than a shot of something alcoholic in a glass of something that isn't, are generally built around a base liquor (or "base spirit").  What base liquors have in common is that they are unsweetened or minimally sweetened (they may retain some sweetness from the ingredients fermented to make them, as in the case of brandy), and they're around 80-100 proof (40-50% alcohol).  Some whiskeys come stronger than that; a number of rums come at 151 proof, but are used in combination with other lower-proof ingredients (or for fratboy horseshit).  

Typical base liquors include whiskey, brandy, tequila, rum, gin, and vodka.  Recent years have added new options to the American bar -- mezcal, shochu, cachaca -- and there are some subtypes within the categories (applejack is "apple brandy," for instance).  Many cocktail bar menus will be divided into categories according to base liquor, rather than other criteria (sours etc).

The other major alcoholic ingredients in cocktails are bitters -- which may be the same proof as base liquors or higher, but which are (by law) considered "non-potable," meaning they're too damn bitter and strong-tasting to drink, so you use them a few drops at a time, the vanilla extract of the bar -- and liqueurs.  Liqueurs include potable bitters like Campari and Aperol, fruit liqueurs like creme de cassis, and things like Kahlua, maraschino, amaretto, creme de violette, etc etc.  They're sweetened -- usually too sweet to drink straight; I can get through a glass of Campari because of the bitterness, but most people wouldn't want to -- and they're usually about half the proof of a base liquor.  (Absinthe is a notable exception.)

You need a base liquor, or something like juice or soda water, in order to create a cocktail -- you can't just mix a bunch of liqueurs together, or the result will be too sweet and syrupy.  Good liqueurs are fantastic and transformative -- people who turn their noses up at cocktails because they're hardline about drinking their liquor straight up are really missing out.  While a Boulevardier may cover up the whiskey more than they'd like, a whiskey sour just accentuates good whiskey, and an Old-Fashioned or Sazerac is almost entirely whiskey with a little sprinkle of something else, like cooking your steak with a little herb butter.

So that's the really, really interesting thing about Mozart Dry: it's a base liquor.

Base liquors give you a shit ton of options.

Think about it, every other chocolate-flavored alcohol product I can think of is sweetened, oftenly highly so -- a lot of the creme de cacao on the shelves is like Hershey's syrup mixed with cheap hooch.  You may as well make that at home.  There are some good cream liqueurs -- I've got nothing against cream liqueur -- but for me, those are dessert drinks, I don't particularly use them in cocktails.

Mozart makes a number of chocolate liquor products, and Mozart Dry is the first item of its kind that I'm aware of: an unsweetened chocolate spirit, a chocolate distillate as they call it.  Cocoa beans are mixed with high-proof alcohol (the higher the proof, the more flavor the alcohol extracts) and barreled for two months while the sediment settles out.  The final product is perfectly clear -- which makes it all the more surprising when you open the bottle and smell premium chocolate.  

That's when things get a little ... unusual: Mozart "sound-mills" their products by storing them in stainless steel tanks affixed with loudspeakers that play Mozart's music for 24 hours before the liquor is bottled.  Hey, whatever works.  The company has a page devoted to their sound milling, but you may have to go through the front page and enter your birthyear and whatnot.

As you can see from the level of the bottle, I've played around with Mozart Dry a bit.  The lack of sweetener gives you a lot of flexibility, and as the company notes, it takes well to acidity.  I had a few very nice drinks using Mozart Dry and unsweetened cranberry juice and a little liqueur of one or another type to balance out the cranberry, but you have to be careful to keep the cranberry from overwhelming the rest (this is true of using unsweetened cranberry juice in general).  A couple of the recipes on the web and included by the company pair Mozart Dry with Campari, which leapt out at me, so this was the first real home run I came up with:

Unnamed Mozart Dry cocktail

1 oz Mozart Dry
1/2 oz Campari
1/2 oz Canton ginger liqueur
1/2 oz Sazerac 18 year old rye whiskey

Rye and ginger of course go well together, and the ginger and Campari provide the sweetener here.  It's a nice, nice drink.  It's very cool to see chocolate acting as a participant.  I'm sure many people will come up with "chocolate-covered cherries" and "chocolate truffle" cocktails with this, sure, but the chocolate flavor of Mozart Dry is layered enough, developed enough, that it is much more interesting when you let it play with other flavors instead of just being accented by them.

Other successful combinations, without photos:

A Mozart Dry Sazerac: Mozart Dry, a dash of absinthe, a dash of Peychaud's bitters, a little lemon juice and sugar;

Mozart Dry, Wasmund's single-malt whiskey, Creole Shrubb orange liqueur, and St Germain elderflower liqueur.

This is a go-to bottle.  This could definitely become a staple in my bar.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

he'd like to come and meet us but he thinks he'd blow our minds

This has nothing to do with cooking, but if anyone from Adult Swim, World Leaders Entertainment, etc., ever sees this, I promise I will make you dinner if you give the Triad from The Venture Brothers their own show.  Thanks.

This DOES have to do with cooking:

One of the most popular things I make is also the simplest: roasted pineapple.  Just take fresh pineapple -- it really needs to be fresh -- and drizzle with some kind of sweetener.  Roast at whatever temperature is convenient for you until it looks like this:


The cooking concentrates both the sweetness and the acidity.  Very flexible.  Goes with plenty of desserts, good as a sweet side, good in various savory dishes as long as you watch the sweetness.  Excellent with yogurt.

