Wednesday, April 27, 2005

My Goodness!

Maybe you're too young to recognize that as part of a famous Guinness ad from the 1940s. (OK, I'm too young for it, too, but I've seen the vintage ad posters at an Irish pub.)

But really, that just sums up the thrill of the occasional foray into Ireland's most famous export (after potatoes?).

I don't often indulge in a pint, but when I do, I look for the good stuff. I'm keen on the Great Lakes brews, other microbrews I've sampled in various cities (including a rocking honey ale in Salt Lake City, of all places!), and the Blue Moon Belgian wheat ale (with a slice of orange) that the Gentleman recently had me sample. For a chilly, rainy afternoon, though, you can't beat a Guinness.

Unless, that is, you opt for the Black and Tan that was the daily special at my favorite coffee house (and bar!) yesterday.

I met the Gentleman for dinner there to celebrate his new job and to wish him a fond liquid farewell, but as I arrived early, I started with a bag of salt-and-pepper potato chips (new favorite), followed by the Black and Tan, a beautifully pulled combination of Guinness and Bass ale. Dinner itself was a simple bowl of soup and half a sandwich, as a good pub lunch... er, dinner... should be, but the pint made the evening.

The only thing missing from the experience was some foot-stompin'-good lively Irish music, but hey, I takes what I gets. (And at least My Favorite Barista was on hand for a different kind of entertainment.) Good craic all around (and if you look that up, use the second definition, of which both Phoenix and I approve heartily).

One of the other famous Guinness ads from the 1940s claims "Guinness for Strength," which may seem farfetched until you realize that beer was truly a commonplace breakfast food and regular whistle-wetter in the British Isles for centuries (until proper water sanitation made water a more pleasing option for drinking). And when you learn from the Guinness web site that not only does their brew contain protein (presumably from the roasted, malted barley), but it also contains fewer calories than a glass of orange juice... AND that doctors used to prescribe Guinness for anemia... well, why don't you have one in hand right now?

So, here's a salute to the Gentleman... top o' the Guinness to you!

Monday, April 25, 2005

Piece of Cake!

I found this wonderful little passage in The Language of Baklava: A Memoir the other day (p. 186):

"Marry, don't marry," Auntie Aya says as we unfold layers of dough to make an apple strudel. "Just don't have your babies unless it's absolutely necessary."

"How do I know if it's necessary?"

She stops and stares ahead, her hands gloved in flour. "Ask yourself, Do I want a baby or do I want to make a cake? The answer will come to you like bells ringing." She flickers her fingers in the air by her ear. "For me, almost always, the answer was cake."

I'd have to agree with Auntie Aya (if you include other sweet desserts with cake).

And so, what did I do this weekend? Oh, yes, Dear Readers, I baked a cake.

Not just any cake, though. I have been wanting to try this recipe for a rose geranium cake for a couple of years, but I never made the time for it. When I discovered last week that my rose geranium was actually blooming, I knew it was time.

The cake itself is fairly simple... a delicate butter cake laced with vanilla and chopped pecans... but it has a handful of chopped rose geranium leaves mixed in as well. Once it had cooled, I dusted the top with confectioner's sugar and rose geranium petals (like pink-lavender teardrops).

The taste of rose geraniums (or roses, for that matter) can be overpowering and end up tasting more like some lady's hand lotion. But this cake was wonderful. The rose geranium taste hits your palate first, but softly, with a warm and velvety caress. It fades gently to the inviting flavor of vanilla and slightly toasted pecans, but lingers long enough to ease away your cares. This is another one of those desserts that you simply sink into, allowing yourself to luxuriate in its pillowy perfection.

In aromatherapy, rose geranium is used to soothe anxiety and lift depression, and I can say that this cake certainly proves effective on both counts. (Who knew therapy could be so inexpensive?)

So if pressed to choose between a baby or a cake, I don't hesitate.

The cake wins out every time.

The Perfect Pastry

So there I was, lounging at my favorite coffee house on a snowy, blowy Sunday morning, sipping the last of my decaf coffee (as the espresso machine was on the blink, preventing me from my usual mocha madness). I'd been sitting around, writing and drinking, for over an hour and was getting ready to head back home.

And then, the most magical fragrance wafted through the entire place... a sweet smell of yeast, butter, and sugar that could only mean one thing:

Fresh croissants.

