Lately whenever Julia's mad at Alex she'll holler at him "YOU'RE FIRED!"
I take all these pictures, sometimes with the intent to write up some sort of accompanying post, and then it's tomorrow and I make a batch of bread or cheese or something (both of which I did yesterday, but I'll write them up after I sort through all THOSE pictures), and the more interesting (to me) stuff gets the post.
So I've got pictures here and there that are feeling kind of left out and neglected (okay, not really), that I'm just going to post and write a little blurb about and then move on.
First up, I believe that somewhere along the lines I mentioned that Alex had invented a sandwich - Lettuce and Jam. And it wasn't a fluke - he's had it on more than one occasion. And here's a picture. Lettuce, by the way, is from the garden.
After I took the picture, I covered the remaining jam (strawberry) with some more lettuce, just so there would be both the sweet jamminess and the slightly crunchiness in every bite.
Remember when I made that herbed ravioli? Well, I had more dough than filling, so with the rest of the dough, the next morning, Julia and I made fettuccini. Or linguine. One of those flat long pastas. And I hung every strand to dry...
Two weeks ago Julia and I brought Bill and Alex along to the Farmers' Market. I got some of my (now) usual things, like fresh strawberries and eggs...
I also picked up a couple of bunches of baby turnips.
We also got a few perennials for the front garden, including a really pretty light blue columbine
and lemon thyme, which is not going in the front garden, it's going in a pot in the back yard.
His name is Herb.
But THE coolest find of the day was Bill's. He wanted something decorate (and non-floral) for the front garden. It's got the sunken boat, and he put in stepping stones, but he wanted something else, like a little cement gargoyle or something. I suggested a birdbath. At least I think that idea was mine...anyway, here's what Bill found:
Isn't it cute? The base is a solid piece of rock, and the bowl is (I think) cement with little rocks mixed in. There were about 8-10 of these - all different sizes and shapes. Really cool. I'd love to have several of them, just because I'm nutty that way. It took a little figuring to get the base securely sunk in the dirt so that the bowl would sit nicely on top, (above is just a picture I took when we got it home and Bill was deciding where to put it) but that's all set now and we don't find it tipped over in the morning any more.
Last week I made a strawberry-rhubarb pie, and here it is. I didn't take process photos or anything. Just a shot of the finished product.
That same day, I also made a crust for a quiche that Bill was going to cook ON THE GRILL. I know quiche isn't all that manly and everything, but - if you cook it ON THE GRILL, then it BECOMES manly simply by virtue of being cooked over hot coals.
Here's the final product - oh, and by the way - YUMMY it was. Just some onions and herbs and cheese in it, but oh, boy was it yummy. Predictably, Alex only liked the crust, and Julia only liked the innards. Which works out nicely for everyone.
That's the quiche still sitting on the grill, but ready to come off.
And who, incidentally, is trying his Manly Manliest best not to smile.
Okay, that's it for the moment, I have to go check on the impromptu batch of ricotta I just made and see how it's draining.
Yeah - "impromptu batch of ricotta."
I'm telling you, it IS now a sickness.
And in this weather, a labor of love.
Talk to you later...
And that's a LOT shorter than the original title, which was "Lasagne of Homemade Ricotta, Homemade Mixed Greens Lasagne Noodles, and a Quick Homemade Tomato Sauce." The "mostly" refers to the mozzarella string cheese I used (hadn't made my OWN mozzarella at this point) on top of the lasagne.
This morning we were outside looking at all the gorgeous dew, left from the early morning fog and last night's rain. Simply beautiful.
I posted the story over on my little gardening site, because it seemed more appropriate over there. But then again, since it involved my son taking it upon himself to serve breakfast, which, you know, is more FOOD-oriented, then I figured I should mention it here, too.
Of course, the breakfast was served to a spider, so if you're at all squeamish about that, just look at all the dewdrop pictures above the jump. The dewdrops are nice and pretty and not at all creepy.
And that's my PSA for my arachnaphobic friends out there in blogland.
Earlier this week we went fishing off the rocks - the East Wall in Point Judith. Bill actually did most of the fishing, as it's a little dangerous for the kids to be reeling fish in and standing on the wet rocks while the waves crash against them. But the kids played on the sand and calmer water on the other side of the wall and occasionally Alex would get to reel in a fish part way, and then Bill would take over so the fish wouldn't smash and scrape against the rocks.
WOO HOOOO! I DID IT!
I told my sister yesterday that when I was done and all the mozzarella balls were formed (or eaten), I felt this urge to cry...it was similar to after both my kids were born, only without the pain. And, of course, not as wonderful and amazing as my children, flesh of my flesh, and so on.
It was the aftermath of success, of having made something myself, by my own hands. Tracey recently referenced a line from "Sunday in the Park with George" (yeah, I'm WAY off on a tangent), which, if you aren't familiar with it, is the fabulous musical by Stephen Sondheim revolving around a fictionalized version of the life of artist Georges Seurat, but also about the creative process and art and art vs profit and relationships and all sorts of stuff. Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters starred in it and the music sometimes plays in my head for days.
Particularly the song "Finishing the Hat," which is Georges'...explanation? description?...of, basically, what it's like to be an artist. Relationships fall by the wayside, life continues to go on outside, because you "have to finish the hat." And at the very end of the song, after all the pain and passion have subsided...he sings, softer......"Finishing the hat/Look, I made a hat!/....Where there never was a hat!"
And that's my incredibly long and way off topic (sort of) explanation of how I felt upon completion of my first batch of mozzarella.
Look - I made fresh cheese!
But before the success came the work, and while not difficult work, it was new work, and at times my cheesemaking rivaled Lucy Ricardo's chocolate factory assembly line experiences. Really. Well, okay, not exactly, I wasn't stuffing curds down my blouse or anything. But it was a bit of a comedy.
Okay, before I go and revisit my own ineptitude, I have to say, if you want to learn how to make cheese, your first stop should really be at the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company, owned and run and taught (yes, workshops and DVDs) by Ricki Carroll, aka "The Cheese Queen." I read about Ricki in Barbara Kingsolver's book "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle," which I talked about a bit here, and I basically knew I had to give it all a try. I ordered the "Ricotta and Mozzarella" kit, and in the meantime I made my first batch of ricotta. I also bought Ricki Carroll's book "Home Cheesemaking" and have pretty much destroyed the pages with all my drooling. I've asked Bill to build me a cheese press...all I'll need now are the cows and goats and sheep to milk and I'll be SET.
Again, I babble.
Okay, I got my kit and I got my book and I got whole, pasteurized, locally produced milk. I had my stainless steel equipment and thermometer and a bowl. I was ready.
And also, weirdly, I was sort of nervous. I don't know why. I usually attack this sort of thing fearlessly. But for whatever reason, I was a little apprehensive.
And then I got annoyed with myself, squared my shoulders, tied on my apron, and got to work.
I used Ricki Carroll's "Thirty-Minute Mozzarella" recipe from her book, basically, but I didn't do it using the microwave (which is what makes it take only 30 minutes to make), because, I don't know, I felt like it was too easy that way.
So here's what I did.
First, I got out everything I'd need (or so I thought).
Following Ricki's recipe, here are the ingredients:
1 1/2 level teaspoons citric acid dissolved in 1/2 cup cool water
1 gallon pasteurized whole milk
1/8-1/4 teaspoon lipase powder (I didn't use any for this first batch)
1/4 teaspoon liquid rennet (or 1/4 rennet tablet) diluted in 1/4 cup cool, unchlorinated water
1 teaspoon cheese salt (optional) - (I didn't use this either - I ended up following the non-microwave directions, which included adding 1/4 cup cheese salt to the hot whey...but I'm getting ahead of myself.)
Okay, here we go...
1. While stirring, add the citiric acid solution to the milk at 55 degrees F and mix thoroughly. (If using lipase, add it now.)
I started off by immediately screwing up. I put the milk in the pot and turned the heat on and walked away to read through the directions again. Okay, fine, I was reviewing directions, HOWEVER, milk heats up rather quickly, and I should have stayed right where I was, thermometer in hand, to wait for the milk to quickly reach that 55 degrees.
By the time the sluggish voice in my head woke up, rubbed its eyes, and remembered to remind me about that 55 degree temperature I was shooting for, the actual temperature of the milk was up to about 82 degrees. Oh GREAT! I've already ruined it!
I shut off the flame and moved the pot to a cold burner and started stirring like I was possessed, frantically trying to cool down the milk. Of course, that wasn't working all that well. Okay, think, Jayne...COLD WATER! THAT'S WHAT I NEED! I filled a big stainless steel bowl with cold water (our icemaker wasn't working, in case you were thinking, rightly, "icewater would be better") and set the pot down in it and continued to stir like a madwoman. The pot was also near an open window. I begged for strong breezes. I checked the temperature. Oooh, already down a whole degree. I'll get down to 55 by the weekend, probably. Damn the stupid not-working icemaker! I need ice! Stir stir stir stir. Another tenth of a degree.
Hey! I suddenly had a functioning brain again. We have freezer pack things to put in coolers and lunch bags! I can use them! I dug out all the frozen plastic things we had and set them below and around the pot in the bowl of water. Quite the assemblage, let me tell you. I stirred and stirred, and hoooooey! Eventually, like around two years later, I got down into the low seventies. You know that saying about a watched pot never boiling? Same thing applies to that pot never cooling.
This was taking way longer than thirty minutes. In fact, just my dumbass mistake and the attempt to fix it had already brought me past the thirty minute mark. I briefly thought of putting the pot in the fridge, but that would mean clearing space and that would take MORE time, and is it really, really, REALLY imperative that the dissolved citric acid go in at EXACTLY 55 degrees? I mean, you keep heating it up anyway, right? Check the temperature...ooh, it's 70 now. FINE. I'm just going to go ahead with it. If I screw it all up, so be it. Dammit. Dumbass.
So after the stirring of the milk and the berating of myself was over, I dried off the bottom of the pot and set it back on the burner. And, holding my breath, added the citric acid and stirred it in. The milk exploded all over the kitchen. Just kidding. Nothing happened. Nothing bad, anyway. Instead, happily, the milk started to coagulate in little tiny, wispy shreds. Exhale. Okay, now what?
2. Heat the milk to 90 degrees F over medium/low heat. (The milk will start to curdle.)
I can manage that, I think. Just don't walk away again!
3. Gently stir in the diluted rennet with an up-and-down motion, while heating the milk to between 100-105 degrees F. Turn off the heat. The curds should be pulling away from the sides of the pot; they are ready to scoop out (approximately 3 to 5 minutes for this).
Ack! What do I use to stir in an up and down motion? I forgot this part! I don't have the right equipment after all! I ended up using a large serving spoon and kind of pressing the milk up and down with the bowl of the spoon. I guess it worked - curds formed. I've got CURDS!
