Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year, Coffee Mates!

Well, here we are. Another year, all wound down and coasting to a stop. Time to snip off the loose ends and tuck everything in and put it away. It was certainly a year full of highs and lows for this sturdy band of Coffee Mates. Some of us welcomed brand new loved ones into the world, some of us suffered grievous losses when loved ones left this world. And everything in between.

So here we gather at this end of the cycle, all ready to open the door and let in the next year. Before 2010 toddles in, though, I just wanted to let you all know I've loved hanging with you this past year and will be very grateful to be able to extend the privilege through the next one. Whether you've spent 2009 up, down or sideways, I have a hug for each of you -- some for celebration, some for consolation, all for friendship. Hugs are healthy. It says so right here.

Oh . . . no matter how late you stay up tonight, I'll have the coffee on for you. (See above.) Special coffee. Magic coffee. Enhanced coffee. (wink, nudge)  See you next year!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Art of Twisting

Still munching on leftovers, are you? Me too. Good thang I love leftovers, that's what. It's so much fun to figure out a new twist on a regular dish and what didn't get eaten the day before just sort of sits there and asks to be reinvented, don't you think?

Like the mashed potatoes. Lots of things you can do with mashed 'taters. Topping on a nice cottage pie. Shaped into patties and fried -- or baked. Added to bread dough. Made into gnocchi. But today I got hungry for a quiche and thought, hey, how about a quiche with a mashed potato bottom crust? So I Googled the idea and, sure enough -- all kinds of examples of mashed potato crusts, most of them being more or less of the twice-baked variety. That is, one bakes the crust while it's still empty, then fills it, then bakes the whole thing again.

For the most part, I'm not giving you specific measurements. This is the sort of thing you play by ear, according to what ingredients you have on hand. Also, you have to build according to however many you plan to feed. I put this quiche in a 9 inch pie pan but it really isn't enough to feed a hungry family. Nice for one or two people but you put any more at the table and somebody is going to get stabbed with a fork. I'm just sayin' . . .

Anyhoo, I slapped about 2 cups (guesstimate) of mashed 'taters in an oiled graniteware pie pan and patted it fairly even across the bottom and up the sides. Baked it for 40 minutes at 375 degrees but I think next time I'll do it for half an hour at 350 degrees because the edge will brown more on the second bake period.

While the crust was baking, I rummaged through the fridge, deciding what vegetables might work well in the quiche. Some leftover roasted carrots, cut into coins. Some minced green bell pepper and minced onion, sauteed lightly, just to get the raw edge off. When the crust came out of the oven, I sprinkled the veggies around, then scattered about a cup of grated mozzarella cheese over everything. Whisked 3 eggs and 1 cup of buttermilk together, seasoned it liberally with salt and pepper and poured it over the veggies and cheese. Poifect! (I could have added chopped up meat of any variety but wasn't in the mood. Your mileage may vary.)

Back in the oven, 350 degrees, 30 minutes. As you can see, the top edge of the crust got very brown but it was still tender-crunchy and delicious. The filling will be all poofy when you take it out. You're supposed to let it set for 10 minutes before cutting into it. The poofy will go down as it rests and you will go nuts trying to keep yourself from tearing into it too soon. It smells incredibobbly good.

I could have taken a picture of the first slice I pulled from the pie. And I would have -- except I messed it up. My fault entirely. Cut the piece way too big (well, I thought I was starving) and it is, after all, merely a mashed potato crust. Needs some support as it's lifted out of the pan and my piece was so wide, some of it fell off. Didn't look pretty at all. Smelled pretty. Tasted gorgeous. Yes. I ate the evidence and there's nothing you can do about it. Unless you want to make your own twisted leftover quiche. Might want to double the egg/milk mixture if you make a larger pie. You'll know. Have fun!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Meet Marvin

Please meet Marvin the Musical Moose.  He has been such a good little buddy the last few years. Here he sits on the window sill, guarding the Christmas card crop and looking adorable. You may also notice he is sporting a bright red tree ornament, dangling from his antler.

Yep. The very same red tree ornament I got from daughter Patti when I was hellbent on putting up a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. The way I had it figured was, I'd trot around outside, scouting through all the trees, looking for just the right blowdown branch to emulate a pathetic little tree. Given that there has been plenty of boisterous wind over the last month or two, I thought there would be a reasonable assortment of branches from which to choose. Well, there was. The problem was, there was not a single branch that came even close to being The One.

I could have grabbed the hatchet and chopped off a suitable limb from a suitable tree but that seemed, somehow, uhmmm -- unsuitable. And mean. Mutilating a perfectly good tree to score a single branch is just not descriptive of the spirit of the season. What to do? What to do?

Then I thought about Marvin. Hey! There ya go! Marvin is a good sport and I knew he'd be delighted to dandle the dangly for me. It adds a bit of color while he sings his Christmas song, don'cha know?

What song? Oh. Well, Marvin takes great delight in telling folks how Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer. I can tell he's having fun because he wiggles and jiggles while he's singing. I don't want you to think he's being a tattle tale, either. Actually, he's providing an early warning system, sort of. Kind of. The song clearly illustrates what happens when a team of reindeer have to travel so many places so very fast that they don't have time to brake for liddle ol' leddies who step out in front of them. Especially liddle ol' leddies who have been nipping at the brandy that was supposed to go in their fruitcake.

But I guess we don't have to worry about that now. The reindeer are all back at the North Pole and Grannie is recovering nicely. I think she'll probably be in fine shape by the time New Year's Eve gets here.


Friday, December 18, 2009

Making God Laugh

If you want to hear God laugh, tell Him your plans.  

And only God knows who came up with that line originally. I've seen it attributed to everything from "Old Folk Proverb" to Woody Allen and assorted cultures and folk in between. Doesn't matter. It falls into the "best laid plans of mice and men" category and I do believe I heard a fairly subtle heavenly chuckle somewhere in the background today.

Which is why you're getting the LOLcat photo of those cutie-pie fur kids instead of a CBG photo of the Charlie Brown Christmas tree. (Sorry about that, Kate.) When the weather was decent earlier today, I was busy with company and "stuff" and couldn't go out to gather the perfect CB tree. When I was free to do the deed, it was raining. Of course. I'm not feeling particularly desperate about it. There's still a week to go. No pressure. No need to deliberately get wet when I can be reasonably sure of helpful periods of relative dryness.

Oh wait. Do I hear a distant chuckle again?  I was not making plans, God. I was merely speculating, okay?

I did get one element of the project safely in hand. Patti brought me the perfect little red ball ornament. Yay! That's got to count for something.

I was also quite pleased with the results of a new (to me) experiment in the culinary department. Do all y'all know about creme fraiche? There are accent marks in there somewhere but we aren't going to worry about it. I'm informed it's pronounced "krem fresh" and it's like the French version of our sour cream. Only more decadent and silky. And it doesn't separate in sauces and soups like sour cream can. You can get details by clicking on this Epicurious link and those folks, unlike moi, know of what they speak.

