Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Pretty Good Day

Okay, I has voted. I can has tickle-nose drinkie now?

Not yet, Grasshopper. We drink the tickle-nose stuff after all those votes are counted. Either to celebrate or to drown our sorrows.

But I did. Vote, I mean. God bless Oregon. We let us vote by mail. And I popped my vote in the Out of Town mail slot at the post office this afternoon. Oh frabjous joy. And, yes, I voted for Obama. Gladly. Urgently. Emphatically. That's feeding America's Good Wolf, that's what I think.


On a completely different subject, I learned the neatest trick today. If you have a gazillion plastic shopping bags to store, you might appreciate knowing this. Should you go to Cafe Munchkin, you'll be able to view step-by-step photos of the procedure. In a nutshell, though, you just lay the bag out flat and fold it in half the long way. Fold it in half again. Then do the "flag fold" up the length of the bag, starting by folding over a triangle at the bottom and continuing the triangle fold, left and right, ever upward. When you get to the handles, just tuck them into the pocket that is formed by the fold and, presto! A neat, compact little triangle that stores in minimum space, ready for whatever recycle project you have in mind.

Yes, I know. Ask for paper instead of plastic. Better yet, use reusable bags for shopping. And I do. I have a set of four colorful string bags I take grocery shopping every time. I love them. But, one way or the other, somehow I end up with oodles of the plastic bags anyway. That's okay. They are wonderful for tying up garbage that could skunkify your atmosphere. Or to store stuff when you're out of boxes and baskets. Or to cut in strips and crochet or knit into purses or rugs or really wild hats. Or whatever. Googling plastic bag crafts will amaze and amuse you.

How about that. I did something constructive and then I learned something new and I didn't even have to break a sweat. I'd count that as a pretty good day.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Humbled by Excess

HEAD SYBARITE REPORTING FROM DECADENCE CENTRAL: This, Coffee Mates, is what happens when you get carried away and forget to moderate your immoderate behavior. That breathtaking pie in the above photo is the banana cream pie I mentioned in last night's post. It really should have been topped with whipped cream but all I had handy was a partial tub of Cool Whip that had been lurking in the freezer for months. It tasted somewhat flat and greasy and there was no way I was going to sully a perfectly good pie with something like that. (Radiating Huffy and Self-righteous.) No. A different topping entirely was surely required. Which is why I hunted down a recipe for hot fudge sauce and used that as topping.

I went too far.

Separately, each component of the above semi-masterpiece was wonderful. Really. Up to a certain point, the combination of components worked in a grand complementary chorus that added dimension to the whole. Until I added the choccy topping. Never thought I'd say this but, truthfully, the topping was -- uhmm -- over the top. Mae West assured us there was no such thing as "too much of a good thing." She was wrong. Darn it.

With that caveat, I will share the recipes for each of the aforementioned components. It is up to you to maintain the self-discipline to use the hot fudge topping on ice cream, where it belongs.

Have you ever been in the mood for a pie but just didn't feel in the mood to mess with the muss and fuss of a crust? Yeah, me too. Which is why I decided to go for a shortbread crust that went directly from mixing bowl to pie pan and could be patted into place. It goes like this:


1 cup flour
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/3 cup ground nuts
1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix dry ingredients together. (For nuts, I used honey-roasted cashews with sesame seeds. Just drop your choice of nuts in a blender and pulse them until they're the texture of corn meal.) Add butter and vanilla and mix until dough gathers together and cleans the sides of the bowl. Drop into lightly buttered pie pan and press into place as evenly as possible. Prick crust with fork and chill in freezer for 15 minutes or refrigerator for a 1/2 hour. This will keep the crust from poofing up so you don't have to blind bake it. Bake in 350 degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until it becomes golden brown. Let cool before filling. This is how it will look when you're done.

Okay, next step is the filling. Something easy and quick but high in the delicious factor. For that, I would urge you to click over to the BellaOnline site where Karen Hancock has an outstanding recipe for microwave cream pie along with some of the several variations possible -- including the banana version I did. I only had to use two bananas, chopped and tossed with lemon juice, to fold into the filling. Oh -- it only took 3 minutes to cook the filling (I boiled the milk on the stove.) and I gave it a good whisking at the end of each minute.

