30 July 2006

A Conspiracy of Bananas

There is some kind of banana conspiracy going on in my kitchen. I keep buying bananas and we keep not eating them. No matter how many bananas I buy, there are always bananas going brown and squishy on the kitchen side. I mean, I am only buying three or four bananas at a go -- it seems we ought to be able to eat them before they go brown and squishy, but no. One day there are three bright green bananas. The next day, there are two squishy brown bananas in a cloud of fruit flies. I thought at first this was because we are very choosy people when it comes to banana consumption (I like mine still faintly greenish and The Husband prefers them a nice unspeckled yellow) and weren't eating them fast enough. But, no. There is a conspiracy in the kitchen. How else would three (vibrant green) bananas I bought on Tuesday become all brown squishiness by Thursday?

Even though we do not eat the brown bananas, I am loathe to throw them in the compost. Waste of perfectly good banana! I could always make bread or muffins out of them, after all. So off they go into the depths of the freezer and never again shall they see the light of day.

Yesterday, I had three bananas in the freezer and four more squishy ones on the side. Do I need seven frozen bananas? I think not. I made "Streusel Banana Bread" from the Better Homes and Gardens New Baking Book (Meredith Books, 1998). I lacked a pastry blender for blending in the butter to make the struesel topping, but found that the combination of mashing with a fork and pinching with my fingers worked pretty well.

I brought the loaf over to my parents, later, and my dad liked it well enough that he ate three slices and kept half the loaf. He seemed really enamored with the streusel topping. My mother makes a good banana bread, but it is very different from the BHG bread and I suspect half my father's infatuation was due to shear novelty.

Berry Mini-Muffins on Winnie's Tier

Because everything in the is going bad, I wanted to use the raspberries and blackberries before it was too late. They were almost over-ripe when I took them out of the fridge, so freezing them did not seem like a good idea. Happily, I found a recipe at joyofbaking for "Buttermilk Berry Muffins" which seemed promising. Since I'd already used half the lemon zest in the banana bread, I used a combination of lemon and lime zest for the muffins. I also drizzled a lemon glaze over the tops of them after they came out of the oven and had cooled for a bit. Because the blackberries were so very ripe, they disintegrated when I tried to fold them into the batter and turned the batter a nice bluey-purple. The raspberries, however, managed to hold together and look quite pretty nestled in the purple muffins.

They taste pretty good, too. My mother is allergic to bananas (yet loves my father so much she bakes him banana bread), so I brought some muffins over with the loaf and she seemed pleased and surprised I had brought something especially for her. Note to self: bake more for your mother.

My mother is a diabetic and making sweets for her can be a bit of an adventure. She can eat things with sugar, obviously, but prefers to consume sugar substitutes. Sugar substitutes bake up a little weird, you know. Even Splenda, which is supposed to be some kind of miracle sweetener, doesn't work out as well as I would like. Unfortunately, a lot of the recipes that use natural sugar substitutes use ... bananas.

Reads & Listens, July 2006

The World According to Mimi Smartypants by Mimi Smartypants
Read this on the plane on the way to Manchester and must have annoyed the shit out of the nice yeshiva boys sitting across from me what with my donkey snorts, hyena laughs, and all.

The Marriage Spell by Mary Jo Putney
So who didn't guess our darling couple would be doing it like rabbits at the sacred well? I mean, this novel was a nice bit of fluff, but there are better examples of Fantasy-Regency-Romance (Sorcery and Cecelia, for one).

The Carpet People by Terry Pratchett
A very good reason to give up hoovering.

The Brentford Chainstore Massacre by Robert Rankin
I give up. Always go "Oh! Robert Rankin! Interesting cover! Funny premise! Must read!" and then (hours later) am left feeling pretty ... eh ... about the whole thing. Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse was just an aberration. I'm not meant to read Rankin.

Septimus Heap, Book Two: Flyte by Angie Sage (illus. by Mark Zug)
An enjoyable little adventure, but not nearly so clever or well crafted as Magyck.

