Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Reminiscent Day

Today was the 86th birthday of my sainted Uncle Billy Guppy, God rest his soul!  My Aunt Pauline and I had a date for doing toenails, and had planned to have our usual toenail-cutting-day-lunch of tomato soup.  However, as she had mentioned the birthday to me, I thought a cake would be in order – nice lemon cake, and of course, some strawberry ice cream.

This is one of my favorite “make in minutes” cakes, and it has a little history.  A very little, but a happy history.  In 1974, my father gave me a Cuisinart food processor. At that time, they were very new, very expensive, and I wanted one desperately.  But, as I said, they were very expensive, which eliminated me as a potential owner of one of these fabulous new machines.  I don’t remember what the gift giving occasion was, but I think that it was a “no-occasion,  just because I love you” sort of present.  There were all kinds of warnings that came with it.  They implied that it would be really easy to cut off a finger if one were not extremely careful.  I was terrified, but thrilled every time I used it.  I am much calmer now, as I realize that cutting off a finger would actually be pretty difficult.  Yes, I am still using it, 37 years later.  Can you believe it?  At one time, I thought that if I ever got burgled, the first thing I would have to replace would be my food processor.  When I actually did get burgled, I realized that the first thing I had to replace was my alarm clock.  Fortunately, the burglars were not cooks and didn’t care about my kitchen equipment.
 Along with the dire warnings, my dear machine came with a little recipe booklet, and several of the recipes became my meal-in-minutes standards. Sadly however, probably during a move, I lost the little booklet.  I went to Fredrick and Nelson’s to see if the Cuisinarts there came with a booklet so that I could copy out the recipe.  I explained my dilemma to the sales lady, and she helped me look, but alas, the then current booklet was newer and didn’t have the instructions for my cake.  Imagine my surprise, when a couple of weeks later, I received the very booklet in the mail.  The saleslady had written to the company to get a copy of the out-of-print booklet, and then sent it on to me.  What a wonderful store Fredrick’s was.  But that is a topic for another day.  

Every time I want to make this cake, finding the booklet is a challenge, so I am sharing the recipe with you, thus making it easier for me to find when I want it. 

Quick, Easy, Yummy Lemon Cake
1 lemon
125 grams granulated sugar (1/2 cup)
1 stick (4 oz) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
2 large eggs
138 grams flour (1 cup minus 2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon baking powder, stirred into the flour

½ cup confectioners sugar

Heat the oven to 350°.  Prepare an 8 inch round pan, greasing and flouring it well.  Zest the lemon, and place the zest in the bowl of the food processor.  With the processor running, slowly add the sugar.  Add the butter, and process till smooth.  Add the eggs, processing about 20 seconds after each egg addition.  Add the flour and baking powder all at once.  Quickly pulse the processor 2 or 3 times – just until the flour disappears.  Any longer will make the cake tough.  Turn the batter into the pan and bake it for 20 minutes, or until the top springs back when lightly touched.  Actually, I had to bake it for 30 minutes today, but usually it takes only 20.  Cook the cake for a few minutes in the pan, and then cool on a cake rack. 

While the cake is baking, squeeze the juice from the lemon, and mix the powdered sugar into it.  When the cake has cooled a bit, spread the lemon juice mixture over the cake.  I usually do this in several rounds. 

This is a very nice cake, buttery and not too sweet.

Cake and Ice Cream Transport!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Party Days

There has been a delightful plethora of blog-worthy events lately, and I just can’t keep up.  First there was the Parish Ministries Dinner, an annual fun event that I haven’t thought seemed potentially fun since Tom died, as for some reason, he seemed such an essential part of this particular gathering.  Every year, I have planned to go, and then at the last minute, I have found some reason why I should stay home.  This year, I was brave, forged on,  and luckily met my pals Peggy and John.  So it did turn out to be a fun event, despite my misgivings. 

Close on the tail of that, the choir ladies gave a baby shower for soprano Angela.  Usually I go to these events with Rachael, but somehow, she missed the boat and didn’t realize it was even on until the day before, and she already had made other plans.  I was disappointed, and she was sorry that no one had pressed the information on her a little more aggressively.  One never quite knows, with the younger set, where friendly suggestions or reminders leave off, and where nagging begins.  Better safe than sad, I say.  So once again, I was on my own, and once again I had a lovely time.  Angela looked beautiful, the food was great, and the company was enjoyable.  

