Wednesday, November 30, 2011

November wrap-up

1. I have managed to not take Miss B out to sell Girl Scout cookies door to door every day this week.

2. It took me until today to finish unpacking my suitcase, after arriving home on Saturday.

3. I think my guitar teacher secretly considers me the most butter-fingered student he's ever had.

4. I have yet to buy a single Christmas present, or even make my list.

5. Nearly everyone else on my street has their lights up already. I just got around to taking the shrivelled jack-'o'-lanterns off the front steps. (Don't even get me started on the leaves we haven't raked.)

6. BUT I have put up a blog post every day in November. I have completed #NaBloPoMo! And I've had so much fun doing it that I'm seriously thinking about carrying on. (Watch this space tomorrow to see if that actually happens.)


Tuesday, November 29, 2011


I was on the phone with SP the other night while she was trying to cook following a recipe, and cursing freely while she did so. I asked her a bunch of questions to find out why she was so frustrated, and ended up explaining why she was doing several of the steps the recipe specified. This (although I think it helped in the end) frustrated her even more. “Why doesn’t the recipe tell me that?” she fumed. “What would happen if I didn’t have someone around that I could ask?”

I think that this question touches upon a basic issue in cooking, which is that recipes don’t actually teach you how to cook. They will tell how you how to construct one particular item (training), but it’s a long process to extract from one recipe (or even a lot of recipes) how the principles of cooking work (education). I speak from experience, since that’s largely how I’ve learned to cook: I started knowing out how to make a couple of things, tried a lot of different recipes, and through trial and error and just cooking, day after day, week after week, started to connect the dots and understand the principles underlying all these seemingly unconnected sets of instructions. It took a long time before I felt like I was getting it. And I was interested in the process, and interested in learning more; I pored over cookbooks, read food blogs by the dozen, started my own eventually, and generally paid close attention to what was happening. I wasn’t fearless, but I wasn’t thoroughly intimidated either. I was also lucky enough to have some foundation to build on, from having grown up in a house where home-cooked food was provided on a daily basis. But what if I hadn’t been? How do people do it?

I think it must be like me trying to do any kind of home repair or maintenance. Neither of my parents is particularly handy, so anything of that sort was either attended to with a lot of cursing and stress, or else a professional was called in. That was the model I grew up with, and I haven’t had the inclination to change it much. I have figured out how to do some minor things by following instructions (ie training), but I’m chagrined to acknowledge sometimes how little I understand about how my house works as a system (ie education). But most of the time (touch wood) that doesn’t affect my daily life in the way that food does. I mean, everyone has to eat, and for most people, that is a three-times-a-day occurrence. Throw a few small children into the mix, and it’s more like five times. How frustrating must it be to be confronted, day after day, with something you don’t feel knowledgeable about, and yet need in order to survive and function? And that’s without even getting into the complicated emotional issues that are always, always tied up with food and eating.

So what’s the point of all this? I don’t know, but I think it ties in to a lot of bigger issues—to do with food, to do with education, to do with how things work generally. What do you think?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Orange soup

In one of countless conversations about food during our Dallas visit, C. described a soup that her French mother used to make, known in her family only as “orange soup” and consisting of three ingredients: leeks, potatoes, and lots of carrots. I don’t remember what we were talking about that raised this memory, but that brief description lodged in my brain and was waiting for me when I cast around yesterday for something simple and hearty to make for dinner.

Orange soup
I think of this as basically a potato-leek soup with carrots added in, which to my mind makes it a more nutritious option—potato-leek soup, as delicious as it is, always seems too, I dunno, beige to be a convincing source of vegetables. This, on the other hand, is bursting with beta carotene and clearly good for you. I don’t know how much resemblance it bears to C.’s mother’s standby, but it was very well received here.

2 Tbsp olive oil
4 medium leeks
8 carrots
4 medium potatoes
4-6 cups water or stock
salt & pepper

Pour the olive oil into a large soup pot and warm over medium-low heat. Scrub, roughly chop, and add the vegetables in the order specified. Sauté briefly in the olive oil, then add water or stock to cover. Bring just to a boil and then simmer until all the vegetables are soft, 45-60 minutes.

