Saturday, January 28, 2023

Two is better than one

What's better than one chocolate cake?  Two.  Now, they may look the same but they are decidedly not.  

This one is my annual  birthday cake.  Even for a bakery cake, it's a moist cake, buttercream filling, chocolate shell.  It's delicious  but a once a year treat. 
This one is an icon in Detroit.  It's officially called a bumpy cake.  It got it's name, I understand, from an accidental running out of frosting at a bakery.  It's made in a sheet  pan and when the baker ran out of frosting for the top he instead just squirted a few rows of the white and then covered it in a flow of chocolate.  That's what I understand.  This layer version is called a "tube" cake because it's in a layer cake form but the rows of cream were on the top - in shape of tubes.  Copyrights, you know.  

Our son and DIL brought this along and wow! Two iconic chocolate cakes!  This had a much darker chocolate cake and that cream is NOT buttercream but so light and melt in your mouth you aren't sure you even ate it, it's more like whipped cream.  Oh, my.  To eat two pieces, one of each, after a dinner!  But it's your birthday just once a year.

Mike and I are a week apart so we have been sharing the day for the past few years.  He is wearing his presents including that tomahawk steak he's holding.  He wants his meat on a bone - whether chicken or beef or whatever.  He wants the bone.  And he loves his steak.  So, we decided you can't get a bigger steak on a bone than a tomahawk steak. 
Me and my chicks.   
And the whole flock.


Saturday, January 21, 2023

Quilt Exhibit


I don't know Sue, but I know OF her.  Most of my lakeshore quilty friends know her so when she became part of an exhibit at the art gallery here in town I knew I had to stop and see what she    entered.  

Feast your eyes.  












 Pretty cool, huh? 

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Lessons

 Third graders are back at the museum for their immersion into Lowell history. They spend two whole school days at the museum learning about Lowell through various activities.  I help lead one of them. We work them hard and I'm sure when they get home at the end of the day they fall asleep in their mashed potatoes. 


It looks like they are doing nothing but writing but  this is the only time they are still!   And after Day 1 they are grateful that on Day 2 they are sitting more than standing.  This is   a wonderful program for our local kids and wish school was like this when I was their age.  Boy, do I wish!

Lesson2

We are going to friends' house for dinner tomorrow night and I said I'd bring dessert ...of course.  As I always do, if something CAN be done ahead of time, it IS done ahead of time.  You never know what might happen when you make plans and that need to pivot is so much a part of our lives I just prep early.

One month during covid I decided to see what really was the best chocolate cake recipe that can be made.  I like my cakes moist, not dry, so I tested one recipe a week and of course tweaked things as I always do.  There was a clear winner.  Ina Garten's chocolate cake is now my go-to.  It is just exactly as good as everyone says it is.  My change?  I don't like coffee so where she adds a whole cup of hot coffee I add just hot water. I tried once to add coffee to a chocolate cake, like they all say to do but I can taste it so I don't do it. 

 I keep experimenting and one day Elizabeth asked for the chocolate cake of the day that I made with this particular filling for her birthday and I was having a busy week so I thought of making the filling ahead of time.  It's a filling made with butter, sugar and cooked flour and milk.  Kind of like the filling you get in those  Ho Ho cupcakes we can buy in gas stations.
I wondered if I could make the filling ahead of time.  It  had two sticks of butter in it so it would solidify if I put it in the fridge.  So. I made a circle on parchment the size of the cake pan and after whipping the filling I spread it within that circle, covered it with cling and put it in the fridge to harden.
It worked beautifully. When I needed it two days later I had it the exact size I needed and just took it out, and put it on the cake. 

Here's another trick I learned about  45 years ago when I took a cake decorating class.  Cut an old dish towel  it's length but 6 inches wide (basically, cut the towel in half lengthwise,) wet it, wring it out good and pin it around your cake pan.  This keeps the outside of your pan cool so the whole cake rises evenly and you don't get that hump in the middle you see people cut off to level a cake.  If your cake pans are 2 inches high, you will have folded the wet towel into a three fold, wrapped it around the pan and pinned it.

