Thursday, June 28, 2012

Raspberry Ginger Jam

Do-Re-Mi by Julie Andrews and cast from "The Sound of Music"
Be honest.  When you think about eating bread with some jam on it, you think of this song.  You probably even start whistling the tune as you decide whether or not to toast that bread.  Then you more than likely shout out a "Do-oh-oh-oh!" while you spread on that layer of salty sweet butter.  By the time the jam is slathered from edge to edge, you're in a full-fledged rendition of Do-Re-Mi  - singing both the back up AND the lead parts!  It can't be helped.  I have daydreamed many a time that I'm the one hopping on steps, riding in open carriages, riding bikes down tree-canopied streets, and dancing around a fountain - all while singing this song!  And that daydream usually begins with bread and jam.  Now, let me see - "Let's start at the very beginning . . ."

Making Raspberry Ginger Jam is as easy as Do-Re-Mi and ABC!  It really, truly is!

I planted some raspberry starts last year.  I had planted some a few years before that and they didn't take.  So I was pleasantly surprised that these ones took.  Really well!  So well, in fact, that they jumped the boundary of their box and tunneled over and wreaked havoc with my strawberry bed!  I was a little angry with them early in the season for all the work I had to do to save my strawberry bed.

But a couple weeks ago they started producing these!

Monday, June 25, 2012

American Flag Sugar Cookies

America the Beautiful by Ray Charles
As patriotic songs go, this one evokes such a moving imagery of our beautiful nation that I can't help but be moved to tears of gratitude, pride, and deep respect.  Through it's words I see the colorful landscape unfold as I soar high above from coast to coast.  I see pilgrims and pioneers labor against outnumbered odds to create a home where they can live in peace.  I see brave soldiers on battlefields give the ultimate sacrifice - for me.  I see a country of people facing forward with hope and vision.  It's a powerful song that can bring about such emotions.  Well done, Ms. Bates!  Ray Charles injects such soul and heart into his recording - you can't help but be caught up in the spirit of it all. 

Pride of country was something that was taught and modeled for me as a young child.  Not just by my parents but by my extended family and my community as well.  I pledged allegiance to the flag every day at school.  I stood and sang The Star Spangled Banner with pride.  I put my hand over my heart when the flag was presented.  I did everything a respectful citizen would be expected to do.  But I remember the moment when what it all meant came thundering to my soul.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Bread Bound

Homeward Bound by Simon & Garfunkel
Have you ever read Nick Hornby's High Fidelity?  It's a fantastic read (think: beach book) about a man who owns a London record store (you know, back in the day when records were a matter of integrity, not style) and tries to figure out love and life.  In one of my favorite sections of the novel, he writes, "Sentimental music has this great way of taking you back somewhere at the same time that it takes you forward, so you feel nostalgic and hopeful all at the same time."  That's what Simon & Garfunkel's Homeward Bound is for me.  It reminds me of deep-buried love for home at the same  time that it makes me want to take off and conquer the world.  It is my roots clinging almost desperately to the stable earth, all the while my leaves reaching just as hungrily for the sun.  Is there a better food representation of this feeling than homemade bread?  Filling you with nourishment so you have energy and vitality you need to take on everything else?

Hello, all!  I'm here guest posting for my mama while she's off being amazing and taking care of my sister for a bit.  I'm the daughter written about here and here.

I love making bread.  It makes me feel like I'm connecting with centuries of women who came before me, participating in some ancient and sacred ritual.  I can't make bread without waxing nostalgic, thinking about my mom and how very many loaves of bread she has made for me over the years, etc.  Nothing quite says "You are loved" like a warm piece of freshly baked bread.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Seattle Inspiration

Breed by Nirvana
I first experienced the music of Nirvana secondhand as my oldest son listened to them while he was in high school.  I liked them.  But it was his music - not mine.  Fast forward about 10 years and I found myself back in college pursuing a degree in Culinary Arts - with an hour's drive each way every day.  I listened to a lot of music on those daily drives - the drive in requiring a different tone than the drive home.  Towards the end of school, after a long day in the campus cafe and classes, I found myself wanting to listen to something that matched the energy going on inside my mind.  I had the radio on one day and a Nirvana song came on and it was exactly what I wanted to listen to!  I cranked it up and let it flood my senses.  Nirvana had now become mine - my go-to music after an especially hectic day/night in the kitchen.  Breed pretty much matches what my insides are like.  My trip to the EMP in Seattle last week, more specifically the grunge rock exhibit, will always be what I associate with today's recipe.  Both are pretty intense!