Inconceivable by Ben Elton

My Sister, Guard Your Veil; My Brother, Guard Your Eyes: Uncensored Iranian Voices ed. by Lila Aza Zanganeh
Mostly breezy little collection essays by Iranian writers, artists, film makers, etc, discussing what it is to be Iranian and trying (valiantly) to create a truer picture of Iran for Westerners who see it either as an Axis of Evil or something straight out of the The Book of One Thousand and One Nights.

Troll Fell by Katherine Langrish
Orphan boy is taken in by his dastardly twin uncles who have terrible plans involving spunky neighbor girl, gold, and trolls. Langrish uses of elements from Scandinavian folklore/fairy tales in her world building and it's a good thing. Extremely enjoyable.

16 July 2006

The Dog's Breakfast

Because I am insane, I baked the second installment in my father's year long birthday cake extravaganza a scant three days after returning from England. Was I prepared to be baking? No. Should I have been baking? No. Did it even seem like a good idea at the time? Not very. But, I was full of this weird nervous energy. Kept feeling like I ought to be doing something or going somewhere. And baking a cake seemed like a good way to take the edge off.

Surprisingly, the cake was not a disaster. I don't think the cake was as good as it should have been -- the layers didn't rise as much as I had expected and the frosting was a bit too sweet -- but my dad seemed perfectly happy with it and he and The Husband made serious inroads when I brought it over. I used the "White Cake" and "No-Cook Fudge Frosting" from Better Homes and Gardens New Baking Book (Meredith Books, 1998). I'm really starting to like my BHG cookbooks as the recipes are all pretty straightforward and tend to yield good results. My mother knew what she was doing when she gave me the red and white standby for my twenty-first birthday.

Dad's leaving August's cake up to me, but Mom specified something light and non-chocolate. It's not her present, but I do think two chocolate-y cakes in a row is enough for this time of year. Actually, I'd like to try my hand at Eton Mess, but I'm not sure I could call that a cake. Somehow, I don't think Dad would complain ...

At the end of our stay with The Father-in-Law, we went down to Birmingham and visited The Husband's Auntie and other sundry relations. Auntie's Husband is quite a capable cook and one of the things he served us was Harry Blumenthal's Eton Mess with bananas and lime. It looked like the dog's breakfast, but the lime-banana-meringue combination was truly delicious and I've been thinking about it on and off ever since I ate it. I found a recipe at joyofbaking.com for the traditional strawberry version ("Strawberry with Cream and Meringue Bits") and I think my dad would it eat. He'd eat the banana version, of course, but Mom is allergic to bananas and while it's his present, she'll be eating it, too.

Mmm! Fairy cakes! Get in my belly!

Earlier this week I also made fairy cakes using the "Vanilla Cupcakes" recipe I also found at joyofbaking.com. I substituted lemon for the vanilla in the batter and frosting and they came out well. A nice taste of lemon, but not "Wow! Lemon!" I don't usually frost things I make just for us as The Husband is not too keen on frosting, but he quite liked this butter cream frosting. Well, of course he would. It's nothing but butter and sugar with a bit of cream and flavorings. How could you not like butter and sugar whipped together?

14 July 2006

Book Buying I Did Go

While I was in England I bought a lot of books. Of course. Was it ever likely I wouldn't return with suitcase and carry-on packed full of paperbacks?

There were specific titles I wanted to purchase in England, but forgot to write them down before I left so didn't get any of them. But that turned out okay, you know, as book selecting is becoming more and more about browsing and less about targeting specific authors/genres/publishers.

I did manage to get my hot little hands on trade paperbacks of Books Two and Three of Philip Reeve's Hungry City Chronicles (Predator's Gold and Infernal Devices). I had no problem locating a copy of Book Three -- every bookshop I visited had two or three copies of the shelf -- but Book Two was nearly impossible to find. Did stumble upon a battered and wrinkly looking copy at a Waterstone's in Standish which I almost bought out of pure desperation, but persuaded myself not to. At worst, I could always get a copy of amazon. Happily, whilst wandering around the duty-free area at the Manchester Airport I found one lonely, but perfect, copy in WH Smith. Did a little whoop and jig of joy which I am sure did not endear me to any of my fellow shoppers, but sod them. I found my book. Huzzah!