Remove pot from heat and purée soup using an immersion blender; return to heat and season to taste with salt & pepper. Serve with good bread and lots of cheese for a lunch or light dinner.

Makes about 2 quarts of soup.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Roving turkey

Among the souvenirs that I brought back from our Thanksgiving trip to Dallas was the turkey carcass. Do you think this is insane? DP certainly did, and threatened more than once to hurl it out in the window into the Oklahoma countryside if he caught the merest whiff of anything off. Our hostess, C., and I, however, thought it was a perfectly sensible idea. On Friday evening we stripped the carcass, double-wrapped it in a (clean) garbage bag, and stuck it in the freezer. On Saturday morning, moments before our departure, we retrieved it, stiff as a board, and encased it in another double garbage bag full of ice. We were untroubled by sun or warmth of any kind on our trip home (howling wind, grey skies, and drizzle were the order of the day), and nine hours later we arrived in northwestern Missouri with our friend Tom still frozen solid. As I write this, he is bubbling gently in my slow cooker with a few carrots and leek tops, brewing up a batch of turkey stock and making the house smell delicious. So--insane or not? The way I see it, I didn't host, which means I don't have the fun of a fridge full of leftovers. This almost makes up for it.

Hope the end of your Thanksgiving (or regular) weekend has been full of good things. Until tomorrow!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Saturday shuffle

Re-discovered this week--possibly my favorite Sinéad O'Connor song of all. Blasted in the car today to help us power through the loooong drive home. Happy weekend all!

Friday digest

A random catalog of events from our last full day in the Lone Star State:

- My soon-to-be-former job has necessitated working during my holiday; probably less than I should have, and yet more than I would have liked. Roll on December 16.

- Today, briefly, it was me on the grassy knoll.

- Any day that includes a margarita at lunch, gingerbread-house construction, and homemade apple pie is a good day in my book.

- Not to mention a complete absence of any Black Friday-type activities. I didn't even manage to buy any souvenirs.

- I did, however, finally watch 127 Hours--at least 30 minutes of it through my fingers. Very intense, and yet seemed to last, if not actually 127 hours, then definitely more than two. And, of course, James Franco.

So that's the Friday holiday excitement around here. Hope yours has been equally enthralling.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

Taking a break from digesting today's feast to wish all who celebrate a very Happy Thanksgiving--and all who don't a very happy Thursday/Friday! Since I can't improve on my 2008 Gratitude List, here it is again. Enjoy! I, meanwhile, will be trying to convince my husband to play board games.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Lone Star edition

Autumn birthdays

Having an autumn birthday seems kind of awesome, if only for the seasonal food themes that spill over into dessert. Particularly pumpkin, to which I am a recent convert. After failing to see the point of pumpkin desserts most of my life, I made these chocolate-pumpkin tartlets and have had to rethink my whole position on this matter. Seeking to explore the combination further, I volunteered to follow up my first-time catering gig with a November birthday cake for SP's husband without revealing my agenda.

"He'd love something with pumpkin," she suggested.

You don't say.

Pumpkin spice cake with chocolate cream cheese frosting
I made the cake using a double batch of my favorite Victoria sponge recipe, adding about a cup of pumpkin and a healthy teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice. I baked it in four layers, and filled and frosted it with an adaptation of my standard chocolate frosting recipe. The slight tang of the cream cheese helps to cut through the rich sweetness of the pumpkin, and the combination is pretty sensational. Could be a great Thanksgiving dessert, as well as a perfect autumn birthday cake.

4 blocks/4 oz/120 g unsweetened chocolate, melted
1 block/8 oz/240 g cream cheese, softened
1 lb/450 g powdered/icing sugar, sifted if necessary to remove any lumps
~2 Tbsp/30 ml milk

Using a hand mixer, beat together the chocolate and cream cheese until well combined, then gradually add the sugar, beating in until the mixture achieves a smooth, glossy consistency. Add milk as needed until the frosting reaches a consistency that is suitable for spreading, but will still hold its shape.

