Friday, January 28, 2011

More birthday fun . . .

I could get so spoiled coming in to work every day and finding roses like these sitting on my desk . . .

Yup.  Cubicle life is made a little more tolerable with some beautiful flowers . . . and it's so nice to be remembered . . .

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Tea Bread Tuesday: Country Applesauce Muffins

I can't quite make up my mind which job would be more fun to have:  Picking out nail polish names for OPI (I'm currently wearing "I'm Not Really a Waitress") or designing paper liners for cupcakes and muffins . . .  Aren't these paper liners fun?

For the muffins I decided to try out my sister-in-law, Barb's suggestion to lower the oven temperature a little bit and cook a little longer (although she was referring to cookie-baking).  It worked beautifully!  The muffins were so moist!  I've also been noticing lately that I'm not too crazy about the taste of cloves.  This recipe didn't call for cloves (unlike other spice cakes I've made recently) and I found the taste more subtle and much more to my liking . . .

I'll make this one again.  Here's the link:  Country Applesauce Muffins

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tea Bread Tuesday: Apricot Raisin Bread

It's a true testament to how good this bread is, that, even though I botched the baking time, it still came out delicious. 

I should rename this bread "Discombobulation Bread" in honor of my mood while I was preparing it.  I couldn't get a system going as I prepared the bread.  I was so distracted that I kept losing track of what I was doing and had to measure a few ingredients a couple of times . . .  I even remarked to my DH that this bread was a lot of work, just because it called for soaking the apricots and raisins in boiling water . . . that little extra step was frustrating me to no end!

I finally popped it in the oven, and ran upstairs to my office to file a couple of warranty booklets that had been lying around since Christmas, then on top of my desk I noticed a friend's birthday card I'd been meaning to send . . . then there was the envelope with my friend's new address that had to be transferred to my address book . . . then there was a sock that needed to be put away, not two socks, mind you, just one . . . and where's the second one?  Ah!  There it is!  In the sock drawer!  And, since I was upstairs, I decided I may as well take my shower and get dressed . . . and while shampooing my hair, I suddenly remembered:  THE BREAD!!!!  I yelled down at my DH to check the bread, but it was already too late - the bread wasn't burned but it was definitely overdone, and somewhat dry.

So instead of a moist tea bread, I ended up with a bread that had the texture of panetone - a dry Italian fruit cake.  But heck, I wasn't about to throw it out!  We've been dunking it in our tea and coffee!

The bread was so tasty!  I'll be making this one again for sure - but baking it for the correct time . . . after I take my shower . . .

Here's the recipe (from The Silver Palate Cookbook):

1 cup boiling water, approximately
¾ cup coarsely chopped dried apricots
½ cup raisins
3 tablespoons plus ½ cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup oil
2 eggs, beaten
2¼ cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2/3 cup milk
3/4 cup unprocessed bran

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.  Grease a 9 x 5 x 3 inch bread pan.
  2. Pour boiling water over apricots and raisins just to cover.  Let sit for 10 minutes.  Drain well and add 3 tablespoons sugar.  Mix well.
  3. While fruit is soaking, add the remaining ½ cup sugar to the oil and beat well.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating until well mixed.
  4. Sift flour, baking powder and salt together and add alternately with milk and bran to oil mixture.  Fold in fruits.
  5. Pour mixture into prepared pan.  Bake for 1 hour, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
  6. Remove from oven and cool for 10 minutes.  Remove from pan and cool on a cake rack.
1 loaf

Friday, January 14, 2011

Christmas . . . Continued . . .

Check out the Christmas Eve centerpiece, more than 15 days later, revamped for another family get-together . . .

I removed the wilted roses, calla lilies and hydrangea, and inserted white carnations, alstroemeria, and, since the pickings at the supermarket were rather slim, I found an alternative to a third flower right on our Christmas tree - royal blue balls with silver swirls . . .

The blue/white/silver theme was reinforced with a navy tablecloth - a more forgiving color for such a casual dinner; blue and white York peppermint pieces in the white ramekins, and Lindor truffles resting on top of the napkins . . .

