Tuesday, November 25, 2008
As usual, my intentions were good. But there is one critical ingredient that I am missing in order to pull off this Thanksgiving dessert coup.
That would be.... a working oven.
The Golden Spouse tried to heat up some leftover beef on Saturday. Turned the oven on. Put the beef in. Came back in twenty minutes. The beef and oven were still cold (and may in fact have been colder than when he first put the food in.)
You are now thinking, "You probably just need to re-light the pilot light." I know that's what you're thinking because that's what everyone I have complained to about this has said. If there is a pilot light on this oven, I'll be damned if I can find it. And you know what? I'm not going to stick my head in the gas oven waving a flame around trying to find it. (Moot point anyway since we don't smell any gas.)
And yes, all of the other gas appliances in the house are working. (That's the second question everyone asks.)
Our assessment, based on a rigorous ten minutes or so of internet research, is that something has gone wrong with the starter doohickey. Please don't make me explain it beyond that -- just trust me. I'm a researcher.
So here we are, two days before the National Day of Gluttony, and I have no oven.
I called the Home Warranty folks yesterday morning, who politely and cheerily told me that they would have the service guy (Kevin, I assume, from Kevin's Appliance Repair) call me. They even gave me his number in case he didn't call me fast enough (what are the odds...).
Didn't hear from him by this morning, so I called the number they gave me. I got those three tones you hear before learning that the call could not be completed as dialed, I should check the number and try my call again.
I called the warranty company back. They politely and cheerily assured me that they would find another service person to call me. I reminded them that Thanksgiving was upon us and I needed my *&^%$ oven and they should light a damn fire under SOME service guy (regardless of the status of his starter doohickey).
As usual, the hostile approach gained me nothing. Tuesday afternoon, 4:45 -- no word from anyone about fixing my oven.
We expect to spend the rest of the evening learning the intricacies of baking on an outdoor grill.
UPDATE: We are now T'giving Minus 24 Hours. No call from contractor, on interminable hold with warranty company.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Not because the recipe was complicated (it’s not – it’s very simple) or required special ingredients (it doesn’t – I had them all on hand). It’s not even because it required 20,000 hours of preparation (it doesn’t, unless you count the six hours of chilling, and I don’t).
No. The anxiety was there for a different reason.
Now, stay with me. Arborio rice = risotto. I like risotto, and I make it at home occasionally and am happy with the results, but only because I don’t have to share it with anyone other than the Golden Spouse, who loves me and is well-versed in handling those arcane situations in which I am unnaturally fragile.
Still not clear? You’re going to make me go there, aren’t you? The explanation for my deep-seated fear of risotto? Okay.
It’s because every time I make it – frantically stirring and obsessing over whether or not it’s absorbed enough of the liquid to add more – I hear Chef Gordon Ramsey screaming in my head. “What are you doing?! This is inedible!! Do it again!!”
Sometimes… he calls me a donkey. A stupid donkey.
GS knows this, and will occasionally come into the kitchen to pet me. It helps. He then assures me that although he likes my risotto, it would be okay with him if I never, ever put myself through that kind of abuse again. He’s a good man.
But I’m trying to redeem myself from my extended absence in October, and after missing the Kugelhopf (bless you!), I didn’t think I could miss another week.
So I persevered -- and it felt good. Really, really good. First-time-you-ride-your-bike-without-training-wheels good. First-time-you-go-off-to-college good. First-time-you-….. oh, but let’s not go there. (Hi, Mom!)
Except for.... well, we'll get to that.
I read the P&Q more closely this time, so I knew to extend the time on the stove to 45 minutes. Then I added a few magic Kelly-touches to ensure a successful outcome, which I will herein reveal because I am generous and non-territorial when it comes to sharing my cooking secrets. (You're welcome.)
While I was standing at the stove, staring at the sugared milk and willing it to boil, GS mentioned that we were going to have our first freeze that night.
(Simmer down, Northeasterners. Yes, we get into November before we get our first freeze. But remember, we also have mammoth mosquitos, rebel flags, and fried twinkies. And we overwhelmingly supported McCain/Palin and enacted the legal position that the only people worthy of adopting or fostering children are married heterosexuals. Our average temperature may sound enticing, but in other areas, we completely suck.)
My first thought was that it was time to switch from white wine to red and from rum to bourbon. My second thought was that there would be no more fresh-picked basil for a while. My third thought was something along the lines of, “There’s a smudge on the refrigerator. Cool.”
Eventually, it occurred to me that there were still about a dozen bright orange habaneros on the lone surviving plant in the garden that I should probably harvest. So I grabbed a bowl and went out to get them.
The disaster you are expecting did not occur. I did NOT come back in to discover the milk boiling over. I rinsed the habaneros, halved and seeded them, then put them on a cookie sheet to freeze.
Then I went to the bathroom. THAT is when the milk boiled over. (“Yes, Chef! I suck, Chef!”)
I wiped up the mess and added the parboiled rice, set a timer for 45 minutes, then settled onto the couch to commune with Facebook. About half an hour into the process, I rubbed my itchy nose and immediately realized that I had not washed my hands after cleaning and seeding the habaneros.
Oh. My. God.
Imagine the California wildfires overtaking your nostrils. I went to the bathroom to blow my nose, turning it into a flamethrower and singeing the cat. My nose was running like mad, so I kept blowing through the “this must be what it’s like to breathe in Hell” pain, thinking I would eventually expel all of the capsaicin. Then I rubbed my eye. (“You stupid donkey!”)
In between blowing flames out of my nose, pressing a cold washcloth against my eyes, and scrubbing my hands – the timer went off on the rice pudding.
I couldn’t see, I couldn’t breathe, but I stumbled into the kitchen and turned the burner off under the pudding, noting through the tears that it had thickened quite nicely.
