Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Pre-New Year's Day

Usually, Rebecca comes with me and helps me find the perfect new calendar, but this year she was unavailable.  For the previous several years, I had gotten a cute Dick and Jane calendar, but last year (and again this year,) I couldn't find one. Instead, she found something similar for my last year’s calendar, an adorable one with English schoolroom posters. It was so sweet that it made me happy every time I looked at it. Do you detect a calendar preference theme here?  

The store at which we usually had the most success involved a car trip, and so to avoid that, I went to a fabulous bookstore within walking distance.  I had failed there in the calendar search before, but decided to be optimistic.  While I had made a decision to feel this way, I think it didn’t really penetrate to my inner being.   It was a cold day, so I dressed up too warmly.  By the time I got there, and was looking through the calendars, I was so hot that I only wanted to go home and take off most of my clothes so as to cool off, and then to take a nap.  So I decided that all the calendars were ugly and went home.  The next day, I really had to get down to business.  Margaret was thrilled to come with me, but she did not give me much advice about my calendar selection. 

And the selection was vast!

There was something for every taste!

Except mine.  Finally, I chose two, neither the perfect calendar, but both pretty near perfect.  And so a good way to start the New Year.  

Which brings me to say,  

A most happy and blessed New Year to you and  yours!” 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Baking Day

The foremost one is from Martha's pistachio biscotti recipe. The others are date.
 I was making biscotti variations to give for Christmas presents, and was searching for the perfect recipe.  I think the winner was a recipe my friend Martha gave me for biscotti with  pistachios and orange zest, made with lots of butter.  I had made nice ones with almonds, cranberries, anise – all the usual, and they were good, but Martha’s recipe was way the best.   In need of variety, I decided to make date and orange biscotti, given that I had lots of dates and lots of oranges.  I was hopeful, but when I tried them, they were a little on the yucky side.  Actually, not a little, but a lot!  I can’t give these as presents, I thought.  The only thing is to eat them myself.  Usually, I have one or at most two biscotti for my late night snack with my last cup of tea.   On day one, I almost had to choke them down, but by the third day, I quite liked them.  By the fourth day, I liked them a lot. Now I am not sure if they improved with age, or if they are an acquired taste which it took me several days to acquire.  Or maybe both.  Anyhow, here is the recipe.

Date Biscotti

2 cups (260 grams) flour,
1 tsp. baking powder,
1/8 tsp salt,
¾ cup (150 grams) sugar,
3 eggs,
1 tsp vanilla extract,
Zest from two oranges,
1 cup (160 grams) chopped dates.

Heat the oven to 300°, and prepare a  cookie sheet by lining it with parchment or using a Silpat.

In a small bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and salt an set aside.  In the bowl of your electric mixer, beat the sugar and eggs together until soft and foamy.  Stir in the vanilla and orange zest. Fold in the dates and then the flour until just mixed.  Do not overbeat. 

On a lightly floured surface, form the dough into a log, about 10 inches long.  Transfer the log to the prepared baking sheet.  Bake for about 30 minutes, or until firm in the middle.  When done, let it cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes, then transfer it to a work surface, and cut into slices about 2 cm thick.  Cut on the diagonal for slightly longer biscotti*.  Bake the slices for about 10 minutes and then turn them over and bake for 10 more minutes.  Let them cool, and then store in an airtight tin.  

*Martha says that at this point, you can freeze biscotti, and then do the second baking when you are about to greet your guests.  Not having a roomy freezer, I have not tried this, but Martha knows everything, and is the world’s best cook, so I confidently pass the tip on. 

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Blessed Day

 I am hoping that all of you have a blessed and happy Christmas!

My friend Roseann made this paról  for me years and years ago.  It is getting a bit faded, but is still one of my favorite things!  Pictured are Little Rachael, then about two years old, Farnaby - the perfect cat, God rest his soul, and my little Cairn terrier Leslie,  God rest his also, as they all greeting Baby Jesus on his birthday in the manger.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Dark Day

You may have noticed that the days are getting very short, and very dark.  In fact, today is the darkest – or at any rate, the shortest.  It is nice and bright right now.  This is the time of the year when a fear of the dark arises, but I mean only a certain sort of dark.  Not the  comfy kind God sends us every December, but - Blackouts!  We seem to always be having them.  And of course, they never come at a convenient time.  (Those times would be when one is asleep or not at home.  There is no other convenient time.  If one wants no lights, one can manage that without the help of the electrical power company.)  Ever since the last one, I have been planning to become better prepared.  That time, I had to paw through drawers, searching for my Advent Wreath supplies to find a candle.  As each procrastinating day passed, I worried a bit more.  Both about being caught in the dark again, and about being such an incorrigible dilly-dallier.  I put everything off, especially if it involves getting in the car and going somewhere.  Finally, I decided to commit.  I asked Becca if she would go to the hardware store with me.  Happily, she agreed, and off we went to Madison Park Hardware, my favorite hardware store, especially now that all my other favorite hardware stores have been swallowed up by the mega monster ones.  This one is walk-to-able, but only if you have all day, and want to come up a very long, tall hill on the way home. It is lots of fun to go to, and every time I do, I find some little thing that I previously hadn’t realized that I  absolutely needed.  Margaret, who came along, loves to go because there are dog treats.  The friendly folk there helped us find the perfect blackout ware, and assured me that since I now was prepared, it was very unlikely that such a thing would happen soon.  I hope he is right, but if he isn’t, I am ready. 

"Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task." ~William James

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Another Surgical Day

The Saga of the Auntly Surgeries goes on!  Pauline went under the knife again, this time for a little nose lesion.  And, rather horrifyingly, they snipped off a bit of her ear to fill in the spot on her nose.  Yikes!  She is holding up well, despite an experience that would traumatize me utterly.  I went to visit today, and to do a dressing change.  She made me lunch, our usual favorite – tomato soup with crackers and cheese floating in it, and I brought her some tiny Mexican cream puffs – direct from the freezer section of Grocery Outlet, my favorite grocery store.  I thought they were yummy.  Pauline claimed that she had had a surfeit of lunch, and only ate one, but I, piggy that I am, gobbled up – dare I tell you? – four.  In my defense, they were really tiny.  And really delicious!  

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Yet Another Fun Evening with Friends

A fun evening with friends, family, and food!  And games!./;l----------------==””””    (Tobias typed the previous.  At least there is one person who is a worse typist than I am.  Or do cats count?  Probably not.)  Anyway, we had a great evening.  Three of the people present are very into winning.  The fourth doesn’t care that much.  This is fortunate, as she seldom wins no matter what she is playing.  Except maybe solitaire.  And that is not really a competitive sport, is it.  Perhaps she wins that because there is no one to talk to, and to distract her from the matter at hand.  I flatter myself that my poor performance at games is related to my friendly social self.  More interested in everyone else and what they have to say than in winning. 

We played several games which had “Charades” elements to them, and Rachael turned out to be a brilliant “Charade” artiste!  That was a beat-the-clock team sport, and we beat it every time!  Then we played Sorry!  No team spirit there!  Just tigerish malice as everyone leapt on another’s man, and sneered, “Sorry!”  in a manner that conveyed little sorrow.   The game was neck and neck most of the way, but in the home stretch, Rachael galloped in as the clear winner. 

Rachael the winner!

I made this cake a couple of weeks ago for Ana, and it was so good that I made it again.  I won't say it is the best cake I have ever made, but it is possibly the best chocolate cake.  And it has a mystery ingredient – Beets!  Who would think that a beet cake could be so yummy!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Wonderfully Musical Day

December is such a wonderful musical month.  There is music of every kind, everywhere. The choir room is a beehive, as we prepare for multi-musical services and events. One of the highlights of these, is our annual trip to Providence Mount St. Vincent,  a nearby retirement home run by the Sisters of Providence.  Here, in their lovely chapel, we have one of our most appreciative audiences, a great sing-along accompaniment chorus.  If I were the emcee of this event, I would stand there and say, “Um, ah – here is the St. James choir to sing for you,” – if I could even get that much out,  and that would be about the most one could expect from tongue tied me.  But our director, Dr. Savage (Jim), is a genius at bringing out the best in every audience, and making every event a real event, and a very wonderfully fun, meaningful, or sacred event, as the occasion warrants.  And today warranted a smattering of all three. 

Jim with Jeanie, and her Mom

Chorister Ward and a few of his Mt. St. Vincent friends, with Martha and her husband Joe behind them.

One of our ordinary sopranos – oops! Excuse me! Sopranos are never ordinary, are they!  One of our sopranos, Emmy Purainer, one who usually blends into the soprano crowd, has for the last several years, sung a German carol, and every time, I am totally blown away by it.  She is really extraordinary! Such simple, but soulful songs, and Emmy, usually one of many, brings her all (along with her amazingly beautiful voice) to her Weinachtslied.  It is always a tear jerker, and for me, the highlight of the event.  Emmy is really great, and I wish I could listen to her more often. 

Resident, Fr. Gallagher, who, as pastor of St. James, hired Jim 30 years ago, and Sister Ann 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Oh Happy Day!

A few months ago, maybe in July,  during a slow evening at work, I looked over the shoulder of my friend Virginia as she sat at her computer and appeared to be virtually shopping.  This was very atypical for Virginia, who is not usually an on-line shopper.  What’s more, she appeared too be shopping for Christmas lights!  “Whatcha doin’?” I asked.  “Looking at Christmas lights,” she replied, stating the obvious.  “It’s July,” I replied, stating the even more obvious.  She explained that her Christmas lights had just burned out.  “So did mine,” I moaned.  We compared notes, and discussed the joy of Christmas lights and how we wanted them all year long, as they made us so happy, and the sorrow of not being able to replace the recently deceased ones in July.  We realized that we would just have to wait.  This year, however, we would know better, and would lay in a supply. 

Oh happy day!  I had been keeping my eye peeled for the arrival of the Christmas doodads at my favorite grocery store, and finally they came!  I bought a bunch, and bought a bunch again the next week.  And now they are finally up, and up, I hope, for the whole year till the doodads arrive again in 2012.

