Experimental Baking for the Holidays

IMG_4845

Not much left.  Just enough for another meal!

 

We were recently invited to dinner for the holidays.  I was to bring dessert.  What kind of holiday dessert could I make?  I decided on a cake, but a different cake than I had baked before.

I have a basic carrot cake recipe that is usually my go to carrot cake.  It is carrots and pineapple and walnuts.  I didn’t have carrots or pineapple in the kitchen when I was getting ready to bake.  I did have yams and applesauce.  Off on a new recipe experiment.  I knew the neighbors would overlook any weirdness this recipe might create.  How would the yams cook?  Would they be tough or chewy?  Would the applesauce be too moist or not moist enough?

The only way to know was to try.  I peeled and then grated the 2 cups of yams just as though they were carrots.  They even looked like carrots when I finished grating them in the food processor.  The apples I had were canned apple slices, so I processed those into applesauce.  I probably could have left some chunks, but I needed the moisture to give the batter the proper consistency.  Otherwise I made the cake just as it is in the recipe.

I mixed it up and the consistency was the same as the regular carrot cake so I popped it in the oven and it even smelled the same while it was baking. It took about the usual time to bake and I took them out and cooled them on racks just as I always do.

When they were cool enough, I was ready to frost them.  My original recipe calls for a cream cheese frosting.  I find it a little heavy, rich and cloying.  Recently I had discovered a two ingredient white chocolate frosting that is much lighter, just white chocolate and whipping cream. I used that.

When it was frosted, I sprinkled it with red sugar sprinkles, tucked in some winter greenery and I had a holiday cake to take and celebrate with the neighbors.

The resulting taste?  Fantastic.  Ever as good as the carrot version and more “holiday” in the ingredients.  I think the next time I make it I will add dried cranberries (craisins), as well, to make it even more festive.  Not only is it good for the December holidays, but appropriate for Thanksgiving too.

The results just reinforced for me, experiment! You will have a new product that doesn’t require a special trip to the store ( I had all the ingredients on hand) and tastes great.  Try it sometime.

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Christmas Magic

“Boy and Dog” public art sculpture by local artist Georgia Gerber

Just this past week, I have had the following piece published in 2018 Whidbey Island Christmas by the Sea, published the Langley Chamber of Commerce. Four local writers have their work featured in this magazine, each featuring either some topic about Langley or about Christmas.  Enjoy

On a cold clear day in December, an old gentleman sits by himself on a bench near a bronze sculpture, “Boy and Dog,” located in a small park on First Street in Langley, Washington. His extended family had decided to take a trip there to see the Christmas decorations and do their Christmas shopping.  Having arrived on a tour boat from Seattle. The time ashore is not long, five and a half hours, but is still tiring for him. Not being fleet of foot, he has chosen this comfortable resting place, sitting on the bench with the boy and his dog in bronze for company.  He can look over Saratoga Passage to view Mount Baker and Camano Island.  If it were the springtime of the year, he might also add a grey whale and her calf to this vista, but, alas it is winter.  Because they were traveling by boat, he had bundled up when he dressed for this foray, his wife having insisted that he wear the heavy red sweater with the snowflakes all over it.  “It is Christmassy.” She had reminded him. He is toasty warm and happy to doze on this bench until his family returns.

His wife, daughter and three granddaughters have agreed to meet him here before having lunch. Their chatter, running, jumping and hanging on Grandpa has worn him down and he is happy to have just a little rest here on the bench.  There are many folks milling about both from the tour boat and those who have traveled here by car, taking the ferry from the mainland.  You see, Langley is on Whidbey Island, a popular destination.

Every year in Langley, the merchants dress the town for Christmas and this is the reason that his family has planned today’s event.  Lots of shops to see, great places to eat and….a place for grandpa to sit and enjoy the winter sun. Many fine artists live here on the island and there is an annual competition to see who can do the grandest display decorating one of the merchant’s doorways.  It is a stiff competition and the displays range from wacky and outrageous to absolutely gorgeous. Prizes are given to the winners.  Last year the Braeburn Restaurant’s façade was decorated like a large della robbia wreath, complete with Braeburn Apples. This is part of the draw to come to Langley for Christmas shopping.

