Friday, October 31, 2008

Thursday, October 30, 2008

What's cooking: Gingersnaps for Jen

My old Joy of Cooking doesn't only have roadkill recipes! It also has the recipe for my dad's favorite cookie, the gingersnap. Well, sort of. His cookie is my kicked-up version of Joy's, which is more like a molasses cookie: I nearly double the spices and add vanilla. The resulting cookie as a nice zing but not so much that a certain little girl around our house won't eat them.

This recipe is posted at the request of Jen, who remembers the ones I gave her when she visited and is hankering for ones she can make herself. Here you go.

A special note: Do not, under any circumstances, use blackstrap molasses. I don't know what that stuff is, but it was on sale once and I bought it to use in this recipe. The cookies tasted ok, but they looked like little poo balls. Not what I had in mind.


Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Cream together in a standing mixer:
3/4 cups butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
Stir in:
2 well-beaten eggs
1/2 cup molasses (not blackstrap)
2 teaspoons vinegar
1 tablespoon of vanilla
Combine in a separate bowl:
3 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
6 teaspoons ginger
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon clove
Mix dry ingredients with a wire whisk. Add to ingredients in mixer and combine until just blended. Form dough into balls and bake on greased cookie sheet or Silpat sheet about 12 minutes. Cookies should be still soft when removed from oven.

Cool on a wire rack. Transfer to parchment paper to ice with glaze of confectioners' sugar and milk.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What's cooking: Lentil soup;
or,when it's squirrel-eating time

So about those squirrels . . . Last weekend when we were sitting around the beach house, much of the conversation concerned . . . the economy. Who had pulled out of the market, who was in. Who had gone to cash, to gold, to wine. Whose fault was it? Where is the bottom? Will it effect our long-term investments? Will it effect our current jobs? One friend's take on it was that in the near future it may get very bad: We'll all be eating squirrel for a while, and then it will slowly get better. And so that's where my mind has been: Is it squirrel time yet?

Thank goodness I have a volume of The Joy of Cooking that is old enough to have instructions for preparing squirrel (and porcupine, muskrat, and bear).

But if things get bad enough to threaten our food source, the Figs are eating lentil soup. It's easy to make, cheap, and we love it.

I've always got lots of chicken stock (I use the kitchen sink approach: everything goes in).

The rest of the ingredients are always on hand.

A big bowl of it—along with sandwiches of Gruyere, tomatoes, and good bread,

grilled on my pannini maker—makes for a perfect dinner.

And pickles and olives. Because everything is better with them, and besides I have new pickle forks.


2 tablespoons olive oil
large onions or several leeks, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
3/4 teaspoon dried marjoram
3/4 teaspoon
dried thyme
1 28-oz. can tomatoes with juice
7 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 cups dried lentils, washed and picked over
6 oz. dry white wine

Heat the oil in a large saucepan, and saute the onions, carrots, marjoram,
and thyme, stirring the vegetables for about 5 minutes.

Add tomatoes, stock, and lentils. Bring soup to boil, reduce heat, and simmer for about 1 hour.

Add wine, stir, and serve.

Then go make some more to stock up in the freezer. Because squirrel-eating time could be around the corner.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

It's been such a long time since
I've done drugs through my nose

The eighties being over and all.

When Sophie and I went to take advantage of our fair city's free flu vaccines (yes, our taxes are really high), we were given a choice: needle or nasal spray.

We took the snort, thank you.

It doesn't hurt at all and feels kind of silly.

Have you had yours?

It's not true!!!

It's a frame-up job actually, courtesy of that shifty Jen, food blogger extraordinaire and general ass kicker.

Someone is also using this propaganda to frame my conservative (yes, there's at least one in every family) brother-in-law. It is absolutely not true: We will both vote. Someone's got to cancel him out. 

As a matter of fact I have almost finished voting. Husband and I are on permanent absentee voting status so we can sit down with our pile of campaign literature and noodle it all out. 