4. The curds will look like thick yogurt and have a bit of shine to them, and the whey will be clear. If the whey is still milky white, wait a few more minutes.
My whey looked pretty clear to me, but I waited a few minutes anyway, just to be sure.
5. Scoop out the curds with a slotted spoon and put into a 2-quart microwavable bowl. Press the curds gently with your hands, pouring off as much whey as possible. Reserve the whey.
Okay, I had looked in a couple of stores for a nice, wide, slotted stainless steel spoon or ladle that I could use for this part. I should have looked harder, but I thought I could make due with a sort of mesh strainer with a handle. It was flat, and looked basically like a spoon only with mesh instead of a solid or slotted bowl. It did come in handy, but not at this particular moment. I tried scooping out the curds with it, but since at this point there are big curds and small curds and tiny curds, the tiny ones clogged all the holes in the mesh and I ended up scooping lots of whey along with the curds. So my 2-quart bowl had a nice pile of curds surrounded by a moat of whey. Grrrr. I grabbed a slotted serving spoon from the drawer under the counter and used that for my scooping. It worked well, except it wasn't very big and all the scooping took me 4-EVAH.
And then there was the matter of all the tiny curds. I was bound and determined that I would harvest ALL the curds, every last one of them, in order to get the most mozzarella for my efforts. So I switched back to the mesh spoon and caught the fleeing curds like fish in a net. Only problem was, they got stuck in the mesh (yeah, like dolphins in a tuna net) and I had to bang the mesh spoon on my bowl to free them. I didn't break the bowl, but this really wasn't the best option.
Now, one of the important things when making cheese is CLEANLINESS. So with that uppermost in my fevered brain, I had laid out all my tools on clean paper towels prior to the start of my cheesefest. I planned to ONLY use these. Because I had washed and inspected them all and they were nice and clean.
But then there I was, banging a metal spoon on a glass bowl, just daring the bowl not to break and spill all my hard-earned curds on the floor. I glanced around the kitchen and AHA - I grabbed the bowl of my 6 quart KitchenAid mixer and a mesh strainer (deeper bowl than the spoon thing), set the strainer on the mixing bowl and yes, poured the pot of whey through the 5" diameter strainer to get those last stubborn little curds, dammit! Got 'em! And then I also strained the whey from the curds in my glass bowl. Amazingly, that part went fine.
And then I had to pour the whey from the mixing bowl back into the pot so that later on I could heat that up to heat up the curds so they'd be stretchy...that part comes later. So anyway, I've got the big 6 quart bowl of whey and I'm trying to pour the whey into the pot without spilling it. I didn't want the whey to drip down the edge of the bowl and drip onto the stove...so I tried to hold the bowl so the lip would be at one side of the pot and the rest of the bowl would be completely over the pot and there would be no spillage. I tilted the bowl and the whey rolled out in crashing waves, right over the side of the pot and into my mise en placed bowls of cheese salt, onto the counter, between the counter and the onto the floor. Great going, Jayne!
But at least most of the whey went back into the pot.
Okay...where was I?
6. Microwave the curds on high - No, wait, I'm not going that route. I have to read the section little blurb in the box to the left on that page....
"No microwave? If you don't have a microwave, you may want to put on heavy rubber gloves at this point. Heat the reserved whey to at least 175 degrees F. Add 1/4 cup of cheese salt to the whey. Shape the curd into one or more balls, put them in a ladle or strainer, and dip them into the hot whey for several seconds. Knead the curd with spoons between each dip and repeat this process several times until the curd is smooth and pliable."
Well, I don't have rubber gloves, but I do have "chef hands" - I can tolerate the heat a lot better than some people (like my husband, who was getting something off the stove the other day that was hot and I heard him hiss to himself "Ow...don't have chef hands!"), so I figured I could stand to handle the hot curds. I started heating up the whey and while it was heating, I formed some small balls with the curds and put them in another bowl. I had one pot of whey and three different glass bowls, a stainless steel mixing bowl, several spoons (slotted and non-slotted), two thermometers, two types of mesh strainers, and a ladle. I looked SO in control of things. But whatever. I soldiered on.
The whey was nice and hot, and I took one ball of curds, put it in the ladle, and lowered it into the pot for a couple of seconds. Then I poured the ball into an empty bowl and started to knead it. Now, I've kneaded bread and pasta doughs, but I could slam them on a floured countertop and somehow I didn't think that was appropriate for curds. So I just picked up the ball of warmed curds and started pressing it and smushing it in my hands. I don't know how to describe it, but I guess it was a kind of mini-kneading.
8. Knead quickly until it is smooth and elastic. When the cheese stretches like taffy, it is done. If the curds break instead of stretch, they are too cool and need to be reheated.
Still too curdy, so I put the ball back in the ladle, immersed it again, and worked it by hand again. Hm...it was starting to hold together better, and I could actually see little cheesy strands starting to form.
I WAS DOING IT!! Back into the hot whey once more...and this time part of it stuck - in a gooey, cheesy way!!! - to the ladle when I tipped it back into the bowl. This time, when I was kneading it, the whole cheese had been transformed from ricotta-like curds to elastic strands of - can it be??? - fresh mozzarella!
9. When the cheese is smooth and shiny, roll it into small balls and eat while warm. Or place them in a bowl of ice water for 1/2 hour to bring the inside temperature down rapidly; this will produce a consistent smooth texture throughout the cheese. Although best eaten fresh, if you must wait, cover and store in the refrigerator.
I continued to play with the stretchy, strandy, shiny, magical ball of mozzarella and hollered for my husband, who was practicing a self-arranged solo version of "Ave Maria" for a wedding he's playing this Saturday. Normally I don't interrupt him when he's practicing, but this was IMPORTANT!!! He didn't come a-running as quickly as I would have liked, but I guess he had to put the guitar down first so I wouldn't drip whey on it.
I tore that first ball in two and gave him half. Okay, the smaller half, but hey, I actually MADE the cheese, so I figured I'd earned the slightly bigger piece. And it was warm and soft and slightly chewy and slightly salty and definitely CHEESE. Bill looked at me, nodding. "It's the real deal." He said. "Good job." (That's his version of jumping up and down and squealing "EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!" about things.)
Bursting with a million emotions - joy and pride and, yeah, relief - I finished making the rest of my mozzarella balls - in various sizes.
Julia came into the kitchen at some point and had part of a ball - LOVED IT - and wanted more. We told her she had to wait til I was all done. Alex, expectedly, didn't want any. It's that white squishy cheese thing with him. But that's okay, I knew that ahead of time.
Everything within a 4 foot radius of that pot of whey was splashed with little droplets of whey. And later on, I noticed that tiny curds had stuck in and around and on my rings. My glasses were splashed and smeared, too. I was hot and sweaty and breathless and emotionally exhausted (okay, that's a slight exaggeration)...and I was exultant.
I did it!
And the best part is, I can't wait to do it again. This time, I'll know what I'm doing, and I'll be able to enjoy the process and maybe take more pictures. I didn't plan to take pictures with this first batch - I had planned to focus completely on the task at hand. Of course, that flew out the window when I heated my milk too fast at the very beginning, and I ended up taking a couple of pictures when I had a moment of down time. But there were other points that I wanted to take pictures, to give you a more step by step feel for it. So I'll do that when I make batch #2.
Yield: 3/4 - 1 pound
I couldn't get the exact yield of mine because the first two balls were eaten right away. But there was another ball about the same size as the two that were gone, so I weighed what I had and ballparked the actual weight of the whole batch. And it was half an ounce under a pound. So - not bad at all, I say.
Above - on the left - a ball of curds. On the right - two balls of mozzarella. By my own hands.
I know I sound like a lunatic, but really - this was so cool. I "get" the process now, the heating the curds so they are pliable, and working them until they become stretchy. I really can't wait to make some more. And then - so many possibilities! Grilled pizzas...salads of fresh tomatoes and mozzarella and basil drizzled with olive oil...mozzarella sticks for Julia to eat most of and the leave the last nub somewhere on a piece of furniture in a room other than the dining room...FRIED mozzarella!! Lasagne and manicotti and stuffed shells...and chicken or eggplant parmesan...or just - fresh cheese, still warm, eaten while standing by the stove.
You HAVE to try this, folks. Really. It is SO worth it.
And here - I just wanted to link again to this website - I'm not being paid to, but really, if you want to get started making cheese, go check it out.
New England Cheesemaking provides everything you need to make fresh, homemade cheese, they even have a 30 minute Mozzarella. From kits to recipes to books, store bought will never taste the same again.
(mice? no...that was my daughter)
A couple of days ago I wrote that I'd baked some bread and that Alex had pronounced it "gooder than sushi." Those of you who know of my just-turned-six-years-old son's absolute passion for raw fish will understand that he can bestow no greater compliment on a food and its cook. Holly, at Phe/MOM/enon asked if I was going to post the recipe, and so here it is - later than I'd planned, (sorry Holly!) but at least I'm only late by a couple of days.
This bread recipe is from Bernard Clayton's pheNOMenal tome Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads. If you don't have any bread-baking books, and you want an incredibly comprehensive one, then go get this one. NOW!
Okay, you have your copy now, right?
I wanted to just make a basic white bread. Mr. Clayton starts you off with a chapter called "The First Loaf," in which you are taken, step by step, through the production of your (ostensibly) very first loaf of yeasted bread. I've made that one before, and I wanted to try something different, so I picked the first recipe in his "White Breads" chapter - one called "Thirty-Minute White Bread."
The recipe makes 2 loaves (baked in 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" loaf pans) and I doubled the recipe and ended up making 3 good-sized loaves in 9" x 5" pans.
This bread is made a little differently than the usual mix, knead, let rise, punch down, shape, let rise, and bake routine. Mr. Clayton writes:
The panned dough for this light and airy loaf is placed in a cold oven, the heat is turned on for 60 seconds and turned off, and then the dough is allowed to rise for exactly 30 minutes (hence, the name) before the oven heat is turned on. The dough rises only once (in the pan) before it is baked.
KitchenAid home economists created this loaf to demonstrate the ease of kneading with a dough hook. It can be done by hand, of course.
So, without further babbling, here is Mr. Clayton's recipe and instructions from pgs 42-44 of his book, along with my photos, and my italicized notes in parentheses. I urge you to give this recipe a try, particularly if you've never baked bread before - it's pretty easy and the smell alone as the bread bakes will fill you with pride. And hunger pangs.
Oh, and keep in mind that when I made this, I doubled the recipe, so the photos won't exactly correspond with the amounts given below.
THIRTY-MINUTE WHITE BREAD
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening or butter
3 teaspoons salt
1 cup lukewarm water (105-115 F)
2 packages dry yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
6 to 7 cups bread or all-purpose flour, approximately
1 tablespoon butter, melted
Baking pans: 2 medium (8 1/2" x 4 1/2 ") loaf pans, greased or Teflon
By hand or mixer:
(I actually combined the water and milk and melted the butter in that, and then the sugar, and stirred it in my mixer bowl until it cooled down enough to add the yeast without killing it. I added the salt when I added the flour, once the yeast had bloomed.)