The aroma grew stronger, and though I didn't remember ever seeing croissants in their display case, I knew without a doubt that there would be fresh croissants this morning.

I checked with one of the young ladies working the early shift, and though she seemed to think the baker was working on cookies, she said she would go downstairs and check. (Cookies? I don't think so. You couldn't make me believe that what I was smelling was anything other than sweet, sweet buttery croissant goodness. I KNOW.)

Moments later, there she stood again, with a golden brown crescent, crisp flaky layers still steaming slightly, adorning a simple white plate, and she informed me that the croissants had just come out of the oven, and would I like one?

I confess, I had already eaten a large scone and did not need the added indulgence of another pastry. But I defy any one of you to stand facing a fresh, warm croissant and reject it out of hand.

Can't do it, can you?

I gladly paid for that croissant, returned to my comfortable seat, and delicately picked apart the flaky layers and savored each sweet, buttery bite as though there were nothing else in this world but me and that croissant. Though I still claim partiality to my own, I will say that this particular croissant easily ranked as one of the best I have ever eaten. (Freshness wins out every time!)

The only thing that could have made this experience absolutely perfect would have been a fresh espresso... but I'm not picky. I got a fresh croissant, and the cares of the world melted away before me.

And yes, now I am inspired to make mine... soon.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Sunshine in a Bottle

Some of you Dear Readers know that I enjoy making my own liqueurs and libations, and some of you may even be thrilled to know that with the return of spring comes the return of that humble flower that has made its way into my heart and into my decanters.

May I offer you a glass of Chateau Dent de Lion?

I am probably the only person on the block who gets excited over a backyard full of bright yellow dandelions. Think of the possibilities! I could add greens to a salad or mashed potatoes, I could fry up some dandelion "fritters," or I could make dandelion wine.

And I think you know which one I'll go with.

The lovely Phoenix came by last evening to help me harvest a bumper crop of blooms. We decided to fill only two quart jars with blossoms as the hour was getting late, the sun was sliding low in the sky, and my back was not happy with sitting on the cool, damp ground. But two quarts is two quarts more than I picked last year, so I'm not complaining.

Once back inside, we gradually added to the jars plenty of sugar, boiling water, orange and lemon juices, and yeast. Tonight I will strain the blossoms out and then let the liquid sit another couple of days before straining again, and then it sits for a few months to finish fermenting.

When I first made this, I wasn't at all sure what to expect. I mean, it did smell a little funny at the time. But the resulting liquid was like a delicately fruity and light champagne... a little fizzy, with a hint of citrus and a refreshing sweetness that revived the joy of springtime in my mouth and in my heart. And that pale golden color brought back memories of sunny spring mornings.

We get a multitude of memories tied up with food... scents and tastes can take us back years to well-loved places and people. So when I taste this year's dandelion wine, I will think of a quiet sun-washed evening, the taste of fresh violets, a very good friend, and the skirl of the pipes playing "Scotland the Brave."

And that warm liquid sunshine will make me so very happy.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Georgia On My Mind, Pt. 2

The more I try it, the more I like Georgian cuisine. And right now, I especially like that its emphasis on fresh vegetables makes it the perfect cuisine for warm-weather cooking!

After work yesterday, I chopped vegetables (tomatoes, cucumber, garlic) and tossed in fresh herbs (basil and cilantro) for a very fresh salad drizzled with olive oil. (How fresh was it? Let's just say I had to slap its face, and leave it at that.) That went back into the refrigerator to chill and to develop flavors while I headed out to the garden for more digging.

An hour later, I staggered back into the house, and after resting a bit and gathering my energy again, I headed back to the kitchen to peel, chop, salt, and drain one small eggplant. (Then I went back to being flat-out again, but what can you do?)

Finally, time to cook! I sauteed the eggplant until it was soft and nicely browned, then added some chopped cilantro and sauteed a little longer before removing it from the heat and adding some fabulous walnut sauce.

And there you have it, dinner fit for a Baklava Queen: a pile of creamy, nutty, rich eggplant with walnut sauce, and a crisp fresh salad with one hell of a kick (ahhhhh, raw garlic!). Back that with a glass of the year's first homebrewed iced tea (complete with fresh mint from the garden and a squeeze of lime), and you can't go wrong.

