Saturday, December 29, 2012

Danny's Birthday

 The cookies are iced butter cookies and the details are printed with edible marking pens. Great product-I am so happy I didn't need to pipe on the details with royal icing.

The cakes are gold butter cakes that are quite durable as they are baked with butter and egg yolks. Imagine a really sturdy sponge. I like the way it cuts cleanly into shapes when chilled. The cakes were baked in pullman loaves, then trimmed to look like the hotel and house from Monopoly. Funny, after the power was out, stay in a hotel was just what we did. These photos were from the first full day of the blackout, and the light was kinda crappy. Still, cake fro breakfast is cake for breakfast, and Danny seemed to enjoy his Birthday, taking the severe weather in good spirits. Cake for breakfast, 'ya know?

That sweater used to be mine, as was the hat. I thought they don't start raising your clothes until the teenaged years.
 This photo was taken before the blackout-while playing outside in the early part of the storm was still fun. It grew old rather quickly. We still have an unfinished snowman under a plastic bucket in the yard. I don't think it will be going anywhere soon. Damn, with all the mild weather of late, I'd forgotten how cold a Midwestern winter can be. Hey, that's another of my hats! I need to have a talk with this kid.
I ended up re-making the cakes at Christmas, as Danny felt sort of cheated having only eaten a couple slices. We still have most of it, but I'm glad I was able to do it. Baking a good cake once is luck-reproducing it exactly...maybe I ought to go buy a lottery ticket.

So better late than never, this was Danny's 8th birthday in the big storm/blackout of 2012.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Cookie Stamps

I'm somewhat, "baked out" from the holidays, but Valentine's will be along soon enough, and my beautiful new cookie stamps can get a trial. Reading about the stamps online, I noticed they can carve custom stamps. Mr. ETB said they probably wouldn't do any I'd think of, for any price. I can't imagine what he had in mind...but what I was thinking was a stamp that read, "Library Volunteers Only." I take a lot of cookies to the library throughout the year. Maybe a picture of a book?

I am however taking a break from the kitchen for a while. As I type, I can smell baked potatoes (is there a better scent?) that Mr. ETB scrubbed, and placed in the oven. See? They can cook! They dug some leftover chili from the fridge as well. Maybe they'll bake me cookies.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012


Well, that's that. We've been through Chanukah, Danny's Birthday, and Christmas. Danny's Birthday quilt is a few days from complete, and Mr. ETB has off work until 2 January.

The Christmas cake, and steamed pudding were enjoyed. Danny's Birthday cakes were re-made yesterday as he only had the chance to eat a single slice before the power gave out, and felt a little cheated. I think the decorating on the second ones came out better anyway.

In an un-planned happy coincidence, Mr. ETB bought Danny Rock-em-Sock-em Robots, and I bought him boxing gloves, and a punching bag. He likes boxing, my little accordion playing, Classics reading, pugilist. Kids these days. He really wants accordion lessons...and boxing training. I think we can swing that-it has to be better than sitting through football, and piano recitals.

Mr. ETB bought me the most beautiful set of six hand-made terracotta cookie stamps. He also tracked down two of my favourite records from a million years ago that have disappeared from my collection over time (That's the polite way of saying someone took them). Danny made me a beautiful card, we all had a lovely dinner, and tomorrow I am going to force Danny to watch National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, which I picked up at the library sale for .25 cents.

I gave Mr. ETB pens-two fine point, one fountain. I also purchased some Saskatoon berry (and apple) hard cider. We haven't tried that yet, maybe we'll save that for New Years.

In the end, I managed six fishes for Christmas eve, all tossed into a festive paella. I can't say enough nice things about paella-it is nearly impossible to screw up, provided you use good rice.

So Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and I'll see you in 2013.

Friday, December 21, 2012

At Least I Got A Stay at a Really Posh Hotel Out of the Ordeal

Wednesday evening, the first snow of the season came in with 50 mph winds, and a ton of snow. When the power went out at 7PM I figured it might be the middle of the night before it was restored. Next morning found us still without electricity, so looking out the window at the snow blocking the access road, I figured Danny's Birthday plans were going to be on hold, and around 9AM I served him his Birthday cake for breakfast (I didn't spend days getting the cake and decorated cookies together to lose it all to a power outage). By 4 PM the temperature was really dropping inside the old drafty farmhouse, so we packed up, brought what could be salvaged from the fridge for dinner with us, and checked into a hotel. The last time we stayed in a hotel was four years ago, after the tornado. We're disaster oriented hotel guests. Nothing against the Red Roof Inn, but this time Mr. ETB splashed out on a tony place to stay. I'm not sure how I feel about Danny telling people it was, "Nicer than our house", but he enjoyed his Birthday stay at Omaha's classiest joint, particularly when the nice woman at the front desk sent up a card for a complementary movie, and addressed it to him along with Birthday wishes.

Today, (Friday) our power was restored around 4 PM. Just about everything in the fridge and freezer were lost (a duck, lutefisk, Icelandic Haddock, homemade puff paste, dozens of homemade pierogi, pot stickers, frozen veg from last summer's garden, and on and on). All my Christmas planning? Shot to hell, pretty much. I'm not looking forward to re-stocking my fridge a couple days before Christmas (I don't like the supermarket on a normal weekend) but I'm going to deal with it because really, what else can I do? It was painful tossing out all my hard work (breads, pastry, etc.) that I carefully froze, because the last year has seen my arthritis really progressing, and the thought of doing it all again...I don't know, in some ways it feels crushing. I always try to make extra of whatever I'm doing, "For the freezer" as a hedge against those days when I feel too exhausted to get dinner together. Now...I have two empty freezers. I can replace a duck-homemade puff paste, and a few dozen ravioli are more difficult. OK, enough of that, they both know how to boil a pot of rice, and open a tin of beans-no one is going to starve. We all know I have enough sardines in the larder to survive the end of the world, which didn't happen tonight, so at least we won't need to re-stock those.

As far as Danny is concerned, this was his favourite Birthday (he's 8 now). A fancy hotel, a brand-new weather station that he can monitor remotely from inside (yeah, we skipped installing the wind thingy on the roof in a blizzard-we'll get to that part next week) some birding items, and he got to watch the Dark Shadows movie on a plush sofa at a posh hotel. Oh, and he ate Birthday cake for breakfast. Not bad, power outages aside.

The past couple weeks have been a slew of up-down-up-up-up, down...up? Normal stuff of life, just *all at once*. Anyway, when we returned home, and stopped to check the post there was a lovely, unexpected Christmas card waiting for me. Amazing what a few kind words in a pretty card can do to brighten a day.

I did manage a few Birthday photos (in the still somewhat dark house) Thursday morning, and I'll post them eventually. The Birthday cake(s) were a hotel and house from Monopoly. The cookies were decorated to look like the property title cards. The quilt is still about a week out from being finished, but Danny's been patient about that.

It was a really nice hotel. Could have been on Park Place.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Fig Jam

You can make this as a orange/cocoa by adding 2 tablespoons powdered cocoa and using orange juice in place of the water.

You will need:

1 1/2 cups finely chopped dried figs that have first been soaked overnight
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Combine all, and cook until thick over medium heat (about 5 minutes). Makes about 1 1/2 pints.


I am marking 12/12 y purchasing 12 dozen eggs, which I need for holiday baking anyway.

It is now 12:12 PM on 12/12/12/.

Well, wasn't that fun?

Monday, December 10, 2012

Christmas Eve Dinner

Guess what I have in the freezer for Christmas Eve? I'll give you a hint-it came in a plastic pouch with a Viking ship on it.

What? Lutefisk isn't one of the traditional seven fishes? Uh, it is here- where I live, in Sweden on the Plains. I made a batch of lefse today, and figured it would be worth freezing half to enjoy with our lye-bathed cod.

I'm doing cranberries instead of lingonberries as they are easier to find, and less expensive. Really, the difference to my unsophisticated palate is small.

Anyone have any interesting Christmas Eve dinner traditions you'd like to share? If you're local, and want to have some lutefisk  on Christmas Eve, let me know. I have a feeling there will be leftovers.

Pan Dulce and Lucia Buns


Some breads for the holidays-St Lucia on the 13th, and the Virgin of Guadalupe on the 12th. Both breads are simple enough to make (I did them both on the same day in addition to three other loaves of bread) though the streusel for the pan dulce is frankly, a pain in the arse. If you do the spreading on top bit (rather than inside) roll it between sheets of wax paper first-it will save you a good deal of frustration. Both recipes are from Sunset Breads, Step by Step Techniques 1984

Note: These recipes rely on a easy-mix method where the yeast in dissolved along with a small bit of dry ingredients, then beaten on high with a mixer. I use a food service grade yeast that does not work well with that method as the grains are much larger than store bought yeast. To counter this, I dissolved the yeast in 1/4 cup warm water, and just kneaded everything by hand as I typically do. I will give the instructions as printed, but be aware that you can adapt if you don't have a mixer, or buy strange commercial yeast at the surplus store. 

For Pan Dulce:

1 cup whole milk
6 tablespoons butter
2 1/4 teaspoons granulated (not instant yeast)
1 teaspoon table salt
1/3 cup granulated sugar
5-6 cups plain flour
2 large eggs
Streusel recipe (below)
1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons heavy cream



1/2 cup sugar, 2/3 cup flour, 3 1/2 tablespoons butter, 2 egg yolks. mix dry ingredients, cut in butter. Add egg with a fork until mixed.


Do the same as above, but add 2 tablespoons powdered cocoa, and I added 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon as well. 