Stir in 2 cups flour and beat for 3 minutes at medium speed in an electric mixer or 150 short strokes with a wooden spoon. Gradually add 2 more cups flour, and continue beating for 3 minutes - or 150 strokes.
(Note: While the entire mixing and kneading operation can be done in the electric mixer, I like to judge the feel of the dough by hand before turning the job over to a dough hook.)
Turn off the mixer and add about 2 more cups flour. Work it in with a spoon, and when it becomes stiff, with your hands. When the dough has a rough form and is cleaning the sides of the mixing bowl, turne it out on the floured work surface.
(I apologize - I don't have kneading pictures for this batch, but if you want to see the series of me kneading by hand, left-handed, while I took pictures with my right hand, go here and scroll down a bit. It's a pasta dough, but still, kneading's kneading.)
Knead for about 8 minutes with a strong push-turn-fold motion. Occasionally throw the dough hard against the work surface (stimulates the gluten). Or replace the dough in the mixer bowl and put under the dough hook for an equal length of time.
Place 2 cups flour in the work bowl and then add the other ingredients, as above. Pulse several times to thoroughly mix. Remove the cover and add 2 more cups flour. Replace the cover and pulse to blend.
Add the remaining flour through the feed tube, pulsing after each addition, until the dough begins to form and is carried around the bowl by the force of the blade.
Turn on the machine to knead for 45 seconds.
Divide the dough in half, and shape the balls.
Let rest under a cloth for 5 minutes.
Form the loaves by pressing each (with your palm or rolling pin) into an oval, roughly the length of the baking pan. Fold the oval in half (I kind of rolled it into a football shape), pinch the seam tightly to seal, tuck under the ends, and place seam down in the pan.
Brush the loaves with the melted butter.
Place the pans in a cold oven and turn heat to 400 degrees F for 60 seconds--1 minute, no more. Turn it off!
400 degrees F
About 30 minutes later turn on the oven to 400 degrees F and bake for 45 minutes, or until the loaves are brown. When done, they will sound hollow when tapped on the bottom crust with the forefinger.
If the crust is soft, return to the oven, without the pans, for 10 minutes.
(If using a convection oven, reduce heat 50 degrees.)
Place the loaves on a rack to cool.
The bread is fine for sandwiches and toast. It also freezes very well.
And that's the recipe.
This is the first loaf I set out to cool, and that is Alex, blowing with all his lung power at the loaf to cool it down so I'll cut him a slice.
And here is Mata Julia,
...planning her trip into the kitchen to steal some bread whether I've decided to slice it or not. She's also "doing dishes" (that's her cover when she's a bread spy) which means I let her play with plastic containers in the sink and run the water for a little while and "wash" them.
But back to the bread.
This was incredibly easy and if you have any fear of yeast, first of all, you shouldn't, and second of all, making this recipe will change that for good.
That's my ringing endorsement right there.
Still not convinced?
Look at that face. Pure, unadulterated bliss.
And look here...
Pretty as a sunset. Now go make some bread.
So we had a hail storm yesterday.
We'd had kind of crazy weather all day - blue skies and puffy clouds one minute, dark gray clouds, pouring rain and sky to ground lightning the next. The national weather service (or whoever does this) even interrupted TV programming to run some severe weather warnings throughout the afternoon.
Initially the warnings were about the lightning in the area, but then around dinner time they mentioned the hail. Bill and I had been in the kitchen - he was making dinner and I was making the TWD Mixed Berry Crumble (see previous post) - when the latest warning came on, and we went downstairs to listen (we have one TV, and it's in the basement), and after hearing about possible hail, and just sort of shrugging it off, we went back up to the kitchen to see - yes - hail coming down.
So we called the kids, I got my camera, Bill got the DVD camera, and we hung out, mostly at the big front window, watching the spectacle.
It's good to do things as a family.
Now, you want to hear something funny?
Earlier in the day, I was looking through Deborah Madison's book Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America's Farmers' Markets. I just got the book, and I had a few minutes where I wasn't hearing "Mom!" "Mom?" "Mo-ommmmmmmmmm" "MOMMY!" every two and a half seconds, so I snuggled into the big tan chair in our living room while the rain poured and the thunder rumbled, and just started looking through the book. I read a paragraph here, a recipe there...and then along the way I read this:
A big bank of steel-gray clouds is moving swiftly toward town. Plses of lightning illuminate them, like luminarias. There is a low and continuous rumble of thunder, a wind is rising, and it looks as if all hell will break loose about the time the market is in full swing. But in the end the whole mass just blows over, dragging a blue sky behind it. Later that day, though, a storm does materialize, and it arrives with a volley of cracks that sound like gunshot. Outside hailstones as large as pullet eggs are bouncing off the roof. I run outdoors and gather a bowlful. They're oval shaped, having been spun through the clouds before slamming to earth. I have never seen hail so large or so perfectly formed....
I swear to you - I read that passage just a couple of hours before our hail fell. Isn't that weird?
Anyway, as our hail was coming down, I thought of what Ms. Madison had written, and dashed (yes, dashed, okay?) into the kitchen to get a bowl. Bill went outside to do the gathering.
Not the size of pullet eggs, but still, pretty impressive.
And so what do you do with all that hail?
You make drinks with it!
Bill's squeezing lime into a gin and tonic, mine has peachtree schnapps and fruit juice and a piece of our lawn floating just beneath the hail stones. The other glass off to the right belongs to one of the kids, and that had raspberry lemonade.
So there we were - the four of us - and our impromptu hailstone cocktail party. Dinner was forgotten, my crumble was still baking (fortunately we didn't lose power), as we hung out in the kitchen marveling at the weather.
We went outside - all of us, barefoot, to walk on the hail before it melted, and the kids gathered more of the little balls of ice in plastic cups so Daddy could make them some new drinks.
He also made another one for himself. This time he brought up (from the bar in our basement) some vodka and tomato juice, and he found the horseradish in the fridge...
And what do you think he made with that?
Are you sure you want to know?
I named it a "Hail Mary."
Nature sure is inspiring, huh?
This week's Tuesdays With Dorie recipe, the Mixed Berry Cobbler, was chosen by Beth of Our Sweet Life, and if you'd like to see the recipe, you can head on over there or - better yet - go buy Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours.
Anyway. I was really, really happy to see that this is the one Beth picked - perfectly summery and easy as anything to throw together. And yeah, I mean throw. It was probably the fastest dessert I've ever assembled, and the overall response in my home was "YUMMY!" (Except for Julia, of course, who only had ice cream because "I don't like pie any more.") My husband and son LOVED it, in fact I think my little boy ate more than I did. When he is enamored of something, you can't hold him back.
Like I said - the Mixed Berry Cobbler is perfectly summery, what with so many berries either in season now or on the horizon. We actually have a sour cherry tree in our yard (the cherries are sour; the tree seems pretty friendly) and my kids picked a lot of the ripe fruit on Monday
the birds have been picking plenty as well), and so I used those cherries - 3 cups - and rounded things out with two cups of frozen blueberries.
I had strawberries on hand as well, but Dorie's notes say those are a little too water for a crumble and to "go light" on them, so I just didn't use them at all.
I combined the berries with the sugar, cornstarch and lemon zest as directed...
and poured the mixture into the buttered pie plate.
I got my already-made topping out of the fridge and covered the berries with it...
and popped it in the oven.
An hour later, the crumble was golden brown on top, bubbling away, and smelled mouth-watering. In fact, it had smelled crazy good from about the half hour point on, and were it not for the surprise HAIL STORM we had, it would have been hard to do anything other than stand around in the kitchen inhaling the aroma of dessert as it baked.
We were eating dinner when I took the crumble out of the oven, which is good - the kids were distracted by other food and my lovely crumble could rest, undisturbed, for all of 27 minutes. Dorie recommends 30 minutes, but she hasn't encountered my son.
Anyway, I dished it up (quickly, as the natives were getting restless, and topped it with some strawberry ice cream.
Dorie recommends vanilla, but we had strawberry, and I figured the additional berry flavor would be acceptable. It certainly didn't overshadow the dark, tangy flavor of my sour cherry/blueberry combo.
I may have some for breakfast.
Anyway, if you haven't already, go see what all the other Tuesdays With Dorie folk served up!
I'm not the best housekeeper in the world (or on my block), but I do need certain items in my house to be in certain places in order to keep me mentally balanced. Or something.
My little laptop computer, which is where I do the bulk of my blogging and which holds my photos as I purge them from my camera, has been tucked away for the last week or so, while I've been using this table (this table, the one you can't see, but it's the work table in my kitchen where my laptop sits...it's the closest thing I've got to an office) to make pasta dough.
Well, I finally put all the pasta making stuff away and this morning plugged my laptop in, moved a TON of photo files onto my external hard drive (to make room for the ones stuck in my camera), and now I've got lots of space (relatively speaking) on the hard drive AND things are running a little more efficiently, a little more swiftly.
All of which makes me much more inclined to write. Yeah, sorry excuse. But I'm not the best excusemaker either.
So anyway, all that to just say, hi, I'm still here, and I'll be back to write after I offload all those pictures from my camera.
And, yes, I'll be posting my Tuesdays With Dorie pictures and write-up, too, but that will be this evening, as I haven't MADE the Mixed Berry Cobbler yet. It'll be for dessert tonight.
And that's all I have to say at the moment.
I baked some bread yesterday, and Alex was practically eating the handle off the oven door in his desperation to have some.
When the bread was finally cooled enough to cut into, I have him and Julia each a slice with a little butter, and they scurried into their little holes (just kidding) to eat it.
A little later, Alex came back to me, eyes wide, rubbing his belly. "Mom! I just loved that bread so much, I'm still hungry! Can I have another piece?"
And as I went back into the kitchen to cut him another slice, he told me
"That's the best bread you ever made! It's even gooder than sushi!"
And if you've read this blog for any length of time, or if you know my son, you will know that he could bestow no higher compliment on a food. Or the cook.
Gooder than sushi. I think, if I ever were to open a bakery or a restaurant, that's what I'd have to call the place.
YAY! I MADE MY FIRST CHEESE! WOO HOO! NOW I'M GOING TO BUY A LARGER PIECE OF LAND AND RAISE COWS AND GOATS AND SHEEP AND MAKE LOTS AND LOTS OF CHEESE!
Okay, yeah, I'm getting carried away. But still. I've never made cheese before - well, okay, I made yogurt cheese but that's basically just straining the liquid out of plain yogurt - I didn't have to COOK anything.
So anyway, I'm on a cheese kick now, so consider yourself warned. I've bought a book, I've ordered a kit, and next up will be fresh mozzarella, baby. ALL. SUMMER. LONG. And when the tomatoes start coming in? And basil? Layered with the FRESH MOZZARELLA THAT I WILL MAKE and drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with a bit of salt and pepper? OH, you will wish you were my neighbor.
