Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A Fun Afternoon

While sorting through the debris in my basement a year or so ago, I found a sweet plate with two other plate shelves on it.  I didn’t actually realize what it’s purpose was until I had high tea at The Twin’s house.  Since then, I had been looking forward to an opportunity to use it.  Well, Michelle was bringing her and Samos’s friend Dianne over to meet me, and it was the ideal occasion.  I had originally been going to serve tea and scones, but decided, “Why just that?”  I branched out a little with biscotti, cucumber sandwiches, and a nice fruit salad.  Purists will shudder, and possibly even shriek when they notice the crusts on my cucumber sandwiches, but there is an explanation – lame but valid.  The evening before, I was going to go to the store to get the proper bread, but I just couldn’t roust myself to leave the house. It’s easier to just make the bread, I thought.  I started it that evening, and planned to get up at the crack of dawn to work on it.  I did get up at the crack of dawn, but there were the newspaper, the crossword, and even my knitting - all beckoning me.  I started it way too late.  It came out of the oven about 15 minutes before my guests arrived.  It was then too warm, too soft, and just not the right shape for easy crust removal.  So we pretended that the crusts were not there, and enjoyed the sandwiches anyway.  The scones I made were my best ever.  I think it must have been the currants, which were fluffy and not the usual dried up specks. 

It was fun to meet Dianne.  I had heard so much about her, and she had sent me both Christmas cookies and jam.  That is pretty wonderful, given that we had never even met.  And it further proves that she is a pretty wonderful woman. 

Am I invited?

Best Ever Scones

2 ½ cups self-rising flour
5 oz butter
¼ cup diced candied ginger
½ cups fresh fluffy dried currants
About ¾ cup milk

Heat the oven to 425°

Cut the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse meal.  Dump the mixture on a smooth surface, and smear blobs of the mixture across the surface – a technique known as frissage. You can see a demonstration here. Gather the dough up, put it back in the bowl, and add about ½ cup milk,  very gently folding the milk in until all of the flour/butter mixture is damp but not wet, and can be gathered into a ball. If needed, sprinkle more milk on any dry spots, and gather them in.  Form the dough into balls, flatten them a bit, so they look like a gouda, and cut each ball into six wedges.  Bake for about 12 minutes.  Yum!  I wish I had one right now.

A Miraculous Day

It’s been well over a year since there has been a choir baby, but that is about to change.
In honor of that upcoming blessed event, on Sunday after Mass, a group of us gathered at Julia’s Restaurant for a fun surprise baby shower. The soon to be Mother and Dad thought they just were meeting one other choir member, the sainted Stacey, for breakfast, but instead, they met four altos,  a soprano, and a bass.   (Two bassi if you count Joel, the expectant father and two sopranos if you count Shannon, the Mum to be.) I guess tenors are just not into baby showers.

Barbara and Dave were there, but sadly, are missing from the picture.

Actually, this day was not the  miraculous one.  The miracle happened about eight and a half months ago.  Shannon and Joel had been high school sweethearts years ago across the water in Bremerton..  Eventually, they got married and started thinking about having “Baby make three.”  But this just didn’t seem to be happening, and no baby appeared.  Instead of consulting a fertility specialist, as seems to be the thing to do these days, Shannon consulted the Virgin Mother, the real fertility specialist.  She made a novena, asking Mary’s heavenly help in starting a baby brewing, and her prayers were answered.   This really was a miracle, and yet another wonderful example of the power of prayer. 

Shannon and Joel are not divulging their daughter's name.  They did reveal that it has lots of syllables.  I am opting for Alexandrina Celeste.  I am probably wrong, however.  We will soon find out. 

Some of Miss F's gifts.  The catsup is not a part of her shower spoils!

Monday, January 27, 2014

A Souper Day

Why is it that at the mention of “borscht,” the initial response of so many is “Eew!”  Borscht is one of the best things going.  I recall that when Becca was little, I made a lovely big pot borscht, and she declared that she hated borscht and wasn’t going to eat it.  I pointed out that she couldn’t hate it as she had never had it, and furthermore, she liked soup in general and also liked other beet dishes.  No matter!  She did not like borscht.  I said that I would give her a bowl of it and she should at least try it.  She agreed to take a taste.  I left the room for some reason, and when I returned, she said she had tasted it, and in fact, had eaten it all up.  Minutes later, I pointed out that she had not eaten it at all, but has surreptitiously returned her portion to the pot.  She was astonished, and could not imagine how I could have known this.  I told her to take a look at the soup in the pot and see what she noticed.  She realized that the borscht, formerly a brilliant ruby red, now had a pinkened area in the middle where her soup, along with its sour cream, had mixed in with the rest. She was impressed with my Holmesian interpretation of clues.