In a small pan, heat milk, and butter until very warm. In a large bowl of an electric mixer, combine yeast, salt, sugar, and 2 cups of flour. Pour in milk mixture and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes scraping as needed. Blend in eggs and 1 cup more flour and beat on high for 2 minutes longer. By hand, stir in enough flour to make a stiff but not dry dough.

Knead dough until smooth, place in a buttered bowl, cover and let rise until doubled.

Meanwhile, make the streusel.

\Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease 2 large baking sheets.

Divide dough into 14 balls.

Pat out rounds for the shells, then top with flattened streusel and score carefully with a knife. For horns, roll up like a crescrnt with the filling inside. For ears of corn, make a 4x8 inch oval from the dough. Fill by rolling carefully, and then scoring top.

Let rolls rise until nearly doubled again-about an hour in my cold kitchen. Brush with wash before baking (only filled rolls) and then bake 17-20 minutes or until tops are lightly browned.
 Cool on racks.

For Lucia Buns:

1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/16th teaspoon (or a pinch) ground saffron
2 1/4 teaspoons yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1 large egg
About 4 cups plain flour
About 1/3 cup raisins
Wash-1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tablespoon water

In a small pan, melt butter. Remove from heat, stir in cream, sugar, salt, and saffron. Let cool to lukewarm. In a large bowl, mix the yeast and water. Stir to dissolve. Add cooled cream mixture, egg, and 2 cups flour. Beat well with a wooden spoon. Add more flour as needed to make a dough that is smooth, and no longer sticky. Place in a buttered bowl, cover and let rise until doubled.

Divide dough into 24 pieces. Roll each into a ropeabout 9 inches long. Form into S shape by coiling ends in opposite directions. Place a raisin in each swirl. Place about 2 inches apart on a buttered baking sheet. Cover, let rise until doubled-about 35 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Brush rolls with wash, and bake about 15 minutes or until bottoms are lightly browned at edges and tops are golden. Cool on racks.


When I visit the north part of Lincoln, Nebraska I can't help notice the many (many, many) billboards that for a lack of a better words seem, bossy.

"Get a mamogram. DO IT NOW!" screams one billboard on 27th street.

"Turn POSITIVE into a positive!" scolds another (that one at least has a strok carrying a diaper to soften the tone a bit).

"STOP elder abuse! It is AGAINST THE LAW!"

"STOP illegal dumping!" (That one cleverly shows the back end of a cow).

And on, and on with lectures about being a parent to your kids (well, fuck I thought I could just ignore them until they turn 18, and then kick 'em out), getting vaccines, and whatever other heavy-handed lectures the people who rent these billboards think people living in the working class part of town need to have in their faces each time they drive down the street. You'd think the economy we've been living with the last few years would have put to rest the idea that the poor must be stupid (or they wouldn't be poor) but no, it is alive and well, at least in Lincoln.

It can't be that expensive to rent a billboard in North Lincoln, can it? What do you guys think of a billboard along Hwy 6 reading: STOP telling me how to live my life on billboards! STOP IT NOW!

When I moved to Nebraska years ago, someone had spray painted, "JUST STOP TRYING" on an abandoned building on O Street. Were I confronted with a finger-wagging lecture each time I left the house, I just might.

Friday, December 07, 2012

How to Fry a Lamb Chop

I haven't eaten a lamb chop in years, but once in a while I make them for Mr. ETB. My mother always broiled hers. I don't care for grease fires, and a kitchen full of smoke, so I fry them.

I season with salt, pepper, and a bit of thyme. I add sage at the end.

Heat a heavy pan over medium heat (I use my cast iron pan for this as it gives a really nice sear). Place the chop in the pan, and leave it alone for at least five minutes. At this point, it will probably give off some fat, so you can carefully adjust it in the pan to take advantage of the added grease. Under no circumstances should you press down on the chop.

After about 8 minutes, it should be nicely coloured, so turn it on the side and cook the fat until it browns-about 3-4 minutes. Flip it over, cook another 5-8 minutes until nearly done. Add about 1 tablespoon of butter to the pan (yeah, that's not Kosher for those of you who care-feel free to use margarine instead). When it is sizzling and bubbly, remove the chop to a plate, stir in about 1/2 teaspoon dried sage, and stir. Turn up the heat, add a good glug (yeah, that's precise) of Port, and reduce until thick. Turn the heat back down to medium, spoon the sauce over the chop, and cook and additional minute or so on each side until it is nicely cooked. These will look beautiful. Let them rest on a plate for a few minutes tented loosely with foil before serving.

Tower of Crepes With Mushrooms, Onion Jam, and Cheeses

This is going to be a long post, so I can wait if you want to go grab a beer or something.
*Taps fingers on desk*
Good, you're back. Comfortable now? Great, here we go.

This dish contains an obscene amount of butter, eggs, and wine. On the positive side, it has onions and mushrooms which probably have some healthy properties that can survive immersion in butter.  This makes a gigantic meal-actually two or three meals, so treat it like a lasagne, and think of it as something eaten sparingly, with a green salad. That said, this is one of the most impressive things I make, and at the holidays when you may find yourself charged with feeding those that don't eat meat, this makes a really lovely main course. If your vegetarians don't eat eggs, butter, and cheese, you'll obviously have to come up with something else. This is more, "meatless" than vegetarian.

The components can all be made up to a couple days ahead (crepes can even be frozen). It is quick enough to assemble once everything in made, and I suggest taking advantage of a spare bit of time here and there to do much of this ahead. I don't like to spend my holidays (or weekends) in the kitchen.

For the Crepes:

(prepare the batter at least two hours before making them as it needs time to rest).

1 cup cold water
1 cup whole milk
4 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups AP flour
4 tablespoons melted butter, cooled slightly

Whisk together the water, milk, eggs, and salt. Whisk in the flour, then the butter until smooth. I used a hand whisk, but you can use a mixer. Cover and let rest in the fridge at least two hours.

Heat a heavy pan (or a crepe pan if you have one-I use cast iron) over medium heat. When a drop of watter skits across it, it is hot enough. Pour a ladleful of batter into pan, tilt to coat and cook until it looks dry on top. Using your fingers, grab hold of the edge and flip it (you can use a spatula if you're more comfortable) and cook about 1 minute longer. Remove to a plate. Cooled crepes may be stored between sheets of wax paper, or wrapped and frozen for longer storage.

For the Mushrooms:

1 lb. mushrooms (I had Baby Bellas)
4 tablespoons butter (hey, I warned you about all the butter)
1 teaspoon dried sage
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/3 cup ruby port

Melt the butter in a heavy pan over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and spices. Cook until the mushrooms have given up most of their liquid. Turn heat to high, add the port, and cook until nearly all liquid is evaporated. Taste to adjust salt/pepper. Cool until needed.

For the Onion Jam:

2 large yellow onions, sliced thinly
4 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups ruby port

Melt the butter in a heavy pot. Add the onions, and cook covered on medium-low heat until softened-about ten minutes. Remove lid, cook over low heat until golden-about 30 minutes.

Add sugar, and cook until a dark colour-about 10 minutes. Add port and cook over high heat until it is all reduced to a jam-about 10 minutes. Cool.

Cheese Filling:

1 lb whole milk cottage cheese, drained overnight then forced through a sieve.
1 cup of the cheese mixture below
1 whole egg

Mix together right before using-don't do this one ahead.

Cheese mixture:

You'll need a total of 4 cups finely grated cheese. I used a combination of hard and soft-ish cheese: Swiss, Sheep's milk hard cheese (the label didn't offer much guidance as it was a cheese-end purchase) and some Pecorino Romano. Set aside 1 cup to stir into the cottage cheese mixture, and another cup for topping. Use the remaining 2 cups for the layers.

Put it together:

Grease a heavy baking sheet, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Most of your layers will be onion and mushroom as there is only enough cheese mixture for two layers. Space them accordingly. This will depend how many crepes you got. I had a dozen, but yours may be thicker, resulting in fewer. Stary with a crepe, then spread it with onion jam, and a bit of mushrooms. Scatter a small bit of grated cheese atop it. Add another crepe and do the same. When you get to your first soft cheese layer, be sure to spread it evenly to the edge so you don't build your tower of crepes into a mountain peak. Continue until you reach the top. This should use a small remaining bit of onions and mushrooms, and the remaining cup of shredded cheese. Cover with foil, place in oven and bake 30 minutes. Remove foil, and continue baking until cheese has browned nicely on top. Let stand a few minutes before slicing into wedges. Also works as a cold dish.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Mincemeat screw it, have a pie

You know everyone ends up eating five or six tarts anyway, so why not just make individual pies? A double crust pastry recipe gave me enough for four, which if you're doing the maths is 1/4 of a pie. What the hell, enjoy Christmas. Have some eggnog.

I bought the small, square ceramic dishes at last year's after holiday sales. I think they cost .25 cents. They were cute enough to serve in, but I find unmoulding tarts (or pies, if you will) and cooling on a rack keeps the crust nicer. They could easily be slipped back into the dishes to serve.

Monday, December 03, 2012

I'm Saving You Money, Again

I baked my yearly panettone today, and I thought this might be a good time to remind readers that a perfectly attractive loaf can be made without purchasing a special pan, or paper sleeves that cost more than the ingredients.

You'll need a tall pan, which used to be the sort of thing I solved with coffee tins, but now they tend to have coated linings, or be made of cardboard. I used a soufflĂ© dish that I buttered generously. Then, I lined it with two longs strips of parchment paper (I cut a round for the bottom as well) that extended several inches over the edge of the pan. The butter should help keep it in place. I went ahead and buttered the paper again just to be on the safe side as this is sticky dough.  Then, to increase the stability, I wrapped the outside in a tall layer of heavy-duty foil. The loaf rose and baked beautifully, unmoulded without trouble, and the clean-up was minimal.