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A card playing evening

I love to play games – card games, board games, word games. Ever since the time I played Candyland (a hideous game most parents are subjected to) with my mother, I have loved games.  She was a trouper and played with me often.  Payback time was when I had to play it with my little brother. Ugh!  I was so glad when he graduated to Pollyanna – a game which probably no longer exists, except in my closet.  It was similar to Parcheesi. This game was much more intellectual.  Not only was it about Pollyanna, whom I loved, but it required a little thought.  Frankie’s Candyland winning streak was over.  Then I started playing card games with my father, and my winning streak was over.  I usually won when I played Casino with my Grandmother or her sisters, and it never once occurred to me that they might actually have won if they hadn’t all doted on me so.  I just figured that I was brilliant at Casino.  More recently, I played with Rachael and she always won.  And not because I dote on her so, although I do dote on her.  Two games I never, never, ever win are Scrabble and Monopoly (aka Monotony).  I did win at Scrabble once and still have the scorecard.  My cousin, who usually wins, even rudely checked to be sure that his addition had been correct. 

So I was happy to spend some time with The Twins playing Quiddler.  When I play games with them, I am happy as a clam, but I feel like my brother Frank must have felt when playing Pollyanna with me.  Destined to lose. He once threw the board at my head.  I have never felt quite like that when playing with The Twins, but I do feel at the outset that I am not going to win, no matter what we are playing.  They are brilliant game sharks!  And one or the other of them always wins. Not just Quiddler, but every game we ever play.  Until a few evenings ago when I actually won a game!  This is a game at which I always win when playing with The Aunties, but never when playing with The Twins.  However, hope springs eternal!  Not only did I win, but I won spectacularly!  And not because they dote on me either.  They may do that, but it doesn’t get in the way of their intense urge to conquer in games.

So a delightful evening, complete with delicious pasta, a lovely passeggiata, and games, one of which I finally won.  Do I gloat? No.  One cannot really gloat about winning one game out of more than a hundred, but one can feel a tiny bit smug. 

An evening stroll

This all reminds me of a time when my father and his friend beat my mother and her friend at Bridge – a rare event.  They made a Grand Slam, and then had an article about it, detailing their brilliant bidding, put in the town newspaper.  Obviously that was a town with little newsworthy going on.  

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Adoption Day

Adoption day was actually a week ago, but the little adoptee spent the first three days in his new home hiding behind the washing machine.  He occasionally came out surreptitiously to go to the potty, but other than that, he remained very elusive.  This was worrisome because my washing machine is such that I can’t look behind it, and so I was not actually even sure he was there.  And if there, if he was okay.  Very disturbing.  As he wasn’t anywhere else, I decided that was where he had to be.  On one of his few forays out, I blocked his entrance so that he couldn’t get back in, but he foiled me and found an alternative way into his lair. I cleverly managed to block that too.   Finally, he tentatively decided to get acquainted.  First with Margaret, then with me.  Margaret is thrilled to have a new cat brother, and I am quite pleased to have a cat child.   

So, may I introduce my cat Geoffrey Tobias?  He is a lovely, loving big boy with an extraordinarily grey nose.  In fact, he is hindering helping me type this right now.  What a sweet fellow he is.  

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Reminiscent Day

Madeleines!  Such exquisite, delightful little buttery scallops, yet I hadn’t made them for years.  As I was searching for my recipe, and then mixing them up, a flood of Madeleine memories arose – and not entirely lovely memories.  I recalled the first time I made them. It was many years ago, and Rebecca was quite little.  It was a stunning summer day, bright and vivid with searing blue skies. Dennis had a friend visiting, and I no doubt was making them for afternoon tea.  I am an inveterate licker of the mixing spoon, having, unlike many, no fear of raw eggs in the dough.  This day was no exception.  Yum!  In another respect, however, this day was the exception.  Minutes after I presented the dainty meal, I was in the bathroom suffering all sorts of misery.  I was trying to be subtle about things for which there can be no real subtlety.  I must have been reasonably subtle though, because I do not recall an outpouring of sympathy.  I am guessing that Rebecca was not at home, because she surely would have insisted on sharing the damp dough, and even more surely, if not in the bathroom suffering with me, would have been in the bathroom with me, offering aid, assistance, and loving comfort.

