Thursday, December 30, 2010

I challenge you!

Remember this post from the end of last year?

Well, I'm doing it again!

I challenge you, NAY, I DARE YOU, to do the one thing you've meant to do all year and haven't.  I DARE you to look at your list of resolutions (if you're the type to make one), and do one of them now!

Last year I jumped into soap making.  I had wanted to do it forever, but never found the time.  I was scared, I might fail, who was I trying to kid...besides, I just don't have the time....

So, the last day of the year, I told the little voices to shut the heck up and I made the time and I made some soap.  I'm so glad I did, and so are all the people who received beautiful handmade soaps from me for Christmas this year.

I've narrowed it down to two things I'm going to do this year, and I still need to decide which it will be...but either one will be a significant change (for the better) for the blog.

So.  What are YOU going to do? 

Pick up the gauntlet and RUN!!!!!!!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Darling Clementine

My Grandpa Fred, toward the end of his life, would sing quite a lot.  I loved his singing.  The old-man timbre of his voice still rings in my memory, loud and clear.  One of his favorites was the old standard "Darling Clementine."    As a young boy, he lived on a cattle ranch in southern California.  He died not too many miles away from where he was born, and lived the entirety of his life between those two points.  Growing up with cowboys and cattle drives, he learned some pretty bawdy songs, none of which I ever heard until his later stages of Alzheimer's disease set in.  Similarly, there were verses in the Clementine song I never heard until his last years, either.  What a shock it was, and what a laugh it gave me!

Anyway, to this very day, I can't look at Clementines and not hear my Grandpa Fred's voice crooning on about Clementine's sister!  OH my!

Prior to Christmas this year, I stocked up on Clementines as a sort of lip service to having something healthy on hand for snacks.  So my house looked like this: bowl of caramels, plate of fudge,  pile of clementines.  Platter of Nanaimo bars, platter of fudge, pile of clementines.  See?  Healthy!

(Oh my darling, oh my darling, oh my darling Clementine...)

My sister-in-law brought her family and another HUGE bag of clementines.  She left, but the clementines stayed .

(How I missed her, how I missed her, how I missed my Clementine...)

Mr. Boom, Chirp-chirp, and I ate as many as we possibly could, but we still had about a ton. 

What to do?

Thanks to Foodgawker, I found a Ceramic Canvas recipe for Clementine and Ginger Gelatins. Calling for two dozen or so clementines, this dessert seemed like the very thing!  I *think* I can even get away with calling it healthy, not that I care so much, but maybe you do?    Served up in a martini glass, it's also festive and easy to make ahead.  I'm thinking that if any of you are having a New Year's Eve soiree, this dessert would be awesome to serve and celebrate with.

First, squeeze enough little clementines (or tangerines or mandarins) to yield approximately two cups of juice.  I was a little short when I took this photo, but the photo with the full amount came out quite blurry. 

Pour the juice into a little pan and bring to a simmer.  You can filter the juice through 
a sieve if you want, but  I don't think I'll bother next time.

The original recipe called for a mere 1/4 teaspoon of ginger. 
I like ginger, so I put in thiiiis much.
Toss it in and let it steep.

Squeeze another half cup of juice, and add 1/4 oz of gelatin.
Stir until the gelatine has dissolved.
(Or don't quite dissolve it all, then remelt everything the next day
and be thankful that it worked!)

To the warm mixture, add the tiniest bit of vanilla,
and about 1/4 cup of sugar.
Combine the two mixtures, stir well to incorporate, and pour into
a dish, little glasses, a shoe, or whatever else you feel like serving it in.

I'm a bit ashamed, but yes, that's cool-whip.
Pretend it isn't, please.  Wipe the image from your head.

Easy recipe, isn't it?  I hope you make it and I hope you like it.

('Til I kissed her little sister, oh my darling, Clementine....)

Monday, December 27, 2010

December Daring Bakers: Stollen


Julia pondered "What's in a name? That which we call a rose, By any other name would smell as sweet."

Kat declared "Fruitcake is fruitcake, baby. Call it what you will, it's still an abomination."

Stollen.  Gag me.

But wait, what if I try to make it into something sweet and rosy, something good?  Boxed mac and cheese is no contender against the real, homemade deal.  Could it be that fruitcake, er, I mean, stollen, suffers the same slings and arrows of misfortune when it's mass produced?  Had I only ever sampled the tragic blue-boxed version of this Christmas tradition, and mistakenly surmised that fruitcake was all the same?

This Daring Bakers challenge would be a challenge to myself, then, of epic proportions.  Could I make an honest to goodness from-scratch stollen that even I would like?

(Mandatory Blog-checking lines:)
The 2010 December Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Penny of Sweet Sadie’s Baking. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make Stollen. She adapted a friend’s family recipe and combined it with information from friends, techniques from Peter Reinhart’s book.........and Martha Stewart’s demonstration.