But you can have leftovers.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

First Harvest

When I went out to water the garden last evening, I had a most pleasant surprise. There along the back fence, I discovered one single, perfect, slender stalk of asparagus growing.

Now I had planted asparagus about 5 years ago, in the hopes of having a regular spring harvest of such a delicacy, but I figured I must have planted it in a poor spot, because I never saw anything besides the ferny leaves.

Until last night.

What a treat! What delight! And yes, it's only one small stalk, barely even enough to be considered a side dish, let alone a meal.

But tonight, I will pick that asparagus, steam it lightly, and dress it gently with a wispy light vinaigrette. I will savor each bite of its tender greenness.

And I will be sublimely happy.

I'm Nuts About You!

(An Open Love Letter)

My dear bazha*,

Why did I wait so long to let you into my life, even after I learned about your existence??? You're completely nutty, but so smooth in the way you've stolen my heart. Your exotic golden glow and slightly spicy attitude have livened my life and leavened my spirits.

Will you join me for dinner tonight? I'm serving eggplant, and I know that having you there will make the experience blissfully complete.

Until we meet again, dearest bazha...

*Bazha is the quintessentially Georgian walnut sauce, made from grinding walnuts and garlic into a fine paste and adding spices, a hint of vinegar, and enough water to give it a cream-like consistency. Mitch Heat tells me he cannot get enough of this sauce over chicken, and though the Georgian cookbook I found indicates that the sauce is good on almost anything (fish, too), I opted for the eggplant version for tonight's dinner.

It should be absolutely fantastic. Stay tuned.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Something New

On Saturday, my Opera-Loving Friends and I had tickets to see "Madame Butterfly," the final show in our season ticket package. None of us are particularly keen on this particular opera (it lacks common sense, even more so than most other operas, as well as a serious round of face-slapping for their idiocy), but who are we to turn down the opportunity to get out of town for an evening to hear good music?

And who are we to turn down the opportunity to eat good food?

This, I think, is quite possibly the biggest reason I love going out on the town with these friends: their willingness to try different restaurants and different ethnic foods, as well as their willingness to go completely veg for the night so that we can all share all the food on the table.

Our dinner destination this time around was Anatolia Cafe, which is being billed as "the first and only Turkish restaurant in Cleveland." The presence of a number of (presumably) Turkish families that evening, as well as the constant flow of customers, guaranteed that we would get an authentic and satisfying meal.

We started with a mixed appetizer platter that included:

hummus (not particularly exciting, but good)
babagannush (the best I've ever had; the eggplant tasted smoked)
ezme salad dip (with minced tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, spices, oil)
eggplant with sauce (with tomatoes, peppers, spices; very creamy chunks)
kisir (cracked wheat with vegetables)
stuffed grape leaves (with rice, pine nuts, currants, fresh herbs)
haydari (homemade yogurt with walnuts and dill)

Of all these, the babagannush, the haydari, and the grape leaves stood out as superlative. I could easily make a meal just on those items (and perhaps one of the mixed vegetable "salads" from this platter).

We followed this with two entrees: a vegetable stew filled with eggplant, potato, and peppers; and sigara borek, long cylinders of filo dough wrapped around feta cheese and herbs, and served with a very fresh salad of chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and onions in a light vinaigrette.

By this time, I concede that I was approaching that happy state of repletion, but I would never consider NOT having dessert at a new restaurant! We ordered three different desserts and shared them all: baklava that was quite simply the best I've ever had (and I took mental notes as to how to experiment with my own), a baked rice pudding/custard that was simple and creamy, and kadayif, which looks like shredded wheat with nuts soaked in honey and tastes fantastic.

While one of my friends ordered plain coffee to keep himself awake (for the opera and the drive home), we two ladies enjoyed tiny cups of thick, ground-laden Turkish coffee that was brewed sweetened for us. Though the coffee was indeed strong and bitter, the sugar helped to bring out the rich flavor, so that even I, coffee wimp that I am, could appreciate it. (I did stop before I could stand a spoon up in the grounds, however.)

What a sublime feast! Everything is prepared fresh each day, and you can really tell the difference as the vegetables are all firm and crisp (or tender, if cooked) and full of flavor and sunshine. What's not to love?

I am almost jealous now of my friend Mitch Heat and his plans to travel through Turkey before returning home this summer. Almost. In the meantime, I can find excellent Turkish cuisine only an hour or so away.