I must have stirred in the vanilla and stuck it away in the refrigerator with a tidy plastic-wrap cover. I don’t remember doing it, but that’s where I found it the next morning – and it was delicious (although I don’t really know what the rice brings to the table in terms of the pudding experience as a whole).
There you have it. Maybe it was the milk boiling over in the early stages, maybe it was spending the last fifteen minutes of cooking in a distracted panic – but my rice pudding had the right consistency and tasted great, which I gather from the posts of my peers is a rare thing.
Too bad I can’t prove it. Needless to say, there were no pictures taken of the experience. They may have come in handy should we have to file my disability claim.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
I couldn't wait until baking day (Sunday). I reviewed the P&Q comments. Okay, skimmed the comments -- just well enough to notice the warning to read the entire recipe first.
I figured this was because there was an odd ingredient I wouldn't have in my pantry -- so I vowed to read the recipe before going to the grocery store so as to not get caught without Portuguese crystallized ginger or whatever.
That was the plan. After my Sunday bike ride, I would read the recipe, make a careful list of ingredients, go to the grocery store, then come home and bake. I even had a contingency plan for the fact that I don't have a Kugelhopf pan (I have a monkey bread pan that would surely work just as well).
My bike ride was delayed a bit, but that was okay. I usually go at about nine, but I had to wait until after noon because I had to stop by the bike store first to replace the CO2 cartridge that I would need in case of a flat.
(On my ride last weekend, I ran across a woman pushing a two-child stroller that had two flat tires, so I gave her my CO2. Really! I know this sounds like something I'd invent to make myself look good -- I altruistically helped fix a stroller so babies could ride comfortably -- but it really happened. )
So I started the ride at about 12:30, returning at about 3:00, and opened up the cookbook. You all see where this is going, right? The dire warnings about reading the recipe first? Had nothing to do with an odd ingredient.
It had to do with the fact that there is SEVEN HOURS WORTH OF WORK TO DO before the dough ever even THINKS about seeing the inside of an oven. SEVEN HOURS of mixing, rising, and punching.
I'm sure Kugelhopf is very tasty. Everyone else's pictures look wonderful. Maybe someday I'll know this firsthand, and I'll have pretty pictures, too. Who knows, maybe I'll even have a Kugelhopf pan.
But not today.
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
I don't know how I managed in the pre-Internet days. The days when you needed a stamp to send a letter. You had to wait until 5:00 to get the latest news. And you never would have discovered that the guy you had a crush on in junior high went on to perform in a nationally touring drag show under the highly Googleable stage name of Lola Puffybuns.
Back then, if I wanted to know how to pronounce something that I wasn't sure I had ever heard, I would've looked it up in a dictionary, stared at the phonetic spelling, and wished I had paid more attention when we were being taught what those squiggly lines and accents meant.
But not anymore! Thanks to Al Gore, I have the internets! And the internets have given me www.dictionary.com. And www.dictionary.com has given me this: an audio recording of someone saying "rugelach." (Turns out it does NOT sound like "arugula." My bad.)
I can now talk about this week's Tuesdays With Dorie treat, because I now know how to pronounce it. So feel free to give me a call -- I've been practicing (especially the throat-clearing at the finish).
This is a fantastic cookie that comes together much more easily than it would seem, given how fancy they look. The dough has no sugar, so it relies on the filling to give it the dessert quality - which means that you can control the sweetness and complexity by changing up the filling.
There were a few tense moments while rolling the dough when I thought I was about to tear it, but it held up in spite of my enthusiasm. I refrained from tossing it like a pizza crust after the Golden Spouse gave me a shockingly loud look of disapproval.
In my defense, loading the dough was a lot like loading a pizza before baking. Unfortunately, there were shiny things in the kitchen when I assembled the first batch, so I wasn't paying as much attention as I should have been -- and I inadvertently used too many of the chocolate chips, which left me short for the second batch. I liked them better without as much chocolate, so I thought I was on to something -- but then GS raved about the ones that were chocolate-heavy.
Something for everyone, I suppose.
One thing I know for sure -- a dozen tasty rugelach and a tall glass of cold milk ease the trauma of finding Lola's online portfolio.
(This week's recipe was selected by Piggy at Piggy's Cooking Journal -- read about her Rugelach experience and that of the other TWD bakers in the blogroll.)
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Meanwhile -- you all ROCK! I haven't had time to comment, but I am reading your posts -- you keep me motivated, even when I can't follow through.
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
I put myself through college as a single parent, then compounded this gruesome experience by getting through graduate school.
I raised a TEENAGER, for god's sake.
I still manage to avoid looking my age. People are surprised to learn that my son is about to turn twenty. Other forty-year-olds say things like, "When you get to be my age...."
But that's all about to change. I'm about to start aging at an accelerated rate.
Carol is cooking again.
P.S. Ohmygod.. it's Tuesday? Really?? Um. Sorry.
Friday, October 3, 2008
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
This week's Tuesdays With Dorie assignment was creme brulee -- one of my all-time favorites. Only I've never tried to make it without a water bath before, so when Dorie's recipe said to just put it on a baking sheet, I was skeptical.
I put it in a water bath anyway, and wondered how it would be different.
The difference is -- in a water bath, it takes a hell of a lot longer.
So after doubling the cooking time, increasing the temperature from 200 degrees to 300 degrees and cooking it another twenty minutes (until it was actually BUBBLING), I took it out and stuck it in the refrigerator.
The next evening, we took them out and brulee'd.
We cracked through the brulee (one of my favorite sounds EVER) and discovered that even after 100 freaking minutes in the oven, the custard had not set.
And it really didn't taste that great. In spite of the addition of cardamom (see, I TOLD you I was going to use it in everything from here on out) and orange zest.
I learned my lesson. Trust Dorie. (But I still wonder if the 200 degree cooking temperature was a typo.)