I gave them to John, my handyman, to string up, and when I staggered home from work that night at midnight, there they were.  I was so happy to see them.  The warm glow on my front porch gave me a little rush of warm welcoming glow inside, and does again every night when I come home through the dark and cold.  “Here we are,” they say.  “Your puppy and kitty are waiting for you, and you three can all be comfy and warm now.”

I have them in my sitting room as well, and am happy every time I walk past them.  Note the UFO hovering outside over my garden.  

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Squash Soup

Squash soup

This recipe is inspired by the winter squash soup in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison.

I would have made this soup entirely with kabocha squash, and that is what I would advise you to do, but the one I purchased had way less innards than it seemed to have when I got it. In the interests of journalistic transparency, I am including the butternut squash that I actually used as part of the total squash. (See previous post.)

A large kabocha squash, (no need to peel it - the kabocha skin will be soft enough to go in the soup, but the butternut skin is very tough.)
Half a medium sized butternut squash – peeled and cut into inch cubes, (about 4 cups total squash after roasting,)
6 cloves garlic sliced,

Olive oil, about ¼ cup,
A small bunch of sage leaves,

A large white or yellow onion, chopped,
A cup of chopped celery,
3 medium carrots chopped,
6 cups vegetable broth,
About 12 grinds of pepper,
Salt if needed

About a teaspoon fresh thyme
¼ cup parsley,

¼ cup candied pepitas*
some feta cheese, crumpled.

Cut the kabocha in half, remove the seeds and fibers, and brush the halves of the kabocha  and the chunks of butternut with olive oil. (I cut the butternut into cubic inch chunks, as it was thicker, tougher, and would take more time to cook.)   Put the garlic cloves in the kabocha halves, turn them onto a cookie sheet, cut side down. Roast at 375° for about half an hour, until tender..

Meanwhile, in a small pan, fry the sage leaves for about a minute, until they are dark.  Remove the leaves from the oil, and set them aside on a paper towel.

In your soup pot, using sage leaf oil, sauté the onion until translucent, add the celery and carrot for a few turns.  When the squash is ready, add it to the vegetables, and give a few more turns.  Add the broth, the thyme, the pepper, and salt if needed.  Simmer for about twenty minutes, or until all the vegetables are softened.  Moosh it up with your immersion blender until mostly smooth, but with a few chunks remaining to give a more interesting texture.  Stir in the chopped parsley.

Garnish with sage leaves, and pass around the pepitas and feta cheese in separate bowls for a further individual garnish.

Candied pepitas

¼ cup pepitas
2 tablespoons (or more) sugar

Put the pepitas and the sugar in a small frying pan, and stir constantly over high heat until the sugar melts and the pipitas are coated.  Add more sugar if necessary.  That is all there is to it.  

Saturday, December 3, 2011

A rather rushed, but fun day

Fennel, grapefruit, avocado, and pomegranate salad

In keeping with our family tradition of seldom having our birthday or Christmas presents ready on time, Ana and Becca gave me a little birthday party – only about six weeks after my birthday, but that was fine.  Better late than never, and even better than that – when you feel like it, rather than when you are obliged to.  Ana’s birthday is the day after mine, so we were celebrating that as well. 

I made us a squash soup, which turned out to be one of the best soups I ever ate.  And Becca made a salad which was one of the prettiest salads I ever ate.  I had my morning planned to the minute so that I could have lunch on time.  I had gotten a kabocha squash, per the instructions of Rebecca, who said it would be way more delicious than my usual butternut squash.  Well, as usual, she was absolutely right, but while more delicious, it also had a lot more air in it.  When I opened it up in the morning, I realized that it would be way not enough for my soup, and I would have to go to the store and get more squash.  As I was pondering this, Becca called and said could I come get her so she could do her laundry.  Sigh.  Well, I had to go out anyway, so I told her to get it packed up and I would be there soon.  We got the laundry and another squash, and as she was trying to unlock my door, she couldn’t.  She didn't have her keys.  We realized that with the scramble to trying get the bundles of laundry out her door while not letting Maria the cat get out, the keys were left in the keyhole.  So a rush trip back.  Then we realized that we needed to stop at the store again to get more ice cream.   Aaargh!  When we got back, I made my soup, but the hour for the guests was arriving (along with the guests themselves,) so I asked her to make the salad, as I wasn’t going to have time.  She informed me that I would have had time if I were more efficient.  Hmmmmmm.   She would have been more gracious about doing this, if not that she was, in true Ryan tradition, desperately putting the finishing touches on the scarf she was making for Ana’s birthday present.  That too, was finished in the nick of time, and like the salad, was beautiful.

The soup was a treat, the salad was beautiful, as well as yummy, the party was fun, and my present was great.  It was a kit I had tried to purchase a year ago, but it had gone out of print, so to speak.  Now it was available again, and Ana and Becca combined to get it for me.  So I have a bunch of fun knitting to look forward to, and I hope, a nice sweater as well. 

 Soup recipe to follow.