Monday, December 31, 2007

Turning of the Year

Yes, you do, Coffee Mates. You have my interest and my appreciation and, hey, let's not forget -- I love you people. (Insert big beaming grin.)

Thank you all for hanging with me through 2007. I hope we can all do it again throughout 2008.

In the coming year I wish for you -- enough. Enough love, enough of what you need and enough of what you want.

Take care, keep safe, and don't forget -- the coffee is always on! Even tonight, when the adult beverage of choice is champagne. Just to make the turning of the year official.

Hugs and love from Dee ...

Monday, December 24, 2007

Quick Fix

Awwww. Don't you just love it when the kids get excited over the jolly elf?

Here's something I got all excited about just a little while ago and now I've got to share it with you. I've been goofing around all day, taking my time, fixing different things for Christmas dinner tomorrow. The idea, of course, is to do up as much ahead as possible, right?

Well, it's all been coming along nicely but when I took a break to listen to the Broncos and the Chargers play tonight (Eeeuuu! Didn't Denver take an awful whuppin'?) I got to thinking about the fact that I haven't made holiday candy in years. Candy making always seems fairly fussy to me. I know -- there are lots of easy-peasy recipes but, as a general rule, it's just not my thang.

Still, for whatever reason (I blame it on the very dull second half of the game), I just really, really wanted to fix some candy. I spent most of the fourth quarter doing a Google cruise for easy candy recipes, emphasis on easy. It also helped if the recipe called for ingredients I actually had on hand. And then I found one for peanut butter candy that was so simple, I could hardly believe it would be worth doing. On the other hand, peanut butter struck a resonant chord in my Sweet Tooth gland and it didn't call for all that much either in the way of time or ingredients. This am the way it goes ...


The first thing you do is haul out a 2-cup measuring cup. Pour in 1/2 cup of honey. Then grab a teaspoon and glop in 1/2 cup of peanut butter. Put it in the microwave and nuke it on high for 40 seconds. Lick the spoon while you're waiting.

When you pull the measuring cup out, the honey will be hot and the peanut butter will still be gloppy. Not a problem. Whup it a bit with the spoon -- okay, get a clean spoon -- and the peanut butter will blend right in.

Now you take 1 cup of instant dry milk and stir it in to the mix 1/2 a cup at a time. Blend it good. I don't know if different kinds of dry milk have different textures. Mine is granulated so the mixture looks all nubbly, and that's perfectly okay.

Lay some waxed paper or foil across a plate and spread the candy out to about -- I dunno -- a quarter of an inch thickness. It starts to set up pretty fast so you might not want to dilly dally too long. When you have a nice patch of candy formed, put the plate in the refrigerator and lick the spoon again. And the measuring cup. It's good to clean things up as we go along.

Roughly half an hour later, pull the candy out of the fridge. It will be nicely firmed up and will still have the nubbly texture. Turn it over onto a smooth surface, peel off the waxed paper (or foil) and cut it into pieces with a table knife. I guess I did them an inch or so square. I ended up with somewhere close to 50 pieces -- counting the ones I ate. It didn't take long to notice, as I laid them out on the plate, that the honey content was going to make the pieces stick together, meaning the candy was going to have to be kept in the fridge. I thunk on that for a bit and came up with what I'm convinced is a perfect solution.

Just happen to have some honey-roasted, sesame-coated cashews. And I also just happen to have a dandy little chopper but a coffee grinder or even a blender will do the same job. Tossed maybe a quarter-cup of the nuts in the chopper and pulsed it until they were ground down to the consistency of, say, corn meal. (I'm assuming you could do the same thing with just about any kind of nut you have handy.) Dumped the lot in a small bowl and took it to the table where the candy pieces were trying to meld themselves back together again.

While it's true the honey makes them a bit tacky, the oil in the peanut butter keeps them from sticking to your skin -- so I took each piece and rolled it into a little ball about the size of a big hazelnut. Then I took half a dozen balls at a time, dropped them in the cashew meal and tossed them a bit until they were thoroughly coated.