My son and his family met us in Seattle for a few days last week.  We had a great time strolling around the stalls at Pike Place Market, down around the piers, and the Seattle Aquarium.  We also had tickets to a couple of Dodgers vs. Mariners games.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Natural Father

Falling In Love At A Coffee Shop by Landon Pigg
For the most part, I find the commercials for Kay Jewelers a little sappy.  But about five years ago they had one where a couple, maybe in their late 30s or early 40s, are riding in their car on a snowy evening.  They are dressed up so you are thinking that they had just celebrated a special occasion.  She has fallen asleep and he drops this beautiful diamond necklace into her slightly opened hand.  She awakes and it's a magical moment for them.  Corny!  I know!  But music can make up for all sorts of flaws.  I learned just last week that Alfred Hitchcock was ready to scrap "Psycho" entirely until he saw it with the soundtrack.  And we all know the classic that that show became!  Landon Pigg's hauntingly sweet song MADE this commercial.  I - and a whole bunch of other people - went scrambling to the internet with the same burning question - "Who is this guy singing and what is this song???"  I adore this song.  It captures that powerful emotion of falling in love - even when you're falling in love - again - with the same guy.

I thought I knew my husband rather well when we were first married.  And, to a large extent, I did.  I knew he was a man who set and achieved goals.  I knew he had a great sense of humor and made me laugh.  I knew he made me feel safe and cared for - that although we were the proverbial "poor students," I never worried about not being able to make things do.  I knew he would be a good father when the time came because I had watched him interact with children of all ages - infants through teens - and he was a natural.  Nothing, however, prepared me for the emotions I would feel in the wee hours of the morning on November 7, 1980.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Banana Pecan Bread - Act II

Come Together by Aerosmith
It took awhile for me to decide whether or not I was going to put the Aerosmith credit up there or The Beatles.  Two factors came in on Aerosmith's behalf, though, that tipped it in their favor.  The first factor being that they are the first ones I remember hearing play the song.  As much into music as I have been my whole life, I don't quite know where I was in 1969 when The Beatles' initial recording was being played.  It just somehow escaped me.  The second factor is that the Aerosmith version is what instantly came to mind with the story today - a story about my Dear Old Dad.

I shared breakfast with my father every morning before school - until I hit high school.  It seems I was always running late.  It probably had nothing to do with the fact that I was now wearing makeup and "doing" my hair.  But it was the 70s!  The look was supposedly that minimal "natural" look.  To my mother's dismay, I would have nothing to do with her constant tip that I should be wearing her bright red shade of lipstick.  No way, man!  It was long, straight hair parted down the middle and possible feathered sides.  Maybe a light dust of blue eye shadow would grace my eyelid, and, if there was anything on my lips it was going to be the palest of pinks lip gloss.  Surprisingly, though, it took a LONG time to get that minimalist look just right!  Hence, the last minute running down the stairs as my father was finishing his breakfast and asking, "Hey, Dad, could I get a ride down to the bus stop?  I'm running late!"

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Father's Day Ribs

Genie In A Bottle by Christina Aguilera
Although many people would say I'm a saucy lady, when it comes to ribs it's all about the rub.  I don't like  my ribs dripping in sauce - it's a mess I'd rather not deal with.  And I've never found a barbecue sauce that I'm so madly in love with that I want to have it spread across my entire face, smeared around my arms, and dribbled down my shirt - which is what usually happens when I have saucy barbecue.  It's probably not the sauce's fault.  I'm just a messy eater.  But I also find that many sauces overpower the flavor of the meat.  The ribs end up becoming nothing more than a vehicle for the sauce and that's just wrong in my book.  Ribs have wonderful flavor.  I find that rubs tend to enhance that wonderful flavor, playing supporting actor instead of trying to steal the scene.  I was happy to find that Christina Aguilera is also a dry rub BBQ fan as she sings so forcefully about it in her song, Genie In A Bottle.  She sings about getting ready for a BBQ - you know, getting the rub right and all.  Well, that's what I'm thinking, anyway!

For most of my life, when I heard "barbecue," it meant only one thing - sauce.  There would be a fair amount of consideration put into which kind of sauce to use - sweet, spicy, tangy, mustard-based, etc.  There are debates over which kind reigns supreme and competitions to crown the "best."  I never got it.  

Then one day I ordered the rib appetizer at P.F. Chang's.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Cookies and Tea With The Queen

England Swings by Roger Miller
Now that I've actually been to England a couple times, I am amused that this song, an American folkish song, sums up my joy and enjoyment of that charming and wonderful country.  When I'm there I feel like I'm smiling about 90% of the time - the rest of the time I'm probably sleeping.  This song makes me smile, not just because there's whistling, which is always fun, but because it lists some of the English things that bring that smile to my face.  I can picture in my mind the bobbies, Westminster Abbey, and the tower of Big Ben.  But I can hear the rosy-cheeked children with their sweet little accents asking for another biscuit, please.  What the song doesn't cover are the misty morning walks along the Cam, the fields along the roadside that are impossible shades of green, and the ever cheerful cab drivers with their magnificent wit and dry humor.   Love, love, love England - and I wish The Queen well.

