Sunday, March 30, 2008

Not Pudding

WhooHAH! Do you see that? Do you? That little green thingie sticking up behind the blossom is my very first baby Lemon Drop chili pepper. From the very first blossom to open. I don't know whether this proves I'm doing a good job with my trusty Q-Tip pollinator or that the plant is perfectly capable of producing its bounty in spite of my efforts.

There are several other peppers in the act of becoming but almost all of them are mere nubbins as yet. Pepperlettes if you will. This one stretches out a whole inch-and-a-half and the pepper closest to it in size is a one-incher. I don't know how long it will be before it ripens to yellow but I'm really curious. From what I've been reading about this particular variety, it's supposed to actually have a citrus-like scent and flavor -- behind the fairly righteous thermal attribute, of course.

If anyone is interested, the Lemon Drop (sometimes called Hot Lemon) chili pepper comes from the Aji variety, of which there are many interesting forms. This particular type originated in Central and South America.

Speaking of lemony things, what do you know about the Sussex pudding? What you see above is the result of following what appears to be a most unconventional version of an old Brit classic. I whupped it up mainly because it seemed the ideal way to use up what was left of the lemon curd I made last month. (See My Lemon Jones.) It wasn't until after I did this microwave version that I browsed assorted recipes for the old-fashioned way of doing it -- the one that requires steaming the pudding for 90 minutes or more.

Well, guess what -- none of those recipes even remotely resemble this one. Just to give you an idea, look at the Wickipedia information and photos. Hooboy. Whole different animal, don't you think? It doesn't seem to matter whether one calls it Sussex Pudding or Sussex Pond Pudding, every single recipe seems to call for the crust around a whole lemon, nested in sugar and butter and steamed for hours. And I'm sure it's just great done that way but, to tell you the truth, it looks way too rich for my taste. I think I'll stick with my version, even if I can't bring myself to call it Sussex Pudding. How about if we call it ...


Butter a 2-pint (1 liter) microwave safe baking dish. Cover bottom with thin layer of lemon curd or orange marmalade (at least 2 heaping tablespoons). In separate bowl, mix 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, softened, and 1/2 cup sugar. (I semi-melted the butter in the microwave, then gave it a good whisking with the sugar.) Add 2 eggs and 1/4 to 1/3 cup lemon juice and whisk well. Add 3/4 cup flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt. Whisk until batter is smooth. Spread evenly over lemon curd. Microwave on high for 2 1/2 to 3 minutes, or until knife in center comes out clean. Please note, the timing depends on the power of your microwave. I had to nuke it for 8 minutes before it was done in mine. Your mileage may vary.

You can turn out the finished cake -- it is a cake in this incarnation -- onto a serving dish, with the curd on top. I found it simpler to leave it in the baking dish and taking out just a single serving. As you can see in the photo, the topping came with it without any fuss at all. I haven't had any of it cold as yet but I can certainly vouch for the fact that it's wicked good while still hot.

You know, I think this would be good with just about any fruity preserve-type topping. Raspberry. Apricot. Rhubarb. Oh my. And it would be nice done up in individual serving bowls too. That makes it a mighty flexible dessert. I like flexibility in my decadence.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Save a Bumblety Bee!

Since my recently undertaken pollination duties with the Lemon Drop chili pepper plant, I think I've begun to identify with our little bee friends. Lord knows, I have a new appreciation of their endless efforts on our behalf.

Bees have always fascinated me. They really are a rather remarkable insect and, for humans, a very necessary one. We're told bees are responsible for every third bite of our food. Yeah. Even that big honkin' pizza you drooled over. The bees have to pollinate the grain for the flour for the crust. And the tomato blossoms for the sauce. And the blossoms on assorted veggies like sweet peppers and hot peppers and practically everything else you might pile on a pizza.

Okay. They don't do the anchovies but neither do I. And, yeah, they don't do the other meats but they DO do the clover and alfalfa the meat critters eat, as do the cow and goat critters, so we can have cheese.

Need I remind you, they also pollinate the coffee blossoms and the cocoa blossoms? And the hops for beer and the grain and 'taters for booze? I don't know if he was right but Einstein figured humans might last -- ohhhh -- four years if the bees disappeared. And, by golly, if we couldn't eat chocolate and cheese and drink coffee and wine and whiskey, life would be a bit more drab, for sure.

All of which is why it probably wouldn't hurt us a bit to be concerned about the serious depletion of the bee population over the last couple of years. Click Discover magazine for an excellent article covering the subject. In fact, if you type save and bees into Google, you'll get 681,000 links to the problem.