At the Waterstones in Blackpool, I picked up Devices and Desires (The Engineer Trilogy: Book One) by K.J. Parker, Predator's Gold mentioned above, Porno by Irvine Welsh, Recipes for a Perfect Marriage by Kate Kerrigan, Inconceivable by Ben Elton, and a whole bunch of Headline Review Editions of Jane Austen's works.

Apparently, The Telegraph thinks little of these editions, but I love them. Being larger than my old Penguins, they are have bigger fonts and are easier to keep open by wedging against a breakfast bowl or dinner plate. The cover art is while nice and contemporary, not quite as girl-y or chick-lit-y as the article suggests. But, that's just my humble opinion. I went to England planning on bringing back some Austen and finding these editions (3 for 2£, as well) seemed like a godsend. My Penguin copies weren't the nicest for casual reading (though they're great from a scholarly point of view, I am not English Lit student anymore and don't need my books to shout "Boring Authoritative Work!" or "Canon!") and I am a sucker for pretty covers.

Also, am quite enjoying the "Additional Information" included in the back of each volume (particularly, Northanger Abbey).

Oh. Now I am confused. Here are Northanger Abbey, Persuasion, and Mansfield Park. Where is Sense and Sensibility? Didn't I buy it at the WH Smith in Cleveleys?? Oh, crap. It is still with the In-Laws.

You are thinking that even with the missing Sense and Sensibility these do not seem like a lot of books. Well, you also have to take into account the two dozen or so of The Husband's we liberated from a cupboard at his grandparent's. Yes. And there are more in his mum's attic, but we couldn't be bothered looking at those as we'd never be able to carry them all home. Yes. Because no-one could ever just mail them to us or throw them out or give them to a charity shop. No. They must live in attics and cupboards and be complained about until we arrive and sort them out. And, of course, we never really do, because we can't be bothered. It is not as if we lack for books here at home and the idea of schlepping extra carry-ons of books through the airport is completely lacking in charm.

But, really, where is my copy of Sense and Sensibility?

13 July 2006

Back From Foreign Parts

We're back from Blackpool, baby!

I think The Blackpool Grandparents are my favorites out of all The Husband's relatives and it was really nice to spend time with them. It is disheartening to realize how old they are getting (85!) and that we may not have many more chances to see them before they die. Blackpool Grannie gave me a couple cake tiers she doesn't use anymore and I plan take pictures of them when I used them so she can see they are not just idling, unwanted, in a cupboard somewhere. I'm thinking fairy cakes (cupcakes) with buttercream frosting.

Also, The Husband and I spent a number of days just wandering around Blackpool on our own and that was quite lovely. We bought tasty things from Hampsons (savoury vegetable tikka pasties are yummy, but cream cakes are pretty much to die for) and various chip shops, sat by the sea and ate ice cream (a 99 Flake is a soft-serve ice cream cone with a Cadbury Flake stuck in it -- really lovely), walked up and down the North Pier, shopped for books and chocolate, took the tram into "Lovely Cleveleys by the Sea," talked about much about nothing, and made out a little bit more than mature married folk are probably supposed to.

And, you know, that's all I wanted from my holiday. Much of nothing.

01 July 2006

Penguin Touch

Today we finished off our vacation with the final part of The Husband's 30th Birthday Extravaganza -- Penguin Contact at the Mystic Aquarium. It was pretty cool. Of course, when could touching a penguin not be cool? There were nine of us in the group, plus the Penguin Trainer and her summer volunteer, and only one African penguin between us all so there was not as much touching of the penguin as The Husband would have liked, but it was still pretty cool.

Needless to say, the penguin touching was pretty much the best part of our vacation. In-laws are great and English junk/fast food can be pretty nummy, but penguins can't be beat.