While Grandpa is dozing in the sun, a flock of little girls race into the “Boy and Dog” Park where he is sitting.  They chatter like birds and awaken the old man.  He smiles at them, giving them reassurances that he is benign.  Suddenly one little girl jumps up on the bench and stands next to him. She chatters away at him in her high little girl voice.  He continues to smile and then nods his head.  She races off and talks with her companions.  “He nodded yes!” she said excitedly.  Soon there is a line of little girls, all dressed in their Christmas sweaters, red coats, red hats, fleece boots, and smiles.  They are lined up by the bench where the old man sits.  One by one they get up on the bench and whisper in his ear.  Mostly he cannot tell what they are saying because he has taken his hearing aids out and stuffed them in his jacket pocket.  And besides, little girl whispers are really hard to understand. Still he smiles and nods his head.

Soon they have all talked into his ear, and they are all smiles and twirling pigtails and happiness.  He is happy too.  Their mothers are approaching from a nearby shop where one mother has stood vigilant outside the door to be sure the girls were safe.  The girls gather around their mothers and are all trying to relate their experiences all at once with lots of shrieks and squeals about talking with the old man.

He sits contentedly on his bench enjoying their laughter and joy.  Soon his own granddaughters will be there to take him to lunch.  Hummmm….he IS getting hungry.

The little flock of girls flies off up the street while calling to the old man….GOOD BYE, SANTA!

 

Lightening my load

In an earlier life, thirty years ago, I was a fiber artist.  Most of my readers know me as a painter and a teacher, which is my current life. In those early years, I designed garments, mostly sweaters, in a one of a kind series, making over one hundred sweaters a year.  I showed locally at Folklife and Bumbershoot, at the Seattle Center, galleries and at the American Crafts Council’s shows in the east.  Try taking orders from galleries for sweaters in June in West Springfield, MA when the temperature is 97 degrees and the humidity is just as high.  Winters in Baltimore with well below freezing weather was a better venue.

I handspun yarn from angora, baby camel down and silk, specialty wools, ramie and more were my specialty.  I won awards for my yarn designs.  I definitely won awards for the sweaters, some costing as much as $1000.  One was hand dyed from herbal materials including onion skins, walnut husks, chrome (yuk), alum and more.  It was an order for a man who was a historical reenactment buff.  It was handcarded, handspun, hand dyed and hand knitted in natural white, two shades of yellow from the differing mordants, and brown from the walnut husks. Remember this was in the 80’s.

Many sweaters used as many as 30 different kinds of yarn in related colors in the Kaffe Faucet style.  A full length opera coat lined with matching silk satin lining was over $900.  It was a limited market, but it did make me a good wage.  Winters were spent making and stocking inventory. Summers were spent going from show to show and trying to build inventory in between.  It was grueling.

In 1995, my wonderful husband decided that hauling a truckload of inventory to shows around the state and the country was more than he could handle.  And bless his soul, he told me when he turned fifty, I was going to have to get another helper. He mentioned that he would give me a year off to find myself, or I could continue with a hew helper.

I took the year off.  I tried to decide on a new career.  It was difficult.  What would you do if you were allowed a year to change your life? While I was trying to decide, I wrote a cookbook.  It was published that year, 1995, The Artist’s Palate, which went to a second printing. But what would I do after that?  I considered going back to school and getting a degree in Architecture.  I was already designing houses for people.  It was a good option, but I needed to brush up on my math.  I took a math class at the local community college and was flummoxed to discover it was all theoretical and none of it covered the Plane Geometry I needed.

Other options were opened.  The community college offered me a job teaching art when they saw my induction information.  I taught art there for twelve years until they phased out my department.  I moved on to other venues and still teach it twenty six years later.

But….my husband and my sister suggested that I take a watercolor class from Eric Wiegardt.  I did and I have been painting ever since. But that is not the focus of this missal.