Makes enough to generously fill and frost one two- or four-layer cake.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Trip planning

We are heading off on another road trip tomorrow, to spend Thanksgiving in Dallas with friends. True to form, I am up late the night before, getting everything ready. Even more true to form, I have yet to pack my suitcase, but the food bag is organized and basically ready to go, containing the following for gifts:
Please note that this does not include the bag of food for us to have on hand for the trip down--that is separate. Also that I have only now checked the weather so that I can make final decisions on what clothes I need to bring. Priorities, people!

Any Thanksgiving, trip, or other planning going on round your way?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sunday puttering

Today was the first weekend day I had been able to spend at home in ages. I had no outings, children’s sporting events, invited guests, or in fact any commitment that interfered with my doing exactly what I wanted (or needed) to do. I mopped the kitchen floor. I cleaned both bathrooms. I did two loads of laundry. I took down the Halloween decorations, and hung an awesome wreath, made entirely of star anise, that SP gave me a couple of weeks ago. I even read for a while. And I did some holiday prep cooking. This morning, I canned six jars of blackberry-apple butter that I had cooked down overnight in the slow cooker. This evening, I cooked a huge batch of cranberry sauce and canned six jars of that as well. I could easily have canned twice that much, but I ran out of small jars, so the rest is cooling in a plastic storage box until I figure out what to do with it next. And in between, I made a batch of Sweet & spicy roasted mixed nuts. (I’m planning to use all of these for gifts, holiday baking, or just to have on hand as needed over the next six weeks.)

I think I feel almost ready to take on another working week. At least one that’s only half as long as usual.

Whole cranberry sauce
One year, I thought this needed something and threw in some lime zest and juice on a whim. It’s become a non-negotiable part of the recipe.

1 bag fresh cranberries
1 cup apple juice
zest & juice of 1 lime
½ - 1 cup sugar
pinch kosher salt

Bring cranberries and juice to a boil in a saucepan over medium heat. Lower and let simmer until most of the cranberries have popped and the mixture has become thick and saucelike. Add lime juice and zest, then start adding sugar a little at a time until you’ve reached a sweet/tart balance that you’re happy with. Add a pinch of salt and pour into a container to cool until needed. To can, follow the usual method and process in boiling water for 10 minutes.

You could also put this through a food mill if you'd like a smoother, more jelly-like sauce with no skins.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

New skills

I’ve written previously about some of the cooking skills I’ve been working on this year, including canning, making tapas, and most recently, catering a party for 40. I have not, however, limited my explorations to the kitchen: last month I bought a DLSR camera and took a photography workshop; Miss B and I have started learning to play the guitar this fall; and today, for the first time ever, I attempted pottery.

A friend of mine who has a pottery studio in Lawrence offered me (and Miss B, if she was interested) a free lesson in pot-throwing, and this afternoon we went to try it out. I expected Miss B to take up the other activity on offer—bowling with the dads—but somewhat to my surprise, she opted to stay in the studio and give pottery a try. I helped her figure out how to run her wheel, turned her over to K.’s capable instruction, and then settled myself in to start learning.

It was a very zen experience. I attempted four pots, and ruined (“crashed”) three of them, but considering I was starting from zero I hadn’t really expected anything else. K. told me that quite often adult students get frustrated at not being able to produce something right away, but I really enjoyed getting my hands dirty and putting everything else aside to focus on how to understand what the clay was doing and how what I did with my hands affected it. Even though I was sitting down the whole time, it reminded me of the kind of intense physical activity where you have to focus completely on what you’re doing and your brain switches off completely from the kind of low-level buzz of background thinking that is going on the rest of the time.

My one successful piece is going to end up as a mug, I think. Next time I go, I’ll get to figure out how to paint it. By then maybe I’ll have made enough progress using my DLSR to photograph it. Attractively lit, even.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Reader question!

This morning, I found an email in my inbox from a faraway friend and regular reader which included the following question:

"What the heck is this NaBloPoMo you keep mentioning anyway?"

Which made me wonder if perhaps she wasn't the only one wondering this. So, a bit of explanation:

NaBloPoMo stands for National Blog Posting Month, an informal blogging event which happens every November. By participating, bloggers challenge themselves to publish one blog post every day of the month. NaBloPoMo was conceived as a writing discipline for bloggers, along the lines of the already established National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), in which fiction writers challenge themselves to produce a 50,000-word manuscript in one month. Bloggers, however, have no such targets for length of blog posts.