I've never seen it in the store myself but apparently the creme fraiche in this country is ridiculously expensive. I don't see why that should be when it's so easy to make it yourself. After skimming at least a dozen different sites for recipes, the consensual formula seems to be as follows: for every cup of heavy cream (whipping cream), add 2 tablespoons of either cultured buttermilk, cultured plain yogurt or sour cream. Mix together in a non-reactive container (canning jar, plastic food keeper, etc.) and leave out, covered, at room temperature for one to two days, until it thickens. Shake or stir from time to time. The warmer the room, the faster it will set up. Then you can give it another stir and put it in the refrigerator where it will keep for a week or two, getting thicker and developing flavor as it goes.

I did up a pint of whipping cream with 4 tablespoons of buttermilk and it took two days to thicken to almost sour cream consistency. At that point (yesterday) I put it in the refrigerator. When I took it out today, parts of it were very thick, parts were more custardy -- which evened out when I gave it a good stir. At any rate, the flavor is getting wonderful and it certainly tasted great in the potato soup I made this afternoon.

By the way, it is safe to leave it out at room temperature while it's "making." The good bacteria keep out the bad bacteria. As long as your cream and buttermilk are okay, the combo will be fine.

Prices vary, of course, but going by what I pay at the little market here in town, it costs me all of 15 cents more to make the creme fraiche than to buy a tub of sour cream. The only downside is that one needs to get it started a couple of days before one will need it.

Just remember, if you plan ahead, you might be making God laugh.

PLEASE NOTE: I apologize to any of you who were messed with when you clicked the link to the YouTube video last night. Somehow I messed up the original link but didn't catch it because I didn't do my usual check. Fortunately, Becky and Wendy were on the ball and gave me a heads up. Thanks, gurlfriends! Just for the record, I did check the Epicurious link in this post. (big goofy grin)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum . . .

It's the darndest thing . . . I got all caught up in a Charlie Brown fever and messed around until too late to trot outside and DO something about it. If you will forgive a bit of a mild rant, hang in here with me and I'll explain.

It sort of started with this YouTube video. Go ahead and watch it. [Idiot Alert! Sorry, Coffee Mates. I did not double check that link. Fortunately, Becky let me know what I had put in wasn't working and she even sent me the correct one! Thank you, Becky. So, okay -- now the link works. ] I'll keep the coffee warm until you're done. Really. Might even have some more of that cranberry shortbread laid out for you. (I know. I could have done the embed thing but, for some reason, it wasn't working tonight. Thus, I'm letting you click over to YouTube for the viewing -- and bribing you with coffee and cranberry bars so you'll click back.)

Okay. Now you have the idea.That's what got me going. Before you could say, "Sic 'em, Snoopy!" I was Google-gallivanting through assorted trivia about Charlie Brown and his famous Christmas tree. Now, if you've never seen the special, Wikipedia has an excellent synopsis. And you've just got to cheer the little guy for seeing the beauty in that pathetic, scraggly tree and, in effect, striking a solid blow against the commercialization of a holiday.

It doesn't much matter whether you're celebrating the season from a religious perspective, a secular one, or both. The point is that all our celebrations have mutated into some weird kind of pressure cooker roller derby, driven by a frenzied cash register drum beat.We've lost sight of the simple, warm, GOOD things we need to reaffirm so we can balance and restore our poor, harried selves. Thus Charlie Brown's Christmas tree has become a symbol of rejecting the glitter and gloss for the humble and real.

Well, sort of. Because -- here's the dose of irony -- a second glance at some (many) of those Google links were for (gasp) store after store selling (not cheaply) fake Charlie Brown Christmas trees! Remember, in the video clip how Linus wrapped his precious blanket around the bottom of the tree to give it a little love? Well, folks, if you pay a bit extra, you can have your fake Charlie Brown tree with its own blue blanky.

I applaud the folks in Concord who opted for their version of the CB tree. Good ON them! And, by golly, as a show of support, I'm putting up my own Charlie Brown tree this year. Yuppers. I'd have hauled in what I needed earlier this evening but it got dark before I realized it was so late. (sigh) So -- tomorrow, tomorrow. Yes. Daughter Patti will be down tomorrow and she's giving me one of the red balls from her own tree -- because the CB tree has to have a red ball, don'cha know?

All together now, Coffee Mates: "O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, your branches green delight us."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Stuffing Gallons Into Quarts

I don't know how we do it. I don't know how we can keep squeezing gallons of activity into pint jars of Time when the holiday season rolls around. Okay, maybe they're quart jars. But we still have more "stuff" than jar. There is probably an obscure scientific law that explains how that can be but it's so obscure, nobody knows what it is.

One of the things that has been taking a lot of my time has been the yearly -- obsessive -- search for new and different recipes for holiday occasions and gift giving. I might compare a dozen or two recipes for a single dish, trying to decide which one sounds like The One. And that's just for one item. You would not believe the number of various and assorted cranberry recipes I've been scanning, drooling and slobbering as I go.

Like, for instance, the one I found at the Joy of Baking web site. It turns out to be easy to put together and utterly delicious when done. This one's a keeper, Coffee Mates.

You can copy the recipe from the above link if you want, or grab it from here, whichever is easiest. It goes pretty much like this:

9" X 9" baking pan, buttered -- preheat oven to 375 degrees fairy height

For the filling: In medium-sized sauce pan, put:
2 1/4 cups (8 ounces or 225 grams) fresh or frozen cranberries
2/3 cup (130 grams) sugar
3 tablespoons water
On medium-high heat, bring to a boil and continue boiling until mixture is thick and syrupy. This will take about 5 or 6 minutes. She didn't say, but I stirred the mixture the whole time, just in case. It's amazing to watch all the resulting liquid cook down and thicken. Once it's thick, remove from heat and set aside to cool.

For the crust: In a mixing bowl, whisk together:
2 cups (270 grams) all purpose flour
2 tablespoons corn starch
1/4 teaspoon salt (I used a teaspoon of salt.)
In the bowl of your stand mixer, cream 1 cup (2 sticks) butter until smooth.
Add 1/3 cup (70 grams) sugar, beat 2 minutes, add 1 teaspoon vanilla, blend in.
Gently stir in the flour mixture just until incorporated.

The dough will still look very crumbly. That's okay. With all that butter, it'll come together just fine in the pan. Dump two thirds of the dough into the buttered pan and pat it into a reasonably level layer with your fingers. See? It holds together just like it knew what it was doing.

Now you take the cooled filling and spread it over the layer of crust, leaving a quarter-inch margin all around the edges. Then take the remaining third of the dough and crumble it over the filling. It's okay if there are little gaps that show bits of the filling. Gently press the crumbs into the filling, put it in the oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until crust is golden brown.