If I had any other use for that sort of pan I'd buy one, but a one-a-year kitchen item is one more thing to take up precious storage space.

I've also used a tube pan for baking large panettone, as it solves that whole, "underbaked in the centre" issue. I admit, it isn't as pretty, and you tend to get a wedge of bread rather than a slice, but for the novice baker, it does make for an easier baking. Because the dough is so rich in butter, eggs, and fruit, baking panettone can be tricky-why complicate things with special pans? My loaf was huge, and I kept assuming at some point it would collapse, but this must have been my lucky day as it rose tall, and remained so. That could almost sound dirty, eh? If your loaf remains huge after six hours, you should seek medical advice, put on a pot of coffee, and grab the butter and jam.

Cranberry Mincemeat (meatless)

I have plenty of suet in the freezer, but this style of mincemeat does not require any, making it perfect for a water-bath canner. I didn't bother with mine, as they'll get stored in the freezer and fridge, but if you decide to preserve any thirty minutes in a water-bath canner for quart sized jars ought to do it.

You Will Need:

4 large apples, pared and diced
1 pound fresh cranberries
12 ounces chopped dried apricots
1 lb. dark raisins
1 lb. sultanas
1/2 cup candied ginger peel
1 cup candied orange and lemon slices (or just candied peel if that's what you have)
1/2 lb. dried currants
2 medium oranges, ground (seeds removed)
2 large lemons, ground (seeds removed)
2 cups brown sugar
2 tablespoons mixed spice
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 quart apple juice (or cider if you have it)
3/4 cup brandy
1/2 cup apple brandy

Mix everything except the booze in a large stock pot and bring slowly to a  boil over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to simmer, and cook until thick-about 1 hour. Remove from heat, stir in booze, and return to heat. Simmer 30 minutes longer, or until most of the liquid has been absorbed.

Pack into hot, sterilised  quart jars leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles, and adjust caps. If canning, do 30 minuttes in a water bath canner, or store in fridge if planning to use soon. Makes about 3 1/2 quarts.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Aw, Nuts

For the third time this holiday season, we arrived at an event, and had to promptly turn and leave because of on-site nut roasting in close quarters. Today, it was inside a tent housing the Christmas market. I felt terrible for Danny that yet again, we'd have to leave somewhere he'd been excited to visit. I can avoid the nut roasters at the farmer's market as it is outdoors-inside a tent is a little too risky given his level of allergy.

Danny was disappointed, but it is his allergy, and you can't really expect the world to accommodate it. We went somewhere else, he had a good time, and we got through the afternoon without a trip to the hospital or using eppi-pens. Personally, I was relieved I didn't have to go to the damned Christmas market because Danny forbade me making German jokes, (even muttered under my breath) and I wasn't sure I could do it! I mean, if they can't take a joke, they should stop starting World Wars.

On the positive side, the kid got to see Flamenco dancing yesterday, and belly dancing today. He saw captive owls at the Pioneers Park Nature Center (he even got to watch the kestrels being fed baby mice, which is exciting if you're into seeing the food chain in action) a one-winged bald eagle, and some other damned owl that was doing a back and forth call with him.  He also saw pots thrown, glass blown, and all manner of art at the Hot Shops studios open house. I think that more than makes up for missing the Christmas market. Then, in a moment consumed by parental guilt, we plunked down more money than we should have to take him to the opera in February. Mr. ETB got the pricey seats, as he wanted Danny to be able to see his first opera from a reasonable distance. The thought of climbing to third balcony probably put him off as well. The Magic Flute. We're taking him to the Magic Flute-"I am the Birdcatcher", and all that stuff.  Danny says I can't make German jokes about *that* either. Really, if they can't take a joke, they should stop staring World Wars.

I hope they won't be roasting nuts at the opera.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Just Because You Asked-Chicken Stock, Fat, and Burritos

Here goes:

For the Stock:

Remove the skin and as much meat as possible from a cleaned, whole chicken. Set those aside. In a large stock pot, place the carcass (you can cut it up to fit if you like, but it will also fall apart as it cooks-your call) and enough water to cover and set over medium heat. You don't want it to boil or the fat will get incorporated into the stock. You want a simmer-a gentle one at that. As the scum rises, skim it off adding more water if needed. When you have come up to a gentle simmer, and most of the scum is skimmed (about 20-30 minutes, add your vegetables. I like a quartered onion, carrot scraps, celery, a few stems of parsley, one or two garlic cloves, a teaspoon of black peppercorns, some thyme, a bay leaf, and salt. I save my carrot peelings/trimmings in the freezer for making stock, but if you don't just go ahead and use a new carrot.

Don't put the lid on the pot tightly, or the stock will sour. Leave it to vent and let it simmer (skimming as needed for 4-6 hours). Taste along the way, and when you're satisfied, strain the stock through a strainer lined with a double thickness of cheesecloth (or a clean pillowcase if that's all you have). Let chill, then scrape off any fat that has risen to the surface. At this point, you can return it to the stove and reduce it to glaze, which is nice for cooking, or freeze the stock as is for later use.

Chicken fat:

Place the skin (it helps to cut them into small-ish pieces) and about 1 teaspoon water in a heavy, small pot. Over medium heat, render until the skins are crisp, and the fat is golden. I know there isn't any point telling you to toss the skins, so sprinkle them with salt, and enjoy. Strain the fat through a fine sieve into a heatproof jar (or measuring cup). Chill.

For the Burrito meat:

Cut your chicken into cubes about 2 in. In a large, heavy frying pan (or stock pot) heat 2 tablespoons fat (I use Crisco for this, but lard, chicken fat, etc. are OK. Regular oil isn't the best, but it works fine in a pinch). Add the chicken and brown over high heat. Remove meat, add a bit more crisco if needed, and add 1 chopped onion, a tablespoon of peppercorns, and the browned chicken. Add enough water just to cover, and bring to a simmer (not boil). Cook, uncovered until chicken is tender (about 1 hour). Strain, reserving liquid. Let chicken cool slightly before shredding apart with your fingers.

Spices are up to you. I like cumin, coriander, chilies, paprika, salt, and epazote. Add 1 tablespoon crisco (yes, more fat-chicken is kinda dry) to pan (use the same one-why do more dishes?) and stir in the spices. Add the shredded chicken and cook about a minute to distribute the spices. Add the liquid back to the pan, and enough water to once again cover the chicken. Over medium heat, cook until most of the liquid has evaporated.

This also works well for beef, and goat filling. Use the filling in burritos, tamales, or a sandwich on a good roll. The cooked, shredded meat freezes really well.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Three Dollar Chicken

I'm not one to let being vegetarian stop me from a good bargain, particularly when one member of the family is happy enough to eat animals. It took all day, but that three dollar chicken produced the following:

2 quarts of chicken stock (made with saved carrot peelings, celery trimmings, etc. that I store in the freezer).

Enough shredded, seasoned meat for ten large burritos (wrapped and frozen for lunches at work)

3/4 cup rendered chicken fat

Tomorrow, I'll cook part of the stock down to a glaze, and freeze the rest. Yes, I had to deal with a whole chicken, but I had enough experience dealing with that growing up that I dare say I could take the damn thing apart blindfolded. Like riding a bike I guess, though I can't say for certain I'd be able to stay on a bike more than ten seconds.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


I cannot stand the term, "Mixologist." Look, there's no shame in being a bartender. The shame comes from employing the use of a term like mixologist. Calling yourself a mixologist is like calling yourself a pretentious asshole, albeit one than can make a decent gin and tonic. I get that there's an art to it-I'm not disputing the skill aspect of the job. If you're particularly good at it you become, "a good bartender."  Excellent, even. You can't be a mixologist. You can be a douchebag though, and that doesn't require much more effort than referring to yourself as a mixologist.

Admit it, you've missed these posts, haven't you?

Let The Quilting Begin-and other stuff

I have the pieces embroidered for Danny's yearly birthday quilt, now I need to put them together, sew on the bindings, and start quilting. If you ever feel inspired to embroider teeny, tiny squares to look like a Monopoly board, I'll offer you some advice-don't. If you're really determined though, remember to leave adequate seam allowance (oops). Designing your own stuff is hard-why do I never buy a pattern?

Sort-of related: Danny wanted to take a sewing class, so next week he'll be learning to embroider from a "professional" that is, someone other than his mother. I'm not hurt, as I know a few basic stitches to get by with, and am a terrible teacher (sewing teacher, anyway. The jury is still out if I've screwed the kid up academically).  He's making a lovely dresser scarf for his grandmother as a Christmas gift, which I'm guessing she isn't expecting.

Know what I am good at? Decorating cookies. I've baked more gingerbread over the last week than anyone outside of Santa's Workshop ought to be baking. The cookies have been sealed in treat bags, tied with red ribbons, and hung on the tree. Yes, the tree is up-don't fret, it is artificial. If you're living with an artificial tree you bought for ten bucks at Goodwill several Christmases ago and it is starting to look a bit thin-bake cookies. The cellophane bags and ribbons when placed strategically do wonders to hide a tree that has seen better days. As a bonus, you always have Christmas cookies ready at a moment's notice. Glass ornaments are nice and all, but they taste terrible, and really shred the hell out of your mouth.

The birthday cake-you want to know what I'm doing, don't you? Of course you do. Monopoly. What did you think I was going to do, The Day the Earth Stood Still in cookies...wait...nevermind. So yeah, the cakes will be a a red hotel, and a green house. The decorated cookies will be the monopoly board, with properties fit together around it in small individual cookies (like the quilt). I'll try to do the title cards, but that may be ambitious. Oh well, it isn't like I'm trying to depict the siege of Troy in cake...shit. Nevermind.