And I'd be happy to lead the next dinner expedition there myself.

Curry On!

I love Indian food.

All those warm, savory spices... the variety of vegetables... luscious sauces... happy little samosas with chutney... spiced tea...

Oh, excuse me, am I making you hungry?

Unfortunately, the closest Indian restaurant is about 45 minutes away, and while it's worth the drive, I don't get there very often. Which is why I'm so glad I've got an Indian cookbook and have been practicing my Indian cooking for a number of years now.

Friday after work, the lovely Phoenix came by to help prepare the Indian feast we laid out for the fair Titania's visit: samosas (made last week), fresh cilantro chutney, shahi paneer (actually with tofu instead of paneer), and a spinach/pine nut/saffron pulao (rice). (That's not including the wonderful cheeses we had for appetizers.)

Phoenix is improving greatly with her knife-handling and vegetable prep skills, so I left most of that work to her (chopping tomatoes and onions and spinach and cilantro) while I set out the mise en place (I love having lots of little dishes for spices and such) and filled in the other tasks. It took us about two hours to get the meal cooked (brown basmati rice takes a while), but as we had the fair Titania regaling us with stories and her delightful conversation... as well as sunshine and sweet breezes streaming through the kitchen... the time flew by.

Prep work and conversation flowed neatly into dinner and more conversation, which then flowed into our after-dinner chai and post-prandial dandelion wine... and more conversation, of course. It's always a delight to spend time with these two as their enthusiasm and joy in living is infectious and inspiring. (And it certainly doesn't hurt that they both have a proper and deep affection for good food.)

Flavorful Indian food and good friends... can you think of a better way to end the week?

Me neither.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Try, Try Again

In the past, if I tried a new recipe once and was fairly happy with it, I would go ahead and add it to my cookbook without much further thought. Unfortunately, this means that there are currently a number of recipes in my cookbook that I have made only once and never gone back to for a second tasting.

But now, I find that if a recipe is pretty good on the first try, but there's something I'd like to change slightly or test with different ingredients, I'll hold off until I've given it more thorough testing before I share it with my cookbook list.

The tea cake that I made for the Georgian meal is such a recipe. The first time through, I didn't have plum jam, and though the cake turned out tasty, I wasn't entirely satisfied with it. There were also one or two steps that I had taken shortcuts on, which left me wondering if it really tasted the way it should.

After that meal, I had discussed the menu and the problems with the tea cake with my hard-working and ever-upbeat colleague, She-Who-Brings-Fresh-Donuts. The next day, she brought me two jars of mirabelle plum jam from a French recipe, the same plum jam she uses in a favorite family cookie recipe. Such generosity! So I knew I would have to try the tea cake recipe again, not only for my own curiosity but also to thank my friend.

Last evening I pulled all the ingredients together and gave it a go. Instead of making one cake, I used two loaf pans for two smaller cakes so that She-Who-Brings-Fresh-Donuts would have one for her and her husband to share on their road trip this weekend, leaving one for me to share with the fair Titania.

Once again, I wasn't quite careful enough in carmelizing the sugar (it does need to be stirred, not shaken), but the proper plum jam did make a difference in that I didn't have chunks of fruit scattered throughout the cake. The flavor was good: rich but not terribly sweet. And this time I did spread plum jam (heated with a bit of water to thin it) on the top of each cake and sprinkled them both with crushed walnuts, which added a nice contrast in texture.

Now I'm satisfied, and I can type up the recipe and include it in my cookbook. I have more of the plum jam and can try it again sometime as I'm wondering if a hint of spices would be good, but as it stands, it can be shared with others.

The old saying is true, and it never hurts to give something a second try.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Empty No More

My poor, lonely refrigerator.

I have cooked so little lately (compared to my usual routine) that the fridge has been looking rather bare of late. Aside from the handful of condiment jars, the water pitcher, the remaining eggs and tortillas, the rather sad-looking celery and the forlorn jar of soup... well, let's just say you could stick your head in and yodel and hear a resounding echo similar to what you would hear in the Swiss Alps.

Not that I've tried that or anything.

But after last night's shopping spree at the fabulous Mustard Seed Market, my refrigerator has found a new purpose in life and holds the key ingredients for tomorrow night's Indian feast (cooked by the lovely Phoenix and myself in honor of the fair Titania's visit):

fresh organic vegetables (spinach, tomatoes, scallions, red pepper)
organic yogurt
organic tofu
organic unsweetened soy milk
organic locally-produced milk

And on top of that, I restocked my tea supplies with some organic, fair trade tea and some quality Ceylon tea for making chai.