When you take it out of the oven, set the pan on a cooling rack and cut the squares/bars while it's still hot. Then let it cool completely in the pan. Cutting it while hot enables you to wiggle out each gorgeous little bar without excessive crumbling and unseemly deterioration of your culinary artistry.

Just in case you didn't get a good enough look up top, here's a closer view of these tasty morsels.

Mmmmm! Look at that tender crumb. Gaze with delight on that lush, tart-sweet filling. Wipe the drool off your chin and head right into the kitchen to whip up a batch for yourself.

Listen, I would love to share this batch with you, really. Oh, WHEN will they invent email that allows you to send real live food attachments? Geez, if the hackers would just consider the benefits to themselves, I'll bet they could come up with such a program -- I'd be happy to keep sending attached Cheetos to such genius persons.Wouldn't you?



Sunday, November 29, 2009

My Obligatory Football Whinge

Hah! I'll bet you thought I wasn't paying any attention to football this year, just because I haven't mentioned it so far. At least I don't think I've mentioned it this season. But, no, I'm still hanging in there, taking perverse pleasure in the agony of Being Loyal To My Team No Matter How Terribly They Play. (Some concepts simply demand capital letters.) Thus the LOLcat picture featured above.

The family was kind enough to let me watch the Raiders play Thanksgiving day. I don't have a television hookup myself so it was a treat. Sort of. The problem was, they won their game last week, when I couldn't watch them. It would have been nice if they'd repeated that feat while I was able to witness the miracle. But nooooo. They not only didn't win Thanksgiving, they looked really pathetic in the process of losing.

See, there is losing and there is losing. Losing can be heroic when the play is up to snuff and from the heart. You might shed a tear but you'll also be proud in a bittersweet way because, by golly, they gave it all they had and that's all anybody can do. On the other hand, losing is when the play is so bad you can't decide if it's comedy or simple stupidity. That's when you realize you're actually lucky not to be able to watch the train wreck every week.

Because I would. Oh yes. You couldn't stop me from watching if you turned the whole defensive line of the Green Bay Packers loose on me. Because you never know when my erratic Pigskin Paladins will storm the field with inspired play and cunning strategy, reaping victory as their just reward. Hey, don't smirk. It doesn't happen often anymore, I'll admit. But it does happen and is all the sweeter for the rarity.

Meanwhile, I do try to keep a stash of therapeutic chocolate available at all times. And celebratory chocolate for other times. It gets me through.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Rainbows and Remnants

As an apology for being awol for most of the month, I give you a rainbow. Oh. Wait. I'm not the one giving the rainbow. (Sorry, God. You know what I meant, right?) What I'm saying is, I'm happy to share my good fortune in being able to capture this rainbow amidst all the November rain we've been having. There has been sunshine, to be sure, but the appearance of vertical liquid approaches something like eighty-eleven percent of the monthly weather. Give or take a gallon or three. The rainbows are to cheer you up -- sort of like the lollipop the doctor gives after the shot.

I could have laid some food photos on you but since food has been a major component of our lives this past week, maybe a short vacation from the subject will be in order. Not that I'm taking a vacation from the consumption of food. Nay! I finished my share of the Nantucket Cranberry Pie and Albert's sweet potato pie but there's still a little of Patti's pumpkin pie left. Yay! And I can get one more meal out of the Casserole a la Leftover that I cobbled together. It went like this . . .

Took a couple of cups of Roger's turkey stuffing and dumped it in a big bowl. Added a couple of cups of chopped up leftover turkey, both white meat and dark. Whisked one egg into two cups of chicken broth and stirred it into the stuffing mixture. Let it sit so the bread cubes had time to absorb more liquid. In the meantime, I grated a chunk of cheddar cheese (half a cup?) and mixed it into what was probably a cup of mashed potatoes. Lightly greased a casserole dish and packed the stuffing mixture into it. Spread the tater and cheese mixture over the top and leveled it off, like a mashed potato crust. Sprinkled it with paprika and baked in a 350 degree oven for half an hour.

Nothing particularly original about it but it efficiently used up the leftovers and gave me, all together, 5 meals. Not too shabby. That last meal (mentioned above) will be teamed up with the last of Patti's fruit salad. I don't think I'll be able to handle the rest of the pumpkin pie until tomorrow. That works. It'll make an excellent breakfast.

And just in case it's raining where you are, here's another shot of God's nice rainbow.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Shaking Out Perfectly

Boy, did I score big today! My grandson Albert-the-chef and his Holly and my favorite short person, great-grandson Archimedes, all came over for a visit this afternoon. They even brought me a big bowl of a wonderful soup Albert had just fixed -- sort of a Mexican Minestrone, with black beans and corn and about a kajillion other ingredients, perfectly seasoned. Oy vey, aiiii caramba, wowsers!

Archimedes was, of course, the main attraction. Such a child. I haven't managed to teach him how to say, "Yay, Raiders!" yet but we'll get there. He is showing signs of understanding the concept of the high five, however. At this point, he seems to prefer the horizontal version but the vertical can't be far behind.

Eight months old and he's built like a line backer. Solid. And he's not that far from the toddling around stage. That's going to keep 'em on their toes. Because, of course, everything is interesting at that age and simply must be explored and examined and tasted. Oh yes. I wonder if they'll learn to do what I did when the kids were little. The cupboards they were allowed to explore were stocked with beat-up pots and pans and plastic bowls they couldn't hurt. They always liked that sort of thing over any regular toys.

And the sun was shining all day. Isn't it great how some days just shake out so perfectly?

Friday, October 30, 2009

My New Favorite Cookbook


Oh verily I say unto you (quietly so I don't corrupt the children) various vile and vexatious vociferations. That's uptown wiffling for downtown cussing. Yea though I walk through the valley of wild cyber children (who refuse to play well together no matter how I beggeth them), I shall fear not for my sanity for my sanity did deserteth me the day I signed on to the World Wide Web.

What brought on this tantrum, you ask? You will have noticed, of course, the decor has changed again. I really liked the looks of the last design but it simply would not do some of the things I wanted it to do and so I had to show it the door. Don't get too used to this look, either. It's strictly a temporary marriage of convenience, just until I find my own true love, the one who will agree to play nicely and not stimulate my potty mouth. (sigh)

But never mind all that silliness. What I really wanted to tell you about was a fabulous book that fell into my hot little hands today. It's a cookbook. But it's more than a cookbook. Way more. Right off the top, though, it's got to be one of the prettiest cookbooks I've ever owned. Front cover to back and every single page between is a loving work of art and almost every page showcases gorgeous photos taken by the author.