One of the informational articles I read for background also notes the following:

"In some ways, NaBloPoMo is more challenging than NaNoWriMo, because NaBloPoMo participants cannot take days off or extensively modify their writing schedules: they must generate new material every day for thirty days. As a result, the attrition rate in the challenge is very high, with many participants dropping out in the first week of NaBloPoMo."

So I'm feeling pretty good that I'm past the halfway point and making steady progress--in fact, I'm finding the discipline is getting my brain working and ideas are percolating, which is just what I'd hoped for. Plus it's so nice to see that loooong list of posts under November, especially after last month, when I managed an all-time personal worst of a measly 3 posts.

N, I hope that answers your question. Thanks for following along!

Hope everyone is looking forward to or already having a nice weekend. More tomorrow!

Ten things

Things I did today:

1. Wrangled a skittish cat through a Pet Day presentation to 50 first graders.

2. Bought 5 bags of cranberries and 10 pounds of apples.

3. Made the first public announcement (of several) that I am resigning from a project that has been part of my working life for nearly 10 years.

4. Improvised math-homework manipulatives out of colored paper clips.

5. Wore my winter coat for the first time.

6. Discovered an authentic small town nearby, hidden behind a barrier of strip-mall nowheresville.

7. Ate some truly delicious homemade Mexican food.

8. Managed to get to a KC bloggers' meetup for the first time in 6 months.

9. Used the word "pedestrian" in a sentence.

10. Kept on schedule for #NaBloPoMo with minutes to spare.

How 'bout you?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Website Wednesday: Prairie Edition

Almanzo James Wilder
Have you seen the website My Daguerrotype Boyfriend? Subtitled "Where Early Photography Meets Extreme Hotness?" And featuring, among many other old-time cuties, Mr. Laura Ingalls Wilder. Do go and enjoy.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Chocolate-pumpkin tartlets

Okay, I think I've recovered. I ate leftover Thai food for lunch today, always a sign that my appetite is fully operational. So, on to my last catering recipe: pumpkin-chocolate tartlets.

These were almost my downfall. I started off following this recipe from Delicious Dishings, but something went horribly wrong with my chocolate sablé crust, possibly because I made it in the food processor instead of a stand mixer as recommended. (This is what happens when you don't own a stand mixer. Chocolate sablé crust isn't happening with a hand mixer.) Whatever the reason, I could not roll the crust out; first, it was too crumbly, and then it kind of melted under pressure. I scraped it onto a parchment-lined baking tray, figuring I could bake it in a sheet and then cut out the bases that way, but this too was a non-starter: after only a brief bake in the oven, the dough went right back to being crumbly, and nearly every disk I managed to cut out promptly fell apart.

At 1:00 am on Sunday, I gave up in despair and went to bed, grateful that at least I could swap some other dessert in if necessary and no one (except SP) would ever know. But when I awoke six hours later, my subconscious had provided a solution to my dilemma: make the chocolate base out of brownies instead.

So I did. I made up a basic brownie batter, plopped it into a piping bag, and piped it into mini muffin cups. I underbaked them slightly, and as they came out of the oven I pressed down the center of each one to make a well for the pumpkin pastry cream filling. I finished assembling them at SP's house, using the same piping-bag trick to make the pastry cream look pretty, and topped them with a garnish of grated dark chocolate, as the original recipe intended.

I'd never eaten pumpkin and chocolate together before, but learned from these that it's a pretty great combination. I think the guests agreed; SP told me that she was upstairs with a group of guests when another guest came charging upstairs holding one. He burst into the room and exclaimed to one of her group, "Have you tried these? You have to try these!"