Some of those links will take you to the Haagen-Dazs site -- namely, Help the Honey Bees. It is not only a graphically enchanting place, it's fun. See that little bee critter at the beginning of this entry? I got to design it and then the nice people let me download it to keep.

On the other hand, the above photo is one I took myself but I'll be durned if I remember which plant that ol' bumblety bee was working. I just wanted to make it clear that honey bees aren't the only ones doing the hard work lugging all that pollen around and distributing it properly. Nor are the honey bees the only ones who need help. Bumble bees are having problems too.

There's a lot more information at The Great Sunflower Project. If you register a free account with them, you will be joining a nationwide project sponsored by the San Francisco State University, thereby becoming a "citizen scientist." Just think of it as joining a respected profession without having to take all those years of training. They'll even send you some free wild sunflower seeds to plant. If everyone plants the same kind of sunflower, then keeps track of the visiting bees, the Project folks will know a lot more about what areas are in trouble and which are not.

Don't be alarmed if you don't have garden space. The wild sunflowers are comparatively dainty, only getting about 3 feet tall. You can grow them in pots, sort of like petunias.

If you have visions of endless counting of kajillions of bees, put the thought right out of your mind. The reporting couldn't be simpler. You'll only be asked to count bees for 30 minutes twice a month ... and you can stop once 5 bees show up, even if they all arrive in the first 5 minutes. The Project helpfully emails you the twice-monthly reminders and you can make your report online so you don't even have to buy a stamp.

Sounds to me like a heckuva deal. Help out the bees that help us and get some right purty flowers for the effort. Not to mention the continued supply of coffee and chocolate.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Itty Bitty Choccy Fix

Does that make you salivate? Did it ring your bell? Float your boat? Rumble your tum-tum?

Good! It's supposed to do all of the above. This is my St. Paddy's Day gift to you -- a really, really quick comfort food goody that will surely soothe any possible yearning you may have for just the right amount of decadent chocolate therapy. Did I mention it's fast?

There are two ways of doing this, depending on what you happen to have on hand on your pantry shelf. If you have chocolate chips, use Official Method Uno. If you are out of choccy chips but have baking cocoa, use Official Method Dos. What you see above is the result of Dos. I did Uno today, after stocking up on the choccy chips and really couldn't detect any difference in quality so both methods pass the F.E.D. test.

Official Method Uno
In a microwave safe bowl, mix together 1 tablespoon corn starch and 1/2 cup milk. Add 1/4 cup chocolate chips. Nuke on high for 1 minute. Whisk until chocolate is melted and stirred well into liquid. Nuke on high for 1 more minute. Whisk and pour into serving dish.

Official Method Dos
In a microwave safe bowl, mix together 3 tablespoons baking cocoa, 3 tablespoons sugar and 1 tablespoon corn starch. Add 1/2 cup milk and whisk well. Nuke on high for 1 minute, whisk again. Nuke for 1 more minute, whisk in 1 tablespoon butter. Pour into serving dish.

A word here about microwave wattage: my unit is a little 800 Watt Sharp Carousel model. If your machine is more powerful, you might want to do the pudding in 30-second intervals until you're sure of the timing. Or maybe cook the pudding on, say, 70% power.

You can eat this pudding as soon as it's barely cool enough to avoid burning your tongue or you can slip it into the refrigerator until it's cold. Depends on how urgent your choccy urge happens to be at the moment. It's great as is, of course, but you can flop a dollop of whipped cream on top if you want. Or fold a big glob of the whipped cream into the pudding for a more chiffon-like result. Or smack a honkin' big helping of the pudding on top of a piece of cake in lieu of frosting.

But, you ask, is it Irish? This is, after all, St. Patrick's Day, is it not? Well, no. It isn't Irish and, yes, it is St. Paddy's Day. Chocolate and the wearin' of the green are not mutually exclusive, you know. I'll tell you what. You whup yourself up a mug of the choccy pudding and indulge yourself in its glorious goodness while you enjoy the Irish Blessing video below and then you tell me ... isn't this a lot better than green beer?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

About Those Snollygosters

Now, see? As usual, Maxine cuts right to the heart of it, doesn't she?

You know, back in '56 (the olden days), I actually got to meet Adlai Stevenson when he was campaigning for president for the second time. He was being driven through the campus where I was attending college in Ashland, Oregon. He even autographed the back of my student body card. I thought he was a lovely man and I still believe that.

I was amused to read an anecdote about him that was supposed to have occurred during the 1952 campaign. It seems one of his supporters assured him, "Governor, every thinking person will be voting for you." He answered, "Madam, that is not enough. I need a majority!"

