Stuff and Nonsense: February 2019


2.20.2019

#WordlessWednesday: Sunset

Grey winter continues to drag on so here's a Blackpool sunset from warmer days.

2.13.2019

#WordlessWednesday: Brook

All the rain & snowmelt have given Birge Pond Brook new energy.

2.11.2019

From Delicious Bundt Cakes: Rosemary-Lemon Bundt Cake


Even though I already possess an incalculable wealth of cookbooks, I am always eager to add another one to my collection. I have a great weakness for the book section BJ's Wholesale Club and must browse it every time I pop in to pick "just a few" things up. The stores usually have a good selection of new books by America's Test Kitchen and I've added three or four to my collection over the year. When (not if) I find a cookbook I like, I'll check the price against Amazon and BJ's is usually a little cheaper, happily legitimizing my impulsive purchase. My most recent purchase was Delicious Bundt Cakes: More Than 100 New Recipes For Timeless Favorites by Roxanne Wyss and Kathy Moore.

I purchased this book mostly because of the "Tomato Soup Spice Bundt Cake" recipe which brought back a flood of memories of my mother's tomato soup cake. Mind you, the book's recipe is nothing like my mother's as it uses a spice cake mix and my mother's (excepting the soup) was completely from scratch. I also hated tomato soup as a child and would never eat her tomato soup cake. The idea of tomato soup -- so disgusting in itself -- going into a cake was just untenable. Now I know it doesn't taste at all of soup, but is much more like a rich and nutty spice cake.

There's also a chapter titled "A Year of Bundts" and doesn't that just sound delightful? Also, an easy way to make baking a more regular thing again as baking one thing usually leads me to baking more things. Bundt cakes -- the gateway bake. February's cake is "Chock-Full of Cherries Bundt Cake" made with dark cherries and pecans. I'll probably bake it around Washington's Birthday since it plays into the whole cherry tree myth.

While I've only just started baking from this book, I find it quite good. The recipes seem easy to follow and do not use any hard-to-find or costly ingredients. There isn't a photo for every cake, which is a bit of a downer, but the photos that are included make the cakes look very, very tempting. The recipes are a mixture of scratch and "cheater" baking with about half the recipes starting with a cake mix base. I can see it might annoy a purist, but I enjoy the opportunities made possible by the duality -- throw together mix-based bundt on a minute's notice or spend a lazy afternoon faffing around with a scratch cake recipe.


Today I baked the "Rosemary-Lemon Bundt Cake" for my coworker's as one of the part-timers will soon be heading off to work in a different town department and I just feel like we should have a little cake to celebrate her. She's been brilliant to work with and I wish we didn't have to lose her, but she needs a job with more regular hours and better pay and she'll find that in her new position.

The cake is fabulous, imho. Only mildly sweet with tender crumb, it is a good cake to pair with a cuppa. Flavor-wise, rosemary and lemon compliment each other well and, every time I lift the cake dome, I am caught up in what I can only describe as the scent of summer in a mythical Provence. All in all, it is an appealing cake and I will be baking it again.

2.07.2019

Memories of Baking With Mom

I'm baking a pumpkin bundt using a mix of my baking things and Mom's and it's kind-of ... nice? As if, even though she's not here and will never be here again, she is still with me? When I was a small child, Mom and I baked together all the time. I had a little wooden footstool I would stand on to reach the counter properly and she would give me bowls to mix together or eggs to crack or nuts to chop in the hand chopper. I loved that hand chopper. It was a very simply device -- just a glass jar with a screw on plastic lid and a metal X-shaped blade on a rod. It looked very much like this Gemco-Ware one:


I'd lean forward on my little stool, push up my sleeves, and chop with all my might until those nuts were chopped. I'll admit there was more than one batch of nuts that ended up chopped a bit more than my mother needed. She usually asked me to chop the nuts coarsely or medium coarsely, but I would get a little hepped up and Hulk smash the chopper until the nuts were rather finely chopped. With a little instruction, I eventually mastered all the sizes and learned which were appropriate for what recipe. Really, Mom taught me a lot about cooking without me realizing it -- just having me in the kitchen withe her, observing and experiencing, helped me absorb her teachings in what I thought, as a wee kidlet, was just another form of play.

Unfortunately, as I grew older, I was much more resistant to helping my Mom in the kitchen. Part of that was the usual teenage contrariness, but I think some of it was a withholding of self. My mother had been in a terrible car accident when I was eight and spent many months in the hospital before she could come home and even when she came home it was a very long time before she was anything like the mother I'd known. Having been without her for so long and so suddenly cognizant of her mortality, I fear I withheld some of myself from her and we lost a lot of our old intimacy.

Later as I, an adult, slowly opened my self up to the prospect of romantic love, it was also easier to open up to my mother and return to something like our earlier relationship. We sewed together, swapped recipes, and had a few deeply intimate conversations about things I never thought I'd discuss with my mother. We were good. And then she died so abruptly and I find myself wanting to shout that we weren't done yet, we were really only beginning, and it's not fair.


So I am baking a pumpkin bundt cake using a mix of my baking things and Mom's, because even though she can't be here I can still remember all the baking we did do together and I can still bake the things we would have baked together.

My pumpkin bundt uses a modified version of Betty Crocker's "Pumpkin Bread" recipe. I used finely chopped toasted pecans, a medley of raisins (because they're pretty and more interesting), and mace instead of nutmeg. I also threw in a ½ teaspoon of ground ginger and used whole white wheat flour, because that's all I have on hand these days.

2.06.2019

#WordlessWednesday: Loom

Loom at Bloodroot Vegetarian Restaurant (& bookstore!) in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

2.04.2019

The Great Burlington Baking Club: Artichoke Dip

This week I joined a cookbook club. Yes, I do run a club for my library, but running one doesn't provide the same experience as being a participant and I want to be a participant. Let someone else tell me what to make. Let someone else steer the discussion. Let someone else do the set up and take down. And if I get to make things I've been wanting to, but haven't had a reason to or an audience for, well that's just gravy.

Burlington Library started offering a cookbook club last autumn. Inspired by The Great British Bake Off, The Great Burlington Baking Club is open to all bakers and cooks -- just make a dish that fits the monthly theme and bring it in to share on the appointed night. Previous themes included layered desserts, desserts featuring fruit, and chocolate desserts.

This month's theme is dips. While I considered making Taste of Home's "Slow-Cooker Cheeseburger Dip" or Martha Stewart's "Easy Red Pepper Dip," I ultimately decided to go with America's Test Kitchen's "Artichoke Dip" from Food Processor Perfection: 75 Amazing Ways to Use the Most Powerful Tool in Your Kitchen.


I really like Food Processor Perfection -- like most ATK books it is very attractive, with beautiful pictures, detailed but clearly written recipes, and lots of helpful operating tips (I had never thought to clean my bowl by processing water and a little soap together). Based on my experience with this cookbook -- I'd already made the "Classic Chocolate Chip Cookies," "Quick Tomato Salsa," and "Classic Hummus" with very delicious results -- and my prior experience with other ATK cookbooks, I knew the artichoke dip was likely to turn out well.

It was dead easy to put together -- just process the cheeses, artichokes, garlic, and seasonings together and then let them chill in the fridge until needed. Really, it couldn't have taken more than ten minutes to put together. I probably spent more time washing up! And, yes, I tried the water and soap trick and it worked. (This trick also works with the Ninja Master Prep).