That's my kind of customer appreciation.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Unwanted souvenirs

Unfortunately, in addition to some great memories and a few carefully chosen souvenirs, it appears we also brought home some kind of unpleasant stomach bug that brought Miss B home from school early today and has left me totally uninterested in eating or even thinking about food. All the more cruel given that I finally managed to buy The Little House Cookbook, which I've been meaning to track down for ages and which not only includes recipes for all the many dishes described in all the books, but also sets them in the context of some pretty interesting agricultural, culinary, and social history. And as a bonus, I discovered The Laura Ingalls Wilder Country Cookbook, produced from the author's own recipe notebook. Yes, of course I bought both of them. What better souvenir(s) could I take away from such a memorable visit? And they will endure after this malaise is a distant memory, even if I can't bring myself to look at them just now.

Hoping to be back to regularly scheduled #NaBloPoMo food natterings tomorrow. I've still got a pumpkin-chocolate tartlet recipe from last week to post about!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Prairie weekend

I had a prairie kind of weekend: I went to visit Rocky Ridge Farm, where Laura Ingalls Wilder lived for more than 60 years and wrote the "Little House" books:

got up close and personal with some bison at Prairie State Park:

and rounded off my 19th-century field trip with a visit to the now-defunct US Army Fort Scott:

Oh, and I also went to a "dessert lounge" for the first time ever. Kind of the antithesis of a prairie experience:

Is this a thing now? It would be nice to know just how out of the loop I'm getting while I'm off examining calico sunbonnets and such.

What adventures did you have this weekend?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Saturday shuffle

This song is in very heavy rotation on my iPod at the moment. Eddie Vedder on the ukulele--sounds like a bad joke, doesn't it? But it's so, so good.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veterans' Day

This post originally appeared on November 11, 2009. 

Armistice Day. Poppy Day. Remembrance Day. Whatever you call it, please spare a moment on November 11 to remember and honor those who have given their skills, their bodies and brains, and their lives in armed service—including those who serve today.

Even if you vehemently oppose the conflicts, past or present, in which they took part; even if you consider their capabilities and lives wasted as a result of bad political decisions, blundering generalship, or misguided ideals; even if you disagree in every particular with the use of force to settle political disputes: please, pause for a moment to honor the individuals: their courage, which was maybe just fear overcome; their fortitude and endurance; and the things that they lost, and that we have, and have the luxury to take for granted, every day.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

- from "Anthem for Doomed Youth", Wilfred Owen, 1917

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Thanksgiving in a cup

This was a collaboration. When SP and I were discussing what she wanted to serve, she requested something that would provide all the flavors of Thanksgiving dinner in one small package, and that could easily be eaten standing up. I went away and cogitated, and this was the result. They were a big, big hit.

Thanksgiving turkey salad in wonton cups
The idea for wonton cups came from the endlessly inspirational Dinner with Julie. I baked the wonton cups two days ahead of time and sealed them in heavy-duty zipper storage bags, ready for stuffing at the last moment. They were perfect on the day (aside from the two that got crushed in transit).

This recipe has quite a few steps and ingredients, but none are difficult—it just takes time and a bit of planning.

96 wontons
4 cups stock or water
2 cloves garlic, peeled
6 sticks celery
4 turkey breasts
1 cup dried cranberries
2 Tbsp bacon fat or butter
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
½ cup white wine
2 cups turkey stock
2 cups panko bread crumbs
2-3 Tbsp mayonnaise
1-2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
Salt & pepper

To make the wonton cups: press wontons into mini-muffin tins, making sure to firmly press folds against the sides and keep overflow from flopping over on itself. Bake in a 350F/180C oven for 10-20 minutes, or until golden. Set aside to cool.

To prepare the turkey: bring stock or water and garlic to a simmer. Add the turkey breasts, then chop and add 2 of the celery sticks. Poach until fully cooked. (I did this in the slow cooker, and left them in for about 2 hours.) When ready, remove from heat, place in a storage container and pour some of the poaching liquid over, and refrigerate. (I did this the day before.) Reserve the rest of the poaching liquid: you will need it for the next two steps.

To prepare the cranberries: place the cranberries in a heatproof bowl or jug, and pour the hot poaching liquid over. Set aside to steep until plump and juicy.

To prepare the bread sauce: in a small saucepan on medium heat, melt bacon fat. Add flour and stir to combine; cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring continuously, or until the flour starts to smell cooked. Add wine and continue stirring, then stock—more stirring. Bring mixture just to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the gravy has begun to thicken up. Add bread crumbs and stir to combine, then leave to simmer until a thick sauce forms. Season with salt & pepper to taste and set aside. (I made this the day before also, and by the day of the event it had cooled to a solid mass.)