Shazaam! It seems to be working. I put the plate of peanut butter balls back in the fridge -- just in case -- and brought three of them in here, all tucked in together in a small dish. They show absolutely no indication of melding behavior. And now I'm wondering how it would be to toss them in some cocoa, like you do with truffles. Hmmm ... I'll have to think on that.

Oh! There's quite a bit of the cashew meal left so I put a lid on it and I figure I can sprinkle it on top of something later. Like baked squash or green beans or a casserole or ... whatever.

And now I have to get back to my goofing around. Christmas is fast approaching and -- wait! Do I hear Santa?

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Countdown ...

Whew! For a moment there, I was worried. I thought he eated Sandy Claws. Now I can assure Ralph his Christmas stocking will be filled as usual.

Okay. He doesn't really have a Christmas stocking. What he has is selected bits of turkey, hand delivered. It's easier to wash my hands than to wash a stocking. Thankfully, Ralph doesn't stand on ceremony when it comes to food.

It's getting to be count-down time around here. Youngest dotter Patti and family -- plus a friend who will not be going home for Christmas -- will all arrive here Christmas Day for food and festivities. Patti and I have been having phone conferences to determine who gets to cook what. They're going to do the turkey and I'm going to do the dressing.

That's going to require a bit of juggling because there is a request for traditional dressing, containing giblets. Which means Patti will have to cook the giblets there and bring them down with the turkey. At which point, we'll mix 'em in with that portion of the dressing. The other portion of dressing will have sausage -- my personal favorite. I can't give it that Cajun touch like I did at Thanksgiving because I'm apparently the only one who likes it hot and spicy. That's okay. I can add hot and spicy at the table.

At the moment, I have a loaf of bread in the oven that is specifically for the dressing. Instead of using water or milk for the liquid, I used a strong chicken broth. Tasty. Also, part corn meal with the flour. Sorta-kinda. For some reason (I keep forgetting to ask why) Lee doesn't stock cornmeal at the market -- but he always has grits. What the heck. It works.

Patti will probably make deviled eggs but I'm going to try something a bit different. Have you ever eaten Chinese Tea eggs? There are lots of variations but I used this recipe and loved the way they turned out. Didn't have the star anise or even any cinnamon sticks but that didn't seem to be a problem. They end up with a mild smoky flavor. Very interesting. I quartered them and dipped them in sweet chili sauce. Nummy good! But I think I'll stuff them for the gang.

Ah! The bread just came out of the oven. Smells terrific. Once it cools, I'll cut it into slices and cube it up, then spread the cubes in my jelly roll pan. Into the oven for half an hour at 250 degrees, then turn off the oven and leave it there overnight. Come tomorrow morning, presto-shazaam! Perfect bread cubes for dressing. How shweet it is.

And now I'll close this off and figure out which particular food project comes next. Maybe I'll just slather some orange marmalade on a heel of the dressing bread to inspire my cogitation process. I'm sure it will taste better than Santy Paws, with all due respect to the kitten.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Rehabilitated Reindeer

There are certain songs we expect to hear every holiday season. Some of them are always welcome, like dear friends. I love to hear Nat King Cole roasting chestnuts on an open fire and Elvis has me convinced his Christmas will be blue, blue, blue, blue without me. I can even grin through a couple of sessions of Grandma getting run over by those pesky reindeer, after which I'm inclined to help them mow her down. Some songs have a limited Use By span that abruptly morphs into Grinchification. One must beware.

Back in 1942, Irving Berlin wrote "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" and that classic has been covered by countless songsters ever since. Along about 1954, Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters did their version on Atlantic Records, with Bill Pinkney on the bass lead.

I mention the Drifters cover because that's the one used by a talented cartoonist named Joshua Held when, in 2002, he did a mini-cartoon that's becoming somewhat of a classic itself. A link that takes you to any of several web site locations is bound to come floating into your email Inbox this time of year. Just in case you haven't yet been tagged, I'm happy to share one of the YouTube examples. (You can see more of Held's work at his web site, The Noses.)

Please note the reindeer in this video have been successfully rehabilitated and are properly remorseful for their tacky treatment of grandmothers trying to cross the street. Now if we could just do something about the Clydesdales pulling the beer wagon.