Sophie was  home with a head cold yesterday, so I had chance work on it. My ballot is complete, but I need to leave it out for Husband, so he can copy it consult it while making his own decisions this evening. Here's the ones I really give a rip about:
  • Yes on 1 (high-speed train between SF and LA)
  • Yes on 2 (treatment of farm animals)
  • Yes on 3 (Children's hospitals)
  • No on 4 (parental notification of abortion)
  • No on 7 (renewable energy—bad for small alternative energy providers)
  • No on 8 (limit on marriage—don't fuck with my state constitution; don't legislate love)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Back from paradise

Our drive down the Cayucos, a beach town on the central coast, had me wondering as we drove for hours Friday afternoon "Why on earth am I driving this far if I can't ski when I get there?" A real puzzler, no?

But the answer is obvious:

These folks.

These five families constitute a gang called The Usual Suspects. We were friends before we had kids and before some of us were married. We've been cooking, camping, skiing, and hanging together for over a decade. We've now launched The Usual Suspects Next Generation. Our kids have known each other since the cradle, and even though they all go to different schools and have new friends there, they have an ease and camaraderie that matches ours.

And the beach was nice too. The fog didn't lift the entire time we were there, but we weren't stopped from our usual fun. Husband and his old pal went mountain biking and found some sun while the rest of us had picnicked on the beach and explored tidepools at low tide with the kids.

On the way home, we stopped for some wine tasting in the Paso Robles area—fun because they have such a different climate and therefore different wines than we have in our area. I tasted everything with turkey in mind. My mind is cranking away on Thanksgiving plans (I'm hoping we can skirt a family obligation and have dinner at our house with friends), and we bought a couple bottles that should go well with this meal. That's if we aren't eating squirrel. More on that later.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Figs are blowing town

After a hectic week that has left me frazzled and feeling like I'm behind on every aspect of my life, we're headed out this afternoon for a small much-needed vacation.

We'll be joining four other families (together we're known as The Usual Suspects) for a beach vacation in the central coast town of Cayucos. The drive will be long and the stay short, but the idea of just driving away with my family sounds irresistible.

And hanging out with this group always leaves me feeling recharged and incredibly fortunate.

We'll be staying in a large house right on the beach.

It's two units, and our family will be staying with one other in the upstairs units. Downstairs is where the real action will be though.

The living room is the most hilariously tacky 1960s-style party room. Doesn't just looking at it make you want a drink?

Have a good weekend! Back on Monday.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Figs have been robbed . . . of FIGS!

Right before my very eyes. The other morning I had deposited Sophie in the carpool across the street from our house and was standing chatting to one of the other moms, when the recycling truck pulled up in front of our house. The driver emptied our bin, plucked a ripe fig off our tree, and popped it in his mouth!

I was waving my hands and gesturing wildly "My tree!! My figs!!!" but he was unimpressed. This is our Black Mission (one of our favorite figs), and there are not many ripe on this tree to begin with. Boo hoo!

At least they cannot get the Brown Turkeys, which are inside our fenced front yard. This tree has more fruit, and we've already eaten some.

We're having one of those late October heat waves: bad because of the fire risk (we sit on the edge of a wooded regional park) but good for the ripening figs!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Sophie's first personalized stationery
—on sale now!

Look what I just ordered Sophie for writing her Christmas thank you notes! It will be her first set of personalized stationery!! So exciting. Ok, I know—get a life already, Cindy.

Anywhoo, the design I ordered is ON SALE today, so hop on over and order a set if you're looking for a way to help motivate yourself or a little note writer.

A piece of cake

So about that cake. I can't tell you how many times I woke up the middle the night thinking "What if I totally screw it up???" I make cakes all the time (part of the reason the brides asked me to make their cake), but when cakes increase in size, so in my mind do the disasters that can ensue. 

But I had Jen of use real butter on my side because I was using her recipe for Perfect Party Cake. But because I am generally unable to follow instructions to the letter, I tweaked her recipe and instructions a bit. Here's what I did:

I added another layer of taste by rolling out sweetened almond paste (not marzipan) as thin as possible and then tracing the outline of the cake pan and cutting out a circle. 

