Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Penguin and Lola Lasagne on the Town-and a Caramel Recipe

The resemblance is striking, no?
We took our costumes over to the University of Nebraska at Omaha for the annual, Hauntcert. It was wicked good.

When I was a wee one, Halloween was but one night, and you only got to wear your costume once, perhaps twice if it fell on the weekend and your school had a Halloween party (Ours did, it was a carnival called the..."Halloweenie"). Today, there's ample opportunities to wear your costume before the big day. Danny's costume was really nothing more than clothes he already owned, and a purple scarf stapled to his top hat. I thought someone might give him crap about the cigarette holder, but no one did. For Friday night, I'll use an eyebrow pencil to draw on a monocle for that extra detail.
 If we switch out the hat, and give him a grey wig, he can dress as FDR next year.
I did fake-fringe with the help of a hair rat. I bought the parasol some time ago knowing that there would come a day when I'd need it. Sure, I didn't think that would be at the end of October, but I did finally put it to use.

POW! WHAM! Take that Batman! Now look what you've done you caped crusading fucker-you tilted us all funny. Get him, Penguin!
I bought candy to hand out when the little beggars show up on Friday evening. I went with the only lollipops I could find that were nut-free/gluten-free/and dairy free. I'm going to hand out stickers as well because the candy seems a little boring, but I want to have something everyone can enjoy.
For ourselves, co-workers, and library volunteers I made two gigantic batches of caramels. I call these my, "Famous" caramels because they got me in the newspaper a few years ago. That wasn't too exciting, but Danny came along to have the photos taken and got a tour of the newsroom, met some journalists, and that sort of thing. That was exciting (he was six). I've made these in every imaginable flavour from Earl Grey, to coffee. Licorice, lavender, cocoa-you name it, I've probably done it. This year I went with salted vanilla, and salted lavender. Mr. ETB took a box of each to work and they disappeared quickly. You can dip the finished caramels in chocolate for an even more indulgent treat. I'll give you the basic recipe, but feel free to customise as you like. This will make about 2 lbs. of candy. If you do licorice, add a few drops of black food colouring for a dramatic looking candy-like these...

You Will Need:

2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup corn syrup (You can use Golden syrup, but they come up harder)
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk (I used 2%, but whole is OK)
1 cup unsalted butter
Coarse salt to taste
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

In a large, heavy pot heat everything except the salt and vanilla over medium heat, stirring frequently until sugar dissolves. Bring slowly to a boil and cook to 248 degrees F. I rely on a thermometer rather than ball tests with water. If you are good with that sort of thing, keep doing what works for you. Meanwhile, generously butter an 9x13 heat-proof pan (I use a corningware casserole). Lightly salt the pan.

When caramel reaches 248 degrees F. Remove from heat, and stir in the vanilla. It will sputter, so be careful. Quickly pour it into the prepared pan. You won't get it all out of the pot-and pushing it with a spatula will make it rumple and crease funny in the pan, so just let it cool and pick at it as a treat for the cook. After you pour the caramel, salt the top again lightly. Let it set undisturbed until cool. You will see a bit of butter pool up around the edges-that is good. It will help it out of the pan, and keep it from sticking to the wax paper you wrap it in. While the caramel cools, you should cut about 50 small squares of wax paper for wrapping.

When cool, nudge the caramel out of the pan (you may need a heavy spatula, or a knife). It may lose shape a bit, but it won't matter at this point. I find it easier to use a large heavy chef's knife to cut the slab into six strips, then do the remainder of cutting in pieces with kitchen shears. No matter what you use, it will be sticky (that's the nature of caramel). Wrap tightly. They keep well, if you can hide them well enough. Otherwise, you may wish to make a second batch.
Yes, the skeleton on the door is made from paper plates. Nifty, eh?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Sounds Like a Hot Date

Found this scribbled note in the park today. Lip balm, hand sanitiser, a mirror, and a bucket? Don't you just wonder what they were up to? Must have been an older person, the youngsters just tap their notes into a phone or tablet.
Spotted-the first Dark Eyed Junco of the season. They're winter residents of Nebraska, and there have been scattered sightings around our area, but not in. Today, Danny was finally able to log this fellow into his eBird account. Juncos are very tiny, graceful little birds, and a favourite of many local birders.
This fellow is a Flicker, in the woodpecker family. In contrast to the Junco, this is a very large bird, that you often notice in flight as a flash of white feathers on the underside.
 I thought this was impressive-a single bloom on an otherwise gone for the season shrub. That's some determination!
Won't last-our beautiful weather is going away later this week. It had to happen sooner or later.
 By next week most of these leaves will be on the ground.
Note for locals:

The Haunted Science Lab at Creighton University returns to the Physics department this Tuesday through Thursday from 6-8 PM

UNO has their annual, Hauntcert orchestral performance tomorrow evening at 7PM.

