Stuff and Nonsense: March 2019


3.27.2019

#WordlessWednesday: Orange Princess

Lush "Orange Princess" tulips blooming in the greenhouse at Elizabeth Park.

3.23.2019

The Nonesuch by Georgette Heyer


Sir Waldo Hawkridge, a paragon of masculinity, comes down from town with his cousin, Lord Julian Lindeth, to turn a recently inherited ramshackle estate into an orphanage. Yes, he's rich, handsome, educated, and philanthropic -- no wonder the ladies are all a-twitter!

Being quite the catch, the two men are invited to various parties hosted by the local fashionable set. And so they make the acquaintance of the local Beauty, Tiffany Wield, and her wrangler Miss Ancilla Trent, a somber-minded young woman of impeccable breeding who is the perfect foil for Tiffany's spoilt and reckless ways.

Waldo and Ancilla fall in love from afar. Of course, there are obstacles in their inevitable path to matrimony (Tiffany Wield, for one), but everything works out as it ought to in the end.

All of Heyer's romances are enjoyable reads, but Nonesuch takes the cake. 'Pon rep, its witty repartee and use of cant make it one of the most enjoyable bags of moonshine I've read in a long time (well, since April Lady).

The Nonesuch by Georgette Heyer (Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2009).

3.22.2019

Cookbook Club: Chocolate


March's cookbook club theme was all things chocolate. White, dark, milk, savory or sweet -- as long as there was chocolate in it and the recipe cake from a library resource, anything was fair game. As expected, club members brought choco-fabulousness to the meeting and we all had a good time. Yes, turnout was low (7 people registered, 3 people attended. IDKY), but everyone who turned up was keen to talk about their recipes and share their baked goods, so whatevs.

Chocolate:
"Kickin' Chile Brownies" from Cool: Cooking Up Chili: Beyond the Basics for Kids Who Cook by Lisa Wagner (sweet, caky, and spicy)
"Black Magic Chocolate Espresso Cookies" from Deep, Dark Chocolate by Sara Perry (four kinds of chocolate! Black magic, indeed)
"Truffle-Filled Cookie Tarts" from Taste of Home Cookies, Bars & More (crispy cookie + fudgy filling = craveable)

Of the three recipes used, only one came from a print book. The others came from ebooks available through OverDrive and EBSCO's enhanced ebook collections. My patrons are learning. I am so proud.

3.20.2019

#WordlessWednesday: Spring Flowers

It's spring in the "Big House" greenhouse at Elizabeth Park.

3.15.2019

April Lady by Georgette Heyer


Nell, a young bride still unused to her new wealth, finds she has overspent her quarterly allowance and has acquired a (to her) frightful debt. Desperate that her husband, Cadross, not know, she turns to her gamester brother. While her brother is skint, he does have a Cunning Plan.

Which fails. So he concocts another plan. Which does not go as ... planned. Meanwhile, Nell's behavior towards her husband becomes increasingly distant and formal. Cadross begins to think all his friends were right when they said Nell was marrying him for his money and title. And Nell (thanks to bad advice from her Mama) fears Cadross married her out of convenience and will never believe she loves him -- especially now that she is in debt up to her eyeballs.

And then there is Cadross's sister, Letitia! Pretty, headstrong Letitia who is up to no good with an upstanding young man of prospect but no position ... she will turn their love into something out of a horrid novel, see if she won't.

Oh, the silliness! Such a lovely bit of of escapism. A perfect dessert of a novel.

April Lady by Georgette Heyer (Sourcebooks, 2012)

3.10.2019

Making Martha Stewarts "Asian-Style Chicken and Rice"


After therapy last week, I popped into the Asian market across street for a big bowl of tonkotsu ramen and a poke around the produce section. The produce section is small, but always packed with amazingly cheap and delicious things and it's difficult not to go buyallthethings. Having only a vague idea of what I needed/wanted for the weekend, I picked up a pound of shiitake mushrooms ($3!), a ridiculously large bouquet of scallions, and a fat bundle lemongrass.

While I wasn't sure what I'd end doing with the lemongrass stalks, I had a faint memory of a bookmarking a Martha Stewart chicken-thighs-and-shiitakes recipe that seemed like it might make excellent comfort food on a snowy weekend. The recipe "Asian-Style Chicken and Rice" does not get high reviews, but I chose to go ahead and make it, anyway, as many of the complaints were about the dish's lack of flavor, not about cooking method or gaps in the recipe. Flavor is subjective, after all, and there was never any chance I was ever going to limit myself to four scallions or three garlic cloves, anyway.

Changes I made:
I ended up doubling the amount of shiitake, garlic, and scallions.
I also seasoned the chicken with five-spice powder (in addition to the salt and pepper) and crisped it using a combination of sesame and olive oil.
I didn't have quite enough arborio rice, so subbed in enough carnaroli rice to cover the difference. (Like arborio, carnaroli is a medium-grained rice that is used in risottos. However, carnaroli holds its shape better during long, slow cooking).
After the chicken and rice had cooking for twenty-five minutes, I took the lid off and let it cook for another five as there was still a bit of liquid in the pot.

The Husband and I both enjoyed this chicken rice dish and look forward to eating the leftovers for lunch. Admittedly the reviewers were right to complain that the flavor was not strongly "Asian" and, next time, I might use something like Pacific Foods Organic Chicken Pho Soup Starter or Simply Asia Japanese Inspired Ramen Soy Ginger Chicken Broth to boost the flavor a bit more. That said, it is deliciously creamy and chicken-y.




3.05.2019

The Great Burlington Baking Club: Victoria Sandwich, or, The Sponge of Despair

This is my second month as a member of The Great Burlington Baking Club. 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. For March, we were all to bring in our version of a Victoria Sandwich -- a cake made of layers of sponge, cream/buttercream, and jam.


Several of us followed King Arthur Flour's "Victoria Sandwich Cake Recipe" and were disappointed by our cakes. And, honestly, relieved that it was a cake fail for everyone who tried to follow it. We like to think we're competent bakers who know how to turn out a decent sponge, but this sponge was dry and crumby, more of a stale scone or shortcake biscuit than a sponge.

Variations between cakes:
I was the only one to use King Arthur Unbleached Self-Rising Flour, while the others made their own by adding salt and baking powder to all-purpose flour.
I weighed all my ingredients while the others used the time-tested "fluff and scoop" method.
I used three extra-large eggs at room temperature and the others used large eggs straight from the fridge.
One baker skipped the optional almond extract.
Everyone let the butter soften before creaming it with the sugar.

And all our cakes disappointed in exactly the same ways -- dry and crumby with a disappointing rise and a surprisingly firm outside. Although we tried, no amount of cream or jam could save this cake. I've eaten many Victorian Sandwiches -- from home-baked cakes by The Husband's gran to posh hotel show-offs to Sayers' mass quantity sponges -- and I'm embarrassed to association this one with any of those. Rather than call it a Victoria Sandwich, I am calling it the Sponge of Despair.