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
The premise is that a bunch of scientists are experimenting on sharks at an undersea lab in an effort to find a cure for Alzheimer's disease. The experiments lead to an elevation of the sharks' consciousness and intelligence... and they're pissed.
Samuel L. Jackson stars, with a supporting cast of... a lot of people you've never heard of.
And Samuel L. Jackson stars. I keep mentioning this because I'm sure that Mr. Jackson's salary accounted for an inordinately large proportion of the overall budget. Rather like the ground cardamom in the recipe for the Dimply Plum Cake. (I promise I'll have the Golden Child's college fund repaid by next semester.)
And like the cardamom, Samuel L. Jackson is responsible for the best moment of an otherwise forgettable film -- he is unexpectedly eaten by a shark. About thirty minutes into the movie. You're left looking at your watch wondering, "What else is there?"
Having another big name on the poster -- even a B-lister -- could have carried you contentedly through the rest of the film. Likewise, a nice sauce would have saved the pedestrian Dimply Plum Cake -- a sweet, buttery concoction to serve as the Edward Norton of dessert sauces.
Would Deep Blue Sea have been even worse without Samuel L. Jackson? Would the Dimply Plum Cake have suffered without the investment in cardamom? We'll never know. And I'm left trying to figure out how to incorporate cardamom into all of my cooking (reference next week's creme brulee), because by God, I'm going to get my money's worth.
(This week's recipe was selected by Michelle at Bake-n. It has gotten rave reviews from other bloggers... so maybe it's just me.)
Saturday, September 20, 2008
A couple of months ago, I started cramming in whatever last minute life-training I could in the hope of catching up on the kind of parenting I had been putting off too long. I started dropping pearls of wisdom about paying bills on time, avoiding the multitude of credit card offers, nipping roommate problems in the bud, not becoming a roommate problem, etc.
And I tried to teach him that preparing food at home -- from scratch, with fresh ingredients -- was far tastier, healthier, cheaper, and more likely to impress women than ordering pizza every night. I dragged him to the Farmers' Market and narrated my dinner preparations like a taller, slower, more irritable Rachel Ray. (Sometimes he was even in the room -- most often, though, he would mumble, "Uh-huh... that's great, Mom" from the next room in between battle sequences on Final Fantasy XII.)
Mostly, I tried to teach by example. When he wanted burgers, I made the buns, ground my own meat (from TWO KINDS OF BEEF, no less), and sliced my own potatoes for homemade french fries. Later, when my mother asked him what we did for dinner, he said, "Oh, we just grilled some burgers." I made him call her back and tell her they were the best ^%$# burgers he'd ever eaten.
But something must have stuck with him -- probably the same way the "Ain't No Bugs on Me" jingle has stuck with me.
He called me last week and said, "Tell me how to cook asparagus."
He was in his kitchen, asparagus in hand, preparing dinner for his roommates. I said, "First, you need to trim off the tough bottom..."
"I know, Mom. I did that."
Then came the real test question. "Do you have any olive oil?"
He said... get this... "Yes."
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Sunday, September 14, 2008
n.o.e at The Dogs Eat the Crumbs gave me this cute award. Warms the cockles of my heart, I tell you (I'm not really sure what cockles are, but if I have them, they must be tingling right now).
It's especially gratifying because I enjoy her blog so much. She has a wonderful curiosity about cooking plus creativity supported by skill and a very engaging writing style -- that all adds up to entertaining, informative food blogging that I highly recommend.
So for n.o.e. to recognize my blog -- it's like Michael Jordan saying, "Nice shot."
Now I get to pass the joy along to some of my other favorites. They represent a variety of personalities, but they are all consistently well written, vibrant, relevant, and often a little... well, twisted.
Carol's Essay Graveyard: Carol cracks me up. She's a long-time friend, former co-blogger (from the now-defunct Falafel Sex and Other Things Best Left Unsaid), and a very, very funny writer. She has a way of throwing back the curtain on stressful times to reveal the humor that's pulling the switches. (She's learning to cook, too. Her local fire department is staffing up for the occasion.)
Painting Chef: ALWAYS a great read. Susannah is wickedly funny but has been known to charge out of nowhere to play double-dutch with your heartstrings.
Ezra Pound Cake: This blog (along with n.o.e.'s) is one of my favorite of the Tuesdays with Dorie blogs. If you ever doubted that food is a running thread through life, here's your evidence.
Jon and MacDuff in Boston: I enjoy this blog because 1) Jon and MacDuff really LIVE, and I can enjoy the kinds of things they do without ever getting off the couch; 2) they obviously have a truly successful, well-rounded relationship; and 3) we have the same dog. (My Jack is pictured here; their Dixie is pictured here. I'm linking rather than posting the picture because A. I don't like posting other people's work; and 2. I want you to read MacDuff's post about Dixie. You'll want to immediately go out and adopt a rescued dog.)
The Barefoot Kitchen Witch: Sure, the writing is fantastic, the stories are endearing, the kids are adorable -- Jayne nails all of the expected stuff. But the PHOTOS... the photos are superlative.
Ugly Food for an Ugly Dude: Mike is a funny guy who knows how turn a phrase. And he bakes. He's a keeper
Monday, September 8, 2008
Since you asked, though (and you'll be kind enough to pretend you did ask), I'll share travel stories.
This week, I'm back in Denver. I get to come to Denver a few times each year because my primary client is based here, so many meetings occur in lovely downtown. I love this city -- and the weather here, especially in the summer, when Arkansas is so miserably humid -- so I don't mind these trips at all. (Last year, I was able to tack a few extra days onto a business trip so I could fulfill a long-standing aspiration and go skiing.)
While in Denver, I usually stay at the Magnolia, a boutique hotel that holds a special place in my heart because of the wonderful Harry's Bar and because they have a milk and cookies happy hour every night.