Years later, when Rebecca was big, Rachael was little, and I was in nursing school, I was making them for a psychology class event.  I have mentioned before I think, that when I am cooking and am nervous about the reception of my fare, everything I make tastes like sand.  This was no exception.  I tried one and it was a mouthful of grit.  I was talking to my friend Godmommy on the phone as I worked, and she assured me that it was just my nerves.  They had to be good. Reassuring, but not totally reassuring.  Then Rebecca arrived home and tried one.  “These are disgusting,” she said.  “Are you really going to take them to your class?”  Well, given that my class was in about a half an hour, I was.  As you can imagine, I was filled with horror and dread.  Once again, Godmommy, still on the line, was reassuring.  She pointed out that Rebecca had been irked at me about something or other earlier, and so she too, probably had an emotionally induced taste impairment.  I slunk off to my class, dreading the moment when everyone gagged on my presentation.  Mirabile dictu!  They were an enormous success and everyone wanted the recipe.  Incidentally, this was the class in which I met Samos.  Maybe my brilliant Madeleines were what made him want to be my friend. 


1 cup flour
½ cup sugar
2 eggs
½ c butter
Zest of one lemon
Pinch salt
½ tsp vanilla
½ tsp rum

Grease and flour the Madeleine pans very well.  Heat the oven to 400°. 
Beat the eggs with the salt until they are stiff.  Add in the sugar gradually, and beat some more.  Add the vanilla and rum if you are using it.  Fold in the flour, about a quarter a time.   Add a quarter of the butter at a time.  Mix it in well.  Fill the pans about  ¾ full and bake immediately.   They take about 10 minutes and are done when they are golden with crispy edges.  This will make about 18 medium sized madeleines.  

To my surprise, I had no rum, so I used a little Grand Mariner instead.  Probably that made them better. 

I used a regular metal pan and a silicone pan which I borrowed from Rebecca.  As you can see, the ones baked in the metal pans turned out nicer – evenly browned and no bubbles.  Rebecca borrowed my metal pan when she made a vegan version and had the opposite experience.  Her vegan Madeleines  were delicious – maybe even better than my classic omnivore ones.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Another Fun Day

My early morning plan for the day yesterday primarily included laundry, vacuuming, and a jaunt to an animal shelter to try to find the perfect kitty.   And with luck, a little knitting and reading.   An early morning call changed all that.  “Let’s go for a walk in Discovery Park,” Samos suggested.  Great idea!  We did stop at an animal shelter, but it wasn’t open yet, so no kitty.  Our walk was wonderful!  Let the pictures speak!

So, my early morning plan for today includes laundry, vacuuming, and a jaunt to an animal shelter to try to find the perfect kitty.  I’m hoping there is time for a little knitting and reading as well.  We’ll see.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Hyper-Pleasant Day

I hadn’t seen my friend Suzanne in ages, and  had been longing to talk to her.  But this just never seemed to be happening, and my usual inertia prevented me from taking any real action to make it happen.  Why not just call her, you ask!  Somehow, we never  manage to connect via phone unless we actually even have a date for that.  Our schedules just seem to be in total conflict.  Often we see one another at church and make our lunch dates then. Even there though, our schedules don’t mesh, as we usually go to different Masses.  So I was thrilled when I saw her in the church parking lot last Sunday.  She was leaving as I was coming. As a rule, I don’t make lunch dates on a day after working unless someone else is doing the cooking.  I am too stupefied in the mornings, often not coming to life till dinner time. But I was so anxious to see her that I took a chance and invited her for lunch on a post-work morning.  Sure enough, I had to stay until the wee hours, and was totally fagged by the time I got home.  I still felt pretty knackered in the morning and had a major battle to get out of bed and get moving.  “You had better get up,” I told myself.  “There is plenty of time,” my other self replied.  “Your meal will not take any time at all to fix. Besides, Suzanne is never on time.”  Finally, I emerged, grabbed my shopping list, and cycled to the store.  My favorite Real Change vendor was there, smiling as ever, and he assured me that all would be well and my meal would be ready on time.  Of course, it wasn’t at all.  “Suzanne is always late,” I kept telling myself as I was chopping and stirring.   It’s true.  I never prepare anything for her that requires a prompt trip from the stove to the table, because her arrival times can be very fluid.  She was due at one, and at five after, there she was.  I was stunned. “Sorry I’m late,” she said, smirking.  She could see that I was amazed.  “I have turned over a new leaf, and am getting places on time,” she explained.  So we chatted while I finished up my preparations.  I was only an hour late getting the food on the table.  As a rule, I have a horror of being late for anything, but I took this pretty well.  Suzanne understands lateness. 