Friday, December 14, 2007

By Their Fruits Ye Shall Know Them

I wish to make an announcement. (Insert clink, clink, clink of spoon on rim of coffee mug.) Is everyone listening? Good! I just wish to go on record about a seasonal controversy that comes up around this time every year.


Seriously. I can't think, offhand, of any food item more maligned than the fruitcake. Well, maybe Twinkies. Really, the only thing Twinkies and fruitcake share in common is their longevity and I'd like to point out the former owes its shelf life to chemicals while the latter becomes gracefully aged through the judicious use of good booze. There is a difference.

It is true that there are some genuinely horrid fruit cakes out there. Abominations that deserve the contempt or horror they provoke in innocent victims. I shudder to think of all the folks who have been traumatized by their awfulness. These people, quite understandably, have been ruined for the Real Thing and wouldn't eat a slice of the best fruitcake in the world if you held a gun to their heads and threatened them with forced viewing of every episode of the Gong Show that was ever filmed.

This is probably an inflammatory statement for some but, personally, I blame it on the overuse and misuse of candied fruit and citron. I know. Some folks actually like that stuff and, hey, that's cool. Really. But I submit to you that a fruitcake blessed with bits of unsullied dried fruit -- and even canned or fresh fruit -- all saturated with either good juice or good liquor -- will lift the plainest fruitcake onto orgasmic plateaus of culinary excellence.

Let me entice you with a baby step into the realms of fruitcake splendor. Today I made nearly seven dozen of the most sublime, decadent, wickedly delicious chocolate fruitcake cookies it has ever been my pleasure to inhale. Yes, chocolate and fruit DO go together wonderfully, thank you very much. Think of them as sorta-kinda fruity brownies. They're soft and rich and luscious and ... and ... sinful. Yes! That was the word I was looking for. Sin without guilt but with a redeeming afterglow. Heavenly. If I may put "sin" and "heaven" in the same context.


Ahead of time -- at least 1 hour ahead, preferably overnight, to give the fruit time to absorb the liquid and puff up all tender and nummy:

Coarsely chop up a mixture of dried fruits -- your choice. Remember, I forbid the use of candied fruit and citron. You'll want between one and two cups of fruit. I had a mixture of dried, sweetened cranberries, dried apricots and a small can of chunk pineapple. Put it all in a small sauce pan and add in the pineapple juice (roughly 2 ounces) and about 2 ounces of Triple Sec. The original recipe calls for a 1/2 cup of rum, and that's fine. So is the same amount of Applejack or any other booze you chooze -- uh -- choose. I just didn't want to waste the pineapple juice and Triple Sec has a complimentary orange flavor. If you don't want anything alcoholic, orange juice works wonderfully well. Bring fruit mixture to a boil and turn down immediately to a simmer. Let it bubble away long enough for most of the liquid to be absorbed and cook down (about half an hour), turn off the heat, put a lid on it, and walk away.

When you're ready to do the cookies:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees fairyheight.

In a small bowl, mix 3 cups flour, 3/4 cup cocoa, 1 teaspoon baking soda and 1 teaspoon salt.

In your mixer bowl, put 1 stick softened butter (1/2 cup), 1 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup granulated sugar and 1/2 cup sour cream. Or yogurt. Or, as I did, 1/2 cup milk that's been clabbered with a tablespoon of lemon juice. Vinegar will work if you don't have lemon juice. Beat until blended and smooth.

Add 2 eggs and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Beat until well blended.

Add the fruit mixture, including any liquid that is not yet absorbed. (Most of it will be if you waited long enough.) You will have to slap your hands to keep from nibbling so much of those plump, juicy jeweled bits that you don't have enough for the cookies. Self-discipline is a Good Thang.

Add the flour mixture, 1 cup at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Once all the flour is incorporated, scrape off the beater and lick whatever remains on it before you wash it off. With a spatula, stir in 2 cups (1 package) of chocolate chips or an equivalent amount of chopped dark, semi-sweet chocolate. (If you're lucky enough to find some raspberry chocolate chips, go for it!) Add a cup of chopped nuts --any type you like-- and get out the cookie sheets. You can grease the cookie sheets or, better, line them with parchment paper.