This went on top of every other cake layer, underneath the raspberry filling. 

Here's where we get really tricky. I was having reoccurring nightmares of raspberry filling oozing out the sides of the cake, so I used the Whimsical Bakehouse's trick of piping a thick border around the outside of the layer to hold the filling. This also allowed me to add more filling than I otherwise would. 

Adding the buttercream layer on top of the filling was tricky but manageable because I could anchor the big blob in the middle to the border and then pull the frosting outward.

I was also worried about the cake not being level, so I measured and split layers very carefully. What helped is that this is a fairly dense cake that holds together well even in very thin layers. Chilling the cake before cutting was key, especially since at 10 inches the bottom layer was tricky to split.

I frosted the cake the night before and stored it in the fridge. The next morning, I brought it to room temperature and smoothed things over a bit. For decoration, I used a border of small overlapping leaves from my garden along the bottom and added flowers—hydrangea that were left over from the flower arrangements— on the top of the bottom layer. 

Sorry—I don't have a close-up, but here are the brides cutting the cake,

the brides eating their first bites (served gently, of course),

and the brides with the dork who made the cake.

And even though the cake itself is gone, I'd like to offer a virtual piece of it to an old friend I am so happy to recently have gotten in touch with after almost thirty years through (of all things) Facebook. He remembered me, I remembered him (we went to a homecoming dance together), and I found out he and his partner were recently married. Best wishes to another beautiful couple! 

Monday, October 20, 2008

A weekend wedding

There's nothing I like more than a wedding: the bringing together of family and friends, the celebration of love.

We attended our first Buddhist ceremony this weekend for our girlfriends. I'm honestly not much of the Buddhist persuasion. I'm a lousy meditator, being completely unable to turn it off and be in the moment. I can't stop planning menus, organizing, scheduling . . . But I was completely moved by this ceremony, with its emphasis more than any other I have attended on the gifts a couple offers each other and the gratitude with which the gifts are accepted.

The main room of the Berkeley Zen Center is warm and intimate space that seemed a million miles from anywhere we occupy in our daily lives. 

What I also admired and was moved to tears by (unfortunately through the entire ceremony) was the emphasis on family and community: the gifts, the gratitude.

We were all so happy and so honored to be part of this day. 

I love these words that we read together in the ceremony:

I will not die an unlived life.
I choose to inhabit my days fully to allow my
living to open me, to make me less afraid,
more accessible, and to loosen my heart so I
may feel all joy and all pain from within and
without. I choose to live in humility,
gratitude, and vulnerability so all that comes
to me as a seed goes to the next as a blossom,
and all that comes to me as a blossom 
goes to the next as a fruit.

And the cake? It was a hit, but with all my frosting, fretting, and fussing over it, I neglected to take a picture of the finished product! I've got a call out to help on this, so pictures will be up soon. 

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Batten down the hatches!!!

The very wonderful, totally glamorous, and possibly insane Gwendomama is coming to my house! She'll be here with her brood in a few hours. She's probably in the car driving in our direction RIGHT NOW.

We're going to a wedding. And then tomorrow, we are all going here.

And yes, it will all be extensively photographed. Because that's just how we do things around here these days.

Have a good weekend!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Here come the brides

So since I'm feeling badly about that image in my last post that some readers found disturbing (and in truth it's been disturbing me every time I open my blog), I bring you a more lovely image on which to feast your eyes.


Everyone loves a bride, right? Thanks to the advanced state of my state, two of my girlfriends are getting married this weekend, and I'm making the cake. I know—what in heaven's name was I thinking?? That I love them and would probably do anything they asked me to.

I sent the girls over to look at my pal Jen's Perfect Party Cake, which they agreed looked perfect. After all, what is a wedding reception if not a big party?