I'll have to apologize for the quality of my photos. I'm afraid I dillydallied too long and the lighting was lousy. It's no biggie but I'd rather do the lady the justice she deserves. Anyhoo, you may be familiar with Ree Drummond from her amazing web site, Pioneer Woman Cooks. (See link in sidebar.) For the food porn alone I would enjoy this woman but she's a whole lot more than just a pretty cook. In fact, I just took the trouble to look up the spelling for renaissance because that's what she is; a renaissance woman. Well, gee. She home schools her kids, feeds a bunch of hard-working cowboys and regularly updates a website with so many features it's practically a full-time job all by itself. She's a genuinely good photographer (and gives tips on her web site), a gifted writer and is smarter than the average bear. Besides which, she has a terrific sense of humor and absolutely refuses to take herself seriously. I like her so much, I don't have the heart to slap the gravy out of her.

I don't know how many recipes there are (except there are lots) but there are 248 pages in the book. Above is a sample of her photo tutorial style of presenting a recipe. Fans of her web site will recognize some of the offerings but there are plenty of new ones, just for the book. I would rate this as the best cookbook in a coon's age if the recipes were all there was to it. But, as I said, it's much more.

 Interspersed between all the glorious food pages are photos of people and cattle and horses and dogs -- oh, wait until you meet Charlie! He's just the handsomest Basset hound you ever did see. There are funny stories and poignant vignettes. It's not exactly like reading a novel. It's more like a rollicking visit with a best friend. You can't help but feel good for having the visit. And wait until you see how good you feel when you follow some of her recipes. Listen, this woman is armed with butter and she's not afraid to use it!

I put a link at the top of the sidebar if you'd like to whip over to Amazon and read more about the book. Or scroll down to the link for her web site and browse around at her place. Get a feel for what she does. If you like what you see there, I can pretty much guarantee you'll like the book as well. Heck, even if you don't cook, you'll like the book. But I'm warning you -- it'll make you hungry.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Pull & Pray

"Okay, if I pull this handle, I go right. If I pull that handle I go left. No wait . . . I'm below the equator so it works the other way around. If I pull this handle, I go left, the other one goes right. Right? RIGHT?"

There are some who think the chubby koala shown above is actually asleep at the switch, so to speak. Not so. The poor thing is so confused about which switch to pull, he's earnestly asking for divine guidance. Instead of Plug & Play, it's Pull & Pray.
Some days are like that, aren't they? You go along thinking you at least have the basics of life well in hand and then some little thing sets you back on your heels and you don't know if you should turn clockwise or widdershins. It can be something as simple as a word not looking right. You've been spelling that word the same way for practically all your life but suddenly it just looks alien. So alien, in fact, you're compelled to look it up in the dictionary. Even then, instead of feeling vindicated, you've been so unsettled, you're not sure you can trust Merriam-Webster anymore.
When one finds oneself in that slightly askew moment, I believe the only sensible thing to do is to pretend you've accidentally slipped into a Terry Pratchett Discworld novel. You will immediately realize askew is actually normal and you can relax. I know this is true because I just looked at the word askew. Now, I ask you, does that look right to you? No it does not. Shouldn't it be something like ascue or asskew or . . . no, I can see those are not correct either. See what I mean? 
So, okay. It's obviously Discworld time. Aha! Now that word looks correct and I can't imagine why I thought otherwise.  Do not doubt me. You'll find that sort of thing just makes more sense once you realize your world is serenely gliding through space supported on the backs of four giant elephants who are, in turn, standing on the back of a mighty turtle, the Great A'Tuin.  
For those of you who have never read a Discworld novel, the above references must sound a bit like inside jokes, which can be very rude. I certainly didn't mean to be rude. What I hope is that your curiosity is aroused enough that you'll check out one of the series -- there are something like 32 books so far and you don't have to read them in order. Just jump in anywhere. Terry Pratchett is simply one of the most brilliant writers on the planet right now. Seriously.  

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Banana Bigot

Look, I admit it . . . I am a banana bigot. A blatant banana bigot. My upper lip curls spontaneously when I pass the banana display at the market. It isn't that I hate bananas. It's that the ubiquitous Cavendish that is about the only choice offered to most of us here in the good old U.S. is, in my not-so-humble opinion, a really blah, boring banana. Depending on your source of information, there are somewhere between 500 and 1200 varieties of bananas. You would think, out of all that, the powers-that-be could have found a tastier version that still shipped well. Wouldn't you?

I have tasted bananas that were absolutely wonderful. Little fellers with big flavor. Don't know what the variety is called but it's common in Thailand. I'm glad I got to experience them but, gee, it sure makes it harder to put up with those damned Cavendish critters. I don't mind them so terribly much when they're practically green and I slice them into a nice Caribbean stir fry, along with sweet potato and pineapple and good stuff like that. And I can tolerate them if they've been tossed with lemon juice before being added to a fruit salad. I can even deal with them in quick breads -- but I'd really rather have bread made with apples. But I've been reading about this magical one-ingredient "ice cream" that you whup up in your blender or food processor and -- brace yourself -- that ingredient is frozen banana.

Okay, we know it isn't really ice cream. Not by any stretch of the imagination. But it's creamy and cold and should hit the spot on a hot day or as topping on dessert, should it not? That's what I figured, anyway. Of course I also figured I simply wasn't gonna like it if it was just banana. Which led me to freezing up both sliced bananas and sliced peaches. I just did the flash freeze thing and then dropped the results into pint freezer bags.


I plopped roughly equal parts banana and peach into the mini-bowl of the Silver Streak. Hmmm . . . and I see I should have tossed those banana slices with lemon juice or Fruit Fresh or something to keep them from getting dark. But I didn't. (Insert sigh.) Well, next time.


I'm glad I did a lot of reading about this before I actually tried it myself. That's how I knew not to worry when this turned out to be one of those things that doesn't get done lickety-split with the food processor. At first you have to keep scraping down the sides of the bowl and then, finally, some of the chunky frozen bits begin to cream up. Gradually, oh so gradually, more and more of the frozen bits are engulfed by the creamy part until, shazaam! You pretty much have it all smooshed up. And, you know what? I think it would have gone a lot faster it I'd begun with just a little of either fruit, then added one or two chunks at a time as the processing went on. Live and learn, I reckon.


I'll say this for the concoction . . . it does clean up purty. The consistency is pretty much like soft serve ice cream and doesn't taste bad. Still too much banana flavor for my pleasure but if you are one of those who love bananas, you'll definitely love this. And I suspect, if you like the idea of mixing different frozen fruits with the frozen banana slices, you will have a ball experimenting. Me? I'm going to make some more frozen yogurt and I won't allow a banana slice anywhere near it. Because I'm a bigot.


Just wanted to update y'all on those snazzy little pecan pie muffins we did the other day. (I say "we" because I'm sure you rushed right into the kitchen and whupped up your own batch.) I added an edit to the recipe that you may have missed. Be sure to grease the muffin cups, okay? Also, I've discovered they freeze very well indeed and heat up nicely in the microwave.