When ready to assemble the salad: first dice the turkey into small chunks and place in a large bowl. Chop the remaining 4 celery sticks and add to the turkey, then drain and add the steeped cranberries in ½-cup measures until you have an amount that you consider sufficient. Add chunks of the bread sauce and begin turning to mix thoroughly. Continue adding cranberries and bread sauce to achieve a proportional mix of ingredients that makes you happy. Add mayonnaise and mustard to bind, and salt & pepper to taste.

To assemble the cups: stuff each wonton cup with a heaping teaspoon of salad. Makes 96 wontons, with enough turkey salad left over for a couple of sandwiches.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Mixed nuts

On Sunday morning, I had a momentary panic that the seven menu items I had already decided on and begun preparing would not after all be enough food to adequately stuff the 40 or so Vintage Home Society members expected at SP’s that evening. This was brought on by observing the double batch of Cheddar-Pecan Shortbread I had just finished packing, rattling around loosely in the bottom of a medium-sized plastic storage box, looking thoroughly insufficient. Don’t caterers always have everything in enormous quantities? What was I doing showing up with one of the menu items packed in a lunchbox-sized container that wasn’t even full? Could I make my amateur status any more apparent?

I frantically took stock of my supplies, equipment, and recipe collection to see what I could rustle up that would supplement the paltry shortbread rations in the “nibbles” section of the menu, and maintain its autumn theme, all without throwing me completely off schedule (or kilter).

Once again the slow cooker saved the day. Aided and abetted by a bunch of nuts.

Oh, and by the way--there was more than enough food. Probably would have been even without the nuts. But over-catering is a security blanket, especially for a novice.

Sweet and spicy roasted mixed nuts
Adapted from Nigella Bites
Toasting nuts in the slow cooker is much easier than in the oven—no real need to worry about burning, which can happen very quickly in the oven or on the stovetop.

2 lbs/1 kg assorted unsalted nuts (I used almonds and hazelnuts because that’s what I had in the pantry)
4 tsp/20 ml maple syrup
2 Tbsp/30 g browned butter
2 4 in/8 cm sprigs of fresh rosemary
½ to 1 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp/10 g kosher salt

Preheat the slow cooker to its highest setting. When hot, add the nuts and allow to cook with the lid somewhat ajar (to let any moisture escape) until they begin to smell toasted. Stir regularly while this is happening; it could take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours, depending on the age and quality of your slow cooker—not to mention your nuts.

When nuts begin to smell toasted, lower the heat. In a small bowl, stir together the maple syrup, butter, and cayenne, and mix to your satisfaction. Chop the rosemary very finely and add.

Pour mixture over nuts in slow cooker and stir to coat each thoroughly. Sprinkle salt over and stir again. Shut slow cooker off and leave roasted nuts in, uncovered, to cool.

Makes about 2 lbs/1 kg of nuts. Supremely nibblable.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Autumn sangria

I put up a post last July expressing my belief that "recipe for sangria" is an oxymoron. Having made umpteen additional batches since then, my belief has hardened into certainty. Having said that, here's what I did to make an autumn sangria for Sunday's party. (Unfortunately I forgot to take any pictures of it--sorry about that.)

3 apples
1 pear
1 half pint blackberries
2 Tbsp lime juice
2-4 Tbsp sugar
2 bottles Chianti
2 bottles Prosecco

Core the apples and pear, slice into thin rings, and dump in a bowl or wide-mouth pitcher.* Add blackberries and stir to combine everything. Sprinkle liberally with lemon juice and sugar; toss to coat thoroughly, mashing the fruit a little bit as you go to release some juice. Open and add all four bottles of wine, or one each of Chianti and Prosecco if your container can't hold as much. (You can top it up later.)

Best if made at least an hour before party time to allow the flavors to meld. Suggestions for keeping it cold without watering it down:

- freeze Sprite or a similar citrus fizzy drink in ice cube trays
- freeze grapes or berries
- freeze some of the wine

Serves approximately 20 glasses. Adapted considerably from Southern Living.