All the materials that I had left from my former life as a fiber artist have been languishing up in my attic since 1995.  Now I received news of an artist’s and crafter’s garage sale.  I signed up.  I started with one table, but when I began pulling the materials from nooks and crannies I discovered I had over five hundred pounds of stuff.  I just gave away over one hundred pounds of fabrics I had left to a lady that sews quilts for veterans. https://q13fox.com/2018/11/14/giving-to-the-givers-whidbey-quilters-are-stitching-up-local-veterans-old-wounds-of-war/

I now am left with several hundred pounds of wool which has been washed and carded, some made into roving, to sell.  I have about one hundred fifty pounds of commercial yarn to sell. I have three knitting machines.  I cried while I was gathering it all. There are thousands of dollars of materials here which I will sell for pennies on the dollar.  It has been sitting for twenty three years.  Why am I so attached to it?

I have another life as a painter and teacher.  I have had this life since 1996.  Why do I not want to let go? I am trying to divest myself of superfluous baggage.  But this baggage was a big part of my younger life.  I must let go before all this detritus molders away in the attic.  Give it up and get onto a less cluttered life.  Be free of the crap that bogs me down.  I have had wind of several groups that look for this material, schools, craft classes for kids, educational groups, groups that have thrift store that support the homeless, the foodless.  Hopefully after the sale, I will be able to support these folks by giving them the remains of the day at the artist’s and crafter’s garage sale!

Today is the BIG Day

email BIRD--GOLDFINCH

Once a year I hang my show at the Braeburn Restaurant in Langley, Washington.  Today is the day.  I will be hanging it after hours, so tomorrow will be the first day that you will have the opportunity to see it.

In the past I have featured, trucks, barns, old gas stations, larger-than-life food items (peanut butter sandwiches 18 tall), crows and this year the feature is birds.

When my show was taken down last year, I started thinking about what I would show for 2018.  I decided to do local birds.  These paintings are in watercolor, not my usual medium, which is oil.  The really unusual thing about the paintings is they are not painted on paper, but on treated panels of medium density fibreboard (MDF). Another unusual thing about them is that they are loosely painted, not the usual photorealism of my oil paintings. This makes them more spontaneous and whimsical than my usual works.

There are twenty-five birds, a few dogs, and, yes, some trucks!  I would hope that you could visit the show sometime between July 14 and August 31. You may purchase any of the paintings and take them with you, which is nice if you are from out of town.

The Braeburn Restaurant is located at 197 D. 2nd St. Langley, WA 98260. They serve breakfast and lunch.

Their phone number is 360-321-3211. https://braeburnlangley.com/

email International grille

 

 

Crabbing Season is Here!

crab and cheese breakfast
Here we have the breakfast muffin with crab, poached egg and cheese.

Saturday was the first day of crabbing season here in the maritime Pacific Northwest.  One of nature’s bounty waiting out there for us to pick up and eat.  Though it sounds easy and, at the beginning of the season, is abundant, it is more work than it would seem.  There is a reason why picked Dungeness crab is $36.95 at the fishmarket.

Firstly, you must have a boat which is seaworthy.  You can go out in a kayak, and I have seen a few folks do it that way, but it would be dangerous.  Pulling a pot up from the bottom of the sea takes some effort, a lot of lead weighted rope and hopefully a pot full of crab.

Luckily for us, my brother-in-law has such a boat with a winch to haul up the pots.  I have gone out with friends, invited because I was strong enough to grab the buoy marking the line and strong enough to raise the pot from the ocean’s floor.

My brother-in-law’s first haul on the first day was a full pot, filled with all males, all legal size.  You can only harvest the males and only five a day per person with a state wildlife permit. In two days, he and my sister limited and shared their abundance with us.

Next you need a large pot with a heavy duty burner.  A turkey fryer set up works well.  You can boil about 4-5 crab at a time.  Then the cleaning when they are cooked.  Plunge them into cool water to cool them.  Peel off the main carapace and clean their second-hand dinner from inside.  Rinse well.

Now you are ready for the hard, time-consuming part, picking the crab.  Yesterday I picked, and picked, and picked.  We had crab for dinner and the chickens got the shells (a good source of calcium for them).