I mentioned to her that Ana and I were going to make borscht, and her initial response was, of course, “Eew!.  But then she said that she actually liked borscht, and was thinking back to her initial introduction to it.  I had completely forgotten about this incident, but I did remember how, as a three year old, she insisted that she had eaten gazpacho before, and hated it. By the time she was four, she finally agreed to taste it, and ever after,  gazpacho was a big favorite.

Brilliant Borscht

2/3 cups Great Northerni beans, soaked overnight

1 large onion chopped,
4 cloves garlic coarsely chopped,

3 fist-sized beets, peeled and diced,
2 large carrots, ditto,
1 medium potato, diced (no need to peel),
2/3 cup chopped celery,
1 bunch chard, torn and with ribs removed
24 oz (?) can of diced tomatoes
6 cups vegetable broth, chicken style (including the bean soaking liqud)
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste ( don’t stint on the pepper)
Dill – fresh if available, dried if not.

Parsley, flat leafed,  about ½ cup

Yogurt for topping
Dill for topping on the yogurt


In your largest pressure cooker, sauté the onions until golden, add the garlic and give it a few more stirs, till the garlic softens.

Add the ingredients – vegetables and stock, setting aside the parsley and yogurt.

Bring pressure cooker to high pressure and cook 10 minutes.  Quick release pressure and check to see that beans are thoroughly cooked.  If not (as was the case with us,) either bring to pressure and cook another minute or two.

Add the parsley and simmer for another minute or two.

Top the soup with a blob of yogurt or sour cream and sprinkle on some delightful dill. 

Normally, borscht has cabbage, but I was trying to clear out my vegetable bin and avoid a trip to the store.  Hence, no cabbage in this one.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Gustatory Days

Samos and I went to the slightly amazing Katsu Japanese burger place which had the best tofu burger I have ever eaten.  Tofu is, to some extent, always tofu, and a burger bun is a burger bun unless it is special, but special burger buns do not show up in funky little strip mall dives. So the tofu, while fried to perfection was not the thing, nor was the bun.  But the trimmings were utterly delectable, leading to a scrumptious whole.  The were juicy, generous,  and ever so anxious to dribble down the chin.  Not first date fare, as I mentioned to Samos.  He agreed.  The curried French fries were all that a French fry can be.  I usually never order soda pop, inwardly virtuously sneering at all those empty calories, but Samos who did our ordering while I saved us a table, got me a green tea ginger ale.  To the aficionado, this may be pop ordinaire, but I am not a conisseur, and I found it a little extra-ordinaire.  I love ginger beer and also green tea, so it seemed just the ticket.  After the obligatory sniping about the evils of carbonated drinks, I secretly found it to be a sinful pleasure, and complimentary to the rest of the meal.

A cute beer poster

The friendly server

Not first date behavior!

On the way home, we stopped at a salvage place and found this funny bit of someone's detritus.

The next day, I went out to lunch with Laura and Lisa, my nurse colleagues.  It was fabulous to see them.  I am hoping that I am not really as wild eyed and apple cheeked as I appear here.  

Then the next day with Rebecca.  But I forgot to take a picture.  

That's lotsa lunches for one week. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A Hospitable Day

Faithful readers will know that I love having guests for breakfast.  Ever since Rebecca was little, it has been a favorite time for company – along, of course, with lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner.  And even the occasional late night snack. I recently was preparing breakfast for Ana and Ken, when I found a rogue jar of jelly in my refrigerator.  The jelly was brilliant ruby red, clear and translucent, very tempting looking, and unlabeled.  What could it be?  It was so pretty and so mysterious.  I opened the jar and cautiously tasted a bit.  Supersplendelicious!!  I had no idea what sort of jelly it was, but was certain that it was made by Rebecca, jelly and jam maker extraordinaire.  

I deliberated as to whether I should to serve it or not.  There were two considerations. One - it was unlabeled.  This gives some folks pause, but Ana is an adventurous eater, so I knew that I need have no concerns there.  But there was an even more important consideration – it was so delicious, and I am a selfish creature.  My guests were, I knew, moderate eaters – unlike my Aunt Dakki, who has been known to put half a jar of sacred jam on a small token crumb of scone, and then have a similar second helping.  The grocery store jam comes out when she is a guest. 
 Everyone agreed that the jelly was wonderful, and there was a lively debate as to what sort of jelly it might be.  I speculated that it was quince, but only because I knew that Becca made quince something or other every year.  I later recalled that after much nagging, she had reluctantly given me a jar of last summer’s bounty.  That one was so hard to wrest out of her that I am going to have to selfishly conserve and savor the jewel-like remains still left in the jar.  Yummissima!