The most perplexing thing has happened and I'm still shaking my head over it. For whatever reason, my otherwise splendid ISP decided to separate my e-mail into two different locations and, as near as I can figure out, they neglected to explain what they were doing. So there I was, tending to my e-mail as usual, but feeling more and more uneasy and puzzled because I wasn't getting some of the newsletters and notify mails I was used to seeing. My mail settings seemed to be okay and there didn't seem to be any horrid bugs or  slugs embedded in the hard drive innards. But I knew there was something seriously wrong yesterday when an important verification message failed to appear. That sent me to seriously checking out possibilities which, finally, included clicking on the start page mail icon I'd ignored up until then.

OMG!!! I found myself gasping at the sight of 590 messages that had been collecting since September 8th. Which is why I didn't do the banana post yesterday, Coffee Mates. I ended up working through all those messages well into the wee hours, finally saving a couple of responses until this morning because I was, for all practical purposes, comatose. (Some say that is a normal condition for me but I call it "laid back.") In any case, I just wanted you to know that is why I didn't respond from time to time when I could legitimately be expected to do so. I think I've caught up with everyone but if I've missed you, for heaven's sake, holler at me.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

How to Do Clark Gable

I don't know what it is. I think you have to have been born somewhere south of the Mason-Dixon line to eat pecan pie with impunity. I do love it, you understand. Really. It's just that it's so utterly, irredeemably, impossibly rich. I can't think of another thing, right off the top of my pointy head, that contains such intense, concentrated sweetness. And I don't handle that degree of sweetness well.

My tummy is such a wuss. This is the same tummy that thrives on any chili pepper that makes it past my taste buds and begs for more. But offer it something really, really sweet and it throws up its little hands and whimpers, "Don't hurt me." It's just pitiful. That's why, much to my dismay, I have to limit myself to a small portion of pecan pie once in a very great while.

Until today. Today I may have stumbled on the perfect solution, allowing me to have my pecan pie and eat it , too, just as if I owned real estate on Bourbon Street and had a season pass to Dollywood. There I was, browsing around the Tasty Kitchen section at the Pioneer Woman site and I found this deceptively simple recipe for Pecan Pie muffins. Muffins! Who'd a thunk it?

I urge you to click over there and look around but, for future reference, here's a quick take on the recipe. First, you set your oven at 350 degrees fairy height. Then you whisk together 1 cup of chopped pecans, 1 cup packed brown sugar and 1/2 cup of all purpose flour. Melt 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter. Lightly beat two eggs and add them to the butter. Stir the liquid mixture into the dry mixture. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla flavoring. Fill six muffin cups and bake 20 to 25 minutes. (I did the full 25.) Remove from pan immediately.

EDIT: I forgot to say (because this particular recipe source didn't mention it) but be sure to grease your muffin cups! Your mileage may vary but, personally, if I suspect a potential for serious "sticky," I use solid shortening instead of nonstick spray. If you wait too long to decant the muffins, just pop them back in the oven for a couple of minutes and they should drop out easily. As for using paper liners, I'd suggest not. From what I've read, most folks feel too much of that nice, crunchy crust gets lost when you peel the liners away.

Well, folks, I had a batch of those bad boys whupped up almost before you could shout, "Memphis, Mobile and Baton Rouge!" That's assuming, of course, that you'd even want to wander around your kitchen shouting the names of southern towns like you were practicing to be a train conductor.  It's just that they have such a great magnolia-scented sound to them, don't they?

As you can see, the recipe makes a tidy half-dozen muffins, which is just fine for me. Just the perfect size for one to give me a great pecan pie hit without making my tummy snivel and whine. In fact, my tummy insisted I give it a second muffin before it very politely said, "Thank you, that will be sufficient."

Just look at that tender, moist interior, will you? (If you left-click on the photo, you'll get a larger version to view.) I promise you, there is absolutely nothing you need to put on these muffins to enhance them. Nothing. The crispy-crunchie outside and the soft, caramel-like inside are perfect just as they are. Perfect, I tell you. And if anyone around you complains that you're getting the lion's share of the muffins, you'll feel southern enough by then to do a Clark Gable and say, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Coffee-sippin' Weather

With all the messin' about yesterday, trying on the new outfit and all, I plumb forgot to take pictures of the maple leaves that had started the whole thang. By the time I remembered, it was as dark outside as day-old camp coffee. It's been mostly overcast today but the light was just fine for catching the color from the dining room window.

Some of the leaves have just begun to lose their green -- see the one on the far left -- but most, I think, are in the buttery-to-pumpkin stage.

Every now and then you can spot a leaf that's trying its darndest to develop a bit of dusty rose. Just a bit. Maybe I'm stretching for that but, gee, dusty rose is such a nice color.

Some of them didn't even get a chance to finish turning before the wind shredded them up the other day. At least I think it was the wind that took the leaf surface down to a cellophane-like remnant. Maybe it was just a bug attack. Some bugs don't clean up their plates.

Most of the tree is still green but, oh my, that's really quite a lot of turning in just a week's time. Well, compared to most of the other trees in view from my window. It really hasn't been all that cold yet so green is still the predominant color hereabouts.  Not that I'm complaining. Nossir, nope, no way. It's not even officially winter yet so I'm certainly not trying to hurry things along.

Relax, little maple tree. Have another cuppa. Flaunt your finery some more. Trust me when I tell you -- naked is not your best presentation. Which is all too true for some others of us, as well. (Insert long, resigned sigh.) So here's to a languid, lazy fall and plenty of brightly colored clothes. Coffee-sippin' weather. Yeah, I know. For me, it's all coffee-sippin' weather. And your point was?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Changing Outfits

Uhmmm . . . does this outfit make my butt look fat?

Okay, tell me the truth. When you clicked in here today, did you -- for just one crazy moment -- feel like you'd stepped into a stranger's house? Sorry about that. If it's okay with you, we'll just blame Mom Nature for the confusion. See, I was looking out the window and thinking, with a certain amount of awe, about how quickly the maple tree is changing color. Last week almost every single leaf was green. Then, on the thirteenth, appropriately enough, we got our first storm of the season and, ever since, the leaves have been turning gold so fast I have to wonder if the tree has been sneaking into a tanning salon when I'm not watching. Anyway, I figure if the maple tree can change outfits, so can I.

Note to Self: Next time you decide to change the look of the blog page, let me slap you 12 or 17 times.

It's been quite an experience and, unfortunately, I ain't seen nuthin' yet. There are still some aspects of the appearance of this template that I need to tweak -- just as soon as I figure out how. Or maybe I won't even bother. (Cue hysterical laughter.) Maybe I'll just enjoy all the pretty colors that attracted me in the first place and then, when I get tired of that, I'll go hunt down a different template to make me nuts. 

Just so it doesn't make my butt look fat. 


Friday, October 16, 2009


Are you smelling the incredibobble fragrance of that gorgeous bread? Is your mouth watering copiously? Are your taste buds quivering with excited anticipation? Yeah. Me, too. I can't take credit for this lusty loaf of leavened heaven. Should you happen to wander over to the "Tasty Kitchen" section of Ree Drummond's "Pioneer Woman Cooks" website (see Ree's link in sidebar) and should you happen to cruise through the section on breads, you would soon come to this outrageously good recipe for Fast Bread. That is not the same thing as "quick bread," you understand. We're talking about a fast and easy yeast bread that comes out totally tender-tasty and loaded with the prized Wowie! factor.