We netted about two pounds, about a quart, of picked crab.  Last night we had crab melt sandwiches, hot.  This is an English muffin with crab in mayo covered with melted cheese.  Breakfast was almost the same with an addition of a poached egg and fresh tomato.  We still have lots left and our next choice will be crabcakes with red pepper rouille. Yum!

After reading all that, some of you probably will go to the fishmongers and buy the picked crab and consider yourself lucky to have it for $36.95 a pound.  Well you enjoy it and hope it is as fresh as ours.

Crab season is upon us.  It doesn’t freeze well and turns grey if you can it, so eat it while it is fresh and say thank you to mother nature for providing such a superb delicacy.

A Frugal Life

Skill with money was a lesson I learned very early.  I was given an allowance for helping in the kitchen, doing chores, dusting, ironing, sweeping, weeding, picking vegetables, picking up rocks and sticks in the newly cleared field, feeding the animals, cleaning the barn and more, $2.50 each week.  We were expected to contribute to the upkeep of the household in the form of work in order to receive any money. With my allowance, I was supposed to purchase all my clothes and shoes, tickets for the movies, etc.  Saving enough for a new winter coat or a new dress for school was difficult.  Though my friends thought my allowance was a lot, their parents bought their clothes and paid for the movies.  Little did they know that I did without a lot of things I wanted because I could not pay for them.  A trip to the movies took a week’s allowance and left me with nothing to spare.

I budgeted a certain amount of cash for each type if expenses, divided into envelopes marked clothing, entertainment, school needs, tithing, miscellaneous.  Sometimes I would have to borrow from one envelope to make a payment needed in another category, clothing being a big ticket item.  Thus I became a thrift store shopper.  The only one around when I was in junior high and high school was Goodwill off Boren Avenue in Seattle.  I can remember getting dresses there from Saks Fifth Avenue.  Some of my favorites were dresses by Lanz which was popular at the time.  Many of the clothes sold there were outdated and I didn’t want them when I was in high school. They just weren’t cool, but if you really “shopped” the store you could find some wonderful treasures. Fads and fashion were what it was all about and you needed to find the most recent craze so folks didn’t know that you purchased it second hand.  Later I furnished my first apartment entirely from second had goods.

When I was in junior high, my parents devised a method so TV wouldn’t take up all our after school time.  We were not allowed to watch until evening after chores and homework were finished.  We were given an allowance each week which included a little extra for “pay TV.”  We each got an extra quarter.  Each program was 5 cents.  Most programs were a half hour. We could watch more than five programs, but the extra shows came out of our regular allowance at a nickel each.  I saved all mine and skipped most of the programs.  My sis always ate through all her allowance.  Needless to say this plan didn’t fare very well with either of us.

The consequence of my being frugal as a child is that I now am frugal as well.  Because I can stretch a penny endlessly, I don’t need a lot of money and therefore do not work as much as most people.  This has been the bane of my life.  If I had worked more, even full time, for most of my life, I would have a better, more comfortable retirement, or even a retirement.  As it is, I tell my husband that I will have to work until I die to make ends meet.  Most of my adult life I have either been self employed or worked part time.  Consequently I have not garnered the retirement most create by working full time.  Social Security is greatly decreased and my “retirement accounts” are abysmally small compared to the full timer.

But…I can still stretch that penny.  Because I make food from scratch, can and freeze a lot, because I shop at the thrift store and seldom purchase new goods, because we do not travel extensively or have expensive tastes, the minimal retirement that we do have goes a long ways, for which I am thankful.

My parents idea of teaching me to frugal as child did not necessarily work out as an adult.  I am willing to do with much less.  I save as much as I can and spend little compared to my contemporaries, I am satisfied with little, I work hard with small resources to create a happy and prosperous home environment, not a wealthy one, but one that comes from hard work and frugality.