This meal really was actually quick to fix.  Super Yummy Polenta Patties, and roasted asparagus.   I made strawberry tapioca for dessert, starting the tapioca soaking before I went to the store, and quickly fixing it as soon as I got back.  I roasted asparagus along with the tomatoes, made a quick Rebecca style salad – fennel, grapefruit, avocado, and served it with some nice bread from Trader Joe. 
All in all, a very tasty repast, and not much work to prepare. And as Suzanne was her usual hyper-wonderful self, I can say that I had a very pleasant day.

Yummy Polenta Patties – almost a meal in minutes

Polenta roll from Trader Joe
3 or 4 nice sized garlic toes
Fresh tomatoes - I used seven medium sized ones*
Mozzarella cheese, grated, about 2/3 cup **
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Heat the oven to 375 F.  Dice the tomatoes into dice sized pieces.  Spread the pieces over a Silpat on a cookie sheet and roast for about 40 minutes.  In the meantime, slice the polenta into 1 cm coins, and set it aside.  Slice the garlic and when the tomatoes are nearly done, sauté the garlic in a nice big pan in tablespoon or so of olive oil.  When the tomatoes are deep red and a little shriveled, scrape them off the Silpat and add them to the garlic.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Have the grated cheese at the ready.  Fry the polenta slices in a few more tablespoons oil.  When they are hot and crispy on both sides, put about a tablespoon grated cheese on each slice.  Turn down the heat and cover the griddle with a big pan lid for a minute or two until the cheese melts.  When the cheese is melted, top each polenta patty with a nice blob of the roasted tomatoes.  Super yummy.

*Even tomatoes that are pretty mediocre take on a new vibrancy when roasted.  Sapor explosivo!

**I had planned to use fresh mozzarella with a slice on each polenta slice, but I forgot to get it when I went to the store.  So I just used what I had on hand, and it worked very nicely.   Maybe better, since it melted more quickly than a thick slice would have.  

Friday, June 10, 2011

Another ornithological day

Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young …. Only in this case, we are dealing with wrens – much cuter than a sparrow, and almost as cute as a swallow.
I was thrilled when a wren family moved back into the gourd on my back porch.  I can sit at my kitchen table, reflecting on what hard workers and good providers they are,  watching them bring dainty tidbits to their children, and thinking that my children now bring dainty tidbits to me!  And they (the wrens, not my children) have been remarkably tidy - tidy for birds, at any rate.  My experience tells me that birds are not known for their personal hygiene or for compulsively cleaning the areas around their homes.  Au contraire!  But this little couple has barely made bird messes at all.  

Imagine my shock when I got up one recent morning, looking at my nice little al fresco tea table on the porch, to find it covered with twigs and a few leaves.  How could this be, I pondered.  The porch is locked.  No one could come in here without breaking the lock on the gate.  The next morning, the answer was clear.  There are three gourds on my porch, all made by my sister-in-law, Angela.  To begin with, I had only the biggest one on the porch, but then when I redecorated my little outdoor breakfast area, I put up the other two, which had been inside.  I peeked into the doors of the smaller, newer ones, and what a shock!  More nests. Either my little wren family was building outhouses and gazebos, or their friends and relations were finding out what a good thing this pair had, and are creating a family compound.

Ancient wisdom tells us that “a bird in hand is worth two in the bush,” but I beg to differ with this.  A bird in the bush is a thing to be cherished and admired – God’s lovely little creature, sparkling and spritely.  A bird in hand is disgusting!  Have you ever had to hold one?  Ick!   

I have a nice birdhouse in my garden.  Do you think a bird would move into that?  Never!