First things first.  Candied fruit from the store  is just plain wrong.  So, I made my own citron.
The pretty plate of citrus up there is actually the waste. 
Mr. Boom put it to god use, though, as you'll see later.

I boiled the peels in fresh water for a few minutes, then drained the pot
and added clean water and brought to a boil again.  I did this for a total of three boils.

The peels were then diced finely and thrown back into the pot with equal parts sugar and water.

The result is shiny, sweet, and chewy. 
They didn't taste a whole lot different of the orange jelly wedge
candy you can buy at the store.

The fairly uncomplicated bread dough was easily made in the mixer.  Instead of adding the citrus zest, I used some lemon sugar left over from a previous cooking project.  The lemon sugar is made of lemon zest and  sugar, finely whizzed in a food processor. The result is a nice lemon flavor without the ickiness of biting into a bitter bit of stringy lemon zest.  I figured this would further reduce the chance of and icky taste to the final product.  I left out the rum and raisins, further increasing the odds of a palatable result.

The citrus bits are blended into the dough, which is then left to rise in the fridge for a day, or three, depending on how long it takes you to face the fact that you really are going to make a fruitcake stollen.

The dough is rolled out, and at this point you can add marzipan, more fruit, or whatever makes you feel happy and fruitcake-like.

Rolled into a ring, the smell is appetizing and a small glimmer of hope begins to surface...

Slices are made partway into the ring. Not only is this pretty, but it helps cooks this large, dense, fruitcake monster all the way through.

Mr. Boom, in his infinite wisdom and thrift, took the fruit leftover from the first step and mixed it with some raspberry pulp, added a bit of yeast and ginger, and made the loveliest frizzy drink you can imagine.
I added a bit of vanilla vodka to mine and I don't remember much else...

The monster has risen!

The bits of peel are positively bursting off the surface of the dough.
The house smells...funny.
Like danishes. 
I really don't like danishes at all.  I have literally thrown up due to their smell alone on more than one occasion.
Mr. Boom loves danishes.
He's allowed to eat them when I'm gone, as long as he doesn't store them in the house.

 The house now smells entirely like danishes. 
It's freezing cold outside and snow is hammering down.
(There are different types of snowfall, for those who aren't in the know.  Sometimes snow falls like rain in a thunderstorm, though how something of that shape and mass can gain that velocity is beyond me!)
I want to throw all the windows open, but I can't.
So, I start dry-heaving instead.

The monster has won. 

I don't like fruitcake, you can't make me like fruitcake, and I won't ever make one again.  I gave this challenge my full effort.  I really tried to get into the spirit.  I was even hopeful for a while. I will stick with this from now on:

If you want to give this a shot, and I see no reason why you should let my mortal fear and all-consuming hatred of fruitcake stop you, here's the recipe for the challenge.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Just a few things...

Let's see, there's been just a few things I keep meaning to share, and keep putting off until the time is better. Well, I have a nice adult beverage in hand and I'm kicking back in front of the screen, thinking to myself, "what the heck, self? there's no time like the present."


Item the First: Do you have Netflix? Please watch "dirt! the movie." You can even stream it live to your computer.

Yes, it's a documentary. Yes, it's about dirt. But really? It's about a lot more than that. This movie is all about life. There are even cartoon bits, for those of you who might fear the overly serious sound of the word "documentary."

I was super excited to see Barbara Damrosch a couple times in the film, although for some reason her name was never provided. Why the lack of citation, documentary people? I first fell in love with Barbara and her husband Eliot when Mr. Boom and I lived in a tiny apartment, both in school, both dreaming of someday having our own Real Home, and soaking up her knowledge of gardening through her show Gardening Naturally. Every year I plant Nicotiana in the garden and think fondly of her predilection for this particular plant.

So, yes, please watch this movie, okay?

Thing the Second: Inflatable Fruitcake. All I can say is that I'm totally obsessed with this.

Tidbit the Third: Not as obsessed as I am by this. It's my theme song for the holidays. This particular video cracks me up, for sure, but it's the song I love the most-es-est!

Fact the Fourth: Mr. Boom took the juice of two oranges, one lemon, and one lime, mixed it with the raspberry mush left over from making a raspberry sauce, and added water and a bit of yeast. Essentially, he recreated my ginger-ale recipe without ginger. It's pretty, it's pink, it's fizzy, it's eminently drinkable. Mixed with vodka and homemade vanilla ice-cream it's the perfect drink to hold while prancing around to Gayla Peevey's song above. Maybe not so much the perfect accompaniment for a coherent blog post, but there you go.

Finally the Fifth: My little cousin the Marine is back from his fifth tour of duty in the war (he was actually deployed in the Middle East on 9/11). Merry Christmas to us, one and all. I hope all your family is back, if they've been. And if they're not back, then you are in my thoughts stronger still.