This was a very informal affair and everything was served buffet style, but buffet-style can still be organized, and welcoming, and, hopefully, a bit charming . . .

And here's the gang, two of my husband's sisters, their spouses and our rambunctious niece and nephew, who are growing up way too fast!  For some weird reason, my brother-in-law, Jim, ended up wearing my pink, sequined cowgirl hat . . . 

I have now officially closed the book on Christmas 2010 . . . but I'm still putting away the decorations . . .

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tea Bread Tuesday: Almond Bread - Celebrating Epiphany

al- (al)

the: used in words of Arabic origin: algebra, alchemy, al-Mansur
Origin: < Ar al
al- (al, əl)

Hmm . . . as in alcohol . . . or alabaster . . . or almonds . . .

Almonds always remind me of marzipan, and the Three Kings Day . . . The Magi purportedly came from the Middle East and Asia, where almonds were cultivated from early days . . . It's fun to imagine that along with gold, myrrh and frankincense, the Magi may have brought some almonds to the Baby Jesus . . . . (which, of course, Mary would have had to turn into almond milk . . . ).  I had a college professor once in a Sociology class, who spent two days pondering what was likely to have been served at the Last Supper . . . but I digress . . .

I really like this almond bread recipe.  The almond taste is mild, the texture is wonderful . . . my husband likes it . . . and the recipe yields two loaves, so I can keep one at home and take one to work . . . a complete win-win . . .

Here's the recipe:

1 cup grapenut cereal
3 cups milk
1 cup  (1 can) almond paste, cut into small pieces
1 tablespoon butter
2 eggs, beaten
1½ cups sugar
3 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
  1. Combine cereal and mil and soak for one hour.
  2. Pre-heat oven to 350ºF.  Grease two 8x4x2 loaf pans.
  3. Cream almond paste, butter, eggs and sugar.  Add the mil and cereal mixture.
  4. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Add to the creamed mixture.
  5. Pour into loaf pans and bake for one hour or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Yields 2 loaves

The Christmas season continues . . .  As always, I pray for a year of epiphanies. May they teach me, and humble me, and guide me through the complicated labyrinth of life.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Tea Bread Tuesday: Cookies

Surely, at this time of year, it must be all right to take a detour from tea breads, and move into the realm of cookies, wouldn't you say?  I love cookies, but I don't enjoy baking them all that much.  I don't mind mixing the dough, but the baking process seems to take forever.  In and out of the oven with the cookie trays, the cooling racks . . . and they seem to me to be a bit persnickety with the oven temperature and the time in the oven.  They certainly aren't very forgiving if you become distracted . . . But, ahh . . . they are so wonderful! 

There's something magical about cookies, especially Christmas cookies . . .  So, instead of tea and bread, this week my husband and I enjoyed a fresh cup of coffee and a cookie plate, featuring Butterballs, Chocolate Chip Cookies and Cranberry-Chocolate-Chip Biscotti made by my sister-in-law, Angela!

Angela is a wonderful cook.  Everything she's ever baked for us has been delicious, and I'm not just saying that so she'll read this and send us more biscotti (but if you want to, Angela, Lee loves the ones you made with pistachios).  She sent us the biscotti for Christmas and I hid it from the kids.  Am I a horrible mother?  See, the thing is that my kids do not have a very sophisticated palate and it seemed a waste to let them eat these scrumptious morsels, when they'd be just as happy with Oreos . . . and I did let them eat the homemade Chocolate Chip cookies, which is what they always ask for anyway . . .

For the Chocolate Chip cookies, I just followed the directions for Nestlé Toll House Cookies.  The Butterballs came from The Silver Palate Cookbook.  Here's the recipe for the Butterballs:

8 tablespoons (1 stick) sweet butter, softened
3 tablespoons honey
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup shelled pecans, chopped moderately fine
¾ cup confectioner's sugar

  1. Preheat oven to 300°F.  Grease one or two cookie sheets.
  2. Cream butter.  Beat in honey; gradually mix in flour and salt, then vanilla.  Add pecans.  Wrap dough in plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour.
  3. Form balls by hand, the size of quarters.  Place 2 inches apart on the prepared cookie sheets.  Bake for 35-40 minutes.
  4. Remove from oven; as soon as cool enough to touch, roll in confectioner's sugar.  Allow to cool and roll again in sugar.
Yields about 36 cookies.