Monday, June 6, 2011

An imperfect day

There has been a sad loss (not terribly sad, but somewhat sad) in my life lately.  You may have noticed in some of my photos, that I possess the perfect teacup.  I purchased it years ago at an after Christmas sale at an import store.  As you can see, it has a Christmas lion on it, and the lion’s little friend, a Christmas canary.  I still do possess it, but now it has one major imperfection.  A big crack!  For a long time, it had a little crack, but that didn’t really amount to an imperfection at all.  It simply added character.  Sadly, however, a few days ago, my perfect cup seemed to leap off the counter, and now the small crack has morphed into such a dangerous chasm that I fear that my little friend and companion will soon fall apart as I am drinking my tea, and I will end up with a lapful of hot, milky liquid.  So the search has been on for the perfect replacement.  Alas, the search has been, so far, unsuccessful.  Samos got me a very nice cup, and it is perfect for my evening hot Ovaltine, but not quite perfect for tea.  It is a little too small for tea (my tea needs are humungous) , but just the right the evening cuppa something else.  Why does the cup need to be such a specific size, you might ask?  Well, I make my tea downstairs, but usually drink it upstairs.  In bed, if you must know.  With the morning paper or the evening book.  I used to make a little pot and bring that upstairs with a little jug of milk.  However, Margaret felt that the milk was for her, and I didn’t want to share, so this became impractical.  Now, I just bring up a cup, and then go back downstairs for a refill.  So the perfect sized cup is one which holds just enough tea to sate me a bit, but not so much that the tea cools before I am finished with it. 

There were cups just the right size and texture at World Market at Christmas time, but not only did they not have a lion, but they did have silly ballet dancers, and you had to buy four.  Knowing that this day was coming, I considered, but I didn't care for the ballet dancers.  Four was the real deal breaker.  I only want one.  I went on a search a few days ago, visiting the likely cup selling spots, and found none that even came close.  I went back to Word Market, and found several that did come close, but of course, they were “no cigar.”  Most of them had offensive sayings on them, primarily involving coffee.  Coffee will not sully my cup, and so I don’t want reminders of it on the cup surface.  This one was the most innocuous – “Good Morning”.  I fear that coffee was implied, but as it was not explicitly stated, I can deal with it for now.  The search, however,  continues.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Funny Day

Oh dear!  I had to get up at the crack of dawn for a very early dental appointment.  I have forgotten dental appointments in the past, once even when I had been talking about it to my co-workers two hours before, so I put several little reminder signs around the house.  There is something about a trip to the dentist that makes one very able to forget.  Don't misunderstand me - I love my dentist, and have for years.  He and his staff are wonderful, and have taken care of four generations of us.!  Nonetheless,  for the previous three days, I had been fretting about getting myself there on time.  Would I get out of work before midnight, or would I have to stay till one in the morning as I occasionally do?  That would make getting up early a major chore.  I could snooze in the dentist chair, but better to at least be alert when I arrived.  All evening, my major goal was getting done on time.  Do nothing extraneous, I told myself, lest you end up having to stay late.  Whoa!  Too many nurses here! Someone could go home at half time!  I’ll take it!  Happily,  I said goodbye to my patients, and scurried home to read my book and knit, being careful not to read beyond midnight.  First, I got all my clothes for the morning out – even the right earrings.  In my anxiety, I set two alarms, just to be sure.  In the wee hours, well before the alarm went off, I sprang awake – an hour ahead of time.  Good!  I could read the paper.  I had my tea, gave Margaret her walkies, read the paper and even did the crossword, got dressed, was ready to go.  But wait!  I had a niggling anxiety.  I checked my email and – you guessed it!  My appointment isn’t till tomorrow!  Why hadn’t I turned my calendar over to June to check instead of just remembering the date -always a dangerous practice?  I remembered that it was the first day in June that I didn’t work.  But actually it was the second day.  Long ago, when I made the appointment, my schedule wasn’t out yet, so there was the possibility of working the evening before, and I got that stuck in my head. So now, I have to go through all that again.  Well, the clothes are back in a pile, the earrings again laid out, the alarms are set.  Sigh!
Samos and I were going to go out for a comfort lunch after my dental ordeal, and as, after this mistake, I still needed comfort, we went anyway.  Several of my friends are connected with all vegan Loving Hut, and they were excited because it was reopening with a new chef, and a new menu.  This was the first day, and they had specially asked me to come. As one might expect, things were a little chaotic, but the food was delicious.  I had soy fish, and Samos had soy chicken.  Both super yummy.  We were so starved and enthusiastic about our meal that we forgot to take pictures till it was time to pack up the leftovers. 

Kate, the Ice Cream Mistress

Then, for dessert, we went to the Bluebird – Homemade Ice Cream and Tea Room.  I hadn’t been here before, despite it being in my neighborhood, but I certainly will be going again soon.  

The ambience, as you can see, is wonderfully funky (I am all into funky), and the ice cream was très delightful.  Once again, we gulped our treats down before taking a picture.  At least I did.  Samos still had a bit left, so I documented its final moments.