(Served here with sliced starfruit.  Yes, I see the weird lines too ... sorry about that.)

and the white knight is talking backwards

This post involves free stuff.  Read the free stuff policy here.

Speaking of free stuff -- Marx Foods sent me a sampler of various dried mushrooms: shiitake, porcini, lobster (the most colorful but least flavorful, I found), black trumpet, chanterelle, and maitake.  They carry a number of other varieties as well.  (I want to point out that Marx has added more product categories since the last time I mentioned them, including the ones most appealing to me, exotic fruit and exotic citrus.  Though I admit, I wish nonperishable items like the yuzu juice had a cheaper shipping option -- at least I assume a large part of that price is shipping.)

Bunch of dried mushrooms

Forgive the usual lighting/photo issues.

I've never used dried mushrooms much.  I've primarily used them in tomato sauces, if you don't count the dried white truffles in my truffle salt, so I wanted to toy around with other things here.  While I ground some up and used them to coat a steak, what really brought out the character of the mushrooms was using them in vegetable soup.  There's a more intense mushroom flavor from these dried mushrooms than I'm used to getting from fresh, as they reconstitute in the broth, and it goes so well with many fall vegetables.  After a couple trial runs with small servings of soup with just a couple ingredients, I wound up with this mushroom vegetable soup:

Mushroom soup

There's a whole bunch of dried mushrooms there, along with cranberry beans, parsnips, turnips, carrots, and celery.  These were the vegetables the mushrooms seemed to complement best -- particularly turnips and parsnips (the parsnip is related to the carrot, and is a little firmer and starchier, less sweet, and with more of that "rooty" sort of flavor that carrots tend to lose when they cook).  It's that simple -- just those ingredients, a little broth, a little salt and pepper.  Very tasty and harder, a rainy November sort of lunch -- or dinner, with a salad or a buttered piece of fresh bread.

But interestingly, the mushrooms -- that is, the mushroom solids -- were my least favorite part.  That's often the case with mushrooms, their texture isn't like other vegetables.  So I also made a soup in which the mushrooms were ground up while still dry, and a vegetable stock that used the mushrooms but then discarded them with the other solids, after they'd given up all their flavor.  This felt wasteful at first, but you know, it's like making beef stock and throwing out the bones -- you just make sure all the flavor came out first.

And in fact, it led to my most successful soup, because of an ingredient I didn't have on hand when I made the previous soup:

Celery root

Celery root, or celeriac, is a member of the celery family that's grown for the root instead of the stalk.  The root is, as you can see, big and gnarly and a pain in the ass to wash.  You should shop for them the same way you do potatoes, yucca, or any other root vegetable -- it should feel heavy, not light and spongy.  (Melissa's celery roots often feel spongy to me -- this may simply be the result of low turnover in my local supermarket -- so I tend to only buy celery root in the fall, when I can get it at the farmstand.)

It's a fantastic vegetable.  When you peel it, feel free to use a knife and be liberal in your peeling, rather than relying on a peeler and trying to deal with all those nooks and crannies.  You can always dump the peels into a vegetable stock, after all.

The taste is celery-like but not quite the same.  Grated and baked with a ton of salt before being ground up, it forms Fergus Henderson's celery salt, which is terrific on -- well, anything, but especially boiled eggs.  It's often served with remoulade.  But here, it formed a fantastic soup:

Celery root soup

Remember the crabs I bought in Little Cambodia?  I had made a strong crab stock with them which I then froze in portions.  I reheated a portion of that crab stock with some diluted roasted tomato puree and the rest of the dried mushrooms, let it simmer for a couple hours, and then strained the solids out.  In that resulting mushroom-crab-tomato stock, I cooked cubes of celery root, carrot, salt, and a tiny bit of ground red chile for kick.  I added celery leaves and stalk right towards the end.

Really, really good -- the celery root and crab flavors really meld together, with the mushroom and tomato providing backbone.

free product policy

It makes sense to have this set out in one place, for me to link back to.

Sometimes I get free things from manufacturers, retailers, or other companies.  Federal regulation and good freaking sense says that I disclose this to you, so I always will.  My agreement when I accept free things for the blog is very simple: I agree to blog about it (and when applicable, to provide links to where it can be purchased, etc).  I don't promise to like it or say that I do, just to check it out.

Hypothetically, there are circumstances when even that might not happen -- if the product is lost or damaged in the mail, maybe if the business is deceptive about what they're selling, perhaps if it were sent to me unsolicited (though since neither my address nor my full name is on the blog, I might just have to reward their initiative there), or if I were allergic to peanuts and they sent me peanut butter (but I'm not! feel free to send me peanut butter!)  None of that seems likely, but I'm pointing it out as long as I'm making this dedicated post on the topic.

Makers or sellers of things that fit the "interesting ingredients" description of this blog (food, drink, maybe tools if we stretched things), feel free to email me at okaycheckitout at

I have lots of partly-composed entries to finish in the coming week, some of which involve free goods, most of which don't.  At the moment the pizza post is delayed because I haven't renewed my Flickr pro account, so can't access my pizza photos!  I'll take care of that once I've finished Christmas shopping.