These are easy-peasy drop cookies so all you need now are a couple of teaspoons. The cookies won't spread too much so you can place them fairly closely on the sheet. I got 15 to a batch and they ran roughly 2 to 2 1/2 inches across, working their way up to 3-inchers as I got bored with baking.

Put them in the oven for 12 minutes. Cookies will be fat and tender-soft. Let them sit on the pan for 5 minutes after you take them out, then transfer to racks to cool. You may sample some while still hot but try to restrain yourself. I just hate it when I eat faster than I bake. It's like skating uphill. Backward.

There you have it. My contribution to the holiday festive feasting frenzy. And your gentle gateway to wicked good fruitcake. Trust me on this.

Sunday, December 9, 2007



In my bartending days, there was a golden-tressed customer who cheerfully informed me she considered me to be a Blonde-in-Training. In spite of the fact that most of the blonde women I know are relentlessly intelligent, I find myself often admitting to experiencing a Blonde Moment or to actually being a blonde at heart.

Now, even my spell checker is having a blonde moment, arguing with me about the spelling of the word. According to assorted grammar sources, one uses blond in reference to males, mixed gender or uncertain gender but one uses blonde for females. It is conceded that blond for either gender is a modern trend but blonde is still the preference for females. So get out of my face, Spell Check. I'm doing it correctly.

A passing thought, brought on by all the above -- why do we never hear blond jokes about men? Maybe because we already beat up on the guys with blond-type jokes anyway and to make them blond on top of being male is over-kill? Just a thought, and a politically incorrect one at that. But then, I get irritated with PC-ness sometimes. The state of political correctness is too often funny while totally lacking a sense of humor within itself.

All of this is the long way around to tell you Mage was correct (see yesterday's comments) in shaking her head at me for substituting flour for almond meal in the Clementine Torte recipe. The flavor of the resulting cake is good. The texture sucks. I will not be making a correction because (a) I am still not a fan of almonds and, (b) don't feel like wasting more eggs and Satsumas trying to figure out a better balance of ingredients. I'll simply chalk it up to Lessons Learned By Blondness and let it go at that.

Let me go on record here as vowing that I love my blonde friends -- and my blond friends -- and I love my male friends. Jokes applied to the general condition of blondness or maleness should never be taken personally and can, at all times, be turned back on me without hesitation. Fair is fair, intent is the key and humor is both life-affirming and life-saving.

I am trying to keep that in mind as I survey the sad condition of my football picks this weekend. I'm pretty sure some of them reflect a definite blonde influence (What WAS I thinking?) and others a certain blond behavior, as applied to the guys in tight pants (That was a stupid play call!) down on the playing field. "Hah hah," I try to console myself. "Laugh, fool, laugh. You'll feel better."

Yes. I will. And look at all that Clementine Torte I have to munch on during the games!

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Productive Negotiations


Oh my. I really didn't mean to let so much time go by between posts. Don't quite know how that happened. A minor slip in the quantum continuum, I guess. Hey, one theory is as good as another sometimes. (Slinging a few physics terms around always sounds kind of sexy even when it doesn't make any sense.)

The big thing today is, SUNSHINE. All day. I loved it. Don't remember the last time there was a full day of sunshine uncluttered by cloud cover but I sure appreciate the temporary appearance. The down side of that, of course, is that it's colder when there's no cloud cover. There's always something to bitch about, isn't there? Although some of us would complain if they hung us with a brand new rope.

I'm in the throes of a culinary experiment. Found a recipe for Clementine Torte. You know about Clementines -- those wonderful little seedless oranges that peel like tangerines and are so sweet and tasty? Lee usually has them at the market this time of year but, for whatever reason, he has Satsumas in this time. That's okay. Satsumas are very much like Clementines so that's what I'm going with.

What you have to do is simmer something like six of the little rascals for about two hours and then let them cool. Then you run them through the blender, hide and all, with eggs and vanilla flavoring. Which you add to a mixture of almond meal and other stuff. Except I don't have almond meal and I don't even care for almonds, thank you very much, so I'm going to use regular flour and add a little butter to the recipe to make up for the fat I won't be getting from the almond meal I won't be using. Are you following me here? Anyway, that's why I'm calling it an experiment. I'm really going to hate it if it doesn't turn out.