While I was waiting for the bread to rise and bake (not very long), I whupped up my own version of a basic cheese spread. I say "basic" because you can go just about anywhere you want from the bare bones, adding or subtracting seasonings of choice, perhaps adding different cheeses like Parmesan and/or crumbled feta and/or bleu cheese and maybe even a generous helping of tiny canned salad shrimp or whatever lights your candle. But the first thing you want to start with is the roasted garlic.

Now, Lord knows, you don't want to fire up the big oven for one little head of garlic. Or even one big head of garlic. This is the kind of thing your microwave does very well. This is sorta-kinda the way Barbara Kafka suggests doing it in her excellent Microwave Gourmet cookbook. Whack the tips off of a head of garlic, exposing the cloves. Set it on its little bottom in a 4-cup measuring cup and drizzle with about a tablespoon of olive oil. (She suggests 2 tablespoons if you're roasting 4 heads.) Then you add about 2 ounces of chicken broth (I mixed a bit of chicken bouillon with hot water), cover with plastic wrap and nuke for 5 minutes. Let stand for about 10 minutes still covered, then cool and pop the tender, nutty-sweet cloves out of their skins. You will not believe how great your kitchen will smell while this is going on but you will probably find yourself suddenly doing a lot of deep inhaling.

Okay, that's the first part. Now comes the fun stuff -- and I apologize for forgetting to take a picture of this bit but I was undergoing creative chaos and the thought of clicking a shutter couldn't squeeze its way though the crowd.

Drop those cloves into your blender or the mini-bowl of the food processor and add about a cup of finely grated cheddar cheese, a scant tablespoon of softened butter, a bulging tablespoon of stone ground mustard (mine is blended with stout) and maybe a couple tablespoons of white wine. I have some lovely Gewurztraminer that was perfect for the job. At the last minute I tossed in about 2 tablespoons of canned, sliced jalapenos (you can use pickled or plain) and processed it until I had a creamy spread and the peppers were minced up tiny.

You'll end up with about cup of spreadable goodness that you can smear on bread or crackers. Or you can plop a glob onto the top of a hot baked potato or steamed veggies. It'll taste better the next day, after the flavors have melded a bit in the refrigerator but you don't need to wait that long for the first taste. As you can see from the above photo, I didn't. And while I was savoring that, I slathered some more on the other two slices of bread and slid them under the broiler.

This is how they looked in the time between the depths of the oven and the depths of my mouth. I wish you could smell the aroma arising therefrom. Heaven.

Okay. This needs a closeup. Just feast your eyes on those teensy bits of garlic and jalapeno and whatever those flecks from the mustard might be. Yes, I know. It's a thing of grace and beauty, is it not? Ohboyohboyohwowie! I'm just sayin'. . .

Monday, October 5, 2009

Heaven On Toast

I'm baaaaaaaack -- ready or not! Although I've been absent from this particular cyber real estate for a bit, I have certainly not been idle. There was a good visit with out-of-state families and, between then and now, lots of experimentation with the Silver Streak.

That would be the new KitchenAid food processor, of course. The KitchenAid stand mixer is otherwise known as the Blue Beast. Together they make a fantastic kitchen team, I kid you not. Happily, I can report the Silver Streak has handled everything I've thrown at it and handled it well. Even when I screw up, the Streak doesn't. Can't ask for more than that, can you?

Today isn't about kitchen tools, however. Today is about an absolutely fantastic way to enjoy the season's bounty of freshly ripe tomatoes. REAL tomatoes, thank you very much, not the cardboard imitations picked too early for flavor. Last week Patti and Roger gifted me with some from their garden. They couldn't remember what kind these were but they are a very meaty tomato and intensely flavorful.

And I know a way to make even more flavor pop out.

Tip: I can't scientifically vouch for this but, while Google-cruising for 'mater recipes, I found several references that swear tomatoes keep longer if you store them with the stem end down. Well, it can't hurt.

Have you ever roasted fresh tomatoes? I hadn't. Not until today, anyway. I'm here to tell you, there is absolutely nothing like the flavor of roasted 'maters. Nothing. The beauty of it is, this is a really easy way to fix them. Plus, once they've been roasted, there are a kajillion ways you can go with them for future use. That's assuming you haven't lost your head and gobbled them up right from the oven. All too easy to do, I assure you. If you feel shaky about your self control, get lots of 'maters for roasting. (By the way, I'm told smaller batches can be roasted in toaster ovens. I imagine the same would hold true of countertop roaster ovens.)

I only had three left from the ones the kids gave me so I used the enamel-clad cast iron baking dish for the job. You can use larger pans or cookie sheets if you have more 'maters. I sprayed the bottom of the dish with a light coating of olive oil, then laid out the sliced tomatoes. The small one was simply cut in half, the larger ones were sliced into four sections. Then I drizzled a bit of olive oil over all the slices, lightly salted them with coarse kosher salt and ground a combo-pepper mixture over them. I could have sprinkled them with minced garlic but decided to do that next time. You can sprinkle any sort of herb or seasoning over them that suits your fancy, by the way. This simple treatment was all I wanted to do for the maiden voyage.

I slid the pan into a 275 degree fairy height oven. That was a compromise temp, as I've seen suggestions for anything from 200 degrees to 450 degrees. I can't vouch for the accuracy of my particular oven but the temp I chose seemed to work just fine. The photo above shows what the tomatoes looked like after one hour. They're starting to shrink and the glorious process of caramelization is just beginning. Oh frabjous joy, if I may slightly paraphrase the Jabberwocky.

After two hours, the above looked to me to be exactly right. I didn't want them dried out but I did want them imbued with that rich smokey flavor you get from the caramelized bits. I popped one of the smaller pieces in my eager mouth just as soon as it was barely cooled enough to avoid pain. Oh my stars and garters! The extra depth of flavor will just knock you out, I'm not kidding.

Now, there are any number of things one can do with the 'maters at this point. For one thing, you can flash freeze them so they'll be available all winter and you can sneer at the cardboard tomatoes.

Tip: I always thought "flash freezing" meant food was frozen really fast. As the term is used in this sense, however, it means you lay out the food on a cookie sheet or platter, each piece separate from the next, and put them in the freezer for a couple or three hours. Now you take the frozen bits and throw them in freezer bags or containers and put back in the freezer. That way, you can always remove just the amount you need without having to thaw the whole package.

The roasted tomatoes can be used "as is" in pretty much anything to which you'd add regular tomatoes -- except now you have the flavor bonus. Soups, stews, breads, pureed with broth or juice for various tomato sauces (marinara, spaghetti, pizza, etc.) -- whatever lights your candle. What I did this time was one of those experiments that actually worked out like I knew what I was doing. Believe me, nobody could have been more surprised than me.