Costumes aren't only permitted, they're encouraged! Do say hello if you see us at either event (we'll be there).
The haunted tree. This park was formerly a grand estate, but the house had to be razed after being left to disrepair after the owner died. The trees, plants, and grapes were all a labour of love for the old woman who I believe has come back to inhabit this tree. If you look closely, you can see her, arms outstretched...she's whispering something. Listen...can you hear it? I can almost make it out...offma...getoffma..getoffofmylawn!

Ah, a woman after my own heart.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

If You Believe That, I've Got Some Crystals to Sell You For $59.99

I'm afraid it isn't working. I stood in the store for an entire 30 seconds grasping this crystal, and I still felt like punching someone in the face. 
 I hate it when the new age crystals are defective. Fucking discount stores. I'll bet these were overstock from the last millennium. Listen buddy, why don't you take your harmonic convergence and...oh look, it is conveniently shaped like a suppository!
Age of Aquarius, my ass. No, make that your ass.
I woke up in a bad mood, and it only got worse as my computer decided it was downloading a new version of Windows whether I wanted it, or not. Then, the browser wouldn't work with anything. I've spent several hours attempting to fix this. As I dressed to go out, I could not for my life decide on a pair of shoes and I very nearly wore two different ones, and would have, had they both been flats. I wonder if anyone would have noticed? Most people are too wrapped up in themselves to notice others.
Or, they're all too busy panicking over a disease that's a whole hell of a lot less likely to get them than the flu. Was anyone waiting for their flu jab? No. They are all at home hiding beneath the bed and pissing their pants with worry over ebola. In the past week it has been wall-to-wall news coverage, and panic. The children of healthcare workers are being shunned and kicked off the soccer team, as well as being un-invited to birthday parties because the news has people so whipped into hysteria they forgot to stop and use their brains. Some poor family of missionaries in Iowa is essentially being forced into a 21 day isolation by crazy locals that don't want their kids returning to school. Never mind that they were on the other side of the continent from where the outbreak is. Who needs geography when you have 24 hours news? I remember the early days of AIDS, and this behaviour is looking all too familiar. I'm not worried about Ebola, but I'm scared to death of people's reactions to the threat of it. 
Here's Danny's impression of my frustrated face, which sadly I've been wearing too much of late. He does do an eerily accurate impersonation of me. That's my boy!
I almost bought this. I'll have to watch for it to go on sale because I like it, but not $25.00 worth of like. 
We're  not quite to Halloween but this is the American Midwest so...
I've always been more of a shovel woman than a snowblower, but I have to admit they did one hell of a great display with the fibrefill snow. 
I've lived through some epic blizzards, but only tried using a snowblower once. The thing was so heavy and hard to push it ended up easier to shovel. Perhaps they've improved them since the old days, but this thing was quite the massive piece of equipment. There was a couple off to the side not pictured that were watching this performance, and sincerely trying their best not to laugh. I don't know why...did they think I'd be insulted? If you go out in public dressed like this you expect a few giggles. 
Yes, fun and games when the stuff is made of fibrefill. The real stuff is a lot less enjoyable. 

Outfit Particulars:

*Note-I didn't set out to do an homage to the lovely Helga Von Trollop , but by the time I had the squaredancing dress and the tights on, there was no going back. http://helgavontrollop.blogspot.com/
That said, no one does Helga like Helga, as evidenced by my complete absence of  kick-ass style. And ric-rac. Who the hell makes a squaredancing dress without ric-rac? There oughtta be a law! Anyway, I raise my brightly tight clad leg in salute to you dear! 
I think I got a groin pull!

Dress-Thrift World
Hat-Thrift World
Gold Shoes-Goodwill
1960's pink shoes-Goodwill
Bangles-Assorted places
Earrings-Sarpy County Yard Sale
Marvella Necklace-Thrift World (I think?)
Gold 60's handbag-Goodwill
Blue belt-came with a dress
White Gloves-Goodwill
Green floral pin-Tiff and Tam
Brooch-Sarpy County Sale
Butterfly brooch (on flower)-Goodwill
Fragrance-White Shoulders

There will be no larking about, children.

Chunky bangles for chunky arms.
Give us a kiss...