Okay, I've calmed down now.
I've seen other food bloggers mention making their own ricotta and how easy it is, so I finally decided to pick out a recipe and go for it. I used this recipe for this batch, and I'll probably try others here and there.
It was pretty easy, and cool, and fun, and if you're at all inclined, and interested, and if you like Ricotta cheese, then go make some.
This version makes it using whole milk, but traditionally ricotta is made from the whey left over from making mozzarella. I plan to try it that way, too, once I've actually MADE the mozzarella.
So anyway, to make this version, all you need are milk, non-iodized salt (that's kosher salt in the little bowl), and white vinegar. (Please excuse the slight blur to that photo - I was trembling with excitement and the camera shook.)
The fresher the better, as far as the milk goes, and you want to make sure it's not ULTRA-pasteurized. Pasteurized is fine, but not the ULTRA, because that stuff's been pasteurized at too high a temperature to successfully make cheese.
Here we go.
My gallon of milk is in the pot - the recipe in the link tells you to rinse the pot with cold water before adding the milk, in order to prevent scorching - along with the salt, and a thermometer. I'm heating it on medium to bring it to just before the boil - also called scalding - which, per this recipe, should be between 180-185.
Per my scribbled notes, this was begun at 12:13. I stirred it every so often.
While I was stirring, the acid in the vinegar was already causing the curds to separate from the whey.
It was pretty cool, actually.
Then, I covered the pot with a dry dish towel, as instructed, and left it to its own devices. This was at 12:40.
While the ricotta was forming, I made some pasta dough.
The recipe said to let the pot of ricotta-to-be sit for at least 2 hours. I held out for an extra fifteen minutes.
At 2:55, I took the dish towel off for good and here's what I saw.
Nope, it doesn't look all that different from the picture above it. But there's actually more of the curds than there were initially.
Here's a lovely close-up shot.
And a closer one.
Next step is to strain the curds from the whey.
I lined a collander with some cheesecloth and set it on one of the bowls to my mixer.
Then I ladled the curds into the cheesecloth-lined collander.
And let them sit for another couple of hours.
And, TA-DA! It's ricotta.
How simple, huh???????
From one gallon of milk, I got a little over 4 cups of cheese.
And THEN what did I do?
I covered the measuring cup above with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge. I had to get back to the ravioli I was working on. I could have used the ricotta in the ravioli instead of the goat cheese, yes, but I'd already planned on the goat cheese and had the flavor kind of working in my mind. So I figured I'd make lasagna or manicotti in a day or two with the ricotta.
Which, of course, I did. And I'll share that whole adventure with you next time.
For now, I've got to go make two pie crusts. One of them is for a strawberry-rhubarb pie (strawberries from the Farmers' Market and rhubarb from our back yard), and the other is for a quiche my husband will be making tonight - on the grill! So even though it's a quiche, if it's cooked on the grill, it's a manly food.
That's it for the moment! Now go make some ricotta!
Those are thyme leaves (from the window box near my kitchen door). I also used oregano, tarragon, and chives. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
I've felt the urge to make fresh pasta lately, and I've seen, over the years, pasta with herb leaves pressed between the pasta layers. So, in that fresh pasta mood, and with PLENTY of herbs (though not all are ready) to choose from, I set to work.
I embrace coincidences.
Though, really, I don't think they're coincidences. (So why call them that? I don't know - do you have a better word or phrase? Perhaps "serendipitous occurances" would do.) But anyway...they are not things that just happen randomly. It's more like Fate or God or The Universe or Mother Nature showing something to you and then...just to keep your attention focused where it's supposed to be (whether you realize it or not)...you are shown something else - something similar but different, kind of the same, but maybe from a different angle. Told, perhaps, in a slightly different voice, but still on the same overall topic. Again, to keep you paying attention. Or to reinforce what you're starting to pick up on. It's a gentle process, at least at first. I find that if you still aren't getting it, the Powers That Be will come along and give you a good, hard smack upside the head.
But anyway. Back to the gentle process part.
Periodically I'm sent books by publishers to look at and talk about and sometimes host book giveaways. I'm not paid, at least not in money. But I get free books that I might not otherwise have bought, and so for me, that's better than cash. After all - FREE BOOKS! Mostly it's been cookbooks, which is great, because even if I've got eight billion cookbooks, there's always room for one more.
A little while back I was sent an advanced copy of Meat: A Love Story, by Susan Bourette. Ms. Bourette is an award-winning journalist based in Toronto who went undercover at a slaughterhouse for a week and after that decided to become a vegetarian. But that didn't last, and she was lured back to meat by the smell of bacon cooking in a diner. Her ensuing quest, after experiencing the blood and screams firsthand from the slaughterhouse assembly line, was to find a way to eat meat and have a clear conscience about it.
I'm still reading the book - and it's a good read. Ms. Bourette goes on a whale hunt with the Inuit, a Canadian moose hunt, she spends time on a Texas cattle ranch, and on and on. And it is possible, she shows us, to find and purchase and consume meat that is raised well and respectfully, and dispatched with compassion. Pioneer Woman has written about this sort of thing on her blog. Their cattle are given the best lives they can have. They roam and graze freely - they aren't crammed nose to tail in mounds of their own manure, and they don't eat mysterious blends of grain and bits of distant cousins. No Mad Cow Disease here. If I were a beef cow in Oklahoma, I'd want to grow up on THAT ranch.
So there's one little "something" - the book I was sent.
Our friend, John, who I've mentioned before, most often in conjunction with the brewing of beer or the catching of trout, has, for lack of a better way of describing this, kind of gone caveman. He still shaves, and his head went on strike in the hair department long ago anyway, so I don't mean in a furry way. And I don't know which car insurance he has, either. What I mean is, he has learned how to make a fire from sticks.
Not long ago, he skinned a groundhog (I think that's what it was) that he found (already dead) by the side of the road. To learn how.
And, more recently, he skinned, cooked (fried), and ate (yes, ate) a squirrel. It was fresh. And no, according to him, it did not taste at all like chicken.
He called to report (to me, because I have this foodish blog and would be interested in his tasting notes) that it tasted "sweet, gamey...and would be perfect in a curry." John takes his tasting notes seriously.
On one level, part of me cringes at the whole squirrel skinning notion.
But. Apart from the rodent factor, there's nothing all that different between eating squirrel and eating chicken or beef. It's just the up close and personal aspect that's different. Most of us don't grow our own chickens or beef for food. We buy it wrapped in cellophane at the store. It doesn't look a whole lot like an animal that lived and breathed at that point. At least, not like any of the cuter animals. Still - it lived, and someone had to kill it so we can eat it.
We go fishing, and we used to have lobster pots, and I have killed my share of fish and lobsters (and crabs and mussels and oysters and clams) for dinner. Bill, of course, has, too. But we aren't killing for fun. We catch the fish or dig the clams or harvest the mussels for dinner, and we make sure that when the creatures are killed, it is done as swiftly as possible. We are not wasteful - we only take what we will eat. And our children know that the seafood on their plates was alive at one point and was killed so we could eat it. They know where their seafood comes from.
So that (mainly the squirrel) is another little "something."
Bear with me - I know I'm rambling. I sort of have a point.
I was at Barnes & Noble last week. Alex had the day off from kindergarten because it was so VERY hot, and many other schools only stayed open half the day. Coincidentally it was his birthday. Daycare, which is air-conditioned (the schools generally aren't) was open, so we dropped Julia off and spent a few hours of quality mother and son time doing a bit of bookstore browsing. We had a little nosh in the cafe, some lemonade for him and iced coffee for me, and then we headed to the children's dept to get a few things. First of all - some Kumon workbooks for him and Julia to work on through the summer - and then a couple of stuffed animals (it was his birthday, and he wanted one for Julia, too) and another book from the I'm Going To Read series Alex likes. And then I made Alex follow me around for a bit as I racewalked through a few sections hoping something would jump out at me. (I don't racewalk when I'm alone, but I kind of have to with a child in tow. They don't like to stand there watching you leaf through volume after volume. As Alex frequently reminds me "It's hard for a kid to be patient.")
Anyway - back to the jumping out at me part - something did. Or at least it waved and shouted "OVER HERE!"
It was actually a little cardboard stand display, posed next to an endcap near (I believe) the Essays section, which was on the way, sort of, back to the cooking section (I thought I could get away with two laps through there, since it's food, and Alex does like to help me cook or bake sometimes.)
And the book on display was this one:
And my hand just shot out and plucked one from the cardboard stand and tucked it into the basket along with fluffy creatures and Kumon workbooks.
I started reading that one a few days ago, and it's one of those books I don't want to end. I am more than halfway through, and I don't want to finish. I also know (or am pretty certain) that when I finish the book I will read it all over again, right away.
What's it about?
Well, first of all, I'll skip that question and say that for whatever reason, I haven't read anything (that I can think of) by Barbara Kingsolver. Not on purpose - just...hadn't. Yet. Til now.
The book chronicles a year in which Ms. Kingsolver, her husband, and two daughters (husband and elder daughter are co-authors of this book) "abandoned the industrial-food pipeline to live a rural live--vowing that, for one year, they'd only buy food raised in their own neighborhood, grow it themselves, or learn to live without it." (from the back cover.)
Month by month we see the fruits of a farmer's labor, all following the natural cycle of plant and season. With just about every fruit and vegetable available at every large grocery store at any time of the year, we get away from the natural order of things. Asparagus arrives in May (in this part of the world), and you have to stop harvesting it so it can grow tall and ferny and gather strength and nutrients for next year's growth. Then come the leafy greens...and the berries...and tomatoes...and potatoes and squashes...each in turn.
They also raise turkeys and chickens - turkeys for the table, chickens mainly for the eggs, but roosters are for the table, too, since too many roosters means a lot of poultry testosterone and that means a lot of fighting. The turkeys begin as fluffy little cute things and eventually, because this is why they were raised, many of them will be swiftly beheaded, bled, plucked and frozen.
I love this book. I am not doing it justice, but I'm trying. I found myself nodding in agreement through much of the book - descriptions of different varieties of vegetables...of cooking...of food memories...of observations such as this one:
Once you start cooking, one thing leads to another. A new recipe is as exciting as a blind date. A new ingredient, heaven help me, is an intoxicating affair. I've grown new vegetables just to see what they taste like: Jerusalem artichokes, edamame, potimarrons. A quick recipe can turn slow in our kitchen because of the experiments we hazard. We make things from scratch just to see if we can. We've rolled out and cut our pasta, raised turkeys to roast or stuff into link sausage, made chutney from our garden. On high occasions we'll make cherry pies with crisscrossed lattice tops and ravioli with crimped edges, for the satisfaction of seeing these storybook comforts become real.