This time, though, we're staying at The Curtis. (Not my doing, but probably for the best, since my last trip to Denver may have involved a little too much bourbon sampling, possibly resulting in an episode of eavesdropping as an aging bar lech tried to pick up a naive conventioneer, followed by the unsolicited declaration that he was full of shit, which doomed his chances of scoring. But that's another post.)
I knew I was in for a different lodging experience when the cab let me out at the curb in front of the hotel, right next to the sandwich-board sign that marked the valet parking stand. It read, "Dude! Where's my car?"
In the entry way, the words "Stay Happy" are spelled out in a rotating light pattern on the floor. Instead of a gift shop, there's a small section off the registration desk that sells retro toys, including the robot from "Lost in Space."
All of the guest room floors have a theme. My room is on the 13th floor (yes, there is one), and the theme is horror movies. When the elevator stops, the intercom plays a recording of Jack Nicholson saying, "Here's Johnny!" The doors open to a cutout of Nosferatu. A hallway mirror is etched with "We have traced the call. It's coming from inside the hotel."
Inside my room, the desk has a framed picture of an arched, hissing black cat.
There's a Dudley Do-Right Bobblehead in the bathroom. Still trying to figure out the horror film connection with this one.
The water (the kind you have to pay $X.XX for if you drink it) is in a flask-shaped bottle with risque-looking demons called "Liquid Salvation Ultra-Hydrating Water." I'm a little scared to try it, but how can I NOT?
The alarm clock is a convertible Volkswagon. (Duckie, my traveling companion, is quite enjoying himself.)
My favorite detail, though, is the "Do Not Disturb" sign":
So now I'm off to bed in my kitschy room on the Horror Movie Floor of the Stoner Hotel. More later -- including details of an award graciously bestowed by one of my favorite foodie bloggers (thanks, n.o.e.!!) and more lame excuses about how upcoming travel will make it hard to keep my baking commitments.
But first... I have some alcohol to metabolize.
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
This week's TWD task, selected by Stefany at Proceed With Caution, is Chunky Peanut Butter and Oatmeal Chocolate Chipsters. I opted out of this one. The planets just weren't lined up right -- I was traveling the week before and the thought of baking cookies didn't motivate me out of my "thank God I'm finally home" lethargy.
So instead -- random travel notes!
I landed in Minneapolis on Sunday at a very-respectable 4:00 pm, plenty of time to drive from the airport to my downtown hotel, get checked in, and maybe even take a nap before my 7:00 dinner engagement. I picked up my rental car, programmed the hotel's address into the GPS, and blithely drove toward the tall buildings, following the directions so kindly provided by the lovely woman in the Garmin.
"Exit to the right. Drive three miles." I exited to the right and drove three miles.
"Enter the highway in one point three miles." I entered the highway in one point three miles.
"Exit to the right onto 35W." I exited to the right onto 35W.
"Drive two hundred twenty miles."
Now... I had never been to Minneapolis before. But I was pretty sure that you should be able to get from the airport to downtown without going through Des Moines.
An hour and a half later, I got it all figured out and checked into my hotel.
Minneapolis is a very, very pretty city -- lots of trees in the downtown area. On the way to dinner, I asked my friend a question I ask wherever I go: "What is the local cuisine here?"
She thought about it for a second or two, then said, "Anything on a stick."
After a Monday full of meetings in Minneapolis, I caught a late flight to Detroit. In case you ever wondered what second-string NASCAR drivers do for a living when they can't race anymore -- I'm pretty sure they're driving the Hertz shuttles at 1:30 in the morning at DTW.
Friday afternoon, I was finally able to make my way home. I arrived back at DTW in time to get a late lunch before flying south -- and indulged in some iPhone photography (a neglected art).
I ate at a sushi bar in the Northwest terminal. My expectations for airport sushi were pretty low, granted -- but if your sushi is served within ten minutes of ordering it, be very, very scared.
I learned a valuable lesson about unfiltered sake on this trip. When this bottle arrived, I thought how odd it was that it was clear. I verified that it was, indeed, unfiltered, and drank it. As I got to the bottom of the bottle, the liquid I poured into the little sake cup turned milky. All of the sediment was at the bottom. It was ... something less than pleasant.
I've been spoiled. Every time I've been served unfiltered sake before, the servers have shaken the bottle up before turning it over to me. I didn't know to shake it myself. I felt like George HW Bush trying to use the scanner in the grocery store.
The other amusing thing about my airport sushi experience is that several giggling Japanese tourists stopped to take pictures of each other in front of the restaurant sign. I suspect that the Japanese version may not have been an accurate translation.
There are two things about the Northwest terminal at DTW that fascinate me. One is this really cool fountain they have at the intersection of the concourses. The picture I took sucks, so I won't post it here -- but I found a video on YouTube:
The other thing is the tunnel you have to go through to get to Concourse C. It is wide, with a low ceiling -- and a laser light show to rival anything you've ever seen set to Pink Floyd music.
If I were a stoner, I would be simultaneously thrilled and terrified by this.
(Good thing I'm not a stoner, right, Mom?)
Next week: Denver. (The Denver trip was supposed to be last week, but there was some trouble getting hotel rooms. Some big meeting or another was going on. Probably Shriners.)
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
If you want to make this dessert, block off an entire afternoon and purchase the Season 1 DVD's of The Office. There's very little mixing involved, relatively speaking, but a lot of waiting around.
Here are the recipe Cliffs' Notes:
Mix, pour, wait. Spread, wait. Pour, wait. Spread. Curse because you didn't wait long enough and the chocolate isn't fully set (which is what caused the wave in the middle chocolate layer). Wait. Pour. Stick the thing in the back of the freezer for four hours (which is just fine because by now you're sick to death of it).
There you have it. Piece o' cake. Frozen cake.
