Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Some say the world will end in fire

On Sunday we finally got up into the canyon (helping to slightly calm down the frantic urgency I feel this time of year--knowing there are so many beautiful things to see, and not wanting to miss ANY OF IT).  Once we got up there, it was so peaceful.  We drove way up (the colors are not too bright down lower, yet) and found a beautiful place for a picnic.  A bit hard to climb into holding babies and cakes and so forth, but worth it for its seclusion and wildness.
The late afternoon light was perfect.  It made the gold leaves even golder.  (Golder?)

It looks like Sam is performing some strange and sacred baby-centered ritual here.  Blessed by the sun god.  I love the underbrush around the rocks---so colorful!

Pointed toe

Yum

Distant colors, too (only noticeable when the sun on the closer ones had retreated)

This light green color is so unearthly.  I kept exclaiming over it.  Bright and nearly phosphorescent, like one of those African beetles that seems like it can't be an actual living thing.

So many warm shades. (Shades?  There should be another term for the warm colors.  Warm tones?)  I store up this fiery color in my head to remember in the grey winter.

Then when we drove home we watched another kind of fire.  Scary, but fascinating.  We could see the flames surging up and swallowing things.  We (especially those of us with delicate constitutions . . . ) were coughing all night, even inside the house, from the smoke.  But thankful we were still able to BE in our house.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Symbiosis: Ice cream and angel food cake

Blackberry ice cream

I have two recipes for you today.  One of them is really just a variant on the vanilla bean ice cream I posted about last year.  But since it's still summery outside, you still have time to use your late-summer berries (and your vanilla beans---Beth) to make Berry ice cream.  Oh, it's so good.  I like the tart berry flavor combined with the sweet custard of the ice cream.

I've tried this with both blackberries and raspberries, and I like the raspberry flavor best.  But both are so nice, honey.

Berry Ice Cream (recipe from here)

4 cups fresh blackberries or raspberries
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups half-and-half
1 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean (or 1 T. vanilla or vanilla bean paste)
5 large egg yolks
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1. Add blackberries to a medium saucepan with 1/4 cup sugar and lemon juice.* Cook over low heat, covered, for 20 to 25 minutes. Drain using a fine mesh strainer, pressing berries to extract as much juice/puree as possible. Set aside.

*Another method I've used is simply to puree the sugar, berries, and lemon in a blender.  Then put them through a strainer to remove some of the seeds.  With the raspberries, I've never been able to remove ALL the seeds (my strainer is not fine enough), but I still think it improves the ice cream to have fewer seeds.

2. Heat half-and-half, 1 cup sugar, and seeds from vanilla bean in a separate saucepan over low heat. Turn off heat when mixture is very hot---not quite boiling.

3. Add heavy cream to a separate bowl.

4. Beat egg yolks by hand or with an electric mixer until yolks are pale yellow and slightly thick.

5. Temper the egg yolks by slowly drizzling in 1 1/2 cups of hot half-and-half mixture, whisking constantly. After that, pour the egg yolk/half-and-half mixture into the pan containing the rest of the half-and-half mixture. Cook over low to medium-low heat until quite thick and pudding-y, stirring constantly. Drain custard using a fine mesh strainer, then pour into the bowl with the cream. Stir to combine.

6. Add blackberry juice/puree to the cream/custard mixture and stir. Chill mixture completely, then freeze in an ice cream maker until thick. Place container in freezer to harden for an additional two hours.

Raspberry Ice Cream

"But!" you protest.  "What am I to do with all the egg whites I have left over when I make this ice cream?"  Ah yes, that's just what I worry about whenever I use egg yolks.  And here is the solution: angel food cake.  It's not hard to make (if you have a stand mixer to beat your egg whites, and an angel food cake pan) and it's SO good.  Good with the ice cream, if you wish; certainly with berries; and (my favorite) with lemon curd.  We ate some on a picnic the other day, and it was a perfect picnic food---it transports easily, and you can pick it up with your hands and dip it in the lemon curd without ever needing a plate or a fork.

Frankly, I've always been a fan of cake mixes.  They work so well (one of my Home Ec. teachers at BYU told us that when they were testing kitchen appliances/equipment at Underwriter's Lab, they had to stop using cake mixes because you just can't mess them up) and they're easy and they're just as good as (most) cakes from scratch I've made.  But . . . I think I must change my tune with this recipe.  It's incredibly light and fluffy, but it also has more depth and moistness than the cake-mix angel food.  It's spongy, but not stretchy.  Hard to describe.  I LOVE it, anyway.