Thanksgiving was nice though. A welcome rest, didn't have to do dishes. Had beautiful coffee mugs to match my china pattern to enjoy at dessert (thank you again Janice-we just love them!). Now we have tooth extractions (Danny), concerts, plays, Flamenco dancing, sewing classes, and while I might grumble a bit, I really do love being busy with fun things to do. My house may look like Martha Stewart puked gilt all over the walls, but eh, whatever-Danny likes that sort of thing.

 *Sob*. I'm not getting any sleep at all for the next few weeks, am I? No, I mean I know I'm not. Am I? You're probably not either. Are you? Of course you're not.

Awright-that quilt ain't gonna piece itself...

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Owl Get That

The kid speaks owl. When the great horned owl took up residence on the farm, kiddo went outside at dusk, and kept a call/answer thing going with it for several minutes. He knows their different calls (from listening to recordings online), types of nests, and pretty much anything you'd want to (or not) know about owls. He's pretty good with other birds as well.

Last weekend, Danny had the opportunity to speak with a "renowned owl expert", which is my kid's idea of a celebrity. So they got to talk owl, and all was well until we got in the car to leave.

"I forgot to tell him my great joke!"
"Which joke was that?" I asked.
"What do you call a small owl that got caught in the rain?"
"A moist owlet."

I'm kinda relieved he forgot to tell it.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Making Lefse

OK, one more photo to make sure the editor I'm using works. The kid rolls out a beautifully thin lefse, by the way. I should have him do that more often.

Belated Halloween

Uncle Pennybags.

Eyeball Cake-Photo Test

How do "Eye" look? Yeah, I had to make that joke.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

It Costs HOW Much?

Danny: (Pointing in the butcher's case) What's that called?

Me: A standing rib roast. I've never made one as Papa is the only one that would eat it, and I'd be afraid of ruining something that costs ten dollars a pound.

Danny: How much?!

Me:  Well, that's a sale price, it usually costs more.

I could see him doing maths, figuring the approximate weight of the roast, and I watched as a look of I dunno...not horror exactly, but disbelief started to take hold. Danny is a kid that never spends money, almost never asks for anything, and is frugal to a point where I think he's channeling my grandmother. In his ideological field, no one buys sixty dollars worth of a dead cow. He just can't get his head around it.

Danny: Well I guess I'll be staying vegetarian then.

Danny is keenly aware of what things cost, as we've been doing a weekly grocery journal for staple items since he began school. I can't count how many times he's looked at a "sale" price only to announce to everyone in the aisle that it is, in fact the same price as always. Just because it is featured in a circular does not mean it is on sale.

I didn't buy Mr. ETB a standing rib roast, but I did get him a duck-not for the holiday, but "just because" it is his favourite. We're having a"Massachusetts Turkey" for Thanksgiving-a baked, stuffed cod-a tradition we've had for several years now.

Is there anything so expensive you've never prepared it for fear of ruining it?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Buttermilk Raisin Cookies

These are odd cookies. They stay very moist, don't need to be stored with anything more than a plate with a piece of wax paper over it, and keep well which is a good thing as no one seems to eat them. The boys both claim to like them, but after you've had a couple, you don't really need to have any more-or so I'm told (I haven't tried them). The recipe makes a large batch, and I would try freezing them, but I suspect they would become forgotten in the depths, and eventually tossed out. I did find someone who likes the cookies though-the fat squirrel that lives in the tree by my kitchen window. I swear, he'll eat anything. From where I stand, I'd rather feed him outside than have him rummaging through my wall as he's wont to do (he's been caught, relocated, he finds his way back-same squirrel-we think unless squirrels have collective memory about holes in the foundation that lead to the kitchen wall they pass along to others. I think it is him-I'd know that fat little rodent anywhere). Every day, I toss a handful of bread for him in the same place, and each morning he comes at about the same time to eat what's there. I have not heard him in that wall this year, so I'm hoping he'll be satisfied with bits of stale bread (or unloved cookies) and stay outside where squirrels belong.

If you like a soft, puffy buttermilk cookies with raisins, this may be for you. The recipe is based on one in The Ultimate Cookie Cookbook (Confident name, but so far the cookies haven't really lived up to the title's assertion).

Yield-60 cookies (more or less) enough to feed a large family, or one greedy squirrel

You Will Need:

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup shortening
2 cups granulated sugar
2large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
4 cups plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup chopped raisins

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly grease baking sheets. Cream together butter and shortening, adding sugar slowly until light. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Beat in buttermilk. Whisk to gether dry ingredients, and stir into batter. Add raisins.

Drop by teaspoons onto pan (they spread a bit, so leave about an inch between). Bake about 10 minutes, or until browned at the edges and firm on top. Store loosely covered.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Hartford Election Day Cake

Hey, who wants a cake from 1800? OK swell, I've got one.

This cake, isn't really a cake at all-it is a bread with great amounts of butter, candied fruit, and a sweet buttermilk frosting. It weighs a ton. I used the recipe in A World of Cakes, Casella, 1968. I have no idea how authentic it is, but it certainly is an adventure to make. I seem to remember making a stollen that required kneading in eggs and butter after the initial rise of the dough, but I guess I forgot what an utter mess it makes to do so. I'm afraid there is no good way to approach this other than resigning yourself to a good cleaning of the kitchen afterwards.

I have a hard time picturing colonial women using this much butter, milk, eggs and sugar (not to mention all the fruit) given that every other damn thing they baked was full of molasses and apples. Maybe they had more dough (sorry, couldn't resist) in Hartford to permit such extravagance.

You Will Need:

Yeast Dough:

1 cup diced, peeled raw potato
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons butter
1 cake yeast (I used 2 1/4 teaspoons granulated dissolved in 1/4 cup of the warm potato water)
1 large egg
3-4 cups plain flour


3/4 cup very soft butter
1 large egg
1 1/4 cups light brown sugar
1/2 cup brandy
1 cup raisins or sultanas
1 cup candied fruit
1 cup plain flour
1 1/2 teaspoons mixed spice

Cook the potato in water to cover until tender. Mash, and set aside. Pour scalded milk over butter in a large bowl and add sugar and salt. Stir until butter is melted. Meanwhile, proof the yeast if using granulated in 1/4 cup potato water. Then, stir into milk mixture. Add the mashed potato and then the egg. Add flour a cup at a time until you have a soft, but workable dough. Place in a buttered bowl, cover and let rise until doubled.

Punch down the dough and work in the butter in pieces. Add the eggs, brown sugar, and brandy. Coat the raisins and fruits with flour and add to the dough. Add remaining flour and mixed spice. Work very well so that dough is not streaky (it will be a mess, but stick with it (sorry, I just seem to be full of these tonight). Turn into a well-buttered 10 inch tube pan. Bake at 325 degrees F. for about 1 hour, or until cake is baked through inside. Cool in pan ten minutes, then finish cooling on a rack. When completely cool, frost with buttermilk frosting below.

Buttermilk Icing

1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon bicarb
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract or 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1/2 cup butter

Combine all, cook over medium heat in a medium saucepan until it reaches 230 degrees F. on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat and let stand 5 minutes. With a hand mixer, beat until icing begins to thicken. Spread quickly on cake.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween

I'm going dressed as a cranky, middle-aged woman.
Like my costume?

Might as well enjoy Halloween, as it is a marathon from tomorrow to the end of the year.

Anyone else think the "news" articles warning parents of the sugar content in candy are a bit silly? I mean, not as silly as suggesting sugar-free gum, rationing, and brushing teeth within seconds of consumption. Yeah, I figured you'd think so. It was bad enough when the media did the standard tampered candy/dangerous scary neighbour/kind of stories. Now we have to fear the candy corn.

Here 'ya go kid, enjoy your organic, ethical, fair trade, carob-coated, free range, stevia-sweetened, guru-approved, recyclable, non-gmo-non-modified-vegan-piece of recycled paper! Don't make spit-balls with it, the school has a zero-tolerance policy.

Hey, is that a loo roll all over my trees?

Happy Halloween.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Homemade Cream Cheese-and other cheese related stuff

There isn't any skill required in making cream cheese at home-just patience, and a large, non-reactive pan. I have to admit a tiny bit of pride serving homemade bagels with homemade cream cheese. I've threatened to make my own graavlax, but that threat is largely idle (maybe).

I used the grocery store rennet tablets from Junket, and followed the recipe in the enclosed booklet. The results were excellent, the instructions clear, and the cream cheese- the best I've tasted.

I used full-fat milk and buttermilk, but it would still work with 2%.

I used a gallon of store-brand milk that was probably ultra-pastuerised and it still worked fine. Since then, I've been able to source some cream-top milk that isn't heated to death, or homogenised smooth which I'll use for some other cheese making. Price wise, it isn't that big of a difference, but I live somewhat local to where it is produced. The worst part was going to the health food store to buy it, and putting up with all the obnoxious people that shop there. Really people, get over yourselves.

I have the wood cut to build my cheese press (yep, a cheese press) and that will probably get assembled today. Hard cheeses are a bit trickier as you don't know if you have anything good until it has aged. I have two fridges, one of which is about to become my cheese cave, and I'm pretty excited at the thought of that. Those cheeses will require purchasing specific cultures, but you can make a basic hard cheddar-style cheese with supermarket rennet.

Finally, skyr. I'm cheating, and using purchased skyr as my starter, but with any luck, I'll be dining like a Viking by the end of the week. I love skyr. Sure, it is sour as all hell, and not really for everyone, but if you can get past the initial shock of, "oh my god that's so sour I'm going to die!" then odds are, you'll probably find it if not delicious, interesting. It gets called "yoghurt" but technically, it is cheese, as it has rennet. The texture is closer to sour cream-the sourest sour cream you can imagine-and then some. Danny really likes it with a blob of apricot jam. Anyway, if you see it in your market, try some-but be warned that first taste will be a shock if you were expecting yoghurt.