 No? Then fuck off.
I promise to try and snap out of this mood...but it is going to be hard as it took two fucking hours to do this post as I had to keep quitting the post, signing out, signing back in, etc. just to get the browser to work. Then, I downloaded Chrome, which is worse. I don't know about you, but I could find better things to do with two hours of my life. 
Like drink gin and tonic.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

(Bat) Winging It

Not the most practical of sleeves, particularly if you need to use the ladies room. It does make you wonder how women managed sleeves like this in the 30's. You can only flip them up so far. Poor Jean Harlow with the sleeves of her gowns going for a dip in the toilet! This blouse isn't 30's, but the slip dress beneath it is. Cut on the bias, I kept feeling like I was twisted around sideways in my dress, and then I'd remember and be like, "Oh, that's the cut" and then I'd mutter something about Jean Harlow's sleeves smelling of piss. Some styles I just can't get close to comfortable in.
To keep it from looking too authentic, I wore my tattoo tights. That got some looks.
Today was the big book sale in Blair, Nebraska. We filled two large boxes for $5.00 each. It was a very good book sale. They also had several boxes of books from the library of the now defunct Dana College in Blair. Most of them were antique-I saw 18th century bindings on some of them, however, they were all in Danish (as in Dana College). As I don't speak Danish or have any way to assess the books beyond their bindings and those I could tell were obviously hymnals, I passed them by hoping someone will want them. Unfortunately, I'm afraid they may end up with the recycling which is heartbreaking, but I just don't have the space for 100+ Danish language antiquarian books. I do hope someone gave them a good home. Sadly, none of the books had titles like, It Came From A Bog, A Really long time ago, or The Little Mermaid, the Untold Story. Or perhaps they did, but I couldn't decipher the Danish.
 I had to peek in the card catalogue. Nothing but art supplies, but I was still happy to see one. I look good peering into a card catalogue-should have been a librarian. Shhhhhhhhh.
By the end of the day, that hem was completely down, which I didn't know until I got home and undressed. You'd think someone might have mentioned that.

Outfit Particulars:
1930's black bias cut silky-acetate material dress-Salvation Army (It was hanging with the slips, I don't think they knew what it was)
Bat-Wing top-90's Von Maur
Hat-Thrift World
Necklace-Thrift World
Belt-came with a dress, and I lost it today!
Cloisonné earrings-Thrift World
Rings-all over
Fragrance-Yardley Lily of the Valley
Lippy-Revlon, Love That Red
Paisley scarf-Hand-Me-Ups
Karu brooch (holding scarf)-Hand Me Ups


We stopped at the new Goodwill in Blair and...I bought nothing. That may be a first for me. The store was perfectly nice, they just didn't have anything I wanted. Still, it was a good day for thrift stores and libraries as there was football which meant most places were abandoned during the game. I saw some people tear themselves away from the tube at halftime, but overall it was like being in an emptied-out town. It was a home game, so maybe they all drove down to Lincoln.
They don't need a new sign because they got themselves a brand new library. The more books we bought, the less they need to move, so we tried to be helpful by purchasing quite a few.

I  doubt the dress or hat will be making another appearance on the blog (or in my life) as they just aren't my style. I'm glad I don't live in the 30's for several reasons, and the list begins with bias cut dresses and crazy sleeves. Poor, poor Jean Harlow with her sleeves in the toilet. They blamed the hair peroxide for her death, but I'll bet she picked up some amoebic disease on her sleeves and it ate through to her brain.

For the record-I didn't use the toilet until I got home, and undressed...because I don't need a brain eating amoeba.

How's your weekend going?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

What's Cookin' ?

Plenty, but I hardly bother to post recipes anymore as the internet has been overrun with stupid cookery blogs. Ten years ago, when I started this it was interesting. Today, all anyone cares about is a perfect photograph and to hell with whether the recipe works or not. Exotic ingredients, extravagant use of bacon, the next, "It" recipe. Bah! I made a few things this week that turned out well, but that doesn't make me some sort of expert. That sounds a bit harsh...I am some sort of expert!