It comes out looking like this every time, level and ready.
Another trick I recently experimented with.  After making a ganache with whipping cream and chocolate chips (I also add a bit of vanilla and sometimes some malt powder to cut the chocolate) let it cool in the fridge so it's firm but not fudge rock hard. 
Then whip it. No sugar.  Just chocolate chips, heavy cream and a bit of vanilla. It's delicious and easy. This was a "hmmm, I wonder....." moment that worked.




Saturday, January 7, 2023

Patience

 Patience.  I'm not known for it but I'm working on it and getting better.  It's only with patience that a person can attempt to bake bread.  I love bread.  Good bread. My attempts at bread baking are a family joke but it does turn out, sometimes. I can do the cinnamon rolls and bunduki and small things but getting a loaf of bread to come out well and taste good, well, the success has been elusive. That doesn't mean I don't keep trying.   

For Christmas I received a wonderful book called Breadsong by Al and Kitty Tate.  At just 13 Kitty was suddenly consumed with anxiety and panic and couldn't seem to get out of it.  Her parents tried everything.   One day she watched her dad make a loaf of sourdough bread, one of those overnight in the cast iron pot things and it intrigued her and suddenly she had something to focus on. For the next couple of years her life, and that of her family was transformed by baking.  It's really a wonderful read.  In the back are her recipes. 

As you might remember from my adventures with sour dough and the starter I named Montana which eventually went to live with my next door neighbor, I'm not looking for another pet. So, because you can't read the book and NOT want to bake bread, I started with their loaf called Biga Bread. The process was different for but I soldiered on.


It turned out quite edible (for me, no reflection on them) but I had to make some adjustments. The heat of the oven was much too hot thus the browned top but the crumb is good and, I can't believe I'm saying this about ANY baked good, it's actually better on this, the third day.  I'm kind of a snob about wanting my baked goods fresh the day of. This is a pleasant surprise on day three.

And since it's just after the holidays and we have to balance all of those sweets with more carbs and starch, I was inspired to try pierogis after Friend Barb and I got talking about them.  Her son wants her to make some and I've never made them so why not?  

Now, this was my plan for Thursday while the Biga Bread was spending hours and hours proofing. But I had an unexpected thing to do so planned it for Friday.  PH and I are good at pivoting.  We spent Friday in the car.  So. Today. Pierogi.
I spent some time looking up recipes and decided everyone who makes them thinks theirs is the only and authentic recipe out there.  Wrong. It's like Grandma's spaghetti sauce, everyone has their own recipe and they are all different and theirs is the best.  I printed out two.  One was someone's grandma's and one was from the King Arthur website.

Very differerent. Very different.  The grandma recipe was very soft, easy to roll out and maneuver in my hand as I pinched the ends together
The King Arthur recipe dough was very stiff, it took ALL of my strength to roll it out and I mean that. I  almost didn't go with it.  It was a solid brick of dough.  But I made it so I used it. I rolled and rolled and rolled and rolled and thought of the Pasta Grannies and was inspired to keep going.   Many of them make something like this but call it different.  Potato and cheese (I used Ricotta) and sometimes onion (I did add caramelized onion) was the same.  The dough was very unforgiving, stiff after cut BUT when it came to pinching them shut the King Arthur dough was much easier to control.  Hmmmm

I made a few for taste testing. The deal is to boil them till they float then saute them in butter.  In Italy the pasta grannies pour melted butter over them instead of  sauteeing them in butter.  PH agreed with me, surprisingly, the King Arthur ones were better  if you are going to eat them as pierogi are eaten.  The others, the softer ones, I will place into the piva zupa (Polish Beer Soup) as we heat that up.

So, patience needed and applied and success.  

We were looking forward to promised sunshine today.  We haven't had sun since the beginning of December (yes, that's right ) and they promised today would be glorious but it was just as  gloomy as  the past weeks have been.  It's like walking around with a pillow case over your head. 