Okay. Pie crust -- check. Filling -- check. Topping -- ahhhh. I really believe this project would have been rendered a complete success had I used a light, fresh whipped cream topping. But, nooooo, I had to commit a chocolate felony. Ah well. At least I did end up with a most excellent recipe for fudge topping. And here it is:


1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons baking cocoa
1 1/2 tablespoons corn starch
1/2 cup cold brewed coffee
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mix dry ingredients together, then whisk in coffee. (You can use water or, for a richer sauce, milk or cream.) Microwave 1 minute, whisk well, microwave 1 minute more. The sauce should be nicely thickening now. Whisk in the butter and microwave another 30 seconds. If it's now the degree of thickness you want, add the vanilla, whisk and serve. (The original recipe specified "2 to 4 minutes" cooking time. Your mileage may vary.)

After I made the sauce (which is every bit as good as it looks), I let it cool while I sipped a mug of coffee. Then I pulled the pie out of the refrigerator and slathered the fudge sauce on top, trying not to moan with anticipation. Then I chopped up a handful of the candied pecans and artfully scattered them over everything. What followed was a dutiful photographic session, cutting the first slice out of the pie and sitting down with a fork and a healthy degree of lust.

Well, it's delicious and scrumptious and ... and ... awesomely, overwhelmingly rich. See where I stopped to take the last photo? That's also where I stopped eating. Could not bring myself to take another bite. I have been blissed out and brought to my knees. Later tonight, I'm sure I can work up enough appetite to finish it off. And I've learned a valuable lesson.

Hot fudge topping is not for cream pies. It is for ice cream or for body painting.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Going Moderately Nuts

It's been said that one should strive for moderation in all things -- including moderation. Which means, I'm convinced, it is good for one to be moderately immoderate on occasion. That is, while I don't dive headlong into full-blown decadence, wading about in the sybaritic shallows can be a lot of fun.

My idea of decadence has modified somewhat over the years, anyway. I blame Sean Connery for that. He doesn't write. He doesn't send flowers. I have no choice but to adjust my focus on more easily attainable self-indulgences. Such as really wicked culinary temptations.

Like (Salivation Alert!) candied nuts.

Now, I've been making candied walnuts for years, from a recipe given to me by a friend way back in the seventies. Yeah. The olden days. Unfortunately, I lost the recipe and hadn't been able to find a decent replacement. Until -- oh, thank you, Lord and Google -- today.

This is absolutely the easiest -- and tastiest -- candied nut recipe I've ever tried. No cooking a syrup to softball stage. No oven baking. All the magic takes place in a skillet on top of the stove. And I only had to modify one teensy little thing. Let me tell you about it.

First of all, just about any kind of nut can be fixed this way. Heck, mix 'em up if you feel like it. You can do this with whole nuts or half-nuts or chopped nuts. What I used today happened to be pecan bits. I rarely buy the pecan halves, which cost more, because I almost always chop the durned thangs up anyhoo.

Before you do anything else, fix whatever surface you're going to use to cool the nuts. You can lightly butter a cookie sheet or lay out a sheet of parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. You'll be spreading the nuts out in a single layer over the entire surface. And they'll be very HOT so judge your cooling surface accordingly. (Wax paper -- not a good idea.)

So okay. Put a non-stick skillet on medium heat and melt 2 tablespoons of butter in it. As soon as the butter is melted, toss in 1/2 cup of sugar and 1 tablespoon of kosher salt. That is not a typo. The original recipe calls for a mere quarter-teaspoon of salt but what I'm going for here is what I had with my lost recipe -- what I call the Kettle Korn Effect.

For those who have never had the good fortune to experience Kettle Korn (or Corn), it's simply popcorn that's been popped in a mixture of oil, sugar and salt, resulting in a lighter coating than caramel corn --but oh my stars and garters, the flavor. That's why we need a whole tablespoon of salt -- so we can obtain the precise salty-sweet taste that is utterly and unequivically addictive. And there is no cure so you might as well learn how to do it your own self. Otherwise, you're liable find yourself exploring dangerous neighborhoods, looking for a dealer to supply your next fix.