Tea Barmbrack

Yeast risen barmbrack is lovely, but time consuming. If you've still not baked your brack for Samhain, this one is quite nice. I'm well aware that candied pineapple, and dried cranberries are not traditional, but that's what I had. Feel free to substitute currants, dates, etc. The recipe is from Darina Allen, who knows all there is to know(!), so I knew it would work (she's yet to fail me). The original recipe calls for self-rising flour, but you can make your own with baking powder and salt (add  1 1 /4 teaspoons baking powder and 1/8 teaspoon salt per cup plain flour). I pre-mix my own mixed spice, but you can go the typical cinnamon-ginger-nutmeg-clove route if you don't have any. I like a bit of allspice and coriander in mine, but that's admittedly odd.

This is a keeping cake, that is, you will enjoy it more after it stores and acquires a softer, sticky texture. You can eat it the day it is baked, but it is worth waiting at least overnight, and you'll find it improves with age (similar to parkin, or a malt loaf). I forget to mention that with so many of these recipes, and I wonder how many cakes/breads/etc have met an untimely end as they seemed too heavy and stale at first sampling. This is particularly true of parkin, so if you're making some for next week, you'd best get baking.

If you add charms, I suggest poking them into the loaf after baking, and wrapping them in parchment so no one chokes on a coin.

You Will Need:

3/4 cup raisins
3/4 cup sultanas
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup candied pineapple (or cherries)
Grated zest of an orange-or lemon
1 cup strong, hot black tea
1/4 cup spirits (I used some really strong cherry brandy)
1 large egg, slightly beaten
1 3/4 cup self-rising flour
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1 teaspoon mixed spice, or an aproximation of mixed spice

In a large bowl, combine everything except the eggs and dry ingredients. Let soak a few hours, or overnight. Add the egg, sugar, and flour. Don't overmix-just stir until everything is wet and combined.

I lined a loaf pan with parchment which made my life much easier. If you don't have parchment, grease and flour the pan generously.

Pour the batter into a large loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees F. for about an hour and a half-but start testing at an hour. The cake may seem dry as it cools, but it will soften up over a couple days. To store, wrap tightly in wax paper and cling film.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Candied Pineapple

Store bought, candied pineapple isn't very nice. Well, it isn't-I'm not being a snob. I never could taste any pineapple in it-just sugar and preservative. When I tell you how easy making your own is, you'll be hurrying off to buy a pineapple. OK fine, I can wait-go on.

Back so soon? Super! Let's make candied pineapple.

You Will Need:

a ripe pineapple
2 cups water
4 cups sugar

Trim the pineapple, core it and cut it into thick slices, or chunks (I did chunks as my slices always fall apart anyway). In a large, heavy pot, dissolve the sugar in the water, whisking until the sugar is dissolved. Add the pineapple, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium (or your pineapple will fall apart) and cook, stirring occasionally about 30 minutes, or until the pineapple is translucent. You will need to reduce the heat as the syrup cooks down, so keep an eye on it. Remove the pineapple with a slotted spoon, and drain on a rack over a baking sheet. At this point, you can lay it on parchemnt and give it a bit more drying out in a 170 degree F. oven, or use your food dehydrator set at 140 degrees F. You don't want it so dry it becomes hard and brittle-just enough to remove the  worst of the stickiness.

Store it tightly covered in the fridge. I put mine in plastic containers with layers of parchment between the fruit.

But wait! Don't toss out that syrup. Use it to flavour seltzer water, pour it on porridge oats, but don't pour it down the drain. It keeps well in a tightly closed jar in the fridge.

Monday, October 22, 2012

South Dakota

Me:  Oh no, Russel Means died. First it was George McGovern, now Russel Means. I swear, the Universe is trying to kill the 60's.

Danny: Is Chomsky still alive?

Me: As far as I know, he is.

Danny: He'd better stay out of South Dakota.

All in Favour of a Creepy Cake Say, "Eye!"

So yeah, Danny dared me to bake an eyeball cake, and because I'm the sort of person that takes baking suggestions from a child, we have an eyeball cake for dessert. With Halloween nearing, I thought I'd share the technique.

You need an oven safe bowl. I used my thirty year old Pyrex mixing bowl. This bowl is also helpful for flying saucers, the domes of Romanesque cathedrals, and other crap you'll be required to bake in a rounded shape. What? You don't bake Romanesque cathedrals? What sort of freaks don't bake Romanesque cathedrals? Get off of my blog.

You'll also want a sturdy cake. I use the gold cake recipe in the 1950 Betty Crocker cookbook as it has only egg yolks, which makes for a cake that holds a shape well. It also cuts easily, should you need other architectural elements for your cathedral. I wouldn't go Gothic with cake though-flying buttresses, arches and all that...I mean, there's a limit to what cake (or gingerbread) can do. Did I mention Danny dared me to do Chartres in gingerbread? In a moment of...I dunno...calculated risk, I really considered doing it, but the thought of smashing boiled sweets to melt into a rose window killed it for me.

You'll want to frost your eyeball white in a crumb coat, then pipe on red veins across the lower surface. For the centre I used a round cookie cutter as a guide, and filled it with coarse sanding sugar. For the pupil I rolled out a piece of soft licorice, cut it into a round, and made a white dot in the corner with extra icing. That was it-the eyes have it (sorry). Eye would show it to you (sorry again) but the computer won't recognise my camera. Eye need to get that fixed (gah).

Barbecued Short Ribs (in the oven)

These ribs require a bit of advance planning, but the cooking is simple enough. I took the basic recipe from, America Cooks, The General Federation of Women's Clubs Cookbook, 1967. If you run across a copy in a charity shop, I recommend purchasing it-I've had wonderful results from everything I've tried.  For the non-cook, it is still a fascinating read, particularly if you're amused by mid-century cookery.

I changed a few things (added mustard powder, honey, stuff like that) but otherwise I kept pretty close to the directions-until the end. I looked at the pan, all the wonderful carmelised fats, spices...I had to deglaze it and reduce it to sauce. I had to. That turned out to be a good call, as I brushed it back on the ribs, returned them to the oven for five more minutes at high heat, and they took on the appearance of ribs cooked on a grill. Perfect. The original recipe was for spare ribs (pork) but it worked just dandy with beef.

I don't eat meat (nor does Danny) but Mr. ETB does, so these were his lunchbox treat this week-or at least that was the intention. He just informed me they were demolished at lunch. He did offer to go out and purchase more for me to prepare. I guess he liked them.

You Will Need:

4 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup ketchup
1 onion, finely minced
Black pepper to taste (Mr. ETB likes quite a bit)
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard powder
1 tablespoon paprika

Mix all together, place in a plastic freezer bag with,
3-4 lbs. shortribs. Seal well (I always put the bag in a bowl in case it leaks), and let it sit in the fridge 24 hours.

Next day:

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Arrange ribs in a roasting pan, and discard extra marinade. Cook ribs, uncovered at 450 degrees F. for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 325 degrees F. and cook 1 1/2-2 hours longer, turning every half hour or so. When ribs are cooked through, remove to  a plate. Heat oven back to 400 degrees F.

Place pan on a fairly hot burner, add a splash of port, and stir, scrape, and do whatever you must to dislodge the cooked-on bits from the pan. When you've removed enough for a sauce, transfer it to a smaller pan, cook over high until reduced to a couple tablespoons. Brush this over the ribs, return them to the oven and let them cook five minutes longer. Tent with foil, let stand at least ten minutes before serving.

You should probably make more than you think you'll need.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Pumpkin Buttermilk Cake

I have baked so many spice cakes over the years it becomes difficult finding something to say that sets them apart. I suppose the obvious difference here is the buttermilk and pumpkin combination which lends the cake a lovely texture and good keeping quality. I would absolutely make this again, though I'm not sure I would use a raisin/pear filling as it is expensive, and more work than a layer of frosting.

This would work well as a sheet cake adorned with little more than a dusting of icing sugar. I did a cream cheese/maple frosting outside that was nice, but again, a bit expensive for such a plain cake. Penuche is always a winner with spice cakes-maybe next time.

I took the basic recipe from Better Homes and Gardens Pies and Cakes, 1966 edition

You Will Need:

1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup tinned pumpkin drained 30 minutes to remove excess moisture (you'll be shocked how much there is)
2/3 cup buttermilk
1 3/4 cup plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon bicarb
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons mixed spice
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

Grease and flour 2 8 inch round cake tins or a 9x13 pan.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Cream together the butter and sugar until light. Beat in eggs one at a time. Combine pumpkin with buttermilk. Sift dry ingredients together. Add, alternating with the pumpkin/buttermilk mixture. Don't overbeat it. Pour into pans. Bake about 30 minutes for rounds, 40-45 for sheet.

A Fantastic Bread Sponge

I've started using this as a basic sponge for several varieties of crusty bread, and am pleased with it.

2 cups water at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
(about) 3 cups strong flour

Mix until combined-the dough should not be liquid, but not dry either-more like a very wet clay. Cover, let sit at room temperature 24 hours (yes, that long).

At this point, you add salt, half a teaspoon more yeast, more water if needed, and a sweetener if you like. Add your flour (I've used both white and wheat for this) until you have a somewhat sticky dough you can handle in folds. This will be a couple cups of flour at most. Over the next two hours, fold the dough several times, taking care not to completely deflate it. After two hours, shape as desired. Let rise another hour or so until doubled slash, and bake in a hot oven with steam for the first twenty minutes (I preheat to 485 F. then drop to 425 F when I load the bread). Rotate bread pan after 20 minutes, remove steam pan if using one, and bake about 20 minutes longer until the bread has an internal temperature of around 205 degrees F. At this point, I kill the heat, pop the door of the oven open, and let the bread sit in there another five minutes directly on the rack. This helps it to release steam slowly giving the crust a crackled effect. It won't always work, but when it does, the five extra minutes is well worth it.