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FLASH UPDATE ON THE COMPUTER SPEAKER:  My son, John, is taking it with him back to school.  I'm glad that it's going to be put to use, but this can be such a horrible setback!  The last thing a pack-rat needs is to be emboldened by someone actually needing something they've picked up.  They can't wait to say:  "See?"  "I knew it was a good thing to bring home!"  It makes it ever so much more difficult to discourage them . . .

Monday, January 3, 2011

Marital Discord: Two Obsessive-Compulsive Neurotics Sharing Living Quarters

I walked in the house tonight and found this on the kitchen table . . .

I won't keep you in suspense:  This salt-shaker-looking thing is a computer speaker . . . a used, 6 or 7-year-old speaker that my husband brought home from work . . . because they were throwing it out!  Mind you, he didn't bring it home because he found it interesting-looking.  Nope.  My husband, bless his heart, is all about function.  Robert M. Pirsig (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) might have said that my DH sees the classic beauty of the object, not the romantic.  He also didn't bring it home because he needed it.  As a matter of fact, he has a new set of speakers that came with the new computer he got for Christmas.  He brought it home because he has a pack-rat compulsion to bring home electronic "things" which even if he can't use immediately, he can save for that rainy day when China stops manufacturing them . . .

I fully realize that we all have our little quirks, and one of mine is trying to keep junk from finding a spot in the house and marking its turf . . . and I can be quite obsessive about it . . . but we just spent Sunday cleaning out part of the basement and organizing the Laundry Room and the pantry . . . I couldn't believe that after all that work he'd bring home . . . more junk?  So soon????  Arrgh!!!

By the way, I read this post to him before I published it . . . he just laughed.  The speaker will make its way to the basement and I'll be looking at this ugly thing on and off for the next decade until he finally convinces himself that it's time to let it go . . . And you know what?  It could be worse.  We have relatives (on both sides) that could give lessons in collecting stuff.  I mean, college-level lessons, Pack-Ratting 101.  Sometimes, I have to remind myself of how much worse it could be . . .

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Meditation: Not Om . . . but Hiss . . .

I love ironing.  I know, there aren't too many of us out there . . . (maybe there's a blog . . . ).  I use a Rowenta iron, which I've owned for close to 15 years.  I remember how guilty I felt when I bought it all those years ago . . . I think I paid over $100 for it, although now you can find it for considerably less.  It seemed like an outrageous amount of money to pay for an iron, even though I was ironing a lot of shirts every week while the boys were attending Catholic school . . . but I seem to have gotten my money's worth . . .

For me, ironing is a way to relax while still being productive . . . I love the smell of water vapor being released . . . And then, there's the hiss of the iron (set to maximum steam if possible) when it touches the damp fabric . . .  It's a multi-sensory experience!  Some people burn candles or incense when they meditate . . . I use my steam iron . . .

Our Laundry Room is small and does not allow enough space to be able to leave the ironing board unfolded and ready to go.  And, between the lack of convenience and my busy life, I end up taking a lot of stuff to the dry cleaners that I once ironed myself.  But I'm very particular about my tablecloths and napkins, and I haven't found a cleaners nearby that will press them to my satisfaction.  I mean, is it too much to ask that all napkin corners match when folded in half . . . ?

Or that they give me a crease down the middle of the tablecloth and that they fold the tablecloth in half the long way . . . ?  These dry cleaners insist on folding the tablecloth in half the short way, even when I specifically instruct them to crease it the other way . . . I've given up and just press them myself . . .

This is one of the tablecloths that we used on Christmas Eve . . . now nicely pressed and waiting for the next dinner party . . .

A beautiful tablescape begins here . . .