Monday, October 22, 2018

I Bake Because I Love You

The youngerchild takes Latin. Last year the fun project was gladiatorial combat using cardboard armor (and weapons) that was graded on its period accuracy. This year, they will be escaping Pompeii, or trying to, during the volcanic eruption.

Snacks for the class were optional.

Originally the youngerchild asked for Lava cakes but we realized they needed to be baked and served immediately. That wouldn't do. Then we discussed cupcakes with lava colored filling. That led to the inevitable...cream puffs with lava colored filling.

Here's what I know - 1. I am terribly out of practice. 2. One full batch of pate a choux makes a whole lot of cream puffs. And swan bodies (I'm freezing those, thinking about Thanksgiving which is not that far away). 3. My hands aren't as strong as they were while I was in culinary school (see #1, above). 4. Swan heads don't need to be baked for 20 minutes, 15 minutes will do (the first batch burned, whoops!). 5. I have clearly forgotten how to make fondant topping. I did manage to save it after it broke, just barely, and half a batch is just enough for 3 dozen cream puffs. 6. I'm dreading starting my new kitchen and desperate for it at the same time.

Anyway, here are the lava puffs. And I'm exhausted. They literally took all day.

I love you, kiddo.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Notes on a Long, Cold Week

In the ever-fluctuating weather of New England, it's been REALLY COLD. And sometimes rainy. But COLD. It was 33˚F this morning. However, now it's a balmy 57˚F and I needed to get into the hives.

I'd planned to take the feeders out entirely, particularly since Beeyonce's hive hadn't really been taking as much syrup. I took advantage of this nice weather and got in there, removing the feeder and moving the false back closer to the combs. For Phoebee's hive, I'd planned to do the same but since they were a younger colony and the weather is supposed to be a little warmer over the weekend, I gave them a new jar of syrup. One more, before the cold sets in for real.

Recently we also went apple picking, in the rain, although the rain gods were kind and it only drizzled while we were out in the fields. I made a pie for the elderchild's birthday but haven't even decided how much applesauce I'm going to make. We're eating our way through the rest for now and I'll see how much applesauce we need before I start going crazy. We haven't been eating through it as quickly as we used to. I guess as the kids grow older they don't see applesauce as a snack.

Yesterday I picked up the penultimate farm share. I didn't spend a lot of time in the fields but did get a whole lot of kale and parsley. There were squashes and potatoes and brussels sprouts and all sorts of terrific autumn veggies. I'm a little inundated with escarole but I will make another batch of soup with some of it. Tuscan-style escarole and white bean soup is one of my favorites.

What I should be doing is taking advantage of this great weather and cleaning up the yard a bit. But I'm tired. Maybe tomorrow. 

Friday, October 5, 2018

Maybe I'm a Disney Princess?

I think he's a yellow-throated vireo. And a young one, at that.
Today as I drove into the parking lot at work I saw a little yellow fluff on the parking deck. It didn't seem like a leaf to me. After I parked I went back to see if I was imagining things and, no, I wasn't. It was a little bird.

But he was just sitting there! So I picked him up, thinking he was hurt. He sat in my hands and let me pet him and seemed maybe a little dazed. Maybe he'd hit the windows above? I couldn't see a nest up in the building above the parking deck, so a window was the most likely reason he was just sitting on the ground. I checked out his wings, made sure they both extended fully, and wondered if maybe he needed to sit in the sun until he could warm up and be ready to fly.

I carried him over to the sunnier part of the parking deck, near the trees. Then I decided to try to give him a little toss, to see what he might do. He fluttered a bit and landed in my hands. I tried again. This time he fluttered his wings, took off, and flew into the nearby trees.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

A Thing of Beauty

Our dishwasher arrived today.

It's shiny and quiet and, most importantly, doesn't leak. I'm so happy!

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Peach Pie Filling

A little bit ago I bought a whole lot of peaches. We ate what we could, I made a crisp and some peach melba jam, and there were a few left that were getting a little soft. I decided to try my hand at peach pie filling.

The first recipe I found had apples and raisins in it and I didn't want to make that. Then I found a plain recipe which was scalable. For 6 large peaches, first I peeled and sliced them and set them in a bowl of water with lemon juice (to stop the browning). Then I boiled the peach slices for a minute and set them aside to drain. The next step was to combine 1.5 cups sugar, 9 oz. water, just under 1/2 cup of Clear Jel, and a heaping 1/8 tsp. of cinnamon and bring to a boil. Then I added 3 oz. lemon juice and boiled for a minute. Then the peaches were folded in and cooked for about 3 minutes, and then packed into pint jars. This amount made 3 pints. They were processed for 30 minutes in boiling water.