Yes, exactly! We do that, too! We're growing kohlrabi this year - we've never grown it, never eaten it, either. But they're out there, in a little patch of garden, and they're actually starting to LOOK LIKE KOHLRABI! How cool is that?
The bad thing about Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, is that it makes me wish we had a much larger plot of land so we could grow MORE.
I've just finished reading chapter 17, entitled "Celebration Days" and subtitled "November-December." Toward the end of the chapter, Ms Kingsolver writes about food and holiday traditions, and specifically, among others, about Dia de los Muertos - the Mexican Day of the Dead. Dia de los Muertos "is...an entirely happy ritual of remembering one's departed loved ones, welcoming them into the living room by means of altars covered with photographs and other treasured things that bring memory into the present."
The chapter ends thusly:
I'm drawn to this celebration, I'm sure, because I live in a culture that allows almost no room for dead people. I celebrated Dia de las Muertos in the homes of friends from a different background, with their deceased relatives, for years before I caught on. But I think I understand now. When I cultivate my garden I'm spending time with my grandfather, sometimes recalling deeply buried memories of him, decades after his death. While shaking beans from an envelope I have been overwhelmed by a vision of my Pappaw's speckled beans and flat corn seeds in peanut butter jars in his garage, lined up in rows, curated as carefully as a museum collection. That's Xantolo, a memory space opened before my eyes, which has no name in my language.
When I'm cooking, I find myself inhabiting the emotional companionship of the person who taught me how to make a particular dish, or with whom I used to cook it. Slamming a door on food-rich holidays, declaring food an enemy, sends all the grandparents and great aunts to a lonely place. I have been so relieved latley to welcome them back: my tiny great-aunt Lena who served huge, elaborate meals at her table but would never sit down there with us herself, insisting on eating alone in the kitchen instead. My grandmother Kingsolver, who started every meal plan with dessert. My other grandmother, who made perfect rolls and gravy. My Henry grandfather, who used a cool attic room to cure the dark hams and fragrant cloth-wrapped sausages he made from his own hogs. My father, who first took me mushroom hunting and taught me to love wild asparagus. My mother, whose special way of beating eggs makes them fly in an ellipse in the bowl.
Here I stand in the consecrated presence of all they have wished for me, and cooked for me. Right here, canning tomatoes with Camille, making egg bread with Lily. Come back, I find myself begging every memory. Come back for a potholder hug.
When I am baking the German cookies at Christmas time, my late mother-in-law is right there in the kitchen, too. Fishing - that began with my dad's father and continues into the generation after mine. Yorkshire pudding - the instruction to "beat it til lit plops" (the batter) - from my mother's mother. Other foods...my mother's father loved "stinky cheese" and I'm sure that contributed to my love of all cheeses bleu. And from my dad's mother - the little treat of butter on saltines...and the tradition of Cornish pasties. And, though I'm fortunate that they are still among the living, I have food memories from both my parents...shucking scallops in the garage with my Dad while the rain poured outside...and innumerable moments in the kitchen with my Mom.
And now I pass that along to my kids...we bake cookies...we make pasta...we're going to do an awful lot of food things this summer.
And, to get back to my long-ago original theme...that book was the next "something."
I don't know what to call it. An awareness. A respect and reverence. A going back to basics. I've always had it to some degree...I can bake bread from scratch, make pasta dough, pastry dough, and so on. And next up - I'm going to make cheese. I just made a batch of ricotta yesterday. I bought a couple books and I'm going to make fresh mozzarella and who knows what else. And the kids will help, and watch, and learn that this is where cheese actually "comes from."
And I'm also going to can things. I always roast tomatoes and freeze them for sauces...this year I want to do more - make sauce and can it...make jams...pickles, chutneys, and so on. I remember jewel-toned jars of fruits and sauces high up on the shelves in our back kitchen when I was a kid. I remember shucking corn and snapping the ends off beans with my sister and our friends - free labor for my mother, who would then blanch the vegetables and pack them in the freezer. The corn tasted just like August corn, even when we were eating it in December.
And I'm buying from the Farmers' Markets. I'm trying to become a "locavore," as the new term has been coined. I'm more conscious of where my food is coming from, and I'm making my purchases based on what I'm learning. And I want my children to grow up knowing where their food comes from. And respecting the whole process, from the growing and caring for to the cooking and eating.
It's not a new concept. But I am all fired up with the renewal of it.
I was about to start writing a new (and overdue) bunch of posts just now, but Alex came in from playing outside and said "Mom, I'm hungry, do we have any bread?"
"Yes...." I said.
"Good, then can you make me that lettuce and strawberry jam sandwich?" He curled, grub-like, on the chair in the living room.
(It's something he invented yesterday but we only had soft tortillas so it was a lettuce and jam wrap instead.)
"You want that AGAIN?"
"Yes! Cuz' I haven't had it as a SANDWICH yet." He studied his knee for a moment. "Cuz' I know we don't have any meatlope."
when she was a baby...but I don't want to go back to all that sleeplessness. So NO MORE NAPS for Miss Julia.
For the past bunch of days (I lost track), after a VERY welcome period of sleeping through the night (finally - she just turned four in May), Julia has been waking up from, she says, a bad dream, coming into our bed, falling asleep promptly, and both snoring and grinding her teeth. Loudly. So I get up, carry her limp little body (and her elephant) back to her bed and tuck her in - and then she wakes up and is thirsty. So I give her something to drink and trudge back to bed. On average, that's all been happening around 3 in the morning. And then, as soon as the morning sunlight caresses her face, she is AWAKE! And READY TO START THE DAY!
This is around five o'clock. And I'd be more than happy to get up then, if she hadn't kept me awake earlier in the darker part of morning. And it catches up. I can do with less than 8 or 7 or 6 hours of sleep - but when the sleep is broken up into bits and pieces, then it's not as easy. And so these last few days I've been just...sluggish. I could also blame last week's bout of 90+ degree weather. I don't like it much. But I think it's mainly been the interrupted sleep.
And so I was VERY happy to wake up this morning around five - and realize that Julia had slept through the night and WASN'T EVEN AWAKE YET! Yay! So I lazily dozed off again and she came and woke me up a little later. And that was fine with me.
And I think some of it's because she didn't have a nap yesterday. The several days before yesterday, she had dozed off, either in the car on the ride back from visiting my Dad on Father's Day...or on the way back from the grocery store...or snuggling on the couch with her own Daddy, watching a movie or something. (They both fell asleep then - it was very cute at the time.)
So, yeah. My plan for the summer? Keep her busy and NO NAPS.
Unless I get one, too.
Hi - I'm not participating in this week's Tuesdays With Dorie challenge - I've got a lot of other things I need to catch up on right now. But go check out all the other Tuesdays With Dorie bakers to see their gorgeous renditions of Dorie's Peppermint Cream Puff Ring!
The dinosaurs themselves are plastic, but everything else is edible. And I apologize for the bizarre light quality in these pictures.
But enough of that stuff.
To make this one, I made very orange flavored pound cake with an orange-flavored simple syrup, which I painted on each layer as I built this little scene. I used two 13 x 9 inch pans, a small bundt pan, and another high-sided cake pan (used to be Bill's mom's) about 6" in diameter. The bundt pan was for the upper portion of the volcano.
As you can see, the volcano is currently at rest. Inside, however, the lava is red and, interestingly enough, looks a lot like 3 pints of mashed up strawberries macerated in a little bit of sugar. The "lava" is layered between the two rectangle portions and the mountain/volcano sections, with the remaining strawberry mixture in the hole of the bundt cake. There's also some chocolate icing here and there, because hey - chocolate and strawberries, right?
I dug a little depression out of the cake for the little pond. Then I painted the whole thing with strawberry jam, colored and rolled out the fondant (that tan color was supposed to be brown - I should have added more color. Oh well.) and draped it over the cake and patted it into place. I trimmed it along the bottom in a free-form pattern.
To make the water, I used clear piping gel and blue food coloring.
BUT - that didn't work - the blue looked black against the green fondant. So I scraped most of it back out and then just put stirred-up CLEAR piping gel in there - the traces of blue beneath gave the rest of the gel just enough color without becoming too dark.
I added a bit of black to the blue piping gel and figured I could use it as some of the lava.
I used green royal icing and the little grass or fur tip (Wilton #233) to edge the fondant with tufts of grass, and also added it around the pond and here and there on the rest of the green.
I used black royal icing and a #9 (I think) tip to do some of the lava, and the black piping gel for the rest of the lava and the "Happy Birthday Alex" part.
Why two kinds of lava? Funny you ask. Because there ARE two kinds. Or, rather in Hawaii they have two names for the two above-ground forms of lava flow. There's a'a (prounced ah-aah, if I remember right), which is kind of rocky and chunky...and pahoehoe (I think that's prounouced pa-hoy-hoy, but it's been a while since I've heard it spoken so my memory could be faulty), which is smooth and kind of pillowy to look at. From a safe distance.
Anyway, I used the two forms of "lava" and then used the piping gel version to write the "Happy Birthday" message.
When it came time to bring the cake out and sing, I put the candles (appropriately) at the top of the volcano.
Alex loved it. And everyone else seemed to like it also. And it tasted pretty good, too. Nice and moist and orangy. Oh - why orange? That's what the birthday boy requested.
And for your entertainment, here are a few more photos of the cake, from other angles.
And that's about it.
Well, except for the most important part...
I can't believe he's six.
(Cue orchestra: "Sunrise, Sunset")
This is his third dinosaur cake.
I think he may be asking for the same theme when he's twenty.
My little guy.
I was stunned and saddened when I read that Tastespotting was no more.
But this morning when I checked my Google Reader, I saw this article on Slashfood and yes, I admit it freely, my heart LEAPT WITH JOY. I felt it right inside my chest. It got a little concussed from whacking against my ribs so violently, but it will recover. Because now there is Food Gawker.
What a perfect day to go browsing for vegetables and more strawberries. It's sunny and all that, but this morning it was only about 70 degrees - quite comfy.
We got started later than usual this morning - Alex is on a field trip with his class (nice way to spend the last day of school!) and didn't have to go in as early, and also isn't home as early (i.e. not yet).
Anyway, after we dropped him off and took care of a few other little things, Julia and I were off on our market journey.
She kept asking if we were OH NOW I REMEMBER. Sorry. She kept asking me if we were going "to that farmers market where they had the black and white pony and the other horses and the chickens" and for the life of me I couldn't figure out what she was talking about. Because I'm mentally deficient. Just as I was writing that first sentence to this paragraph, I remembered. It was a little farm stand we stopped at a few weeks ago. Not the farmers' MARKET. But anyway.
We arrived, like I said, later than usual, and there were a lot of cars there - nice to see. First thing Julia did once we crossed the little road was to spot the "Honey Stick Man" and race across the grass to pick out honey sticks. I got some eggs from him again and gave him back the original egg carton from my purchase two weeks ago. And we got 10 honey sticks.
