Wednesday, January 16, 2019

When life gives you lemons

When life gives you lemons in the form of an ice storm and you're confined to the house because your driveway turns into a slalom run you can get fidgety after a couple of days.  Usually I get the urge to bake and that was today.

First, an orange citrus cake
 Combining the zest of a lemon and an orange into sugar.  I think this is what heaven must smell like

 I am a confirmed, dyed in the wool King Arthur flour user but I was gifted two bags of flour from King Milling at Christmas so I broke with tradition and used the flour that is milled just down the street. Go local!

 More juice, more zest and a little powdered sugar for a glaze and well, there isn't anything not to like here.

With still more leftover from Christmas baking ingredients (cream cheese and butter)in the fridge I went for altering the cream cheese pound cake recipe that I use.   I added the zest and juice from two lemons into the batter. Everyone loves this cake and it freezes really well so having one of these in the freezer to slice hunks off now and then when a dessert is needed has been a life saver many times. We'll see if the lemon comes through the cream cheese.

      This brings me to my latest long term experiment.  I decided to make my own vanilla.  Have you seen the price of vanilla lately?  About a year ago the price went up by a considerable amount.  I buy my vanilla from Penzey's and really do cringe when I buy it in the grocery store when I need an emergency bottle.  There IS a difference.  
      So, at Christmas I was looking through the King Arthur baking catalog and saw they had little kits to make your own vanilla extract.  I was intrigued enough to Google, Pinterest and King Arthur the idea and do a little thinking.  
      Many people absolutely swore by the beans they bought from a company called Beanilla.  So I looked them up and truly was stunned to see this place is about 20 minutes from me in the next town over.  I sent an email asking if they had a storefront and was told no, they were mail order, but if I wanted to come in someone would spend time with me explaining the different beans, flavors, etc.
     So, I went in the next day.  I was treated to a sniff test of four different beans from four different parts of the world and given lots of advice. There IS a difference in bean taste.  Mostly, I was told if I use bourbon or rum it will of course, alter the taste of what I think of as vanilla extract.  Do that after trying the vodka way first. 
     Cost for vanilla being what it is, (Mexico doesn't even grow it anymore, I was told)  I went with the starter "kit" of a bottle and seven beans, basically, paying for the beans and getting the jar free.  They recommend seven beans per cup of alcohol.  When I told them I had a quart jar with a good stopper top at home and hoped to use that I was told the beans to fill that jar would cost over $100.  Ok. Again, let's start at the start and see how it goes.
      I couldn't believe the beans.  I was told to handle them, rub them, smell them, feel them. They were so fresh the fat beans felt like I was rolling a raisin in my fingers.  People online complained about the 'sticks' they got when ordering from Amazon.  You DO get what you pay for.  Every time.
  I came home, washed the jar, took off the label and then split the beans, put them back in the jar, and by the way, my hands smelled like heaven the rest of the night, and poured in a cup of vodka.  Put it in a dark place for 8 weeks, giving it a good shake once a week.
     In the end, when this batch is done I will pour it into another jar and put more alcohol into these beans.  I was told I could get two solid batches from these beans.  If you get into this you could spend your pension on vanilla beans.  But I bake and I swear there is a difference in vanilla.

Two weeks.

You know how you put things off?  I always say "when I break my leg I'll get to this stuff" and decided staying out of the ice yesterday was a good way to NOT break a leg and got out the tub of scraps I save for string blocks.

 No rhyme, reason,  or pattern, I just sewed strips to paper, grabbing and sorting only according to what fit the length I needed, I made a pile.
After ironing and trimming I have a good pile of variety.

Now, the girls are on their second day off school because of the ice and they want to come here for awhile because they are feeling squirrely at home.   The squirrels in the forest here are going to love this.  They get fed heartily when the girls are here. 

 Oops. Squirrels lose. They decided they wanted to "concoct" so they raided the spice cabinet and are off to the bathroom. Mad scientists.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019


 Scrublands by Chris Hammer

Generally I don’t read a lot of crime fiction but I am fascinated and obsessed with Australia, especially the toughness of both the people and the landscape of the Outback. You’d have to be tough to live there. So, when I was offered an advance copy of Scrublands there was no question I’d want to read it.