I've been baking layers, wrapping them in yards of Saran Wrap, and freezing them. The wedding is on Saturday, so I'll probably be assembling and frosting tomorrow night. It's a fairly small wedding, so I'm only doing two layers.

Here's the plastic brides trying out the pans.

They do look like brides, don't they? I though I was going to have to saw two bride and groom sets in half and toss the grooms, so I was all excited to find this pair sold together. Right on, I thought. But no. The man at the counter pointed out that these were bridesmaids. Who the hell puts plastic bridesmaids on a cake?? Isn't it enough to be flanked by a small army of actual women, without having to represent them on the cake? But my idea of sawing the bride and groom sets in half would have left me with one-armed brides, so I'm going with these gals. Maybe a little tulle on their heads?

p.s. to post

Wow.  The proprietors of The Preppy Peach and Five Tomatoes are not kidding. The latter sent this.

And all I can say is . . . wow.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

And the debate goes to . . .

. . . Joe the Plumber. Or so says George Will: "If the winner of this debate is the next President, the next President is Joe the Plumber." Would that be better or worse than Sixpack Joe? I'm not sure.
But I think he's right. If you came into the debate on the Obama side, that's where you left. Likewise if you came in a McCain supporter. I think this was a debate that solidified, not changed, opinions. These undecided voters . . . who are these people anyway?

We watched the debate as I cooked dinner and Sophie did her homework. She had many questions, among them was when George Will made the above comment in the post-debate commentary: "Mama, is that Joe Plumber??" No, honey, it's not.

But I'm sort of worried about waking up to this on the front page of the New York Times.

When bloggers conspire, genius is born

I know my blog friends are brilliant, talented, and generous, but if I ever needed proof of this I now have it.

While I was whizzing away to nowhere (except better endurance) on my spin bike at lunch, Lisagh was busy over at the Garage whipping me up this in response to my last post, where I noted that there is (amazingly) not a single image on the internet of John McCain as a garden gnome:

Thank you, Lees. My life is now complete, and I think the internet is a richer place.

A new job for John McCain

I've been thinking lately that this president business might not work out so well for Mr. McCain. Apparently, others agree.

A friend of mine visiting from New Zealand reports that John McCain has been written off by the British press already, noting that the conservative rag to which her mother subscribes had a column that included the observation "He couldn't possibly be president, but he'd make a superb garden gnome."

Of course this sent me immediately scrambling on the internet for a picture of John McCain wearing a pointy red cap. I searched all variations of "mccain garden gnome" to no avail. It's upsetting; I cannot get the image out of my mind.

But I found these. What do you think?

Yeah. I think that will work just fine. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Embarrassing my daughter through baking

Because I am a PARENT! And that's we DO! And because I can.

When Sophie moved into the 3-4-5 classroom this year, she informed me that the baked goods I prepared for our monthly snack obligation in K-1-2 would no longer be acceptable. Apparently, bigger kids favor more sophisticated fare. Like (according to Sophie) popcorn (hmmm . . . maybe) or chips and salsa (um . . . NO). Homemade baked goods would be (her word) EMBARRASSING. Perfect!! I told her. Embarrassing kids is the JOB of parents! (My mom excelled at this. Except I realize now in hindsight that some of the things that embarrassed me were actually really awesome. Like her bright red lipstick. She totally rocked that, and I was too clueless to realize it. The pincurls with the scarf tied over them? Maybe not so much.)

But I was horrified to realize last night at about 9:00, when I really wanted to be in bed, after supervising homework and violin practice, baking another installment of the wedding cake I am making for a wedding on Saturday, and cooking and cleaning up dinner that I HAD FORGOTTEN WE ARE THE SNACK FAMILY FOR TODAY. Loser.

Good thing I had received one of these in my produce box last Friday.

It's not just any pumpkin—it's a sugar pie pumpkin.

I halve them and roast them cut-side down in roasting pan filled with about an inch of water. Remember the quince? Like that. They're done when you can stab them easily with a knife and the skin starts to darken.