Next...some more strawberries, garlic scallions, and some San Marzano tomato plants - oh and a few more eggs - from Ledge Ends Farm...a bagel (Julia chose a poppyseed bagel that looked black, it was so covered with the seeds. We also got a lemon basil plant and two lobsters. Yeah, two lobsters. It's the last day of school for my son and for my husband the teacher, so I figured we could celebrate a little.
I also have cake to bake. We're having my son's birthday party tomorrow, there's a bunch of kids coming, and I haven't even cracked an egg in the direction of making this cake. I'm just not organized for some reason. But I have everything I need, and will bake the cake this afternoon after I get Alex. He wants (AGAIN) a primitive landscape sort of cake populated with little plastic dinosaurs. So that's what I'll do. At least, having done the same theme the past few years for him, I don't really have to figure out what to do. I'll take pictures (really, Jayne?) and post them when I get a chance.
And that's about all I've got time to write about today. I've got to tidy up the house, do laundry, dishes, make cake, and who knows what else. I'll probably think of some huge major important thing around three in the morning.
Sorry I've been sort of slacking this week - it's not for lack of subject matter - it's just been the LAST WEEK OF SCHOOL and somehow it's been hard for me to make the time to SIT and TYPE. But things should improve starting next week.
The week my son was born (6 years ago this week), the weather was vastly different from what we've been experiencing lately, here in the northeast. We're finally experiencing a "break" in the weather - which just means the 90-100 degree weather with oh, 200% humidity and 0 breeze, has dropped way down to the low to mid 80s. WITH a lovely breeze that ruffles the curtains throughout my house and makes me feel less ornery than I have been of late.
Six years ago, it was cooler and kind of dreary that week. I had Alex on a Monday afternoon and we brought him home on that Wednesday (if I remember right...I'm pretty sure I had two nights in the hospital) and sleeping was comfortable the rest of the week. But pretty soon, summer hit, no preamble, no fanfare - just HOT and uncomfortable.
Now, I don't really shine in the hot humid weather, other than the glistening sweat that shows up. I don't mind warm, but once we're into the 90s, I wilt like our rhubarb plant does. Give me water, water...oh, I don't think I'll make it! Kind of like that, only less dramatic.
And when you combine that with my (then) postpartum body and all the...um...reorganization (I'll spare you the gory details) that was going on with it, PLUS the sleeplessness that comes with nursing a ravenous newborn, PLUS the accompanying FAT COW WITH ACHING UDDER feeling and the faint hint of warm human dairy product lingering in the fabric of onesies and the shoulders of my shirts...well, it's not a relaxing day at the cabana, I can tell you that.
And I found that one of the very few things that could simultaneously soothe both my overheated lactating body AND my foul, sleep-deprived temper was a chocolate popsicle.
Not a fudgicle (fudgcicle? fudgecicle? however you spell it) from a box. No. It was homemade, and I made it, and I thank Martha Stewart for saving my sanity, because I found the idea in the June 2002 issue of her magazine.
It was actually an article on how to make simple sorbets - a perfect idea for the heat of June and July - mainly from fruits. Basically, a fruit puree combined with some simple syrup, and run through your ice cream maker. SIM-PULL. And in addition to all the various fruit suggestions, there was also...chocolate.
And chocolate, at that point, appealed to me way more than strawberry or melon or lime. I needed chocolate. I needed indulgence. I needed to feel...rewarded.
So I combined the specified amounts of cocoa powder and hot water with the simple syrup I made a little earlier, and instead of making sorbet with it in my ice cream maker, I just poured it into popsicle molds and tried not to check the freezer every five minutes.
Once they were finally ready, and I figured out the logistics of getting a popsicle out of the mold without stabbing at it with a steak knife (it really doesn't work - don't bother trying it), I sampled one.
And it was good.
Icy cold, of course, and dark and richly flavored. This was an adult popsicle. And it was ALLLLLL mine. I ate many of those during the hottest part of that summer, and I am eternally grateful to Martha Stewart for having the forsight the previous autumn or whenever they put together the June issues of things to include an article on sorbets...specifically the chocolate variety. After all, she is a Mom. She must have known what I would need.
Anyway, here we are, six years later. And there have been other hot summers in the meantime, or at least hot sections of summer. But I haven't made the popsicles since then because I couldn't find THAT magazine among the piles of magazines I had hung onto over the years. I couldn't find it. And over the years, I have peeled my own clingy fingers off these piles of magazines to throw them away (in the recycyle bin) because how many stacks of magazines do I really need to save? Do I ever re-read them? Mostly no. Do I have some sort of master index telling me which magazine has that ravioli recipe I thought I'd like to try some time? Of course not. So gradually - usually in fits of "my life's a mess and I need to GET RID OF STUFF," I tossed ancient editions of Martha Stewart Living and Gourmet and Bon Appetit...whittling away at the clutter until all that was left were the couple of stacks on one of the two big bookcases in my dining room and a couple of stacks on the floor nearby. Well, that "my life's a mess and I need to GET RID OF STUFF" feeling hit me again last week, so I pulled out all the remaining magazines (plus loose recipes printed from the internet, stuff I'd scribbled down, old notebooks, all kinds of paper debris) and made two piles - keep, because yes, i'll REALLY use it, and SEE YA.
And that's when I found it. That edition of MSL from June 2002. Open to the page with the little chart of proportions of fruit to simple syrup, like I'd been looking at it just yesterday. I had, apparently, figured that sliding it in at the very end of a shelf would make lots of sense to the future me who would be looking for it again come the following summer. Of course, mothers of newborns don't make a lot of sense at times, and so that explains that silly line of thinking. Maybe I also assumed I'd be going through all those magazines and scraps of paper a lot sooner. Ah well.
Enough of my chatter.
I started this post several days ago and keep getting interrupted. I'll shut up now and get on with the popsicle making. Because it's only June, and we all know the hot weather may go away for a while, but it's bound to be back.
I made two kinds of popsicles this week - lemon and chocolate. I didn't use the ice cream maker - I just poured the mixtures directly into the popsicle molds and shut them in the freezer for several hours. Too many hours if you ask my kids.
First, you want to make yourself some simple syrup.
All you do is pour equal parts (by volume, not weight) of sugar and water in a pot, set the pot on the stove, and heat the water until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.
To make the lemon popsicles, you want a cup and a half of lemon juice and two cups of the cooled simple syrup. Combine them and put them in the fridge for at least an hour.
If you're making the chocolate popsicles, then you want a cup and a half of cocoa powder - use the best you can, since that plus the sugar is all the flavor you'll get. To the cocoa powder, add two cups of very hot water.
Whisk to combine.
Add two cups of simple syrup to the cocoa mixture, and put that in the fridge for at least an hour.
Once the mixture is chilled (either the lemon or the chocolate), pour into the popsicle molds...
And then put the little stick things in and put them in the freezer.
I got a bit smarter with the chocolate ones - instead of leaving a bit of space between the level of the liquid and the top edge of the mold, I filled most of them up to the brim, or a teeny tiny bit below. Since liquids expand as they freeze, I figured this way when the liquid swelled, it would rise up and stick to the flat part of the decorative stick thing. (I know, I am doing a terrible job of explaining this. I'm sorry.)
Anyway, put the molds in the freezer and try to be patient.
Mine took at least 4 hours to freeze solid. Overnight is probably your best bet.
To unmold them, I ran them under hot tap water. You'll also want to briefly run the tops under some water too, just to loosen them. Then hold the mold sideways with one hand and gently, GENTLY turn the little sea creature handle (if you have this style) and carefully twist the popsicle out of the mold.
Hand to your impatient son and take a picture.
Send him outside, as you don't want the melting popsicle dripping on the floor, and he can rinse off with the hose when he's done. Same thing with his sister.
And then they'll want the chocolate ones the next day.
And that next day, in the morning, when the light is better in your kitchen, you can take whimsical photos of popsicles in cordial glasses (the glasses are for drinking cordials...they are not necessarily polite glasses. (Forgive the daffy humor, I've been trying to get this post finished for several says now...the weather isn't even terrible at this point, but hopefully some reader somewhere is suffering in sweltering heat and will actually be interested in making popsicles now.)
Oh, and I strongly recommend using actual lemon juice that you squeezed yourself, rather than that stuff in the bottles. Just...you know...in case you had a bottle of that in your fridge because you were in a weakened state at the store one day and your daughter thought it was lemonade and talked you into buying it and now you're trying to figure out to use up the rest of the atrocious stuff. Not that that would happen to YOU, of course. But in case it did. Don't use it for these. Use the real juice. Pulp and all.
They melt quickly, so keep a napkin handy as you slurp.
Keep in mind, too, that once you have made one or two basic kinds, you'll probably want to experiment with blends of fruits...or layers of different fruits/colors...the addition of herbs...and so on.
And stay hydrated!
This week's TWD recipe was chosen by Marie of A Year in Oak Cottage and can be found on page 374 of Baking From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan. We're not posting the actual recipes any more - all the members HAVE the book, and if you'd like to become a member, you'll need to GET the book, and even if you don't want to become a member, you really SHOULD just go out and get the book because it's big and beautiful and if you just look at the pictures, you don't gain ANY weight at all! So there you go.
Anyway, this week's recipe was PERFECTLY timed. Not only are strawberries coming into season (here in RI) but also this weekend marked the start of a hideous heat wave (still going unbearably strong) and baking the tart shell Saturday morning was about all I was interested in doing, oven-wise.
I don't really have a lot to write about this tart - it is so incredibly simple to put together that I figure if I keep some pre-made tart shells in the freezer through the summer, I can turn out a fabulously impressive summer dessert any ol' night of the week.
I made the sweet tart dough with the addition of ground almonds - partly because I have a LOT of almonds in my freezer which I just noticed recently and want to use them - and partly because I thought the flavor of the nuts would be nice with the simple tart/sweet flavor of the strawberries.
After dinner, while everyone was outside, I just spread my strawberry jam on the tart, sliced it into 6 pieces, set each slice on a plate and topped it with a generous amount of strawberries and a dollop of fresh whipped cream.
My sister's kids were here for the night, and so they got to partake of this glorious yet humble offering.
There wasn't a smidgen left. I think I could have made two tarts, and there still wouldn't have been any left.
In fact, the above picture is the only photo I have - no process pictures because I did so much of this on the fly that day - but also - there's not a lot of process to photograph!
Aren't they lovely?
Anyway, for other glimpses of this lovely tart (and probably actual process photos), go check out all the other fabulous bakers on the Tuesdays With Dorie list - there are over 200 now! So get going!
With her beloved and well worn pink (ish gray) elephant, the straw hat I got for her at the Farmers' Market a couple of weeks ago, and her new sunglasses we got this morning because her other two pair are broken.
She wanted me to take a picture of her sporting the new shades, and I suggested she wear the hat, too.
And here's the series...