Riversend is dying. A prolonged drought as left the place decimated. There is so little left of Riversend that what businesses are still there are open for just a couple of days a week for just a couple of hours a day. There are so few people left in town to serve. But there are a few and one Sunday the priest stands on the steps of the church and in full view of everyone guns down five of the town’s men and then makes sure he, too, is killed. In any town this would be catastrophic but in a compact, dying town it’s even worse than that. No spoiler alert here, this is on page two.

A year later Martin Scarsden arrives in town. A journalist, he is sent to ‘get a feel’ for how the town has healed, or not, in the year since the killings.

This is where the story really starts to travel. Just when you think it’s going down one road and you’ll be along for the ride, that it’s quite obvious a place like Riversend does not recover from something like what happened, it dives deeper. Martin finds people explain the priests death through the rumors that surfaced he had abused some of the boys in town. Some believe and some don’t. But a reporter can’t let something like this alone and as he gets to know people and little snippets of stories don’t make sense, Martin probes further and the story begins to web out in ways you just have to trust.

In the midst of all of this, the bodies of two German backpackers are discovered in the scrubland beyond town and Martin is working against time, his newspaper, rumors and the truth. Layer upon layer, the story goes even deeper into the community, the people, the landscape is even a ‘character.’

After reading the beginning I seriously questioned why the book was so long. What was there to discover? Silly me. Upon finishing this I closed the book and thought, “Phew! What a ride!”

Thursday, January 3, 2019


There is a weaving studio in town called Ability Weavers.  Their mission is to provide a purpose for young adults with autism. They offer classes and today I took the girls to try their hand at weaving a rug for themselves.
 They first had to make some decisions on what colors and texture they wanted and then wind their shuttles.
 Elizabeth wanted a fuzzy rug and Adelaide wanted red.

 The looms were full size and some in the room were 100 years old.  Elizabeth  could sit but
 Adelaide needed to stand at hers.  Three hours standing and learning which petal to push and pulling on the "wapping arm"  made for a long day for her. 
There was no doubt they knew what they wanted to do, setting their patterns in their heads, counting rows, adding strings of fabric, it was very physical but they got in the groove and really did well.

 Unrolling their rug from the loom was a big accomplishment and they were applauded by everyone in the room.
 Cutting the strings was really the last straw.  The owner of the studio then set the ends in a hem for them.
The proud weavers!  They did these themselves!

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Death of a Rainmaker

Death of a Rainmaker:A Dust Bowl Mystery by Laurie Loewenstein
Physically, the country struggled greatly during the Great Depression, and when a drought and subsequent dust storms send the Plains into even further turmoil, it took courage to stay put on the land and survive until the next day. For some, it meant leaving. For others it meant staying.

Sheriff Temple Jennings was charged with taking care of Vermillion, Oklahoma’s citizens and when during the biggest and blackest dust storm on record obliterates everything, forcing people to shelter in place, it was a surprise and a mystery to find the body of con man, Roland Coombs, dead in an alley.
Almost immediately the sheriff has a suspect in a young CCC.

The sheriff’s wife, though, is convinced the young suspect is innocent and proceeds, behind her husband’s back, to prove the young man’s innocence. She is chasing her own demons here, because the young man reminds her of her dead son.

There are characters that you root for in this story and as the story unfolds, some who surprise you. But it’s the town of Vermillion that you are rooting for. You want it to rain, you want the wind to stop blowing, you want the farmers to be able to stay on their land, you want the banks to have a heart, you want people to not have to try so darned hard to survive this place and this time.

I’ve always been fascinated with the lives of the little people during the Great Depression and Dustbowl. I understand, I think, how economically our country was driven to this time but I want to peek into the windows of the people who live in their everyday houses in their anywhere towns trying to hold on for one more day that I’m interested in. Laurie Loewenstein has parted the curtains for us in Death of a Rainmaker.