Once they are co0led, I remove the seeds and scoop out the flesh. I use a hand-crank food mill, but you could also use a food processor. If you use the later, you'd probably want to let the pulp rest in a sieve over a bowl to drain out some of the extra water.

I keep a stack of plastic containers with this in my refrigerator most of this season. It's great for pumpkin risotto, pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin pie, or . . . thank goodness considering my snack crisis last night . . . pumpkin bread.

This recipe works best in little loaves.


2 eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar (brown, white, or a combination)
1/2 cup canola oil (or one stick of butter melted and cooled)
1/3 water
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup pumpkin

1 3/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamon (optional)

Mix wet ingredients. Sift together dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Fold wet and dry ingredients together.

Pour into greased or buttered pans and bake at 350 degrees for about half an hour. Baking time will depend on whether you use a full loaf pan, mini loaf pans, or a cup cake pan. At any rate, bake until they are done.
Sophie likes her slice with a little butter, but how amazing would this be with the apple butter that Lisagh made over at the Grosgraine Garage??? Really, she and I should live closer to each other.

Monday, October 13, 2008


The quince is a funny fruit: Large, fuzzy, hard as a rock, astringent, and completely inedible in its raw form. But cooked and coaxed, it has a perfumed fragrance both citrus and floral, the texture of pear, and a rich golden amber color. It has a taste hard to place—honey, apple, flowers—that is worth all the trouble of this difficult and odd fruit.

The season for quince is short. It appears at my produce market for a brief period in the fall. Fortunately a girlfriend called this to my attention and declared Saturday afternoon our Quincerama. We met at my house with large bags of quince, Meyer lemons, and sugar. Our goal was to make as many quince products as possible.

We started with sliced quince poached in vanilla syrup. We added peeled sliced fruit to a simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water) that had been simmering with a vanilla bean.

When we ladled the mixture into jars, the fruit was still fairly pale in color. But look at it after 30 minutes in a hot water bath!

We'll be eating this over vanilla ice cream, mixing it into apple pie filling (a traditional use for it since the flavor is compatible and the high pectin gives the filling some body), and stirring it into hot oatmeal.

While this was going on, I had quinces roasting in the oven for my quince paste, a traditional accompaniment for the Spanish cheese Manchego. I halved the fruit and placed in cut-side down in a roasting pan with about an inch of water. I baked at 350 degrees for a couple of hours.

The pulp then takes a long trip through the food processor (the hardest workout mine has had in ages) and is combined with an equal amount of sugar, a little fresh lemon juice, a cinnamon stick, and some rose geranium.

Quince paste is usually formed into a loaf pan or terrine to cool and is then served in thin slices. But I thought it would be fun to use some butter molds to make little shapes.

I also used a copper mold for some.

It took a little coaxing with a sharp knife to get these out. Thank goodness I had given the molds a good spray with canola oil.

To store these, I cut out rounds of waxed paper onto which I had traced the outside of a plastic container. I then stacked the little shapes in layers. They'll keep in a cool place, unrefrigerated for several months.


4 medium quinces (about 2 pounds)
1 /4 to 1/2 cups water
2 to 3 cups sugar
3 tablespoons fresh
lemon juice
1 stick cinnamon
1 sprig fresh rose geranium (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly spray terrine or molds with canola spray.

Scrub quinces to remove fuzz. Slice in two length-wise and place cut-side down in roasting pan. Fill pan with about an inch of water. Place in oven and roast until and knife goes in easily and skins start to brown (about two hours).

When quinces are cool enough to handle, peel, core, and quarter. Place in food processor and puree, adding water as necessary. Measure puree and place in a heavy saucepan. Add to saucepan equivalent amount of sugar. Add cinnamon stick and rose geranium.

Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is thickened and beginsto pull away from the sides of the pan, about 25 minutes.

Pour puree into terrine or molds, smoothing off top with offset knife. Cool until set, about 4 hours.

Run a thin knife around sides of terrine or molds to release quince paste. Quince paste keeps wrapped and chilled about three months.