First up:
 Totally shitty photos. You'll never get blog sponsors or a book deal with those.
Right. So tonight it was Brussels Sprouts Mould. You cannot screw this thing up. It can be made with asparagus, frozen peas, carrots, beets-you name it, and I have folded it into eggs and baked in my soufflé dish. I was lucky enough to still have salad greens growing in the garden (October in Nebraska! Insane.) so I made a light salad with an herbed vinaigrette, and some apricot cous cous. Oh, it sounds fancy, but I swear it is dead easy. Get the basics down, and you can use up whatever cooked vegetables and cheese ends are lurking in your fridge. I'll give you the recipe but keep in mind it is adaptable. I ran out of dry bread crumbs and substituted matzo meal without anyone noticing. I didn't have Swiss cheese so I used a mixture of Gouda and Pecorino. I used 2 % milk because I didn't have whole. You get the idea. This is good served hot or cold. Mine was sort of room temperature because we were running in and outside with a cardboard pin-hole box to view the eclipse. This is a very interruptible meal. This is roughly based on the recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Brussels Sprouts Mould:

3 cups steamed Brussels sprouts, well drained and chopped
1/4 cup bread crumbs for the mould
Oil for the mould
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 tablespoon butter
5 large eggs
1/2 cup finely shredded cheese (your choice)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon if you have it
a quick grating of nutmeg if you have it
1 cup milk
4 tablespoons butter, melted in the milk
2/3 cup dry breadcrumbs

Heat the oven to 325 degrees F. Place in a pan of water that is large enough to accommodate your dish and enough water to go 3/4 way up the side of the dish. I keep extra boiling water on the stove in case I underestimated. Oil your mould and coat with breadcrumbs. Knock out the excess.

In a small pan, melt the butter and cook the onion until it is softened but not browned. Remove to a bowl. Stir in the cheese, salt/pepper/nutmeg/tarragon, breadcrumbs, and beaten eggs. In a saucepan, heat the milk and butter until boiling. Slowly beat the milk into the custard mixture. Fold in the Brussels sprouts. Pour into prepared mould, and carefully place in the water bath. Bake about an hour. This varies so much, that all you can really do is keep plunging a butter knife into it until you're satisfied it is firm. To unmould, run a think knife around the edge, say a quick prayer, and quickly invert it onto a plate. If you underbaked it, it will fall apart slightly, but that's what sauce is for. A nice béchamel hides that sort of thing effectively.

And there you have it. Oh, but you wanted pasta? Huh, let's see...how about some buckwheat noodles?

Also dead easy.

You will need:

3 large egg yolks plus 1 whole egg
3 tablespoons cold water
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup buckwheat flour
1-2 cups semolina flour

In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, water and salt until light. With a wooden spoon, stir in the buckwheat flour, then add enough of the semolina flour to make a very stiff dough. Wrap in cling film and let rest 30 minutes before rolling out. I used a pasta maker (I have an old Imperia from the 60's) but you can do this with a heavy rolling pin and a strong arm. Let the cut pasta dry slightly on a rack for 30 minutes before cooking in boiling water. For the thickness you see here-like fettuccini, it took about 4 minutes. Fresh pasta cooks quickly, so watch it. I served it with a mushroom sauce that was more mushrooms than sauce.

What?! You're still hungry? Are you high?
Fine, fine, have some dessert:
Everyone likes apple pie. My husband said this one was, "Too nice for family" meaning it is a company pie. I think that means it is kind of rich, and he can't sit down and demolish half of it in a sitting the way he typically does. The filling is made with tapioca and heavy cream-and shit loads of butter. This pie is based on one in the Farm Journal pie Cookbook from 1964. Then, I changed some stuff because I do that.

Basically: combine 2 tablespoons quick tapioca with 1/2 cup heavy cream, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 cup of granulated sugar, 1/4 teaspoon each nutmeg, cinnamon, and salt. Mix well. Add 5 cups peeled, sliced apples. Into the bottom pastry, pour half of the filling. Dot with 1 tablespoon butter. Add remaining mixture and dot with 2 tablespoons more butter. Cover with top pastry. Bake at 400 degrees F. for about an hour or until golden.

For the pastry:

2 cups instant blend flour (Wondra is what I use)
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter
(about) 1/3 cup ice water

Combine flour, and salt. Cut in the butter (I use a metal pastry cutter, but a food processor will work too). Add the water slowly as you may not need it all. Add just enough until dough comes together easily in a ball. The dough does not need chilling prior to rolling, but the pastry-lined pie plate should go in the fridge while you make the filling.

I use a bottom pastry for my apple pies as that's how it is done locally, and my family have certain expectations of pies (two crusts, primarily). My mother would have thought that wrong, and extravagant, but that's how it is done in Nebraska-so when in Rome (or Omaha...).