Saw some of the power and light crew when I went to the market for the Satsumas. I told them they were magnificent, which they certainly are. The volume of dangerous work they have to do during and after storms is simply boggling. They grinned. I don't think they get thanked often enough.

Do any of you remember the Tiara cake pans from Lord only knows how many years ago? What happened was, Duncan Hines (of the cake mix people) got together with Ecko (of the cake pan people who do the Baker's Secret line) and you could get the pan, along with a box of cake mix and a packet of pie filling. The pans are like a shallower version of the Maryann (or Mary Anne) cake pan, also known as obsttortenform pan, or torte or flan pan. They can be either straight-sided or fluted and are formed with a center mesa that is lower than the edges, with a moat between the mesa and the sides. You pour in the batter, bake it, then turn it out on your serving plate. When it is upside-down, you have a cake with a well in the center (the reverse of the mesa) which you can fill with whatever you want, whether it be a pudding or pie filling. Sort of the best of both the pie and cake worlds.

The reason I mention it is, I have one of those Tiara pans and I haven't used it in years. And I'm thinking it might be fun to do the torte in it and fill it with some kind of fruity concoction. And top it with whipped cream. Oh yeah. On the other hand, it is, as I said, shallow. Maybe I'd better just go ahead and use my springform pan, at least until I know the durned torte will be something I want to fool with. It's supposed to be best if you let it sit for a few days. Hmmm. Wonder if I can actually wait that long to test taste it.

If we're going to be really scientific about it, I think I ought to carve off one slice every day and compare the flavor as I go along. Right? That way, I'll know for sure if it needs to ripen before serving.

I just love it when negotiations work out in my favor.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

How To Make Spell Check Nutz

When one is unable to take one's own pictures, one tends to look around for pictures others have taken. Some of the most phun photos I've found are at the hilarious LOLCats site, which I've mentioned before. It's all too easy to spend hours there, browsing and snorting liquids when you try to laugh with your mouth full -- and the best part is, they let you take the pictures you like with you.

It isn't just cats, either, although they do outnumber the other critters. But you will find a few meece and squirlz and ellyphunts and other assorted wild life and, if you browse long enough you can haz trubble remembering how to spel ur werds gud.

Also, you will find yourself battling a sudden craving for cheeseburgers.

It's been a quiet kind of day. The fog has been curling in close since before the hidden sunrise, muffling sound and shrinking the landscape. That's a welcome relief after the violence of the storms. I know writers use fog to build a setting of eerie mystery but, in this case, it feels more like a comforting hug after battle. Softness and peace after wild raw power.

I have to say, after reading various news stories this morning, our little village was extremely fortunate compared to other places along the coast. We can certainly be grateful for that.

Now I'm going to cut this short and prowl around the kitchen, looking for sustenance. A cheezburger iz imposibull but I haz cheez. And one hot dog. I can haz cheez pup?

Tuesday, December 4, 2007


Obviously, I can't show you any pictures of the aftermath of our big storm. Too bad, because there's a LOT of aftermath. Not surprising when you realize it lasted a full two and a half days with constant high wind with regular power-gusts that got downright scary at times. (I don't have verification yet but have heard rumors of some in the 90+ mph range -- and I believe it.)

I came through here relatively unscathed. My poor landlord's hard work on the roof took some damage and I now have assorted containers set at strategic locations throughout the building. It isn't nearly as bad as before, though, so I'm certainly not complaining. What I wasn't aware of until I finally broke cover and went to the grocery store today, is the structural damage to the front of the building. Bonnie will remember the balcony with its nice railing all the way around and a good view of the traffic on Highway 101. (insert smile) Well, there's not as much railing today. Both the south end and the north end were ripped out. The south section is lying on the balcony floor but the north section was flung to the cement below, right in front of where my shop space was. On the way down, it connected with the power line and, while the line wasn't pulled completely loose, it looks like a long section of it was jerked right out of the building. Of course I didn't hear it. You would not believe how noisy that wind was. It sounded like a huge, demented cat, yowling and howling and growling. Thought I'd go nuts.