So that's my new basic bread sponge, and what I've been doing with it. So far, I'm sorry to say the boys prefer this to the sourdough loaves. That's a drag, as I have three lively starters at the moment.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

"And" Does Not Mean "Or"

I post this hoping to hear readers reassure me I've not lost my mind. I bought a set of salt and pepper shakers yesterday. The sign on the table read, "Salt and Pepper Shakers, $2.99."

Upon ringing them out, I am charged the price for each shaker.

"But they're a set. No one buys just a salt or a pepper."
"Unless they're connected to each other, they're sold singly."
"But, the sign says, "Salt and Pepper Shakers" not "Salt or Pepper Shakers."

My money was refunded for the extra shaker, but I had to endure being, "educated" by a teenager that salt and pepper shakers are sold singly.

Well? Is this how it is where you live, or is it just here in Idiocracy? Am I mad to expect "Salt and Pepper" means a duo? I hate being the complaining old lady, but not as much as I hate being over charged.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


I'm not much of a telephone person.  I have an unlisted number, favour written communication over spoken, and keep the land line only for the sake of emergencies. Sometimes, I get calls to remind me of appointments, the odd poll taker-that sort of thing. When the phone rang at 2PM Monday, I figured it was about delivery of the new washing machine. What I heard on the other end was:

"Hiiiiieeeee, I'm (super-fast-sing-song-up-inflecting-young woman) calling (again, so fast I couldn't make it out) is (more blather ending on a high note which I suspected was a question but given the pitch of the rest of it, I couldn't be certain)?

Look, I'm middle aged, almost completely deaf in one ear, and somewhat grumpy when I feel my time is being wasted. I hold the phone to my good ear, and I had the volume at high. I wasn't having difficulty hearing her, but I was having a hell of a time understanding her. I asked her to repeat it.

"Bleeeeeeeeie, bluuuuuh, chiper-chipper-uh, you know eeee...Chadron State."

OK, so at least we got as far as Chadron State. She was calling from a college, or trying to call a college.

"One more time please? I asked.

(Somewhat less chipper at this point) "Is Kelsey there?"

Oh, she was calling from the admissions office for someone named Kelsey. That took three tries. Not wanting some poor kid to miss an important call from an admissions office, I explained that this was a wrong number, and that she should check it, or make note of it so they can get in touch with poor Kelsey who is probably waiting to hear from the admissions office.

Here's where Danny says I was, "mean."  He used the word mean. I told the person on the other end of the line that if she intends to keep working on the telephone she ought to pursue diction lessons, as it shouldn't take three attempts to understand the purpose of the call.

"You told some kid to get diction lessons. That's mean." He insists.
"I told her that if she intends to use the phone in a business situation she should take a class."
"You told her she needed to get diction lessons-that's really mean. You have an accent."
"I do, but you can understand me. There's nothing wrong with a regional accent provided it is clear you are speaking the same language.
"You're mean."

At least I resist the urge to insist young cashiers  count back change when they hand you your notes and coins in an unsorted pile. God, I hate that. Probably further evidence of my meanness.

The following day, I got another call from Chadron State, but at least I could understand that one. I dunno, if your name is Kelsey, and you're waiting for a call from admissions at Chadron State, maybe you better get on the horn and give 'em a holler. Or not. Maybe this is some sort of sign that they'll screw up your records a week before graduation, and you'll never get your diploma.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

That's Christmas, Sorted

I have six Christmas puddings being stored after the initial steam, a Christmas Cake (wrapped in apple brandy soaked cheesecloth) and enough dried fruit left for a second cake (someone should stop me before I bake again).

With Danny's Birthday so close to Christmas, I try to get things done as early as possible. Last year I had the puddings made by the 18th-so I'm a week ahead this year.

Tomorrow, the new washing machine arrives-hooray! I've been hand washing everything for a week now, which is obviously a pain.

I have Danny's Halloween costume ready-he's dressing as Uncle Pennybags from the Monopoly game (he's kinda Monopoly obsessed) which was great as he already had a suit so all we needed was a walking stick, and a hat.

The quilt is coming along. I still haven't located a suitable backing fabric, but I'm doing the front by piecing into the design of the board. The sewing isn't so terrible (no worse than other square-based quilts) but the embroidery on the properties, Community Chest, Utilities, etc. is killing me. Nothing makes you realise you need new glasses the way that tiny embroidery does (not to fear, I see the optometrist in a couple weeks). I'm fairly confident it will be completed by Danny's Birthday.

I guess it really is too soon to start making Christmas cards, eh?

Tuesday, October 09, 2012


Danny has two weeks until his dental appointment. Because he has a tooth growing in behind another that will not fall out, it will probably require removal. Last visit, the dentist told Danny to try wiggling it a couple times daily, to see if he could dislodge it himself. No luck so far, but it is pretty loose. I offered to help out by grasping the tooth with one of those gripper things people use to open jars.

"Absolutely not! I want a licensed dentist. You're not a dentist, you're an anthropologist."

You know, these kids today are so picky. "EEEwww, I don't want you to remove my appendix with a razor blade, and a bottle of scotch. I want a licensed surgeon!"

Oh, and the Tooth Fairy sneaks into my put-up cordials and helps herself-then she tosses money all about Danny's room. We know it is her, I mean who else would be taking such healthy swigs of the cordials when it isn't Christmas? Anyway, I'd better lock up the booze as soon as that tooth comes out.

Pudding Time

I've been drying/candying fruit all summer and fall in preparation for the yearly puddings. This is the first year where nearly all the fruit is home dried/candied. I also have some homemade apple brandy for the spirits, and my own bread for the crumbs. I feel like it is 1840-well, except for the electric dehydrator. Dudes, you should get one of those machines, they work a treat.

Today, we did all the chopping, grating, etc. and tomorrow I'll do the initial 6 hour steaming leaving the last 2 for Christmas Eve. I'm doing small ones this year (8 of them)  because I like the idea of individual servings-and I don't like to share.  There's something special in having your own pudding to set alight, isn't there?

Here's what's going in for fruit:

Concord grape raisins
Black grape raisins
Dried Italian plums
Candied ginger root
Candied orange peel
Candied lemon peel
Candied grapefruit peel
Candied cherries
Dried cherries
Candied apricots
Dried apriocots
Dried apples
Dried pears

For the bread crumbs I have a buttermilk fennel bread, and the remains of a pumpkin challah.

I told Danny he has to help me stir so he can make a wish. Personally, I think that was a way to get the kids to help stir the heavy ingredients (it gets to be a chore for a large batch) but he fell for it. I have a gigantic bowl reserved for just this task.

Next up-the Christmas cake. I'm letting Danny select which recipe we use this year, though I will limit it to ones I'm familiar with, or come from trusted sources. Fruit and booze are too expensive to be tossing out on some recipe that wasn't tested.

Anyone else getting an early start on the holidays?

I Made That Chuck Roast, I Did

The Internets weren't much help locating my mum's brisket recipe, so I improvised. Mr. ETB really enjoyed it, so I'd better record the recipe here as I froze the other half of the roast.

I needed my oven for bread, so I treated it like a boiled supper, and cooked it on the hob. Four hours did it, over the lowest heat setting.

You Will Need:

Chuck roast
1 large onion, sliced
1 bottle chili sauce (any kind will do)
1 cup Concord grape sweet wine, plus extra to rinse the chili bottle
3 cloves garlic, peeled
4 carrots, diced
1 parsnip, diced
2 beef stock cubes
A bay leaf
A generous grinding of black pepper
Beef suet for searing (sure, you can use oil)

Heat a couple knobs of rendered beef suet in a Dutch oven. Sear the roast. Add vegetables, and stock cubes. Cover all with chili sauce. Add wine. Rinse chili sauce bottle with additional wine. Add bay leaf and pepper. Cover, and cook over low heat several hours until tender. Remove meat and vegetables from pot. Strain through a fine sieve. return to pot and boil rapidly until reduced and thickened into a gravy. Serve with roast. If you aren't serving immediately, chill the sauce and scrape any additional fat that rises to the surface. Otherwise, what the hell, this ain't health food.

First night I served this with a crusty baguette. The second evening I served it over noodles. Tomorrow, it will be a sandwich.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Chuck Roast

Flipping through the grocery circular, Mr. ETB remarked that chuck roast sounded good.  He's a pretty good sport about living with two vegetarians, so on the way home from the city, I stopped and bought the largest one they had (I'm going to freeze half).

"Well, you'll need wine and chili sauce" Mr. ETB reminded me.

"That's how I cook brisket, but I could cook a chuck roast the same way, I guess."

Here's the embarrassing part-that was how my mother cooked brisket, and how I prepared it not knowing any different. It has been at least ten (probably closer to fifteen) years since I made anything like this, and I'm not really sure how to do it anymore. I tried steering (unintentional pun there, but I'm leaving it) him toward a more traditional pot roast recipe with peas, carrots, and some sort of floury gravy, but he insists the chili sauce/wine combo is better. Fine. I at least remembered enough to purchase a bottle of kosher wine (Concord grape, of course) though the brand of chili sauce my mother favoured is nowhere to be found in Nebraska. I'm sure the store brand will do. I think there are several onions involved. And carrots. I have a jar of rendered beef suet, maybe I ought to brown the roast in it first?