What I did, was, I scooped up the roasted tomatoes and plopped them in the mini-bowl for the Silver Streak. (Small food choppers or blenders will work just fine, too.) Then I poured a bit of decent Australian Shiraz into the baking dish to deglaze the pan -- which I set on medium heat on top of the stove. Using a silicone spatula, I carefully loosened all those caramelized bits and kept stirring them into the wine as it cooked down to about half. I think I ended up with about a quarter cup of liquid. (You can use fruit juice or chicken broth or even plain water to deglaze if you want.)

Then I poured the slightly thickened liquid into the bowl with the tomatoes and processed everything until I had a thick puree. Maybe 30 seconds? Now comes the reward part -- I toasted a slice of oatmeal bread (because that's what I had but any kind of bread will work) and spread it with some of the yogurt cheese I had made up. (Also known as Greek yogurt. Or you can use cream cheese.) On top of the cheese, I spread a layer of the roasted 'mater "jam."

This is what it looked like, just before I took the first dainty bite. And then the second, larger bite. And then the rapid wolf-down, complete with snarling and yipping. I didn't take any pictures of that latter. It wouldn't have been seemly.

So now you can raid your garden -- or hit the local Farmer's Market or roadside stand or just beg and snivel to a gardening neighbor -- and roast up your own Heaven On Toast. I'm just saying . . .

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Don't Forget To Write

Justify FullI don't know where to start with this. Everything feels out of balance. Having been busy of late with off-line life and family doings, I've pretty much neglected giving more than cursory attention to on-line "families of the heart." Upon finally checking back in yesterday, there was a notify e-mail that took me to Jo's Journal. What I read there was not unexpected but, as we all know, we are never really ready to see a loved one slip out of here ahead of us. Jo, I miss you already.

A lot of folks are saying that very thing right now, those of us who were given the gift of her warmth and humor and sheer love of life. When Jo extended her friendship, she was nothing if not generous. Jo had many good qualities but I'm in awe of her courage. In spite of all too much physical misery, she never stopped living her life as fully as she could for as long as she could. Part of the reason she could do that, I know, was because of the devotion of her husband and best friend, Bill, who signs his comments here as "The Old Guy." If you click over to his "Cud Chewing" blog, you can read more about Jo.

This muddle we call Life being what it is, it seems there is always something you find yourself wishing you'd done or said while your friend was still alive. I had written to Jo because a long silence from her was beginning to worry me. And she responded with a nice long letter. And I didn't write back. Lord knows, I meant to. It was never far from my mind. I can list a hundred reasons for that neglect but not one single damned excuse. Well, there simply isn't any, is there. A huge regret, to be sure, but no excuse. So I'm just saying, if you have someone in your life who might need a line or two from you, try not to put it off. We just never know how much time is left so don't forget to write.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Some of you who drop in here for virtual coffee have also shared that beverage with our Canadian friend Wilma, also known as Jade Angel. (See "Wilma's Word" in my blog list in the sidebar.) I was shocked and saddened to learn her dearly loved husband Tim passed away suddenly this last Thursday. She asked me to let you know, just in case you hadn't stopped in there lately. Here is the link for Wilma's beautiful tribute post. There is also a link there to Tim's obituary.

Wilma, words are so inadequate but please know there are a lot of folks who care deeply about you. There are chains of light and love directed at you from points all around this globe. May that help give you strength.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

My Cup Runneth Over

I am SO in love with Amazon. Really. Remember how I was whining and sniveling a couple of days ago because my amazing food processor wasn't due to arrive until this coming Monday? That's because, as always, I selected the free shipping option. Which takes longer, of course. Except when Amazon does something totally cool -- like upgrading my shipping to Priority Mail. The food processor arrived at the post office YESTERDAY and I didn't even know it!

Fortunately, grandson Albert came over with great-grandson Archimedes and they went to the post office to pick up my mail. I knew the TimTams I'd ordered were in but that's the only package I was expecting. Albert and Archimedes came back with the TimTams and assorted mail and then Albert dumped my favorite short person in my lap and said, "You have to watch him while I go back for your KitchenAid."

"You're expletive deleting me!" I said (without deleting the expletive).

"Nope," he grinned. He was as tickled as I am. So I got a brief-but-delightful play date with Archimedes as an extra bonus to the wonders this day has produced and then Albert helped me unpack the Beast. (That dude is heavy, Coffee Mates!)

Didn't take me long to read through the User's Manual and it certainly didn't take much time to wash and dry all the components and set the Beast up in his place of honor by the sink. In fact, that's why the food pusher is not in the feed tube in the photo above. It's in the drainer in the sink. Don't worry. If you've seen one food pusher, you've seen 'em all.

It has long been my firm belief that when one has a new toy, one should play with it. For my first act, I shredded some cheddar cheese. Zap-whiz! Zap-whiz! Oh! What a blast this iz! And just like that, I had a bowl full of shredded cheese. Dumped it in another bowl, rinsed out the processor work bowl and whupped up a batch of bread dough. (Which included that shredded cheddar and some jalapenos.) Amazingly enough, the dough was ready in something like two minutes. It took longer than that to gather all the ingredients!

Now, the bread machine kneaded the dough for a good long time and the results were always excellent. Then I tried mixing bread dough in the stand mixer. That took -- I dunno -- 5 to 7 minutes, I guess. And the bread came out just as good as that mixed in the bread machine. I thought that was fairly amazing and was afraid it would be asking way too much to expect anything that good with only 2 minutes in the processor.

Well. I'm here to tell you, out of that batch of dough, I made two Epis for Albert and Holly and I made myself two small round loaves. The above photo shows one of the latter after slicing. Folks, that bread is as good as any I've ever made and, by darn, I've made some excellent bread. (With the machines doing all the hard work, of course.) I had to go over and fondle the Beast just a little bit to let him know I appreciated the fact that quality did not suffer from the application of speed.

But my adventures were not over for the day. No, indeedy. See above? That is NOT peanut butter. That is freshly made cashew butter. I just happened to have 2 cups of salted cashews and that seemed like an excellent way to break in the mini bowl that sits inside the big bowl with its own little multi-purpose blade. I had never tasted cashew butter before but I'm definitely a fan now. All I added to it was some olive oil and then turned the Beast loose and let him run until the consistency was right.

What can I say? I got to play with The Short Person, Amazon treated me extra nice, KitchenAid puts out superb toys for goddesses and, oh yeah . . . my brother called and they'll arrive here sometime tomorrow. My cup runneth over and I will moppeth not because I want to wade-eth through it.

Monday, September 7, 2009

In Transit


Those are such small, innocent-looking words, aren't they? In transit. Who would have thunk they could engender such roiling, boiling impatience in a person. But here I am, roiling and boiling, trying to keep the lid on my fidgets and fiddles, all because there are a couple of In transit situations on my calendar as we speak.