Well, I hate to argue with a gentleman I admire, especially since he's no longer with us to defend himself. I have to question that statement, though. It's not that there aren't enough thinking people trying to figure out where to place their votes. It's that we're told so many lies and counter-lies we don't know what to think! The worst part of it is, even when a lie is revealed for what it is, they keep repeating it anyway ... and people keep believing it.

It's all those snollygosters infesting our government. That's a real word, by the way. No less than Harry Truman used it. It's defined as "A shrewd, unprincipled person, especially a politician."

Now, I know there are honest, decent politicians. The law of averages will surely allow for that, won't it? But, darn, it's often really hard to pick 'em out. Just when you think you have somebody figured, whoopsie! They're caught in some kind of bodacious scandal and all hell breaks loose. We seem to be stuck with a flaming KAKISTOCRACY, that's what. (Government of a state by its most unprincipled citizens.) and it's like that silly gopher-punching game. Every time you knock one out, another one pops up.

I read all kinds of political blogs, left, right and middle. I read the comments section after articles in the papers. I download YouTube videos. For every reasoned article or interview or comment, there are a dozen more penned and spoken by people you just know are off their meds and running loose without a keeper. They give us BAFFLEGAB (incomprehensible or pretentious verbiage) and HONEYFUGGLE (deceive by flattery or sweet talk -- swindle, cheat) and they BLOVIATE (speak pompously) until I just want to throw up my hands and ABSQUATULATE (to run away, abscond, escape). It makes me positively ATRABILIOUS (gloomy, morose, bad-tempered, irritable) and some days I just feel like a JOBBERNOWL (stupid person).

This problem is not limited to one party or the other, unfortunately. The snollygosters pillage and plunder all across the political spectrum and rampage through the media that is supposed to be alerting us with fact and substance. Some days my frustration billows up so high, I just have to puncture the balloon with a bit of crazed levity. Okay, moderate hysteria. Which is why I've culled all those lovely words from the fascinating and utterly delightful World Wide Words website. If you want to have some fun, go there and check it out. Click on any word and you will be taken to a page with a definition and a story about it. The Truman anecdote about snollygosters is there, too.

Ahhh. I feel much better now. Thanks for letting me vent all this steam. And I'll let Maxine deliver the last word. She does it so well.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Celebrating NOW

I've had mixed success with my indoor gardening. Remember my little grape tomatoes, Gladys and Gilbert? When last seen, way back in October I think, I'd just transplanted their tiny selves into a big pot. The move must have overwhelmed them because they wilted their little leaves and, in unseemly haste, shuffled off this mortal coil. No tender goodbyes, no notes, no thanks for all the fish. They just up and died.

I am knocking furiously on wood as I speak but, with any luck, my chili peppers seem to have a lustier attitude. I'm grateful for that because the 'maters put a terrible dent in my green thumb self esteem. What you see in the above photo is the Lemon Drop chili pepper plant. I guess it's a couple of feet tall now and, huzzah! It's just beginning to put out some blossoms which, if all goes well, will turn into some eagerly anticipated peppers. I'm so excited. It's almost like birthing babies ... thankfully, without the labor pains.

Although there are positively oodles of teensy blossom buds forming, only two of them have opened so far. What marvelous mini-gems they are. What you see above is, in real life (as opposed to enlarged photo life), so small a dime would hide it. Even so, it comes packed with pollen. I'll have to dig out a Q-tip and pretend I'm a bee and ever so gently set about pollinating the little rascals. Bzzzz, bzzzzz ...

Have you noticed something? Or, more accurately, have you noticed the lack of something? Those of you who have supped the sacred beverage with me for any length of time know I always do a bit of bitching and moaning every year when Daylight Saving time goes into play again. And I thought about doing it this year, too. I really did.

Then I realized ... those people aren't listening to me! No. Not even a little bit. For all my wailing and caterwauling, they not only continue to mess with the clocks, they've started messing with them even earlier than before.

Well! (That was a Jack Benny "Well!" Very effective.) You don't have to slap me alongside the head with a wet clepsydra. Nope. I refuse to waste another moment in futile fulmination. Because, you know what? It doesn't matter if somebody says it's 8 o'clock when it's really 7 o'clock because, either way, it's really just ... NOW. Right now.

In the Now, it's either daylight or dark. It's either early or late, which is a relative assessment, subject to when I wake up or go to sleep and that can change according to mood or need no matter what any silly clock says. Stuff will happen when it happens. Always does. Always will. To every thing there is a season. Yeah.

It's good that I've freed up all that previously wasted energy. I'm going to need it to keep up with my pollination duties. Gee. Who knew gardening could be so sexy?