Before we started these, Julia had helped me make some popsicles, which, once they're frozen, I'll write up and post on here.
I bought some new popsicle molds this morning, because they were cute and because I wanted a bunch, so I can have several different flavors going at a time.
Much of the time, Julia is like this - especially one on one with either parent. She likes the undivided attention. And when she can have that, she's the epitome of cooperativeness.
And truth, justice, and the American way.
So that was this morning.
We'll skip ahead now, to about half an hour ago.
I was outside watering the vegetables, as many of them were wilting in this sweltering zillion-degree weather.
I pretty much leave the flowers to sink or swim (wilt or stand tall) because we aren't going to be eating them, and to me, that makes them a bit more expendable. Except the roses that had been Bill's mom's. Those outrank the vegetables, the fish, and probably even me in Bill's heirarchy of Things That Must Be Kept Alive.
But I digress. I was out there with the hose, making sure the peas and the hop vines and the tomatoes and squashes and lettuces and various and sundry other herbs and veggies were hydrated.
I'd told the kids where I was, and that they should STAY INSIDE because it's so hot.
Well, of course they followed that directive to the letter.
First, Alex came outside and started kicking a ball around the yard and asking if he could take his shirt off since it was so hot. And I told him no, he didn't have sunscreen on underneath it, and I really would like it if he would go back in the house.
And, without any grumbling, he did.
And two seconds later,
there was Julia, coming across the yard toward me, her summer dress tucked in her green underwear in front. She's a trendsetter, that one.
I repeated the same request with her that I'd asked of Alex, but had to open the door for her as she's still just a bit too short to reach the door handle. I let her in the house and asked her to stay there while I finished up, and that I'd put sunscreen on her when I came back in.
I'm sure some of you can see where this is going.
I finished saving the lives of the food-bearing plant life, coiled the hose back around the...the hose thing attached to the deck...you know, the thing you coil the hose around.
And I went in the house.
And this is what I saw:
In case you're not 100 percent positive that what you think you see is, indeed, what is in that picture, let me assure you that yes, it's a chair (from the dining room) with a footstool (from the bathroom) on it...and a topless bottle of sunscreen on the footstool (bottle of sunscreen HAD been up on top of the fridge, which is right there behind the chair - it's black) (oh, and the top of the sunscreen bottle is that small blue thing on the floor at the edge of the cabinet).
And all that white glop on the chair? Why yes, yes, of course! It's sunscreen.
My first instinct? Grab the camera.
"Yes, mama?" (She calls me mama when she's being sweet. And deceptive.)
"Can you come up here, please?"
She comes up from the basement, and preceeds me into the kitchen. I point to the sculpture in the kitchen and ask her "Do you know anything about this?"
And she said (naturally) "I didn't do it."
And then she turned to look at me.
And I asked "Are you SURE you don't know anything about this? Did YOU do it?"
And she shook her head no, and told me, sincerely, "Alex did it."
So I called him upstairs and asked him the same question.
"Alex, do you know anything about this?"
And he went over to the chair/stool/sunscreen bottle and looked at it all for a moment before turning to me and shaking his head and saying "No, I don't know who did that."
Of course, he also looked at Julia. And then at me.
And I asked Julia again. "Did you do this?"
And again, she said "No, I didn't do it."
I reached over to try to rub in the patches of sunscreen so she wouldn't look so...painted. She brushed my hand away and took over, near one eyebrow.
I told her to be careful not to get it in her eyes.
And she nodded and said "I got a lot on me."
And I said "Yes...so DID you do this?"
And she looked at me again.
"No. I didn't do it."
Hot and muggy.
Like, in the 90s.
I wilt like a delicate spring flower in weather like this.
Okay, not really, but I kind of want to.
Yesterday we and another family set out to see The Animal Planet Expo at Goddard State Park. We'd planned this about a week ago, before we knew the temperature would soar into the stratosphere as it has done these last few days. After (planning to spend) some time seeing the exhibits and letting the kids play on the slides and whatever else, then we'd go back to our friends' house for a cookout and play-in-the-pool time for the kids.
Well, we were valiant in our attempt.
But, like I said, it was hot. Humid, too. But mostly hot.
So we went - four adults, three kids, a cooler of water, two cameras, and plenty of sunscreen - oh, yeah, and hats for all - to this completely outdoor-and-no-shade-except-on-the-periphery event.
First up - this really cool looking slide - it had a big inflated crocodile on top (I said alligator, but Alex corrected me). Alex and his buddy J got in line, shoes off, and followed the winding trail of kids to the front line - where they were asked their age and told they had to be 6 to go on the ride.
Didn't see the sign way at the entrance. Drat.
Alex will be 6 TOMORROW. And J. will be 6 next month. They're so close. But no dice. So they got out of line, found their shoes, and Alex teared up a bit and told me it was the worst day of his life. I told him there was plenty more to see and to reserve judgement until the day was done.
So Bill showed the boys the Bug House, and next up was the get-three-tries-to-throw-a-ball-in-an-animal's-mouth booth. Alex and J and Julia stood in line (Julia later changed her mind about participating) and I stood by, camera ready, and watched some of the other kids throw. Some did okay, some didn't.
Then it was Alex's turn - FIRST THROW - right into the leopard's mouth (or whatever big cat that was). YAY!!!! A GOOD THING!!!!! Alex got to choose between a baseball or a little meercat finger puppet for his prize. He finally picked the puppet. Next up - his friend J - and again - FIRST THROW! So both boys had little meercat finger puppets. The day was looking up.
We found another line for the kids to stand in. This time for a smaller version of the huge croc slided.
Alex and J were in one line, and Bill stood in another line with Julia, who was on the shorter end of the height requirement and had to be in the shorter-kid line.
Before they even got halfway through the line, Julia opted out. She was miserable. Hot, sticky, and - occasionally - upset by the wind.
Not really wind, mind you - just the occasional breeze - during which, everyone BUT Julia would turn to greedily, spread their arms wide and attempt to catch more temporary coolness than anyone else sweating on the field.
Julia just cried.
So Bill took her to get a balloon, thinking a nice enormous balloon in the form of some animal would make up for the heat and the long lines and the wind. He tried. He really did. I hung out with the other Dad, and the other Mom found a chair to sit in under an umbrella. The Animal Expo people had thoughtfully set up umbrellas and chairs all over the field. They kept the sun off, but the heat was inescapapble. Still, they gave people a place to rest and unsquint their eyes a bit.
Bill returned with Julia and some balloons - a pink flamingo balloon was tied to Julia's wrist with a long purple ribbon, and there were two huge gecko balloons for the boys.
Well, just as the boys were getting their balloons (after their ride on the alligator slide), the wind decided to tease us all again - and Julia's flamingo was dragged away into the air - and it dragged Julia's wrist with it and freaked her RIGHT out. I explained her bad experience with the wind and the umbrella to the other mom and dad and took Julia to sit under an umbrella. Where she cried and cried and cried and wailed "I want to go HOME."
Everyone in our little band congregated under an umbrella, and then Julia decided she wanted to crawl through this little caterpillar-shaped plastic tunnel. So I went over there with her (we tied the flamingo to my backpack o' water bottles and sunscreen first) and she stood at the entrance and waited her turn. And waited. And let other kids shove their way in front of her. And then wailed to me that other kids kept going first. And on and on. It just didn't happen.
Bill came over to me while I stood there dripping with sweat and trying to encourage Julia in my tension-laden voice to just CRAWL IN! to the caterpillar and stop letting newcomers cut in front of her. He suggested we all just go back to the other house. The boys were sweaty and red-cheeked, the other mom wasn't enjoying walking around in all the heat, Julia was miserable, I was cranky, and it just wasn't worth it (to us) to stand in lines and reapply sunscreen every twenty seconds.
So that was it.
We gathered our stuff, I carried Julia (still crying) and her balloon and the backpack and my camera (they were all too tangled up by then to separate and share with Bill, though he did offer) and we went to our vehicles and headed back to the house. To the air conditioning, to the cold beverages, to the pool for the kids, and, eventually, to the burgers and dogs on the grill.
The kids had fun, the adults had fun, and nobody cried any more.
Oh, and Alex pretty much agreed that it was a really good day after all.
We're growing shallots in the garden this year, and above are the seedlings that were thinned from the rest of their siblings in their square plot of ground outside. They look like tiny scallions or chives, and taste similar.
I'd picked up a just-over-two-pounds piece of halibut at the store on Friday, and we were planning to grill that Saturday night when my sister's kids slept over. And so at the last minute, I thought - hey! Baby shallots! I could use them with the halibut somehow! (I'm clever like that.)
At least for now.
Alex has a T-ball game later this morning and I will be taking my turn working in the snack bar. I haven't worked in that kind of environment in YEARS. I wonder if I can handle the pressure.
Later today my sister's kids will be here - nice cheap labor to help us put in air conditioners, finish the footboard to Julia's bed (long story) and mow the lawn. And whatever else Bill thinks up for them to do, bwahahahahaha.
But they'll be well fed, and we permit them to sleep in the house, so they really have nothing to complain about.
Actually they're great kids, and they kind of keep my kids out of my hair while they're here, so it's a nice break for me.
Gotta get moving for now. I'll be back at some point.
Well, to begin with, it was a rainy, rainy early morning. And cold. Well, for June. (Tomorrow it's supposed to be in the low 90s. I prefer today's high 50s and rain, actually.)
But Julia and I set out with our raincoats and umbrellas because that's the kind of hardy, fearless chicks we are.
We reached Goodard State Park Farmers' Market a little after they opened at nine. There were maybe 7 vendors there, with the truck from Palmieri's Bakery pulling in just ahead of us. I made sure we dawdled long enough for them to set up, so we could get some bread.
Julia picked out a plain bagel for herself (it was our last stop, and this was for the ride), and a raspberry danish for Alex. I picked out a couple of plain long Italian loaves...
And a huge multigrain loaf (part of which was already gone when I shot the picture, sure don't know how that happened...heh heh heh)
But I should back up a bit.
We only said hi to the man who sells the lobsters - can't do that EVERY week - and told him we enjoyed the lobsters we'd bought last week.
We did stop at the Ledge Ends Produce booth for two pints of strawberries,
a bag of baby spinach,
a dozen eggs,
and a "Pretty in Purple" hot pepper plant.
I figured it would be fun to see what these peppers are like. We're already growning jalapenos, cayenne, a couple of varieties of habanero, and...oh, yeah, poblanos. But nothing purple, that I'm aware of.
We also meandered across the mud to the Cedar Edge Farm (yes, I know, we were "livin' on the edge" this morning. hahaha. sorry.) booth and got two huge bunches of greens - mibuna and mizuna.
Mibuna (the one on the left) is a Japanese green that tastes like a mild arugula - it has a faint mustardy flavor, but isn't as strong as arugula or the even sharper flavored mustard greens.