The "Teachable" Moment:

Danny, I want to tell you about this three dollar bottle of wine I'm buying. Someday, you'll be a teenager and as most teens do, you'll be tempted to hit mum and dad's booze. Because we're not the types to keep a stocked bar, you'll find yourself looking at a bottle of Pimms, and half a bottle of Mogen David that was left from the last time I cooked a brisket/chuck roast which will probably be this weekend. You'll think, "Hey this stuff isn't too bad, kinda sweet, goes down easy." You may find yourself with a bowl of popcorn on your lap, a movie on the telly ( or perhaps some sort of progressive jazz concert at an outdoor venue...but this isn't about me at Ravinia in 1981)...son, if you learn nothing else from me remember that the sickest you will ever be-the worst headache you will ever encounter-the first time you will pray for the ability to vomit on will all come courtesy of that innocent looking bottle of Concord grape wine. Oh, and maybe bourbon and ginger ale-don't drink bourbon and ginger ale. Scratch that, just don't drink bourbon. Or Mogen David. There, I've shared a life lesson so someday when you run off and join the merchant marine as you threaten routinely to do, you'll know to politely refuse the offer of a nice glass of wine and insist on grog like a proper sailor. And don't spend all your money on floozies when you get in port.

There, I'm done parenting for today. Hey, who wants Chuck Roast?

Friday, October 05, 2012

Raspberry Devil's Food Cake

Oh, how I wish the new Blogger interface would work with my browser. Instead, let me resort to descriptive writing. Four layers of rich chocolate cake. Raspberry ganache filling and icing. Artfully arranged raspberries atop the cake (OK not really, I just plopped them on pointy side-up, and called it a day). The recipe comes from Nick Malgieri's wonderful cookbook, Chocolate: From Simple Cookies to Extravagant Showstoppers. This cake? The latter. I keep peering into the fridge, all self-satisfied. "I baked that." Yes I did. Maybe not the perfect dessert with a meal of lasagna, but eh, I'll bet Nick would approve-he looks like the sort of guy that can appreciate a slab of lasagna and a hunk of cake.

I don't like to cook at the weekend, so I try to make a nice dessert that will see us through. Unless we have unexpected company, this cake will probably last weeks. I'm going to freeze half as I've had good results freezing ganache/mousse type cakes. Sometimes they're better slightly frozen. We'll see.

The recipe called for covering the entire cake in chocolate shavings at the last. I have rheumatoid arthritis-I don't *do* chocolate shavings. Chopping up a whopping twenty ounces of chocolate for this cake used up all the hand strength I could summon today. What's more, no matter how neatly I work (and I'm pretty neat in both senses of the word) pressing chocolate shavings onto the surface of a cake results in a mess to clean up-and waste. While I'm not above stooping to lick clean the counter thus avoiding waste, I'd still have to clean it again, and well, to hell with that, I just chopped twenty ounces of chocolate. I mean, how much chocolate do you need? Nick? Nick? How much chocolate Nick?

Finally, I thought twenty ounces of semi-sweet chocolate was insane, so I used half unsweetened to make a bittersweet of sorts. It is indeed quite bitter, but against the sweetness of the cake we thought it was just about perfect. Adjust according to your tastes. You will have ganache left over, so let it firm up in the fridge, then form balls, roll in cocoa powder and make truffles. Or just eat it with a spoon when no one is looking. I won't rat you out.

Cake Batter:

2 1/4 cups cake flour
3/4 cup Dutch process cocoa powder
2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
12 tablespoons unsalted butter-very soft
1 3/4 cup buttermilk, divided
4 large eggs


10 ounces frozen raspberries with their liquid (I used fresh and added 1 tablespoon water)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
20 ounces semi-sweet chocolate cut into 1/4 inch pieces
1/2 cup raspberry preserves

Chocolate shavings, or as I did, topped with fresh raspberries and a scattering of pearl sugar for brightness

Grease and flour 2 10 inch cake pans. Nick says to line the bottom with parchment. I just spent about fifteen bucks on chocolate, butter, and raspberries so pardon me as I channel my grandmother..."You vant I should vaste parchment to bake a cake?" Funny, I just got the strangest craving for kasha and bowties. *Shrug*. Anyway, line the pans as you see fit, but butter and flour worked fine here.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Set the rack in the centre of the oven.

Sift dry ingredients into a bowl. Add butter and mix on low speed for 2 minutes (yes, this will send cocoa powder and everything else airborne). Add half the buttermilk, and mix 5 minutes longer, scraping the bowl once in a while. Beat the eggs into remaining buttermilk, add in 3 additions, scraping well after each.

Pour into prepared pans and bake about 30 minutes or until cakes are firm on top and test done with a toothpick. Cool 10 minutes in pans on a rack, then cool completely on rack. Meanwhile, make the filling.

Bring raspberries to a boil and reduce slightly. Strain through a sieve to remove seeds (yes, this is annoyingly slow). Cool. Bring cream and butter to a boil. Remove from heat, pour over chocolate in a large, heatproof bowl, and let sit two minutes. Whisk smooth. Whisk in the raspberries. Cool until thickened.

Slice cakes in half to make four more-or-less even layers (hey, I won't tell anyone if your cake is lopsided. You made cake!). Spread with a bit of the preserves, then the filling. Mask the outside of the cake with the remaining frosting. Top with raspberries or chocolate shavings. Serve chilled.

Thursday, October 04, 2012


I can't think of a single circumstance where it would be OK to approach someone in a grocery store and offer your unsolicited advice about someone's child rearing. I understand this sort of thing happens routinely, but largely I've been able to avoid it. Danny's baby formula was by prescription only, so I never had to face the wrath of busybodies ready to, "educate " me about breastfeeding.

I am aware of, and understand the stereotypes  associated with homeschooling-I probably held many of them years ago. The difference between holding, and voicing an opinion is a matter of manners.

I was caught off guard in the produce department. Danny was filling out his grocery price journal when a 60-ish woman swooped in on us. It was cool today, so Danny was wearing a sportcoat over a shirt and argyle vest, with walking shorts and knee socks. That's his style, and as it doesn't feature rips, bleach spatters, or his arse hanging out of his shorts, I let him dress according to his tastes.

"Oh, he looks adorable." Mrs. Swoopy declares. He looks like he belongs at Hravard. They all dress that way at Harvard, my nephew is there he graduated top of his class, I'm a retired school teacher. Where does your son go to school?"

First, a couple points. I know my way around Harvard square, and the Classical Studies department as well, and trust me when I tell you no one wears argyle vests, sport coats, and shorts with knee socks-not even as an attempt at irony. I'm stretching my memory back to the 90's (ow, that hurt) but honestly, I never saw an argyle vest. Ever. What I did encounter were people who would let you know thirty seconds after being introduced that they attended Harvard. Usually, it would emerge they attended the Continuing Education programme, but yeah, technically that is Harvard.

Let's give Mrs. Swoopy the benefit of the doubt, being a proud auntie and all. She was bursting at the seams with pride ,and while I don't think I look terribly approachable, I at least look respectable enough to know Harvard exists.

"So where does he go to school?"

Obviously, if Danny is at a grocery store at 2 PM on a Thursday afternoon, he isn't attending a conventional school with 8-3 hours. A retired teacher obviously knows this. While it seems innocent enough, what she was in fact doing was interrogating me as to why my child isn't in school today. My child was in school today, he was spending an hour making a weekly journal of staple items that he graphs and reports on through the semester. What Mrs. Swoopy was doing was interrupting class.

I try my best to be a good ambassador for homeschooling, but I am loathe to tolerate bullying. I am happy enough to answer sincere questions, but I am not willing to be lectured by someone that has yet to master the basics of etiquette. It is never polite to approach someone, corner them in a public place, and proceed to scold them.

"But there are good schools you could send him to, with trained professionals. I hope you *at least* let him be around people. Children need socialisation."

It took everything I possess to refrain from uttering a remark about being socialised to have bad manners, and be bullied by strangers. If not an award, I should at least get a pat on the shoulder for that because it was really terribly difficult to hold my tongue. I suppose she imagines I keep him locked in a closet reading the Bible all day.

Thankfully, before I could respond, she scurried off, which I imagine was her intent. It was obvious Danny is homeschooled, and she didn't want to let pass an opportunity to share her disapproval.

Thank god I wasn't buying baby formula as well.

Monday, October 01, 2012

So Simple a Seven Year Old Can Make It

In an effort to teach my son to cook, I've been covering the basics. Today, he made a basic sauce to serve over white beans. Dinner was Delectica squash halves filled with kasha and mushrooms topped with white kidney beans in the following sauce:

2 cups vegetable stock, warmed
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

In a saucepan melt the butter over medium heat until it sizzles. With a wooden spoon, beat in the flour and cook a minute or so until foamy. Whisk in the stock, and continue cooking, whisking constantly over medium heat until thickened. Remove from heat, stir in beans, and adjust seasonings.

If you prefer a white sauce, use milk in place of the stock.

Danny was pleased with how well his first attempt at sauce turned out, as I was I. The sooner he learns to feed himself, the sooner I can move out. He muttered something about turning my bedroom into a studio, but I don't think he meant it as he really can't paint.

I also taught him how to sew on a button, and hem a pair of pants, so I guess he's better prepared for life than many people I know.

Soybutter and Concord Grape Muffins

Each fall, I make Concord grape jelly, and before it has a chance to set, I'm looking for new ways to make use of it. Last weekend, I introduced my husband and son to my childhood favourite of cream cheese and jelly sandwiches (on white bread, of course). Today, I baked muffins.

As muffins go, these are a bit more work than the, "dump it all in a bowl and stir" variety, but not really that much more work. You need to cut the butter and soy butter into the dry ingredients like a scone, but otherwise, these shouldn't take but five minutes from start to oven.