Quilting?  I'm plugging away at the butterflies and last night started putting the little squares on the soon to be pillow top.  Once you get the first square centered and sewn down, the rest can be lined up with that one so it goes well. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Holiday catch up

 Christmas 2022 is in the books.  We had the kids here for the 26th - 27th and had a wonderful visit.  Our son is now initiated into the driveway club. I don't know how he's made it so many years without getting stuck but he's all caught up and a member in good standing now.

Our annual photo of the kids. Three of them are now within an inch or two of being taller than PH and I.  Charlie has topped us.
There was grilling in the cold
and color coordinating going on


The day after they left the tree came down, decore all put away, everything dusted and tucked.
It got quiet really fast.  No baking, cooking, shopping, slicing, dicing, chopping. Just rejuvenating naps.

And then Chooky came to the rescue one afternoon with a quick zoom meet up.   I was on for a couple of hours and it was so nice to see people.  
And, the big news!  I'm working on quilting the butterflies.  Haven't picked up a needle in  many weeks but I'm getting back in the saddle with this one. 

Also sorting and positioning for color little squares for a pillow top. It's so gloomy and dark outside, and thus in the house I had to put this on a table in a window for daylight.  I will hand applique each square so in the end 
they will look like this.  This will be the third project I did with these little squares. One I sent off, this one is the map of zoom friends and the one in the windowsill will be a pillow. They are actually quite fun to do if you like hand applique.

So now it's January and it's quiet and I'm loving it. 


Friday, December 23, 2022

Cold


  It's all everyone is talking about, the cold, the wind, the snow (we have just 4 inches here but other places closer to Lake Michigan have much more) and the cold. Did I mention the cold? This little blue jay is all puffed up trying to stay warm as the birds are eating me out of house and home.  I want to open the door and let them all in the house.  I've heard from Brian in England, Jenny in Australia, our son checked in from the other side of the state.  The weather people have the maps all colored in pretty colors, and they are jabbering about nothing but telling people to go home and stay there.   Of course there are plenty of people out there who are invincible.  

Take care wherever you are and have a peaceful Christmas.

Monday, December 19, 2022

Tis the Season

This is probably the last post before Christmas because things are ramping up and so am I.  Baking is the name of the game around here. I ran out of room in the freezer so I put everything in coolers on the front porch because it's colder out there than in the freezer....and they are predicting (read: warning)   the coldest temperatures in 40 years for this weekend, starting Thursday. With blizzard conditions thrown in for good measure.  Why not?  I'm sure no one has anything to do this week, right?  Australia friends keep posting photos of your flowers and visits to the beaches and sleeveless arms and legs sticking out of shorts. It gives me hope.

Saturday, while this side of the state was getting 12 inches of snow, we were on the other side of Michigan with dry pavement and a few peeks of the sun.  We went to watch our Ceci in the Christmas extravaganza her dance studio/school performs each year.  This is her second year in the show and it is magnificent.  Completely professional in every way, lights, music, costumes, sets, we loved seeing her in several dances.

After the show she wore a snuggly onesie to keep warm while we had lunch to fortify her for the second performance.  She and our Adelaide are joined at the hip and we are all sorry they live 2 hours apart.
I had a bonus treat the other day when I went to the elementary school I go to to read to a class of first graders.  That day, Adelaide's orchestra was travelling to each elementary school for a Christmas concert and I just happened to be  here when she was.  She's in the blue hat on violin. It was a treat for both of us.
Highlights - of course meeting friends.  We had two friend dinners last week but I only remembered a photo for this one.  

And much, much fun we caught up on all the news in a two hour Christmas call with Brian (in England.)  Here, he is in Italy in September and since then he's been to Portugal and Budapest.  

PH is really climbing the mountain with this puzzle.  It's taken him longer than any.  I told him he has to have it finished and back in the box by Sunday so today while we watched the final January 6 congressional hearing on television he started to really power through. You can see from the photo on the box he's on the hardest part  - all red and white and points.  

I still have not picked up a needle but I AM thinking about it so there's forward progress.

                               Everyone, have a nice holiday weekend - whether it snows or not!