Yes, it costs more to buy organic. Yes, it takes a while to get to this store and stock up. Yes, I do have perfectly good stores here in town where I could buy almost all of this (though perhaps not all organic). But when such a delightful little shopping spree follows a really good dinner (in their cafe) shared with The Gentleman (who will be leaving us soon for the big city), how can I resist?

My friends are worth it.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

How Does Your Garden Grow?

I've recently been reading a wonderfully down-to-earth but inspiring collection of essays by Wendell Berry, and I'd like to share with you a quote from his essay "The Pleasures of Eating":

People who know the garden in which their vegetables have grown and know that the garden is healthy will remember the beauty of the growing plants, perhaps in the dewy first light of morning when gardens are at their best. Such a memory involves itself with the food and is one of the pleasures of eating. ... A significant part of the pleasure of eating is in one's accurate consciousness of the lives and the world from which food comes. The pleasure of eating, then, may be the best available standard of our health.

And then I came into work this morning and came across this article from The Times (UK) about Chinese farmers rioting against chemical companies' poisoning of their land.

Organic farming... both in the sense of not adding manmade chemicals to the crops and in the sense that Berry outlines, of treating the whole farm (farmer included) as an organism in which all the parts are interdependent and must be equally cared for to ensure the health of the whole... is clearly the direction we need to take, but it is difficult to face such overwhelming odds.

In the meantime, I'll carry on in my little garden patch and do my part.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Flower Power

The weekend weather was glorious!: sunny, breezy, warm, and perfect for working in the garden. It was also great for opening up the house and cleaning out the cobwebs in preparation for the fair Titania's upcoming visit.

In other words, it was NOT a great weekend for getting anything done in the kitchen.

Well, not much, anyway.

I did make a pot of chick pea minestrone after working in the garden Friday afternoon, and that has sustained me over several meals so far.

And last night, I had the urge to bake cookies. But what??? I didn't want chocolate (shocking!). And I didn't have the ingredients for a number of recipes that did look somewhat appealing.

Then I turned the page, and there it was: lavender cookies.

A couple of years ago I got hooked on simple, old-fashioned refrigerator cookies, partly because of the ease of making them, and partly because the basic vanilla recipe is such a wonderful blank slate for trying different flavors. So I decided to try adding in some dried lavender blossoms from my herb garden, and a new favorite was created.

Last night, that recipe sounded like the perfect way to capture the spring/almost summer feeling in the air. I even added the last teaspoons of rose geranium sugar (made two summers ago) to round out the lavender flavor and give it a little extra "flower power." (Good call!)

The results? Elegant little oblong cookies, buttery and mildly scented with the tastes of the garden, warm and inviting. Just perfect for a ladies' tea party or (as is the case this week) a mid-morning pick-me-up.

The cookies also remind me that as my garden blooms this year, I have to remember to harvest some of those flowers and leaves for making more herb sugars (I'm out now) and herb-infused honeys as well as the usual vinegars. I'll also dry some for future use, after I've had my fill of fresh (mmmmm, nasturtium and borage flowers and leaves in salads!).

But I don't think I'll tell my nephews to "Eat your flowers!"

Friday, April 08, 2005

Memories of the CIA

No, dear readers, I'm not referring to my former life as a spy (which was strictly fictional anyway). Remember, we're talking food here, and the CIA refers to the crown jewel of American culinary schools, the Culinary Institute of America.

But first, a brief introduction to the topic:

After meeting up with the incomparable Spicyflower last weekend, I agreed to send her my unused baby cake decorating kit, assembled for me by the Chef Mother when she broke up her substantial kit after calling it quits on decorating cakes. Earlier this week, I packed up the kit with a box of disposable pastry bags as well as some of the delectable chocolate-hazelnut zebras that were threatening to fill up my stomach if I didn't get them out of the house.

Upon receiving said box, Spicyflower's response was this:

"Oh, I was wondering though, you said the box contained incentive, now was the intended incentive those wonderful chocolate cookies of yours, or the $.50 in the box with the decorating tips?? Just curious :)"

What can I say? I never opened that kit, and hey, I'm not above bribing friends who are equally fabulous bakers for some of their home-baked goodies.