Ken's little assistant.  They are fixing my computer. 

Thursday, January 9, 2014

A Pajama Day (or two!)

Christmas pie

I used to long for a “pajama day” – one where I didn’t have to leave the house, and hence never had to get dressed.  In other words, coziness all day. But alas, there can be too much of a good thing, as we all know.  I have had a pajama week - well, almost. I am not complaining, but I have to admit that yesterday, it was getting a little wearing.

The Twins and I were going to get together and celebrate our personal little Christmas on Boxing day, but Corinna was ill, and I was hobbling about with my poor foot.  I am still hobbling, but on Boxing Day it was serious, one-day-after-injury hobbling, and now it is slow-you-down-a-bit hobbling. So we put our fete off till Epiphany.  For Boxing day, we planned to have something English, but British Christmas food seems famously meat-centric - specifically centering around a goose or a roast beef.  I was flummoxed.  Becca suggested a Christmas pie that she had made in years past, and for which she even had a special English pie pan.  I vaguely recalled that the pie in question had chestnuts in it, and they were disgusting.  I also recalled that I hadn’t really liked it altogether.  She assured me that I had liked it, and that it had been a general hit.  I was, of course, skeptical about this.  She also told me that it was quick and easy to make.  I was skeptical about this too.  Well, it was easy, but it was definitely not quick.  Happily, I have to admit that she was correct in that it was delicious!  Really, really delicious.  Except for the chestnuts.  They were still disgusting.

She also encouraged me to make a cake from the wonderful English baking book* she had given me.  I selected a cake that seemed not too challenging, as I was definitely challenged for time.  The recipe said, “Use a 19 cm loaf pan.”  I had a 19 cm loaf pan, but it was obvious that the cake would grievously overflow the tiny pan. I called her in a panic.  Not to worry, she said.  English loaf pans are really different.  They are wider and deeper, so my 19 cm loaf pan would certainly not work.  She had the requisite English loaf pan too, and I could come borrow it.  Since it was a pajama week, and since it was raining, and since I can’t ride my bicycle with my poor foot, I drove to her house in my pj’s and she brought the pan out to me  so I didn’t have to get out of the car.  It’s the cutest loaf pan I have ever seen.  I hinted that she might give it to me, but my hints fell on deaf ears.  The cake turned out yummy too. 

Then back to my pajama week.  By last evening, I think it was beginning to tell on me.  I stayed in bed much of the day, knitting, reading, and feeling guilty for being such a lazypants, but unable to muster up the wherewithal to do anything else.  My pal Michelle invited me to go to a textile event, showcasing a new Downton Abby line of fabric, but I felt too inert to even get dressed.  I said I didn’t feel up to it, but she ignored my whining and insisted that I pull myself together and go with her.  I am glad she did, this outing finally perked me up. Today I got dressed again and emerged from the house several times.  I guess my pajama week is over.  Thank Goodness!

These two members of the audience came in period costume.

 It's by Dan Lepard, one of my faves. She sent for it from England as it isn't even available her yet.  It's chock full of yumminess.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Another Grateful Day

A tiny part of Sabine's Advent Calendar 

Several years ago, in November, I put out an announcement.  I did not want any Christmas presents, and I wasn’t giving any.  Just like Rabbit, I have a ton of friends and relations, and everyone one of them used to give every other one a present!  It was just way too much.  In fact, it was horrible. At my proclamation, my relatives either heaved a sigh of relief, or, if they happened to be an auntie, completely ignored my mandate.  But even with the ignorers, Christmas suddenly became exponentially more manageable and more Christmasy.  I have been paring down the non-church related aspect of Christmas ever since.  Of course I enjoy Christmas baking, and giving my aunties and babies gifts, and the cousins get a lovely card telling them that I have donated something in their name to a worthy cause.  Nowadays I give Christmas presents because I want to, rather than because I am obliged to. And I don’t expect one in return. It is so much nicer that way, and more fun to receive gifts given in that same spirit. This year I received several spectacular stunners! 

My friend Sabine sent me an unbelievable Adventskalendar with a delightful little gift for every day of December and then several fabulous books and yarn for actual Christmas. 

Another sweet bit of the Advent Calendar .  I do love buttons.

Rebecca made me these oh so fantastic gloves – her first gloves, and I believe, her first Fair Isle knitted thing. 

The actual color is much deeper.  

My gift from Samos was almost too spectacular to believe!  I shrieked with delight when I opened it!

Love, love, love!

Oh!  And one more thing!

A gift from the Department of Transportation.  Sigh!