This is a nice, elegant dessert, but I had a hell of a time serving it. Cutting a pretty slice was impossible. Cutting ANY slice was almost impossible -- mine was pretty hard (I had banished it to the freezer overnight.) I am convinced that the torte picture in the book was made in a special slice-shaped springform pan. I want one of those pans.
The Saint (my mom), who was the end-user of the torte, said it was a little easier after letting it sit out for a while, but then the chocolate layer slid around a bit.
To answer the question I know that someone will ask -- the Saint got the torte because
(I don't know how the Golden Child feels about this dessert. And it really doesn't matter -- but he wants me to mention him in every post possible, so here he is. The Chocolate-Banded Ice Cream Torte, guest-starring the Golden Child.)
Friday, August 22, 2008
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Or, "How Many Times Is She Going to Use That Picture in One Blog?!"
Sue me. I think it's cute.
BONUS: And then there's this ad that was on Facebook today:
Reading is fundamental. Apparently, to the exclusion of spelling.
Special thanks to MacDuff for turning me on to the new poster toy (she credits Clara).
Monday, August 18, 2008
I made the granola grabbers, selected as this week's Tuesdays With Dorie task by Michelle of Bad Girl Baking. I've never tried a cookie recipe that had this much STUFF in it. The Golden Spouse called them "Power Cookies."
They were pretty good right out of the oven -- if you like the texture of oatmeal cookies. I do -- but I know lots of
And in spite of my VERY careful measuring, I only got 38 cookies out of the batch (instead of 40). I have no idea what I did wrong. The batch of dough came in at a convenient 40 ounces; I measured out 1 ounce cookies; I got 38 cookies. No idea where the extra dough went. (Oh wait... surely I didn't nibble away two cookies' worth of dough....)
I doubt that I'll make these again. It was a decent cookie, but not a mind-blowing, knock-your-socks-off, grab-the-headboard kind of cookie. If I'm going to bake, I want the earth to move - else what's a heaven for?
Next week: Chocolate Banded Ice Cream Torte. I'll let you in on a little secret: I made this one this past weekend, too. I'm going to be out of town next week and didn't want to miss an assignment.
That means that I had to make it before getting the usual P & Q hints from my fellow bakers -- and I rely heavily on those. (If anyone can tell me how to easily cut and serve this &^%$ dessert, I'll be forever grateful. I tried the hot knife trick -- FAIL.)
Saturday, August 16, 2008
I am painfully fashion-challenged, and I hate shopping. (Seriously -- if I have to go to a store to buy clothes, the Golden Spouse has to go with me so he can pick things out and hand them to me. Otherwise, I come perilously close to panic attacks.)
But I have also progressed professionally to the point where I can no longer get away with my standard wardrobe of linen pants, knit top, and Lands' End comfort mocs. (I call the look "slovenly-cute." GS thinks the "cute" part is a stretch.)
I'm getting better, but I have a real blind spot when it comes to shoes (as evidenced by the comfort mocs). That's where YOU come in.
I need a good pair of professional-looking shoes to wear with slacks. Tell me what to buy.
Of course it's not that simple. Here are the caveats:
- Must be comfortable -- I travel a lot, so I need shoes that I can wear when I get on the 6:00 am flight that don't make me want to kill people when my day ends at 9:00 pm.
- Must be versatile -- I don't think I'll ever be the 100-pairs-of-shoes gal. I need to be able to wear them with multiple outfits across as many seasons as possible.
- Can't have heels that are too high -- in my bare feet, I am 6' tall. (No, I don't play basketball.) My primary client is 5'2". I don't want to tower over people any more than I already do. And the likelihood that I fall on my ass increases exponentially with the height of my heel because I am a huge klutz (which is why I don't play basketball).
Think this through carefully, because your next assignment will be tougher. Oh, and I need to know SOON... got a flurry of trips coming up. So hop to it.
Thank you for your support.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
So for Gina -- I'm re-running a post I put up on a previous blog after taking my own baby boy to college for the first time (shut up, I was a child bride).
I hope it brings a smile.
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
Do You CUT the Umbilical Cord, or Carve It Away Slowly?I hit a profound turning point in my life a couple of weeks ago. I delivered my baby boy (the Golden Child) to Indiana University to begin his freshman year. (It was probably a huge turning point for him, too, but this is all about ME.)
The actual day of the move was well-organized on the part of the school, given that 35,000 students were moving in at the same time, but it was hectic nonetheless. I had tried to structure the day so that we would have some quiet time at the end before I left him, but I underestimated the number of MEETINGS he'd have to attend well into the evening.
This was probably for the best -- I had been dreading the painful good-bye, anticipating another cut of a metaphoric umbilical chord, this time sans anesthesia.
The dramatic parting didn't happen -- we ran out of time. GC walked me to the car, obviously anxious about being late to his next meeting and eager to get there. He hugged me, gave a little wave, and headed off.
It wasn't at all satisfying. Here was this monumental moment, passing with just a squeeze and a wave.
"Bye, Punkin!" I called after him.
"Bye, Mom," he replied with impatient affection, still walking away.
"I love you!"
"I love you, too, Mom."
One more turn of the sidewalk and he'd be out of sight. I was desperate for adequate closure.
"DON'T DO DRUGS!"
And he was gone.
At first, I found "good" reasons to call him often. I called him to let him know I was headed to the airport to fly home. I called him to let him know I made it home safely. I called him to make sure he had gotten everything unpacked and to see if he needed anything else. I called him to let him know the Season 2 "Lost" DVDs would be out on Sept. 5. And that was the first two days.
I was shocked out of my hovering ways on Day Three by a stunning realization: almost overnight, GC had become a Mumbler.
We managed to get all the way through his high school years without seeing the symptoms. Before getting off the phone with him, I would always say, "I love you." He would always say back, clear as day, "I love you, too, Mom." Regardless of who was with him.