But in the course of our recent exchange, I also mentioned that I had been recalling memories from my first trip to the CIA in a conversation with a mutual acquaintance, and Spicyflower asked for the details. So now I share them, my friends, with you.

When I was in 8th grade, the Chef Mother took four of her students and me on a road trip over spring break: since all of her students were interested in attending culinary school, we checked out both Johnson and Wales in Rhode Island and the CIA in Hyde Park, NY.

One of the Chef Mother's former students (from the mid-70s) was an ex-Marine (or was it Navy?) who had worked in the White House kitchens on at least one occasion and was then a student at the CIA. The Military Chef arranged for us to get a tour of the place, and he arranged for dinner in the Escoffier Room (the only restaurant they had at the time, aside from the St. Andrews' Cafe). I had had a crush on The Military Chef when I was a girl, so you can imagine the thrill I had when he treated me like a lady for the dinner... holding open the car door for me (with an umbrella over my head) and taking my arm to lead me in. (Swoon!) Ahem.

I honestly don't remember what all I had for dinner other than the coquilles St. Jacques for an appetizer (I remember one of the students had escargot)... and glorious croissants. Flaky, buttery... divine! I was so in love (The Military Chef was totally forgotten) that I knew I had to learn how to make them myself.

At the time, I was in 4-H, and the Chef Mother always insisted that I take at least one sewing project and one cooking project each year. After that trip to the CIA, I took the bread project two years running... the first year to make basic loaves of bread (white, wheat, maybe pumpernickel), and the second year I learned more yeast dough variations (including pretzels, pita, and croissants). I was so
proud of my croissants, and I ended up making those for my judging. I impressed the judge so much that I ended up going to the State Fair with my project... and impressed the judge there so much that I won a big fat purple rosette ribbon for "Outstanding of the Day." Yeah, I totally rocked out. (And yes, I am still inordinately proud of that.)

And the best part? Even though the Chef Mother had more experience at baking, she couldn't make croissants as light and as flaky as I could. ;)

I don't make croissants too much any more... maybe once a year... but when I do, I ration out the dough and keep some back in the freezer. They make a lovely French-style weekend breakfast... with sweet butter, fresh homemade fruit jam (raspberry!), and strong rich coffee, and the sunshine streaming through the windows. What bliss! It takes me back to visits to France and breakfast in small pensions (since my host mother never made croissants for breakfast), as well as to that dark and stormy night at the CIA and one of the most fabulous dinners I have ever experienced.

I have other memories from the CIA, such as poking my head into classrooms and being astonished by the vast number of enormous kitchens... and then there's the second visit to the CIA just a couple of years ago, when I took my Granola Girl there for a very decadent lunch experience. I'll save those for another time as I suspect this post has gotten way too long.

And really, you need to wipe the drool off your keyboard.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

I Scream, You Scream...

...we all scream for the first ice cream of the year!

The lovely Phoenix came by yesterday to learn how to make samosas in preparation for an impending visit from the fair Titania. After making the kitchen smell absolutely wonderful and splitting a test samosa (quality control check, you know), we decided to head out to dinner at the local Mexican place.

And wouldn't you know it, but after some good, fresh, spicy salsa, savory enchiladas, and a yummy chalupa loaded with beans and lettuce and guacamole, we just had to travel a little further up the road for dessert: ice cream.

Now, this isn't just any old ice cream. This is ice cream that comes from a local dairy farm that uses no chemicals or artificial hormones for either their feed or their cows. The milk they produce is pasteurized but not homogenized, and they sell it in glass bottles so that you can see the cream separate out at the top. Very cool.

And so the ice cream... coming from well-raised cows by a family that cares about the product... ends up as a rich, creamy, flavorful treat that any ice cream fan would love. To get it, you have to go to their ice cream shop (only one!) since they don't appear to distribute the ice cream at local groceries (unlike the milk).

Darn.

While Phoenix enjoyed her coconut almond fudge in a sugar cone (ooooh, good choice!) and Mr. Nice Guy opted for a sundae that layered a rich brownie with chocolate ice cream and hot fudge sauce, I took great delight in half-scoops of both mocha mud (coffee ice cream with Oreo bits) and tin hoof (vanilla ice cream with chocolate and peanuts swirled into it). We sat outside and listened to the spring peepers off in the woods... such a wonderful treat on a warm spring evening!