While they were processing, I went to feed the bees and found that one hive (Phoebee's, who I was able to see today) finished their jar of syrup and the other hive (Beeyonce's) didn't. Not sure why that is, but I changed the one that was empty and I'll check again in a day or two. 

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Fair-ly Successful

Today we went to the Fair.

Yesterday I spent all afternoon making a Brazilian carrot Smith Island cake, following my notes from last year when I discovered I needed to make 1.5 batches to get 8 layers for the cake. Actually, I made 9, but that's because one broke and I had enough to make an extra. Each set of two layers takes 12 minutes to bake. I made the fudge frosting with bittersweet chocolate instead of semi-sweet, that way it wasn't as cloying. When I was getting it ready to go in my cake tupperware thing, I discovered it was too tall. Whoops! I found a plastic "crystal" plate and transported it on that, covered in plastic wrap. It worked.

After dropping off the cake, I checked out the canning competition. Of the 9 categories I entered, I placed in all of them! I got first place in pickled beets and in the conserve category (pear almond), second place in strawberry jam (for the balsamic strawberry jam), other jelly (rose petal), other jam (caramel pear), salsa, and other pickled vegetables (carrots), third place for bread and butter pickles and an honorable mention for the hot pepper sauce/chutney. I'm just grateful they didn't disqualify it for not being a standard chutney. Anyway, I think that's what I won; sometimes the ribbons are on groups of things and it's hard to tell. I'll find out for sure on the 9th when I pick everything up.

Next stop was the beekeeping department, where I was very excited to discover that my honey lavender cheesecake won in the cheesecake category! Consider I'd never made the recipe before, I'm so pleased. I visited briefly with my beekeeping mentor and then we moved on.

After exploring the fair with friends and checking out the bunnies, eating turkey legs, and otherwise just enjoying the really nice, sunny day, we went back to watch the judging of the "Favorite Dessert" category which is really basically cakes. There were seven entries and I could tell my 8-layer cake had done well when the judges fought over the piece. When they read the recipe and saw how I'd made the layers one said, "I'm intrigued." The other said, "That's really good," as they were moving on to the next one. After the judging was complete there was a tie for first place, my cake and another which was a peach crumb cake with bourbon caramel sauce. I think I can understand, without even tasting it, why that also won. I spoke with the judges a bit, the one who is a caterer said he planned to take my cake home with him. I'm not sure if he was joking? But they were impressed with the tiny little layers and the overall flavor.

We spent a little more time looking at all the fair things: the giant pumpkin (2,114 pounds!), the produce displays, the chickens and other poultry, and briefly stopped at a hot dog eating contest as one of the youngerchild's friends was interested. We did not watch the entire 10 minutes of that, everyone was kind of grossed out.

Now we're home and all of us are exhausted. I think I may take a nap!

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Bee Focused

This morning I drove up to Topsfield and entered a cheesecake in the Fair. This was for the Beekeeping Department's Baking with Honey competition. I discovered they had a category for cheesecakes and I'd recently received a cookbook from a nurse at work that was all honey recipes. The cheesecake recipe was four ingredients: cream cheese, honey, eggs and vanilla. Suffice to say I'd never made this cheesecake before, and probably making it and entering it in the fair was...brave? Something, anyway.

Making the cheesecake yesterday was a messy affair. First of all, the recipe was just for the cheesecake itself, no crust, and the pan was supposed to be set in water. I was having none of that, though. I made a graham cracker crust, prebaked it, and made the cheesecake batter. This is where things started to derail. In school we learned to pour viscous fluids like honey into little pouches of plastic wrap and then squeeze out through a hole in the bottom. Less waste. Evidently I squeezed too hard, and honey blooped out all over my hand, the outside of the mixing bowl, and the counter. I think a little actually ended up in the batter. I salvaged what I could. Not having a dishwasher is really a pain.

I'm not sure what it is about baking for the Fair that draws out the chutzpah and clumsiness in me all at once.

Anyway, I baked this cheesecake for about 65 minutes at 300˚F and let it cool. And it cracked. Not much I could do about it now, I guess. This morning I drizzled it with honey and sprinkled it with lavender buds and drove two hours round trip to get it there. Fingers crossed? Maybe?

This afternoon, rather late in the day, I changed the feeder for the bees again. I only have a few more weeks to build up their stores, after all. They were remarkably docile, both hives. I take that as a good sign.