Three days into his college career, that response became, "loveyoutoomombye."
Since then, I have resisted the urge to call every day, every hour, and it's been very, very hard. He's my child -- when he's not WITH ME, he's IN DANGER. He's going to be faced with new challenges and new decisions, and he can't possibly manage without the benefit of my experience and wisdom.
But I couldn't keep calling. No, that would be intrusive. So I hacked into his computer account at the university.
I just wanted to make sure his meal points had been posted!! Really!! After all, he was going to have to figure out how get his own meals, it was going to be hard enough for him without the added burden of having to straighten out an accounting error with the Bursar's office.
Not only had the points been posted appropriately -- he had already purchased food. He was eating at college without my help. A few days later, the knife in my heart got an additional twist: he had used his campus access card with its associated funds to do laundry. LAUNDRY!! BY HIMSELF!!
I was devastated. First, the Mumbler appeared; now, this. It was almost too much to bear.
After holding out for five whole days (a perfectly respectable phone hiatus), I called on the weekend to see how his first full week of classes had gone. He mentioned in passing that he had injured his wrist.
"What happened?!" I asked.
"I was playing soccer and tripped on the ball. I landed on my wrist wrong."
I was appalled. "Punkin!!!"
"It's okay, Mom. It doesn't hurt as much anymore, and most of the swelling has gone down."
"You played SOCCER???!!!"
Every day, someone asks how GC is doing at college. I force a smile and say, "He's doing really well." That INGRATE.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
This week's recipe was selected by Dolores of Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity: Blueberry Sour Ice Cream.
When I first read the name of the recipe, I fixated on the "blueberry sour" part to the exclusion of the "ice cream" part and then totally dropped the context of baking. "WOOHOO!" I thought. "I love WHISKEY sours. BLUEBERRY sours must ROCK!! I wonder what the liquor is... blueberry vodka?"
Like many other TWD'ers, I have never made ice cream with sour cream before. And like many other TWD'ers, I found the sour cream flavor to be pretty strong. UNlike other TWD'ers, I LIKED it that way.
And so easy... as I watched the lovely pink-purple mix swirling around the ice cream maker, I started to panic. I still had to blog... but nothing had gone wrong. No missed ingredients. No failed flames. No evidence of ineptitude whatsoever.
How could I blog without stories of averted disaster? It's like Mario Batali without the orange clogs! Julia Child without the drinking! Emeril without a list of 10,000 ingredients!
I stared. I fretted. I whimpered. And while I worried, I left it in the ice cream maker too long.
Failure at last! What a relief.
Do you remember astronaut ice cream? It was quite the fad when I was a kid (granted, I was a military brat, which sort of skews the repertoire of childhood experiences). Freeze dried ice cream -- that's what my blueberry sour ice cream reminded me of.
Fortunately, the texture improved as it melted. And the taste, as I mentioned before, was lovely. The sour cream added a flavor that wasn't really "sour" but softened the sweet edge a bit. (Maybe a TAD less sour cream would be appropriate -- it did sort of overpower the blueberries.)
Next week: Granola Grabbers, selected by Michelle at Bad Girl Baking.
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
So my TWD post this week is going to have to be a quickie.
This week's task was Black and White Banana Loaf, selected by Ashlee at A Year in the Kitchen. In theory, this is a tidy, elegant, coffee-cake type loaf with a beautiful marbled presentation. In practice -- not so much.
My marbling totally failed.
Ashlee had the same issues I had, but she persevered. She adjusted the recipe a bit and tried again, with beautiful results. I, on the other hand, slammed the book shut, poured up a double bourbon on the rocks, and spent the next hour mumbling passive-aggressive epithets about how baking isn't real cooking anyway. (This may help explain many, if not all, of the dating traumas in my pre-married life. At the very least, it gives you a new appreciation for what the Golden Spouse must endure and what a kindly soul he must be.)
Thanks to Ashlee, I know what to do differently with the next
Honestly, though, I don't know that there will be a next loaf. I just wasn't that wild about it. Part of it is the chocolate thing (I don't like chocolate desserts), part of it was the texture (like a wet sponge). But the Golden Spouse said it best when he described it as a "dessert with an identity crisis" -- it didn't know whether it was a banana dessert with a complement of chocolate, or vice versa. It didn't balance well.
I bet Ashlee's balances well. I'm sure Ashlee's loaf is perfect. It's the Homecoming Queen of Black and White Loaves. Mine was the flute player loaf in the marching band who is also on the newspaper staff and in the math club, but is really a great loaf if you just take the time to get to know it.
Two side notes: There was one deviation from the recipe, of course. I didn't have dark rum -- so I added some molasses to gold rum and used that instead. It was fine. It is also now moot, since omitting the rum was one of the changes Ashlee made to her perfect loaf.
Second -- a lot of bloggers have lessened (or even eliminated) the nutmeg. I am horrified by this. I could never endorse such a practice. I love fresh nutmeg.
BONUS!! As promised, I did go back and try the Summer Fruit Galette, using Farmer's Market peaches, and it really was delicious. The custard makes all the difference in the world. For the jam layer, I used a fig spread that I made with figs from my very own tree, and the flavors paired beautifully.
My crust dough was a bit too wet, though, so folding the edges over was a gooey mess. I will definitely do this one again (but with drier dough next time). And Dorie's pie crust recipe continues to be a huge hit with the GS.
Next week: Dolores of Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity has selected Blueberry Sour Ice Cream. YAYAYAY!!!!! Too bad blueberry season has passed here... the first picking was amazing.
Saturday, August 2, 2008
I recently attended a workshop on bicycle commuting. Lots of great stuff, but I didn't get the one piece of information I need before I take the plunge -- how to get over the fear of being mangled in traffic.