Sometimes it's good to indulge yourself... very good, indeed.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Digging In

Springtime has arrived, and it finally appears that it's here to stay at last.

("And there was much rejoicing... yaaaaaaay.")

After work yesterday, I toddled out to the vegetable patch with shovel, cultivator, hoe, and bucket, and I cleared the back row along the fence. (Doesn't sound like much, I know, but you have no idea how big that veggie patch is when you face it with garden implements. Huge. Monstrous. Back-breaking. Ahem.) I'm happy to report that the weeding I did last fall paid off, because mainly I picked up leaves and dug out the last few stubborn dandelions (which, I'm also happy to report, popped right out) and dumped the lot into the now-overflowing compost bin.

Very rewarding work.

Then I fished the seed packets out of my jean pockets and planted nice long rows of lettuce and spinach and radishes and green onions, trying not to overwater the seeds as I drooled, thinking about those first fresh salads. (All right, I exaggerate. No drooling, no fooling.)

That's all I wanted to tackle in one afternoon, and the rest of the garden won't be planted for a few weeks, so I can take my time clearing the rest. But it is so satisfying to know that the work has begun and the first few veggies are on their way.

Off to dream about my salad days...

Monday, April 04, 2005

Good as Gold

I said I was going to fire up the oven this weekend, and I meant it. Between 6:30 and 11 AM on Saturday, I was a baking fiend.

First up, pain aux noix, a delightful white-wheat yeast bread with walnuts scattered through the dough. I like the way the bits of walnuts add variety and crunch to an otherwise soft, tender crumb, and I like that it has a neutral flavor that works well with butter and jam in the morning and guacamole, cucumbers, and tomatoes in the afternoon. (Doggone, that was good.)

Next, I made the dough for chocolate-hazelnut zebras, a rich and almost gooey cookie rolled in powdered sugar. (Sacrifices to the Tech Gods were long overdue.) The dough has to be chilled for a few hours, so I didn't actually bake them until that afternoon, but they were well worth the wait.

The crowning glory of Saturday's baking, however, was the creation of golden, buttery rich but ephemerally light lime-ginger squares. A variation on my lemon-date square recipe, this wonder has lime rind in both the shortbread base and the egg filling, a pinch of ground ginger in the base, and mini diced crystallized ginger (just a hint!) in the filling. With a light dusting of powdered sugar on top, they fool you into thinking they're just run-of-the-mill lemon squares, but one bite in, and you sink into the mellower fullness of the lime flavor, enhanced ever so subtly by the ginger.

Now, I wasn't going to eat all of these cookies by myself, so I spent Saturday late afternoon packing up containers to share with other people. The Tech Gods deserved one, as did the lovely Phoenix. As I was planning to meet the incomparably sassy Spicyflower and her delightful beau at my favorite coffee house Sunday morning, of course I must pack plenty for them to share (or not share, since I made sure there were equal amounts for the two of them; a good thing, as they were both very pleased with both cookies). And let's not forget that those fine young gentlemen at my favorite coffee house (My Favorite Barista, The Bean Guy, and The Green Man) were also very deserving of treats yet again... though The Green Man, who opened on Sunday, declared that he might not actually share the lime-ginger squares with the others, he was so enamored of them.

It's good to be back in the baking groove. It's good to know I haven't lost my touch. It's good to get glowing compliments from appreciative fans.

Best of all, it's good to make other people happy with my baking.

Friday, April 01, 2005

The Heat is On

Or rather, it will be.

Between a chilly and potentially snowy forecast for tomorrow, my renewed energy after That Flu, and a three-week lapse in baking, I strongly suspect that tomorrow I will fire up the oven and bake so long and hard that I will bring that appliance to its knees, begging for mercy.

We're talking bread and cookies and cookie bars and I don't know what else. I am seriously itching to get those wonderful baking smells wafting through the house again. (And I do owe one of the Tech Guys some cookies for his work this week.)

I have big ideas. Will my energy last long enough to see me through all of those plans? We shall see.

But don't say you weren't warned.

No Foolin'?

I love a good April Fools' joke. And this is a good one:

BBC Fools the Nation

You gotta love the Beeb.

Now, if we were talking tortellini or gnocchi, I'd want one, too!