Now. Where were we? Oh yeah -- you've melted the butter and added the salt and sugar. Now dump 2 cups of nuts on top of everything else and begin stirring with a wooden spoon. You don't have to stir constantly right off the git-go but you want to move everything around enough that all the nuts get well-coated. To start with, you'll see a lot of sugar granules clumping around in there but before long the sugar begins to melt and will start turning a liquidy, gorgeous deep brown. Stir steadily now and watch it closely. You don't want to scorch anything. When the sugar is well-caramelized, remove the pan from the heat and add 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract. It will sizzle and fizz but don't be alarmed -- it's just excited. Stir vigorously and inhale deeply.

Turn the nuts out onto your prepared surface and spread and separate them as much as possible while they're still hot. Let them cool for roughly half and hour and then finish separating them by mooshing them about in your hands. The nice thing about this is that you get to lick your hands before you wash them.

What? Of course you want to lick them. It would be depraved to waste that good flavor in soap and water. Of course, that's easy for me to say. Nobody is here to catch me at it except Ralph and I don't see how he could disapprove when you consider what he licks.

What's next? Well, you put all those incredibobble nuts in an air-tight container or a sealable plastic bag and put them in the refrigerator until you're ready to use them.

Okay. You store what's left after you sample enough to be sure your high standards of culinary wickedness have been met.

How will you use them? Let me count the ways. Besides the fine art of munching indiscriminately, try throwing a handful in your next tossed salad. Bliss. I am seriously considering multiple batches of this stuff for Christmas pressies. Hell, it might even entice Sean Connery. In the meantime, as a topping on ice cream or cakes or pies, candied nuts are hard to beat. In fact, the main reason I made this batch was so I'd have some to sprinkle on top of a banana cream pie.

Yes. And I'll tell you about that tomorrow. Any more decadence tonight would simply not be -- uhmm -- moderate.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Feeding Time

Okay, Coffee Mates, before we go any further I just want to make it clear -- some of my dearest friends are wolves (you know who you are). I'm going on the record with this just in case the following story somehow gives anyone the erroneous impression that wolves are in my metaphorical doghouse. So to speak.

This is a story I've long loved. If you google "two wolves legend" or anything similar you will find plenty of Native American sites that feature it. There is some variation but the basic story goes like this ...

An old Grandfather listened with sympathy when his grandson, full of anger, told of a friend who had done him an injustice.

"Let me tell you a story," Grandfather said. "I, too, at times have felt great hatred and anger for those who have taken so much, with no sorrow for what they do. But hate wears you down and does not hurt your enemy. It is like taking poison yourself while wishing it would kill your enemy.

"I have struggled with these feelings many times. It is as if there are two wolves inside me. One is good and does no harm. He lives in harmony with all around him and does not take offense when no offense was intended. He will only fight when it is right to do so, and in the right way."

"But the other wolf ... ah! The littlest thing will send him into a fit of temper. He fights everyone, all of the time, for no good reason. He cannot think clearly because his anger and hate are so great. It is a helpless anger for it will change nothing."

"Sometimes it is hard to live with those two wolves inside me for both of them try to dominate my spirit."

Terribly concerned, the boy asked, "Which one will win, Grandfather?"

Grandfather smiled and said quietly, "The one I feed."


I'm passing this story along because it looks to me as though the Appalling Palin has been feeding her own hateful wolf extra rations. If that wasn't bad enough, she's trying to feed everyone else's hateful wolves, too.

And, dear Lord, just listen to her. She is loving it. It's as though she believes she's been awarded a kind of 007 designation for character assassination (forgive me, James Bond) and she's going to push it all the way without a thought to collateral damage. At a time when most folks are feeling insecure and betrayed, more than anything we need what brings us together to climb out of the abyss. We most certainly do NOT need the kind of rhetoric that divides and destroys by feeding the hateful wolf of fear and anger and mob mentality.

That said, I have to admit I'm having trouble with which wolf I'm feeding my own self. There is, for instance, my unseemly glee when I fantasized dumping about a thousand fire ants in Palin's pantyhose. Let her pay for THAT rape kit! You betcha. Wink, wink.

Okay. I'm going to work really hard at staying upbeat and positive. I'm going to feed my good wolf and I hope everyone else does likewise because it would be terribly humiliating to find we've let ourselves be manipulated by someone so patently morally bankrupt. Look at the little wolf in the photo below. Such a sweetie. Let's feed that one and watch it grow.

Note: There is a wonderful web site called All About Wolves that features free downloadable photos of that cool critter. That has been my source for the above photos. Go see. Enjoy.