* We served it in a giant glass decanter jar with a spigot at the bottom. I'm not exaggerating the giant part: we poured in four bottles of wine and it was barely half full.

Tomorrow: nibbles!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Party menu

Feeling a bit more recovered from this weekend's attempt to play professional caterer. At least enough to run down the menu:
I've included links to the recipes that are already available here, and I'll provide the others over the next few days. Now I need to go lie down again.

Silent Sundays: amateur catering

I'm too tired to say anything coherent, so instead here's some pictures of my first-ever attempt at full-scale catering. Menu to follow tomorrow.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Saturday digest

Some random thoughts about what’s happening here at the end of a busy Saturday:

- DP has flitted off for a few days on a work jaunt with a colleague; we dropped him off at the airport late this morning. Given that we are used to him being gone for 4-6 weeks at a stretch, a 5-day absence seems like no big deal. Let’s hope that that is in fact the case!

- Miss B is in transports of joy because she left out a significant haul of candy for the Candy Fairy, and received a stuffed unicorn in return. Is this a post-Halloween thing where you are? I had never heard of it until we moved to the Midwest, but we’ve done it the last two years--even though, to quote Suburban Matron, it brings on one of those “moments when you don't just suspect, you KNOW that you are raising some of the most indulged creatures on earth, at any time, ever.” So very true, but mitigated somewhat by the fact that that little critter makes her so very happy.

- My friend SP is hosting a meeting of the local Vintage Homes Society at her house tomorrow (Sunday). She and her husband have been painstakingly renovating their early 20th century house for the last 2+ years, doing most of the work themselves, and this is their chance to show it off to some people who can really appreciate it. I offered to help with the food, knowing that SP loathes cooking, and as a result I am essentially doing a full-on catering job. It’s providing some useful practical experience and learning for me, since as much as I love to cook, I’ve never attempted to do it in any kind of professional capacity. More on all that later.

- After one serious rainstorm this week, we’ve gone from full-blown autumn color to naked trees everywhere. It looks like the bleak midwinter out there, but daytime temperatures are still in the 60s F (15ish C). Since some of my friends and relatives on the East Coast are still coping with the aftermath of last week’s freak October snowstorm, I’ve got no complaints to offer about the weather.

- I’m planning to take advantage of tonight’s time change extra hour to stay up, roll out pie crust, and watch Saturday Night Live (all at the same time!). It ends at midnight Central time, which tonight is like 11pm! Do I know how to party or what?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Halloween candy

I thought I had bought amount the same amount of candy as last year, and DP thought we had about the same number of trick-or-treaters as last year, or maybe even a few more. But there must have been a serious miscalculation somewhere, because as you can see, we’ve got a lot of leftover candy. Last year I came across Dinner with Julie’s idea for Leftover Halloween Candy Cookies, and excitedly parceled out small bags of various fun-size whatevers, inspired by the thought of recycling them into delicious treats.

They’re all still sitting on the bottom shelf in my pantry.

This year I’m not going to kid myself. I’m just boxing up all the leftover candy and sending it off to some people who will really appreciate it—servicepeople on active duty overseas, most likely in Afghanistan. Either I’ll get an address for a specific person from DP or, failing that, I’ll send it off to a place like Operation Shoebox, which accepts all such donations and makes sure they get to people who will appreciate them. If you can’t face the thought of even one more mini chocolate bar, perhaps this information might be useful to you as well?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Final harvest

Last Saturday was the last local farmers’ market of the season, and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen the last of my own garden’s produce as well. There should be enough to can one more batch of tomato sauce, and I’m thinking of roasting some of the sweet peppers and stashing them somewhere to use over the winter. Freezer? In glass jars in olive oil? Must do some research on that. (Opinions welcome also.) I’m going to dry the chili peppers; that’s only about a quarter of my yield (from one plant, no less!), so I should be well equipped to make any amount of spicy stuff for months to come.

I will miss the farmers’ market, but on the other hand it will be nice to sleep later than 6am on Saturday for a change. Silver lining yadda yadda.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

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