I wonder how expensive gas has to be in order to outweigh my fear of death?
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
I really intended to do the Summer Fruit Galette TWD assignment this week (selected by Michelle in Colorado Springs). Honestly, I did. Not like last week, when I pretended to be disappointed that my social schedule and rhubarbaphobia kept me on the sidelines.
As soon as I saw galettes described as "rustic," I was committed. In my mind, when you call something "rustic," you may as well be saying, "If it's tidy, you're doing it wrong." In other words -- my kind of activity.
But then a large box of tomatoes appeared on my carport courtesy of the Saint (aka Mom) that had to be canned. So by mid-afternoon Saturday, I had exhausted my culinary attention span (but I had 8 1/2 quarts of tomatoes to show for it).
Oh, the carnage... after all the peeling and smushing required to prepare the tomatoes, my kitchen looked like the beach from the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan.
Also, the Golden Spouse got me a "Studio in a Box" set, complete with halogen lights and backdrops, so I can get sucked further into the seedy world of food porn.
I call this shot "Tomatoes Noir." All I need is Fred McMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, and an ankle bracelet to complete the recipe for a dark vegetable narrative to make even Michael Pollan shiver.
After losing my Saturday to canning tomatoes and drying figs (that's another post altogether), the galette was postponed to Sunday. "I have all the stuff," I reasoned. "I'll just go for a nice bike ride in the morning, which will give me the energy to bake in the afternoon."
But the "nice bike ride" ended up being 17 miles in 95 degree heat and included this:
Sunday afternoon became all about lying on the couch, whimpering.
This weekend, I shall attempt to execute a flawless TWD double forward flip and produce not only the Summer Fruit Galette, but also next week's Black and White Banana Loaf. Here's hoping I can stick the landing.
(Okay, so the dog had nothing to do with it. But isn't he cute?)
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Ahhh, rhubarb... how very southern. Rhubarb pie... rhubarb jam... frost on the rhubarb... how could any self-respecting Suth'n girl pass this one up?
By having an weekend that's already filled up with an overnight retreat, an art opening, and a cocktail party. That's how.
So yes, I bailed on the TWD assignment this week. In the interest of full disclosure, I wasn't looking forward to it and may not have attempted it anyway, even if there had been time. I'm just oddly intimidated by rhubarb. I've never tasted it -- but I can't get past the fact that it looks like red celery.
So instead -- I'll respond to my very first meme!
MacDuff of Jon and MacDuff in Boston tagged me last week. I immediately went out and bought a whole new wardrobe, because this clearly elevates my status in the blog world, and my apparel must reflect this change. I now blog in satin jammies instead of flannel. I would personally thank MacDuff, but I'm now too cool to correspond.
(That was a joke -- in all honestly, MacDuff's was one of the few TWD blogs for which I set up an RSS feed, even before I was tagged. It is consistently a real pleasure to read.)
Here are the rules. For those who have been following my TWD mishaps, you'll be relieved to know that I didn't follow these instructions to the letter, either.
1. Link to the person who "tagged" you. (see above)
2. Post the rules on your blog. (see..well, right here)
3. Write six random things about yourself. (see below)
4. Tag six people at the end of your post. (see note)
5. Let each person know that they've been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog. (see note)
6. Let the tagger know your entry is up. (will do as soon as this is posted. really)
NOTE: I have learned over the years to totally embrace my neuroses. It has served me better (and with fewer pharmaceuticals) than trying to actually fix them. One such neurosis is my pathological avoidance of "imposing" on other people -- which pairs well with the equally pathological perception that everything I do is an imposition. That's why I didn't tag anyone else. No, it doesn't make any sense, since I don't feel like my own tagging was an imposition, but that's another neurosis altogether. And if I carry this part of the post any further, I'm going to have to pay each of you the going hourly rate for therapy, so let's just move on.
The Six Random Things:
- Every morning, I wake up with a random song in my head (this morning, it was Sting's "When You Love Someone, Set Them Free;" yesterday, it was Dusty Springfield's "Son of a Preacher Man"). It's only been in the past year or so that I've started to realize that it doesn't happen to everyone.
- For my son's (the Golden Child's) eighteenth birthday, I took him to get a tattoo. He got the mitsudomoe (please don't make me define it, it was hard enough to spell it right) on his back between his shoulder blades. At the same time, I got two small Kanji characters on my left wrist that mean "pumpkin," which is what I called GC when he was a baby (and still).
- If anything should ever happen to the Golden Spouse, I will become the Crazy Cat Lady of the neighborhood in two weeks flat. (For the record, though -- he brought home a rescued goldfish.)
- The only reason I haven't used my Nintendo Wii Fit board in six weeks is that I know it will scold me for my absence, and I'm not emotionally prepared for that.
- I travel with a small yellow rubber duck. I have pictures of him in lots of places, including Winter Park, CO, and Alcatraz.
- I don't know how to make pictures appear side-by-side in blogger.
I know that my #6 is cheating, but considering how much I revealed in the note above, I figured you'd be looking for a respite.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
In Which Chocolate is Melted, Divorce is Threatened, and I Ask My Dog How Many Fingers I'm Holding Up (TWD)
This week's Tuesdays With Dorie assignment is chocolate pudding. I don't really like chocolate desserts (please don't send me to Gitmo), but the Golden Spouse does, so this effort was really for him. It's a good thing, too -- he spent a good chunk of time cleaning the kitchen and threatened me with divorce if I didn't leave it exactly as I had found it. Distracting him with some chocolatey mouthjoy might make him overlook my half-assed counter-wiping.
I wish I had read the other bloggers' comments before getting started. If I had, I would have been prepared for the fact that my food processor isn't big enough to mix as much liquid as we had to deal with. I poured the mix in, switched it on, then turned back to the stove to check on the melting chocolate.