You may of course, use any nut/soy/seed butter you like. We go between soy and sunflower butters. I personally prefer the sunflower butter, but it is difficult to source where I live, and much more expensive. In baked goods I'm not really able to detect much difference save for aroma-the soy butter essentially has none, where the sunflower could really fool you into thinking it was peanut. Once you toss the Concord grape in there, it overwhelms everything else, so it hardly matters here. Last weekend, Danny woke to what he called an, "aggressive odour of we live in a winery." I told him someday he'd recall it fondly, the way I start missing my Gran when I smell chicken fat rendering, or mothballs, or both at the same time. It wasn't just her flat either-the entire building smelled of chicken fat and mothballs. Long, dark hallways with televisions and radios blaring from behind black high gloss painted doors, chicken fat, mothballs, and sometimes cabbage. And herring. Not bad for subsidised pensioner housing in Chicago. Sometimes her place  did smell like booze as her husband made cherry wine. And herring. In a small, dark, two room apartment in Chicago. See how powerful our senses of smell are on nostalgia?

Right, so these muffins are great, and if you don't have homemade jelly, that's OK-you could even skip it, or use whatever flavour you have on hand. When I was small, my mother would sometimes toss a few M&M's in the centre of a muffin as a surprise ( and boy were we ever surprised because we never saw real, live M&M's laying around the house, so it was always kind of miraculous when they turned up in a muffin-almost as fantastic as the idea of my mother hauling her arse into the kitchen and baking something). The beauty of muffins, compared to other baked items is how flexible they are. Unless you underbake or burn them beyond recognition, you'll likely get something edible. The only hard and fast rule is that they must be topped with coarse sugar crystals. No exceptions. If you don't top your muffins with coarse sugar crystals the terrorists ( and nutrition experts, and other assorted bastards that want to tell you how to live) win.

You Will Need:

2 cups plain flour
1/2 cup sugar (use less if you have a sweetened soy butter)
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt (again, adjust for the saltiness of your soy butter brand)
1/2 cup soy butter
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup milk (I used 2 % but anything will do)
2 large eggs, beaten
Jelly/jam for filling
Coarse sugar crystals that you must use

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a 12 muffin tin with papers or grease well. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut in the soy butter and regular butter until you have a fine meal. Combine milk and eggs and add all at once. Mix just until combined. Drop a heaping tablespoon of batter into each cup. Add a teaspoon of jelly, then top carefully with more batter until all is used. Sprinkle generously with the corase sugar crystals that you must use. Bake about 15 minutes, or until done. Mine took about 18 minutes, but you know your oven better than mine and I like to err on the side of too soon rather than too late, which in *most* things is a good approach to life.

Extra muffins can be sored tightly wrapped in sandwich bags sealed with a twist tie, and frozen.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

My Weekend in Concord...


Sixteen half pints of jelly, a quart of juice, fruit leather, dehydrated into raisins, and tomorrow, the last quart and a half of grapes will become the annual harvest grape pie. I am So. Bloody. Tired.

But we'll have grape jelly to last through the year. I hope. Grape tends to go quickly.

Oh yeah, I also bought a ton of fresh figs, but I ate most of them. God, I love figs. Fresh ones are a rarity around here. I did manage to dry a few, but they won't last.

I still can't get things to work well at Blogger, and I'm loathe to download a new browser as I'll have to install a new version of Linux to get it to work. *shrug*. Maybe I've cooked-blogged-said all I needed to.

Go grab some grapes before the (short) season is over.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Anyone Have Hedgeballs?

If you're a local reader, and have some hedgeballs you're not using to repel swarms of box elder bugs (known locally as, "Democrats" because they only come out in droves around election time. Yeah, I didn't laugh the first time I heard that either), I'd be happy to take them off your hands. I'm willing to swap for something from the kitchen (bread, pie, jam, etc.). Hy-Vee wants a buck each, which is insane. Drop me an email if you want to arrange a swap.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Things They Won't Teach in Civics Class

Oh for heaven's sake, the only thing you should be saying is, "I want a lawyer." Then, you shut up.,0,1390149.story

I'm having trouble getting links to work with new blogger interface, browser, etc. sorry.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


The new Blogger does not like my browser. I rather like my browser more than I like Blogger. Time to relocate, perhaps?

Anyway, I'll just post this to see how it looks.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Deep in the Bowels of Your Colon (Nebraska)

By the title, you can probably guess where I went today.

It wasn't all that deep in the bowels as there are only four streets, and they're kind of short. There's a bar (there's always a bar), a bank, and a church (there's always a church). It was only a few miles from Lake Wanahoo, which we'd been curious to see, to we had ourselves a bit of an adventure.

We also visited the Saunders County Museum, the Wahoo library, the Ceresco Library, and the farm store where I bought Mr. ETB some excellent braces in brown and beige stripes. He's gonna love those. And socks, because his socks seem to disappear. Me? I've had the same socks for fifteen years, but his keep vanishing. Strange, eh? I also caved, and bought tulip and daffodil bulbs (I said I wasn't planting any more-well so much for that insistence). My child is dangerous around the farm store-he'll plant anything.

As much fun as that was, the best part of the day was stopping by the brand new playground in Ceresco. It still has that, "new playground smell" which is mostly recycled tyres and moulded plastic. Danny met another child his age also named Danny, who lives on a farm outside town. They both like green beans (the funny stuff these kids talk about today) and swings, even if the swings were kinda low (they need to fix that). I like having my pick of a few playgrounds in the area (Wahoo and Ashland also have nice playgrounds if you live in the area).

This is Exciting

-or maybe I just need to get out more, I dunno....but hey, did you know that fine sandpaper will remove rust stains from the toilet bowl? OK stop laughing, we have very hard water in the well, and no matter how much I clean, the rust stains are a pain to get rid of. I've used stromg cleaners, vinegar, pumice-and today I took some fine grade sandpaper to the bowl and know what? Like new. That's what.

Keep in mind you need the fine grade paper, and you can't scrub the hell out of it or you'll ruin the finish on the bowl, but otherwise, this is a nice chemical free way to deal with rust stains. For regular old hard water build-up, I like white vinegar. If you soak a rag in it and leave it on the tap overnight, it will be sparking by morning. That works great on chrome, but the toilet bowl was really bothering me (look, I don't ridicule the stuff that keeps you up at night).

Sandpaper-go get some and marvel at the results in your own loo.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

L'Shonah Tovah

I'm off to dip apples in honey, and celebrate the new year. I hope yours is filled with sweetness, good health, and all sorts of wonderful things.

Applejack Festival, 2012

I like the determination of this single, perfect apple on an otherwise dead tree.

Well, I'm back from the Applejack festival in Nebraska City, Nebraska and I have (a few) apples, some Western wear, and tons of photographs. We made a side-trip to Missouri because Danny wanted to see a state he's never visited (he was kinda unimpressed) and managed to clip a corner of Iowa making it a three-state-weekend. What sort of parents would we be if we didn't, yanno?

We came back by way of the "troubled" nuclear power plant. Does anyone else feel that, "troubled" isn't really a good way to describe a reactor that had to be shut down, and subsequently taken over by a private company-and it still isn't operating? I mean, "troubled" makes it sound like we're talking about a celebrity. Lindsay Lohan, is "troubled." A nuclear reactor that had to be shut down is "dangerous." They make it sound like the plant needs a step programme or something.

Because we are the sort of people we are (I mean hell, why pretend, right?) we found a library having a book sale. The books were pretty awful (lots and lots of self-help) but the CD's were half a buck each, and incredible. We bought just about all of them. I did get an opportunity to display my, "nerd cred" when the woman ringing us out couldn't get her calculator to work.
"I have a slide rule!" I offered cheerfully, which got a laugh until she realised I was serious and then she kind of looked at me like I just dropped in from Mars, but I'm used to that.

Danny was able to view his first real parade complete with political candidates, marching bands, and beauty pageant winners. Many, many, beauty queens. I had to explain that to Danny, and he was...what's the word...transfixed? So later, at a science exhibit for children, he finds himself at a table playing with a circuit board beside a beauty queen(she was wearing many yards of pink tulle, a crown and a sash declaring her winner of something). I watched him stare at her, again fascinated (in both senses of the word) and as she was a few years older than he, she seemed aware, and amused by it. Then, she put together one hell of a circuit that not only blew a fan, and lit a light bulb, but hooked up an amplifier to boot. I'd like to see Honey-what's-her-face do that. There's nothing more beautiful than a well-organised circuit board. Nothing.

Other highlights from the trip were the Civil War Museum in Nebraska City (excellent collection for such a small museum, with great staff and plenty of information to accompany the exhibits. Worth the admission which seems steep until you see what they've been able to do with the money).

Ceramics Studio Tour at Jenni Brant Ceramics
I wish I had grabbed some info on her friend who was making lovely animal sculptures-he was very talented, and generous with his time talking to a seven year old (they both were). If anyone knows his name, and if he has a website let me know and I'll post it.

I'm not going to recommend the orchard we went to because it was a rip-off, a zoo, and a great big blight (well, we're talking about apples) on an otherwise lovely weekend.
Oh look everybody, it is yet another photograph of Mr. ETB wearing braces, and peering through a window! I thought it would make a good series-my husband wearing braces peering through windows. This makes the second installment. This window was in an alley in Nebraska City, and there was a 1960's Thunderbird inside. He could almost look Amish in that get-up were it not for the ponytail. Maybe he could cut it off and glue it to his chin or something. Amish computer programmer-I'll bet that doesn't come up too often.

Nebraska City is a lovely place with plenty to do when it isn't Applejack Weekend, and I would love to get back and take the Windmill Factory Museum tour.