Everywhere I went today, there were downed trees, most of which had previously withstood winds for a long time -- some of the old cypress trees have been around longer than I have. The sustained high wind and the frequent power-gusts, however, either ripped them out of the ground or split them the length of their trunks and tossed the pieces aside. The sound most commonly heard today was the roar of chainsaws, trying to clean up the mess and clear the roads.

Probably the hardest hit locally was the dock in Port Orford, 15 minutes south of here. Rather than try to describe it, I'll just point you to the article in today's paper. Cleanup and repair there is really going to be a long, hard job.

I was particularly frustrated by the fact that phone service was out from just before noon yesterday (Monday) until around 2 pm today. That means I couldn't log on to the Internet, of course. Very traumatic. The curious thing was, we could call each other within the Langlois area but calls to or from anywhere else just got you a rapid busy signal.

The major gripe about that was that I was hot in the middle of researching a replacement digicam. I'd just about decided to go with the Canon Powershot A570 IS -- until I found the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ7. What tipped the scales for me was the superior quality of the pictures the latter took.

One of the great online sites for camera reviews and tests is Imaging Resource. They have a neat little system called a Comparometer, wherein you can compare the pictures from one camera with identical pictures from the other. Up until that point, the Canon was a clear winner over the other cameras I checked. Then I matched it with the Lumix and was blown away.

If you'd like to do some testing yourself, go to Imaging Resource. This link takes you to their Comparometer page. The most dramatic photo to use for comparison is the one with all the different objects in it, from the big box of Crayola's to the skeins of embroidery thread and swatches of textured fabric and assorted bottles and jars and such.

Below is a picture of the little guy. I hope Amazon and Panasonic don't get upset with me for snitching it. I think they should consider it as free advertising. Now all I have to do is try to pry out the Yankee dollahs to buy the durned thang. There's always something, isn't there?

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Snickerdoodle Therapy


Well, I haz -- I mean HAVE. A broken heart. And a broken digicam. My beloved CoolPix 950 has gone belly up, gunny bag, pffffft. The watchamacallit thingie that pushes up the memory card has broken and something else inside there is out of wackadoodle and I can't put the card back in. At all.

When I got to checking back, I had to admit my little friend has held up rather well for a long time. I was astonished to realize I got it way back in May of 2000. That's seven-and-a-half years of almost daily use, which means the watchamacallit thingie got pushed easily 2,738 times. Probably more when you consider some days I had the card in and out several times.

I've been weighing the pros and cons of (a) having it repaired or, (b) getting a new digicam. A year ago I had to have the battery door replaced and that was, if I remember correctly, somewhere around fifty-plus yankee dollahs. Plus two 90-mile round trips to North Bend to the camera shop that handled it. And the down time when I COULDN'T TAKE PICTURES! And you reach a point of diminishing returns when the totals on repairs are more than the camera is worth and could be put to use toward an upgraded model.

Ah, but with a new camera, there is that initial outlay that dents the old pocketbook and makes you cry out in pain. And there is still the down time when you CAN'T TAKE ANY PICTURES!

I've become so used to taking pictures, it's like having a third eye. It's really awkward to suddenly have a blind third eye. Like today, when I made these really fabulous Snickerdoodle cookies laced with chopped sweetened dried cranberries and I can't even show them to you. Which won't ruin your day but it sure messed with mine.

Needless to say, I've spent long grueling hours cruising the Web, comparing specs and prices and reading reviews and developing a headache and making notes and muttering a lot. Good thing I don't live with anybody. They'd have netted me up and locked me in the basement by now -- and I don't even have a basement.

If anyone has any recommendations for an inexpensive (read cheep, cheep, cheep) digicam, by all means, lay it on me, please. You never know -- one of you may have run across a deal I've missed. Gee. I had forgotten how utterly tiring it is to power shop. Makes me whimper. There is hope for the mizzerbulls, though ... I will simply avail myself of Snickerdoodle Therapy.