My daughter texted me the other day, wondering what I was going to post for The Queen's Diamond Jubilee.  I was caught a little off guard.  Yes, I knew about the celebrations.  I'd even thought several times how I wished I had planned a trip over there this year to be a part of it all.  But, in all honesty, I hadn't considered devoting a post to it - and, why not?  It was a fantastic idea!

My first trip to England was with this daughter.  She and I had enrolled in an exchange at Cambridge University - she for college credit, myself for the experience alone.  We were in England three weeks and had many choice moments together - some plain and simple and some rather wondrous.  When she sent the text, however, the first memory that popped into my mind was an afternoon tea we had while in Cambridge.

We had a daily ritual of classes in the morning and wandering and exploring the area in the afternoons.  We both were curious about the English tea tradition but were hesitant to participate lest we make fools of ourselves by doing something "unseemly."  We had watched all the people in our beloved BBC productions take their tea and were pretty sure we had it down and could behave properly, if only for an hour.  But we were searching for the right venue for the occasion - some place that wasn't too small where any errors on our part would be local gossip for the next week.  We also didn't want some place that was so large that it felt more like a factory.  We wanted quaint and charming - but forgiving.

We finally found what we thought would be the perfect place and slipped in one afternoon.  The hostess was very kind and seated us.  Once seated, everything went perfectly.  I ordered my favorite herbal tea - chamomile - and some scones.  It was such fun and I couldn't help but think that they had a good thing in this afternoon tradition.  A chance to sit a spell and rejuvenate yourself.  

My absolute favorite part of the tea involved another pair of customers.  A mother and her little girl had come in and sat at a table behind me.  My daughter and I had been too engrossed with our own conversation to really take much notice but we finally hit a lull in our discussion just as the little girl behind me asked her mother, "Mummy, could I have another biscuit, please?"  I wish there was some way I could write an accent because this simple request had me smiling ear to ear!  The only reference I can give you is the child's voice at the beginning of Pink Floyd's "Goodbye Blue Sky" from the album The Wall saying, "Look, Mummy!  There's an aeroplane up in the sky!"  So sweet, so polite, so very British.  This plain and simple moment has stayed with me, the sole reason being the pleasure that child's voice gave me.  

I wanted to make something for tea time for today's post and thought of my favorite cookie - the simple Shortbread cookie.  Yet, for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, I wanted to give it a little special attention.  It didn't take too many turns of my brain before I settled on a lavender shortbread cut into diamond shapes sprinkled with turbinado sugar on top.  I found a shortbread recipe and messed with it a bit and came up with this stellar result.  The rice flour helps create an airy quality that is heavenly to bite into.  Shortbread cookies are mostly butter but somehow this cookie is not only light and airy, but luxuriously buttery as well.
I pulled out a cup and saucer my grandmother gave me years ago and filled it with some herbal roobios tea.  I added the diamond-shaped cookies and called it good!  If Queen Elizabeth were to appear at my door for tea, I would most certainly serve her these delectable delights!  Tata for now, loves!

Lavender Shortbread Cookies
makes 4 dozen small diamonds or 2 10" tart rounds
Printable Recipe Card
3 c. all-purpose flour (430 g)
1 c. rice flour (130 g)
1/2 t. kosher salt
2 c. unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 c. powdered sugar (180 g)
1/4 c. dried lavender buds

Combine the flours and salt in a bowl and whisk to mix well.  Set aside.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the powdered sugar and the lavender buds and process until the buds are broken up and fine - about a minute.  If the thought of eating lavender buds is a little "out there" for you, then simply add the buds to your sugar in a sealed bag or container for about 24 hours, then sift them out and discard before using the sugar.  You'll have the lavender flavor without the texture.  I, personally, didn't mind the bud pieces at all.

Place the powdered sugar mixture into a mixer bowl and add the softened butter.  Cream together until light and airy - about 3 minutes.  All at once, add the flour and salt mixture and mix at low speed just until combined and dough comes together.

Line a sheet tray with parchment paper so some of it hangs over the edges.  Spread the dough out evenly - I used a handy roller tool I got at a Pampered Chef party.

Wrap with plastic and chill for about an hour, until set.  If you are making wedges, simply pat the mixture into the round tart pan, wrap with plastic wrap and chill.

After the dough has set, remove from tart pan or sheet tray and cut into the desired shapes.  Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and place cookie shapes on a parchment-lined sheet tray.  Brush the tops lightly with water and sprinkle with turbinado sugar.  Bake for 15 minutes until the edges just begin to get a little color, turning the pan halfway through baking time.  Let cool.