If you've eaten all that, you're going to need a good walk after dinner. Here's what I spotted on my walk yesterday...
Beautiful leaves...
Wild mushrooms (don't eat wild mushrooms kids)...
The late sun through the trees. I look forward to my afternoon walk as a way to end the morning lessons and clear out my mind for the afternoon. On the days when we can manage even a quick once-around-the-park walk I think the 1:00-2:30 maths class goes better. For me anyway. I really missed my walk today as I have a terrible chest cold . We stayed in, and watched a documentary on the Dust Bowl instead. That probably wasn't the best thing to watch when I can't breathe.

I promise to share more recipes, but until then there's over ten years worth of them in the archives. You can probably find something that sounds interesting enough to cook.

Next week-Barmbracks, Parkin, and other seasonal treats. I already candied the ginger (do not douse a redhead in candy syrup).

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Keep Our Neighbours in Your Thoughts

Around 10 AM I had a computer screen shoved in my face with the nervous instruction to, "Look what's going down in Ottawa."

There's the disconnect of seeing the footage, reading the scrolling headline, and thinking that somehow it must be wrong. Wishing it were wrong. What the hell has anyone got against Canada? Aren't they the last refuge for the helpless the world has?

I don't know anything. I can't summon the right words. I'm so sorry Canada has had to experience this horror. They'll have to sort through what has happened in the coming days, but I'm convinced as firmly as I've ever been convinced of anything that Canada will still be Canada.

Send some love to our Canadian friends as they grieve tonight.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

This Makes it a Two-Hat Weekend

Probably. The thing about candy corn is that it always starts out great, but after a few pieces you get that nastiness of the dried honey they use to make it, and then a weird bitter taste that can only be remedied by eating more of the stuff. Sort of like staying drunk to avoid a hangover. So yeah, I probably love you more than candy corn, but with an underlying bitterness. Guess what? I wore the Dior hat for the first time today.
I stopped at Gordman's to look for perfume. They didn't have anything I wanted, but they did have these outrageous leggings for $10.00, which I bought. Really, I did! Sure, you think you'll never need a pair of gold leggings, but suppose there's some sort of gold-legging national emergency, and I'm unprepared?! Exactly-better safe than sorry.
No Genii. I checked.
If you were wondering what it takes to get yourself tossed-out of Gordman's I couldn't tell you. To my surprise no one asked us to leave, and instead they gave me a $10.00 coupon for my next visit. I rarely buy anything there, but they have plenty of props merchandise for blog photographs. I must say, the help at the 90th street store were just lovely. An enjoyable retail experience is always worth mentioning as it happens so rarely.
Outfit Particulars:
1940's dress-now closed Etsy shop
Necklace-thrift store in WI
Sara Coventry brooch and earrings-Same thrift store in WI
Dior hat-thrifted locally
Gloves-Tiff and Tam
1950's Naturalizer shoes-Thrift World
1960's French handbag-Goodwill
Fragrance-Jovan Woman

This dress isn't working for me, but it will be lovely on someone taller and larger. It was interesting turning it inside-out to see all the alterations done to it over the years. It appears to have been taken in several inches, and then a newer zipper has been added at the neckline to accommodate the bodice changes. The work is all done well, but the dress itself is too massive and shapeless on my frame. I got a bargain on it as the zipper had been stuck. Fortunately, I was able to loosen it without going to the trouble of replacing it, so the metal zipper is still intact. The vinyl zipper at the neck is a latter addition. I'm a little sad it didn't work out for me as the fabric is nice and heavy, and the bluish-purple just lovely. And it matches my hat.
I could have rocked the hell out of this as a maternity dress, but those days are thankfully loooong gone. I love being a mother, but I hated being pregnant.  
In other news:
I went crazy buying vintage saree silks, and now I have a stack of them waiting to be turned into ?????
Yeah, me neither-but that didn't stop me from buying them. I'm a sucker for luxurious fabrics and gilt. One of my favourite wrap skirts is made from an old saree, so I suppose a couple of those might be in the works. I couldn't believe the Goodwill was selling them for three bucks each. Are they nuts? There's several yards of fabric in each.
Finally, there's this. Don't let the lousy photo keep you from trying it. Use your favourite upside-down batter. In a 9 inch pan spread 3 tablespoons of butter. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup granulated sugar. Arrange 2 layers of washed and dried cranberries on top. If you like orange zest, add some.  Add your favourite cake batter. Bake according to your cake directions, and turn out onto a plate. If you're feeling fancy, glaze the top with melted red currant jelly (I didn't).
 The cake re-heats nicely and lasted all week. 45 seconds in the microwave was about right for serving slices warmed. Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream would be nice, but the boys just ate it plain.
Have a happy hat-filled week. Gold leggings optional.