Mizuna (the one on the right), is also Japanese and categorized as a mustard green, although its flavor is mild and sweet, more like a lettuce than a mustard green in flavor.
I couldn't decide which I wanted, so I got both. And no, I don't know what I'm going to do with them - yet - but when I've sorted that out, I'll let you know. I figure at the very least I can make a great salad with the baby spinach, mibuna, mizuna, the remaining few garlic scallions I got last Friday, some green and red lettuces from our garden (not that we have a lot yet) and some fresh herbs...some kind of cheese...maybe leftover grilled halibut (if there is any) after tomorrow night...oh, the possibilities.
And as for the rest - well, the eggs will be eaten right up by all of us in relatively short order - most likely for breakfasts this weekend - over easy.
And the strawberries? If my kids don't get to them first, then I plan to make my Tuesdays With Dorie assignment with them for dessert tomorrow night. My sister's kids are staying over, and I figure that's as good an occasion as any!
Even though there weren't as many booths this morning, the season is still moving forward, and so there was a greater variety of produce to choose from. I look forward to next week. And the week after that.
As far as Julia was concerned, though, I don't think it was such a success. Only one dog in attendance. And for some reason Julia didn't even want to pet him. She kept saying she did, but then she'd shy away.
She cheered up once she'd picked out a bagel, though....
It's Friday (really?) and after we drop Alex off at school, Princess Julia and I are off to the Farmers' Market.
Should be interesting today - it's POURING rain right now and that's supposed to continue through the rest of the morning, as far as I know.
But go we shall, because it's fun, it's our routine, and because I need eggs and I'm hoping Bill the honey stick guy will have eggs again. What else will we get? Who knows - depends on what's there. We're going to look for a couple more vegetables to fill in the remaining gaps (as announced by my husband, the gardner) and apart from that, it's just going to be a see what we can see kind of adventure. No lobsters this week. Can't do that all the time - it would cease to be a treat.
So, because I don't have enough time to get into anything else at the moment, I leave you with a few pictures of Princess Julia, Twirling While Wearing One of Her Birthday Tiaras and A Spotted Dog Ring:
She's so stylish. And twirly.
Okay - we'll be back later.
This was sort of a "something old, something new" kind of pesto. We had arugula in the garden that had started to bolt, so it needed to be picked NOW. And I still have small containers of basil pureed with olive oil that I froze last fall. Just a few, and I need to use them up before the new basil starts going nuts.
I love arugula - the peppery flavor and dark color are dramatic additions to a salad or sandwich (or pretty much anything else). And while I would have been fine with a purely arugula-based pesto, and so would my husband, we still had the kids to feed, and it may have been just a bit too harsh for them.
So I figured I could use some basil to lighten and sweeten things up.
The kids pulled up the arugula for me, and I trimmed the ends (and dirt) and rinsed off the leaves.
My basil had thawed, so I put on a pot of water for the pasta and got going on the pesto.
I don't follow a recipe - maybe I should - I just throw in a bit of this and a bit of that, depending on what we have and what kind of mood I'm in, culinarily.
For this batch, I put the arugula and some olive oil in the food processor, ran it for a bit, and then poured in the already-pureed basil/olive oil mixture. I blended the two together and let them sit while I waited for the water to boil.
I wanted garlic in the pesto, but I didn't want the rather harsh flavor of fresh basil. I figured there was enough zing coming from the arugula. So I peeled and smashed 5 cloves of garlic and put them and some olive oil (about 1/3 cup) in a small pan and set them over a low flame. I just wanted to warm the garlic and mellow out the flavor a bit.
While that was going on, I shredded the remaining 5 roasted chicken thighs from the previous night's dinner and set them aside.
Once the water came to a boil, I cooked my pasta and finished up the pesto.
I added some salt and pepper, and then I grated some parmesan cheese into the bowl of my processor. I also added about two tablespoons of bleu cheese and about the same amount of camembert. I wanted the creamy texture from both cheeses, and the slight tang of the bleu, balanced by the milder flavor of the camembert. I pureed it all together, tasted it, added a tiny bit more salt, and was ready to go.
Once the pasta had cooked, I drained the water and added the shredded chicken. Then I poured in the pesto, mixed the whole thing together, and served it.
I'm happy to say both kids (and husband) loved it. Alex - as always when he likes something - was quite effusive with his praise. Bill and Julia just ate. Either way - a quick and easy springtime success.
Oh - and I know - where are the nuts? I didn't use them this time around.
Okay, Carrie, of Carrie's Kitchen Creations tagged me several days ago and I'm finally posting it...
The rules: Each player answers the questions about themselves. At the end of the post, the player then tags 5 people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they’ve been tagged and asking them to read your blog. Let the person who tagged you know when you’ve posted your answer.
What was I doing ten years ago? Let's see...working for a moving company in their corporate relocations dept...living with my boyfriend (now husband) in a tiny converted summer cottage (two rooms - the upstairs room and the downstairs room...plus a bathroom, fortunately)...he had a small (16 ft) boat and I think by then he had his non-commercial lobstering license, so every few days he or both of us would go out to check the pots. We fished a lot, too. Dug clams. It was wonderful.
What are five (non-work) things on my to-do list for today:
1. Laundry. It never ends.
2. Dishes. (see second sentence in No. 1)
3. Read as many of the TWD posts as I can because I tend to fall hopelessly behind every week.
4. Break up squabbles between my children when they reach the verging-on-violence stage.
5. Make something warm and comforting for dinner because I don't feel great and it's raining.
5 Snacks I enjoy:
1. Tostitos "scoops" tortilla chips and homemade guacamole.
2. Ritz crackers with a dot of sour cream and a piece of smoked bluefish.
3. Cheese and crackers (just about any kind of cheese and any kind of crackers will do here.)
4. Anything freshly picked from our garden and eaten warm, outside.
Things I would do if I were a billionaire:
1. Set up college funds for my kids and my sister's kids.
2. Pay off the house, and everything else.
4. Buy some new lenses for my camera.
5. Donate a chunk of money to cancer research.
Places I have lived:
Rhode Island, Maine, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.
Jobs I have had:
paper route, babysitter (only once), busgirl, waitress, book store employee, asst. manager at a B. Dalton in CT. manager of a B. Dalton in MA. Receiving manager at a Barnes & Noble in RI. several temp jobs, pastry cook, relocation coordinator at a moving company...and, of course, MOM.
I'm going to wimp out here and invite anyone who wants to particpate to either copy this list into the comments and answer it there, or go ahead and answer on your own blog and just let me know so I can link to you. (It stresses me out to tag people. I'm wussy that way.)
This week's TWD recipe, French Chocolate Brownies, was chosen by Di of Di's Kitchen Notebook.
I made these rather quickly yesterday - I'd planned to make them as part of a whole afternoon of chocolate-themed baking, but it didn't work out. So I put these together in rapid time in between Alex's kindergarten class in the morning and Julia's gymnastics class in the afternoon and all the assorted kid-chaos in between. Fortunately it's a very easily-put-together recipe, and the brownies were cooled and on a plate by the time the kids and I had to leave the house.
I have to say, I like raisins in things...but not in my brownies. They just seemed...like they'd wandered into the batter while they were looking for a cinnamon bun to curl up in. But that's just my opinion. They don't taste bad in there, they're just...odd. To me.
Other than that, these are yummy - kind of reminded me of a flourless (or nearly) cake - that kind of soft, melt-in-your mouth texture. I enjoyed the flavor. My husband had a bite last night (after we'd been out to dinner with the kids, and Bill was offered a free dessert by the water because he mis-heard Bill's order and brought him the wrong thing. So Bill, who is not much of a dessert eater, and who was already stuffed from dinner, ate half of a bowl of grapenut pudding and was about ready to burst. He gallantly ate a bite of a brownie, just so I could selfishly garner some feedback. He said he liked it. This morning I tried to get the kids to taste-test for me. Julia refused (she is ornery in the mornings. Well, okay, noon and night, too.), but Alex was a willing participant. He pronounced his bite "Delicious!"
So there you go.
And here's the recipe and my little process photos....
- makes 16 brownies -
Adapted from Baking From My Home to Yours.
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
1/3 cup raisins, dark or golden
1 1/2 tablespoons water
1 1/2 tablespoons dark rum
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons; 6 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into 12 pieces
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
Getting ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 300°F. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with foil, butter the foil, place the pan on a baking sheet, and set aside.
Whisk together the flour, salt and cinnamon, if you're using it.
Put the raisins in a small saucepan with the water, bring to a boil over medium heat and cook until the water almost evaporates.
Add the rum, let it warm for about 30 seconds, turn off the heat, stand back and ignite the rum.
Allow the flames to die down, and set the raisins aside until needed. (I tried, but I didn't get any decent shots of my raisins a-flame. Sorry!)
Put the chocolate
in a heatproof bowl and set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Slowly and gently melt the chocolate, stirring occasionally.
Remove the bowl from the saucepan and add the butter, stirring so that it melts.
It's important that the chocolate and butter not get very hot. However, if the butter is not melting, you can put the bowl back over the still-hot water for a minute. If you've got a couple of little bits of unmelted butter, leave them—it's better to have a few bits than to overheat the whole. Set the chocolate aside for the moment.
Working with a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until they are thick and pale, about 2 minutes.
Lower the mixer speed and pour in the chocolate-butter, mixing only until it is incorporated—you'll have a thick, creamy batter.
Add the dry ingredients and mix at low speed for about 30 seconds—the dry ingredients won't be completely incorporated and that's fine.
Finish folding in the dry ingredients by hand with a rubber spatula, then fold in the raisins along with any liquid remaining in the pan.
(And yes, those are golden raisins in that picture above. Not anything else. Not something hideous that my small children might have dug up (or out of) somewhere and wiped on the bowl when I wasn't looking. No. It's not that. Though this picture tells me I should have used dark raisins, if only because they would have looked more appropriate swimming in chocolate. Ah well.)
Scrape the batter
into the pan
and bake 50 to 60 minutes, or until the top is dry and crackled and a knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
Transfer the pan to a rack and allow the brownies to cool to warm or room temperature.
Carefully lift the brownies out of the pan, using the foil edges as handles,
and transfer to a cutting board. With a long-bladed knife,
cut the brownies into 16 squares, each roughly 2 inches on a side, taking care not to cut through the foil.
Serving: The brownies are good just warm or at room temperature; they're even fine cold. I like these with a little something on top or alongside—good go-alongs are whipped crème fraiche or whipped cream, ice cream or chocolate sauce or even all three!
Storing: Wrapped well, these can be kept at room temperature for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months.
To see how all the other TWD members did this week, start by going here.
Last Friday Julia and I went to the Farmers' Market again (this is our Friday morning tradition after dropping Alex off at school), and the man who sells the honey sticks also had eggs this week! Woo hoo! So I bought a dozen, and then, since there were a few araucana eggs in the mix, I had to take pictures of them. So here they are...