 

 

 

Food dislikes

Breakfast Welsh Rarebit
Poached egg on English muffin with crab cake and sharp cheddar sauce

I am an omnivore.  I eat gluten, lactose, nuts, soy, red meat, white meat etc.  You get my point.  I try almost anything.  I may not choose to eat some things a second time, not because I especially dislike them, but I choose to fill myself with foods that I enjoy.  If I am going to take in calories, they are going to be delicious calories.

When I lived in China, we had a policy of eat and don’t ask.  In all the time I lived there, there were only a couple of dishes that I would not order again.  If my students ordered them, I politely took the first bite as is required of the honored guest, but because there were so many dishes on the table, no one noticed if I didn’t help myself to more later on.

One of the dishes was duck feet in mustard oil.  I don’t mind duck or chicken feet at all and have had some truly wonderful dishes prepared with them.  The problem with this dish was the mustard oil.  I understand now how mustard gas can kill.  The oil was truly nasty stuff.

The honored guest always gets the eyes of the fish when steamed Li with scallions and ginger is served.  I eat these, but they are not a favorite.  They have little flavor, it is just the eye-dia.

Another dish which was offered to me at numerous festive dinners where I was the guest of honor was coagulated duck blood.  This is about the consistency of soft jello, difficult to pick up with chopsticks as it is jiggly and very soft, the cubes breaking easily.  Nothing worse that staining the front of you blouse with duck blood.  I ate it everytime it was offered, but I opted out of it on following turns of the lazy susan in the middle of the table.  No one noticed as there was so much food.  Duck blood is not cheap as it is hard to keep fresh.  My students, wanting to impress me, would order it as a special dish.

There is a somewhat humorous story about duck blood that happened to my husband when his students took him out for an end of term celebratory dinner.  I quote it from my manuscript below.

“….Bob tasted this one dish, coagulated duck blood, which was one he didn’t especially care for and had had before.  He went on to the next dish after surreptitiously rinsing his mouth with beer.  As continued eating, one of the other students took a taste of the duck blood.  The student made a terrible spitting noise and hacked the mass onto the floor, stood up and started yelling.  The duck blood was spoiled.  When Bob came home he said, “If I die tonight, I want you to know I ate spoiled coagulated duck blood.” The students were most apologetic.  I guess it might be a good idea to have a guinea pig to do your tasting for you, but that is not the Chinese way, the honored guest is the guinea pig, going first and dies first, if it is bad.  Bob didn’t even get sick.”

Now we mostly prepare our own Chinese dishes and we choose only the most delicious to eat.  When we can find ingredients, we prepare them at home for ourselves and we omit the mustard gas (oh, I mean oil), the eyeballs of animals including fish and coagulated duck blood.

There are two foods that I WILL NOT EAT, never.  There are only two.  One I don’t run across but occasionally.  Parsnips are on my HATE list.  I will refuse them if you offer them to me. There is not being polite here.  I even hate the ones that come in those chip bags of mixed vegetables. It isn’t the texture or the appearance, but the taste that you sense in the back of your nose.  When I was a young girl, I had several surgeries.  These entailed putting you to sleep by putting a cone over you face and drizzling ether onto the cone.  Parsnips taste like that smell.  Ether made me throw up and parsnips make me gag.

The other food I dislike and will not eat is runny eggs.  I do run across this often. If we eat breakfast out, I almost always order scrambled eggs as they will usually be completely cooked.  I would eat a runny white, but a runny yolk tastes like….well….coagulated duck blood.  It tastes like blood. I love eggs Benedict.  Do you think I can convince the cook of the meaning of petrified?  Never.  I always have to send them back while my table mates eat their meals before they get cold.  Once at the local café, I sent them back twice and they were still soft.  I kept the fruit bowl and told them to cancel the eggs Benedict. What don’t they understand about petrified?

Now when I go to that local café, the cook gives me the stink eye and hopes that I don’t order anything with poached eggs.  I would rather green yolks than soft orange ones.  It’s too bad, because this is a dish that I would not make at home as my husband is not partial to it and it is too much work just for me unless I am making crab cakes eggs Benedict, in which case my husband will eat those with me.

I am an omnivore.  I will eat almost anything and I am willing to try anything at least once.  Try it, you might like it.