Sad and Sorry fact the Sixth: Tonight, of all nights, Blogger spellcheck is not working....oh well! I'm posting anyway! Here I go!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A full ten inches

It snowed a bit yesterday. Just a bit. Ten inches in about ten hours.

Some folks say you should cut down the dead plants in your yard at the end of the growing season. I'd sure hate to miss out on the fantastic imagery it provides through the winter, though. It's fun to watch the birds pick at the remaining seed heads, although they weren't out much yesterday.

These photos were taken around noon, just a few hours after it started to snow. See the big round of wood? That's the piece we brought home in the back of our new car. Our intent, if you recall, was to make a table with it. It would be useful to have something next to the fire to hold drinks, plates, pokers, and such. We new the wood looked big in the forest, and in the shop after birthing it from the back of the car.

Well, here it is next to the fire-pit. As you can see, it's a bit large for the location and purpose. We're still working on plans for the big wheel of pine. Any ideas?

So, how do you spend a day in the house? I decided to re-batch my last soap attempt. The hemp oil soap I made was a gorgeous green to start, with a deep, nearly wheat-y scent. Well, the color lightened, and the grain smell became a fish smell.

On the pro side, this is the bubbliest soap, and the least slimy soap, I've made to date.

Rebatching essentially consists of slowly melting down a batch of soap, then adding fragrances, colors, or new oils to the batch. Some folks swear by it, and other folks will only rebatch as a matter of last resort. Results form a rebatch are not usually as pretty, nor as consistnet in texture throughout the bar. However, rebatching allows the use of fragrances and dyes that react badly to lye or high temperatures. Lavender buds, for instance, turn a slimy brown and lose their scent in the presence of lye. However, the buds can be added to a rebatch and will retain their lovely characteristics.

The first step in rebatching is grating the soap. I kept wanting to dip my fingers in--doesn't it look just like a great pile of Swiss cheese? This soap was my largest batch yet, weighing in at a hefty five pounds. That's a lot of grating...

I put the soap in the oven at 200F, along with about one cup of milk. I think I should have used more liquid. I couldn't find a precise measurement anywhere on the web, just the general directive to moisten the soap shreds lightly.

After about four hours (but this is only supposed to take about 2 hours?!), I needed the oven to cook dinner, so it sat on the counter for a about an hour.

I turned the oven up to 225F, and let it go for another two hours. I still didn't get the gel that should have occurred, but it was soft enough to scoop into molds. I added some tangerine and sweetgrass essential oils, plus some ground sage from the garden. The sage was supposed to add a bit of green, but instead it just made strange little green specks. At some point I might upgrade their description to artful specks, but for now they're just strange specks.

I'm tempted to rebatch the soap again, maybe using the boil in an oven bag method.

Not sure...

Here are the soaps from the silicon cupcake mold. The rest of the soap is still in the quart cream mold.

I think I'll go back to gazing at the snow. Much more restful!

PS If you use a food processor to grate your soap, clean the soap off the pieces before putting them into the dishwasher. Unless you like bubbles escaping and running across your kitchen floor?

Friday, December 10, 2010

FFwD: Speculoos

The days are growing shorter and shorter around here. I'm looking forward to the 21st, maybe even just a *little* bit more than the 25th. The winter solstice means, from that day forward, more and more sun will shine down on us each day.
That is, if it can break through teh thick fog that so frequently envelops our valley.
Today is sunny, though. Brilliantly sunny on top of several inches of snow. The chickens are going nuts. They don't like the snow, but they think that, given free reign of the yard, they'll somehow find the doorway into summer. This sun only assures them that I'm the creuelest chicken keeper east of the Cascades.
Bread in the oven, speculoos cooling on the counter... I feel the holidays in my blood!
This is another challenge of French Fridays with Dorie group. We're not allowed to share the recipes on our blogs, but the recipe from her book is quite similar to all the others I've looked at both on teh web and in my collection of books.
Speculoos are an easy cookie, quick to make, and smell divine. I hope you'll find a recipe and make these next time you want to make your house smell like Christmas and your tummy feel like heaven.


Friday, December 3, 2010

A few shots from the yard

I know, I know--this is supposed to be a French Fridays with Dorie post. I missed last week, and now I'm shrugging this week off as well.

Excuses? A few--it's been a really *BIG* week at work, culminating last night, and I'm just tired of all the demands. This week's challenge just felt like one more demand, one more obligation, one more thing I had to do. I don't want my baking to become a chore. So, I didn't do it.

In fact, I've done almost nothing today! A few loads of laundry, a brief discussion with the chickens telling them to start laying more eggs, and a whole lot of tea (earl grey, hot).

I did take a few pics of the hoar frost that is chillingly clinging to everything in town today. Usually, the frost melts off rather early in the morning. No sun (again!) today, so no melting frost.
Aren't kitties funny creatures?

Hope you all have a fun weekend...start December off with whatever makes you happy!