Like, fer instance, my brother and his wife are driving out from Illinois this year. Talked to them on the phone today and they were somewhere in Wyoming. They figured to spend the night near the Utah border and keep on keepin' on tomorrow. The ETA is Thursday.

They are IN TRANSIT.

Then there is the other item. I have been waiting -- quite patiently, in fact -- and saving so I could treat myself to a handy-dandy food processor. It's not something I need but it is definitely something I want. Did all kinds of research and then kept track of fluctuating prices and "best deals" and, finally -- when I least expected it, of course -- my targeted KitchenAid 750 went on sale. Woohoo! I had to make a temporary loan with daughter Patti and SIL Roger because the sale was going to be over before my monthly SS came in. Then, when we had that all arranged, the particular color I was going for was already sold out. Well, shucky-darn. The next best price up was only $13.00 more so I said, "Hah! I can do this," and I did. They shipped my baby out at 7:10 pm from Goodyear, Arizona Saturday.

From the moment I got that notice, my patience disappeared and I've been agitating ever since. Every day -- even though by now I know better -- I go to the page where you're supposed to be able to track your package, courtesy of the United States Postal Service. And it's true. I can do that. Sort of. Their idea of tracking and my idea of tracking do not make a perfect match.

Do they give me a blow-by-blow as the little guy wends his way to me? No, they do not. They tell me the estimated delivery date is Monday, September 14th. They tell me "Status: In transit." That's all the tracking I'm going to get. Now where's the fun in that?

There is an undeniable thrill one can enjoy when one is able to vicariously make the trip with the expected package. You can measure in your mind's eye each increment that inches tantalizingly closer every day. There is something about that kind of detailed tracking that helps the wait go faster.

It keeps you from raking long, wicked gashes in the walls with your fingernails.

It enables you to curb the incessant muttering and the sporadic howling is almost eliminated.

The twitching is easier to control so folks don't even know you're doing it unless they look close to see why you're slapping yourself.

Does the United States Postal Service care? I guess not. If they did, they'd be willing to inform me of interesting details like, maybe, the mail truck paused briefly at Gila Bend or Burro Butt and is tooling its way through the desert toward, oh, say Palm Springs or even Wendover. They would tell me neither sleet nor snow nor desert sand storm would stay the steady course of my trusty mail carrier truck/train/plane/person. They would include me in the fun, the excitement, the romance.

Oh. Excuse me. (Twitch. Slap!) I didn't mean to start howling again. Sometimes it just comes over me, you know? I'm going to "woman up" now and try to maintain my dignity until this coming Monday. I'm counting on Merle and Linda to distract me when they arrive Thursday. I'm sure they will make the final few days of the Other In Transit go much faster.

In the meantime, I'm going to wander into the kitchen and enhance my sacred coffee with some golden nectar. I might lay in one more casual swipe of gashes if I can find a section of wall I haven't already shredded but I think the worst of it is over now. Except for the snarling -- but I do that very softly.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Epi-logue Epic

Will you just feast your everlovin' eyeballs on those puppies? Have you ever seen anything prettier in your entire life? Okay. Your kids. And your grandkids. And maybe Sean Connery for those of you of the female persuasion. Well, yes, chocolate is mighty pretty. The list can go on so let me concede the point and just say the above photo is ONE example of pretty. Not only that -- it is also an example of creative engineering and, blessedly, much easier to accomplish than it appears. Therefore, should you choose to make a bouquet of these critters to present as a hostess gift next time you're invited to dinner, you will be almost ashamed to accept the awestruck compliments you're sure to receive.

What are they? The French call them "pain epi" and Wise Geek has this to say about them:

"In French, epi is the word used to describe the flower of a wheat stalk. Since pain, roughly pronounced “pan,” means “bread” in French, epi bread may be listed as pain epi at many bakeries."

What epi bread is, is a clever way of putting all your dinner rolls on a stem, like a little choo choo train with all the cars linked together. You just tear off one of the "seed heads" of the wheat stalk and dip it in whatever is provided and start wolfing down that crispy crunchy crust and the tender fluffy center that laps up your olive oil and balsamic vinegar -- or your melted butter -- or whatever. I've been going to try this for a long time and finally got around to tackling the project earlier this evening.

The recipe I used is adapted from one a charming young man named Pete offers at his web site, where he calls it Cheesy, Savory Monkey Bread. Pete, in turn, adapted his recipe from one offered by Chris Pandel, a popular young chef at The Bristol in Chicago. His version is called Monkey Bread With Dill, Butter and Sea Salt. My variation on their versions was a healthy dose of my Lemon Dill (because I didn't have any fresh dill) and a quarter cup of grated Parmesan (because I didn't have any fresh Parm) but otherwise I kept pretty much to what they said. Except, of course, for turning the dough into epi bread instead of monkey bread. Works for me, she said with an unrepentant smile.

For the magical moment when you actually turn your bread dough into wheat stalks, I have two links for you to enjoy. The first one is a very short but impressive demo on YouTube. The other is a photo shoot of epi making at the Fig Jam and Lime Cordial web site. (You have got to love a name like that!)

So I did my version of the monkey bread recipe and was grinning like a fool when I discovered clipping a branch of epi was actually as easy -- and fun -- as it looked. I didn't indulge in all that butter like the guys did, though. Just brushed the epis with some olive oil and sprinkled a small scatter of coarse kosher salt across the top. Put the pan in the 375 degree oven and set the timer for 20 minutes and then I decided to get artsy fartsy with my spread of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The idea was to put the vinegar in a shot glass, put a dish over it, then turn them both over so the glass would contain the vinegar. Then I was supposed to drizzle the oil around it, quickly whip the glass up and -- tah dah! -- there would be a little pool of vinegar beringed by olive oil.

Heh, heh. As you can see, I fumbled the pass and lost half the vinegar in the flip. Had to mop it off the table. That's why the purple puddle has a Rorschach-like tail. Please don't tell me what you see in that image. I'm laughing too hard at my own vision.

It really didn't matter because very shortly after I sat down with a small glass of some pretty good Australian Shiraz, the Rorschach puddle got thoroughly reshaped anyway. I am here to tell you, Coffee Mates, the next few minutes were pure bliss. I don't mind admitting, I moaned when I ate. It was wonderful. I dipped and munched and sipped and dipped and munched and sipped and -- in a magical confluence of the Forces of Light and Goodness -- all that sipping and dipping and munching came out even. That is to say, I decided I was stuffed at exactly the moment I emptied the wine glass.

And no wonder. I was shocked to discover I'd actually wiped out half of one of the epis! Shocked but not really surprised. When something tastes that good, accidental gluttony should not come as a surprise. As I sit here and gaze upon the final shape of the culinary Rorschach, I've decided it is a fitting epilogue to the epic Epi adventure. No, I will NOT tell you what I'm laughing about now.