When the frothy liquid started leaking out and dripping off the counter, ever-alert Jack the Beaglador was there to lick it up.
I panicked a little bit. Chocolate is toxic to dogs. Sure, the mix didn't have a lot of chocolate in it at that point, and it was just cocoa powder, but I have no idea how much chocolate was too much. I got down in Jack's face, staring intently for any evidence that he was losing consciousness. I even waved my hand in front of his eyes: "How many fingers am I holding up?"
He looked at me like I had lost my mind, then went to lie down on his bed. (Here he is, with a newly-nicked houseshoe. SEE what I have to deal with?! Is it any wonder he's an undisciplined mess? How can you scold THIS FACE??!!)
The other problem I caused for myself was in the heating of the liquid once it was mixed. You're supposed to stir it constantly over medium heat while it thickened -- so I did. But it never got any thicker, and I certainly didn't see the little bubbles popping on the surface.
It turns out that I left out the "medium heat" part. I thought I was turning off the flame under the double boiler in which the chocolate was melting, but it was still on. Ergo...
Once I turned the heat back on under the pudding, it thickened and bubbled up nicely.
(Did I mention that I had to use semi-sweet chocolate instead of bittersweet? Yeah. I did. Because I can never seem to do anything the conventional way, at least not on the first try. Relax, I reduced the sugar and it was fine.)
I'd have to say that the end result was a resounding success -- I guess. I don't really like ...well, you know. GS loved it (and Jack wanted more).
I don't think it will make it to the menu for the Groggy Dog, though. This may be blasphemous to say -- but it was a lot of effort for very little payoff (i.e., not that much better than recipes that leave fewer implements to clean).
Forgot this part: This week's recipe was selected by Melissa of It's Melissa's Kitchen - check it out, she figured out how to make the pudding look pretty!
Next week: Cherry Rhubarb Cobbler.
Monday, July 14, 2008
His favorite attention-seeking behavior is to steal things (i.e., socks, slippers, the remote control). Even when he's in a different room, we can always tell when he has something he knows he shouldn't -- he prances.
It's just so hard to be stern with him when he looks like this.
Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
Thursday, July 10, 2008
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
This week's recipe, selected by Amy of South in Your Mouth, was the double-crusted blueberry pie. I now love Amy. Amy is my new best friend, except without the regular communication, hanging out, knowing-each-others-last-names part of it.
I love pies -- I'm a Suth'n Gal, too, after all -- but I have a love-hate relationship with pie crusts. Specifically, I love Pillsbury and hate making them myself. The day Pillsbury started packaging their All-Ready Pie Crusts in rolls instead of folds -- I admit it, I cried. I'm not proud. It made it easier to pass the crusts off as homemade when I didn't have to explain the crease in the middle.
But I wasn't about to cheat in my TWD participation. Of course not! At least, not in Week Two! So I took on the crust, too.
Good Lord... the butter... I could have sculpted the Pieta with the amount of butter this recipe called for. But it rolled out like satin and tasted like cookie dough, so Dorie must be on to something.
In fact, after I assembled the pie and loaded it up into the oven, I decided to see just how similar to cookie dough it was.
As you may recall, my first TWD experiment (way back in the... well, last week) almost ended tragically when butter dripped from the lip-less pan onto the floor of my oven (okay, so it wasn't all that hazardous, it could have been). Having learned from that experience, not only did I put the pie on its own cookie sheet before sliding it into the oven, I put a bigger sheet on the lower rack just in case the blueberry juice got out of control.
After that, it made perfect sense to me (given the length of my attention span) to form the crust scraps into little disks, sprinkle them with cinnamon and sugar, and slip them onto that extra baking sheet to test the cookie theory.
You're all much more alert than I am, so you've undoubtedly already caught on to the flaw in this plan. As the "cookies" heated up, the butter seeped out.... the cookie sheet (same one as before) had no lip... yadda yadda yadda.
Fortunately, I caught on before the butter trickled off the pan, making me the next Darwin Award nominee.
Just LOOK at that crust. You can see the bits of butter.
Forty-five minutes later (I didn't need the entire hour the recipe recommended), I pulled the finished pie out of the oven and left it to cool. After the recommended thirty minutes, the pan still felt warm. Even after an hour, it was warmer than I would like, but darn it, I wanted some PIE.
The Golden Spouse came out of his Man Cave long enough to get the first piece, then quickly retreated lest he miss the shortstop spitting or the second baseman denying rumors of infidelity. He came back even before I got the second piece out -- to tell me how wonderful the crust was.
If GS is willing to separate himself from the Yankees-Red Sox game when they were tied 4 - 4 and about to head into extra innings just to tell me how much he likes the crust -- that's got to be a pretty special crust.
And it was. I'll never go back to Pillsbury. I've already broken up with them on their MySpace page -- I'm THAT serious.
The main thing I learned from this assignment was that nifty trick of adding a layer of breadcrumbs before pouring in the filling in order to keep the bottom crust from getting soggy. Several comments on the main site talked about substituting a sweeter crumbled cracker or cookie -- that made sense to me, especially since the only breadcrumbs I had were seasoned, so I added a layer of brown sugar instead.
Yep. You read that right. In my continuing subconscious effort to maintain my reputation as inept but enthusiastic, I layered brown sugar instead of the graham cracker crumbs I thought I was using. (They are both stored in vacuum-sealed mason jars. They look a lot alike. I was tired. There were shiny things off to the left.)
Fortunately, I discovered the mistake before pouring in the blueberries, so I was able to dump most of it out and get the layer of graham cracker crumbs in place. So there.
This pie is as tasty as it looks. It's quite a testament to Dorie's recipes that even *I* could pull this off.
I think this recipe would make it onto the menu of the Groggy Dog -- but we'll leave the pie crust cookies off.
Next week: Chocolate pudding!