This calls for lots of egg whites---10 or 12 of them.  I happened to be making great quantities of ice cream recently, so I had enough egg whites left over from the yolks I'd used.  But if you're making just a single batch of ice cream, you'll have to supplement with additional egg whites.  Which will leave you with yolks left over.  Which will necessitate you soon making MORE ice cream.  WHERE WILL IT END??!  But it's not a problem you mind having, right?


Angel Food Cake (recipe from here)

1 1/2 c. egg whites (10-12), at room temperature
1 1/2 c. sugar, divided
1 c. sifted cake flour
1 tsp. cream of tartar
1/4 t. salt
2 tsp. vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
1/2 t. almond extract

In a small bowl, whisk together 3/4 c. sugar and cake flour.  Set aside.

Beat egg whites in stand mixer until frothy, then add cream of tartar and salt.  Beat until fully mixed, and then add the remaining 3/4 c. sugar 1-2 T. at a time.  When sugar has been added, beat egg whites to soft peaks.  (They will look like soft waves, and when you lift the beaters, the egg whites will droop back down into the batter---not fall down in ribbons.)  Once you have soft peaks, add vanilla and almond and beat for a few seconds to distribute.

Sift the flour/sugar mixture over the egg whites in 6-8 additions and gently fold it in after each addition.  Do it with a spatula and be very slow and gentle so as not to deflate the eggs.

Spoon batter into a 9-inch tube pan with a removeable bottom.  Smooth the top with a spatula and bake at 325 for 55-60 minutes.

Remove from oven, invert pan over a bottle, and allow to cool completely.  Gently run a thin knife around the sides, then around the bottom, of the pan to release the cake when you are ready to serve it.  Slice with a serrated bread knife, and serve with berries, cream, or lemon curd.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Moments


I can't even remember where I first ran into this video (Sam?), but every time I watch it, it makes me so thoughtful.  It's just so strange to think that all these little everyday things, accumulated, are what make up a life.  The things you've done so many times and never really even thought about---like the girl hooking up her bra strap.  I mean, I've done that every day for so many years now; I don't even think about it, but I see that motion and I can FEEL it in my arms---and this is something that is now part of the mosaic of my life.  And turning the page of a book.  How many times have I done that?  Millions?  Then there's the kid slamming a locker.  I used to do that several times a day.  Now I haven't done it for years.  But it's so familiar.  Or the frisbee landing on the roof---I see that and think, "yeah!  I know that feeling!"---even though again, it's been years.  All these moments and motions, so different, some significant and some so insignificant---but they're all equally part of our mortal experience. 

I guess that what's so fascinating to me about this train of thought.  What is going to characterize my life, when I'm looking back on it someday?  I mean, of course it will be the kids and the milestones and the challenges and so forth.  I have those important moments in my memory: the moment of release in childbirth; looking at my dad's body in his coffin; watching the sunset over the cliffs in England. But also in that kaleidoscope of memory, and just as real, are those moments of midnight waking, my eyes blinking open to the dark.  Brushing my hair out of my eyes as I run.  Cracking an egg.  Stumbling over the edge of a curb.  Sliding the clasp around to the back of my necklace.  Which moments make me ME?  It has to be ALL of them, right?  Doesn't that fascinate you?  Doesn't it make you glad to be a living person, who gets to experience all these things?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Miscellany

This girl is growing up, and she's silly.


The doctor thinks my friend has narcolepsy because she can fall asleep within 5 minutes at any given time.  Which seems silly, because do you know anyone with young kids who can't do that?  It's too bad though, because I've always wanted to know someone with narcolepsy.

Have you ever bought vanilla beans?  No, right?  Because they cost like $10.95 each in the spice section?  [People I have given vanilla beans as gifts to: Stop reading here.  Don't worry, I spent lots of money on your present.  Because I care about you.]  Here's my favorite place to get them---they're 1/10th the price, and they're awesome.  You can try all sorts of different types, if you're into that sort of thing.  I also really like the vanilla bean paste.  http://www.beanilla.com/

Also, here is a service I, too, like to provide for others.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A very unoriginal metaphor

I feel like I'm slowly making my way across a series of rocks jutting out of the ocean (with storms and crocodiles beneath; might as well go all-out with this), through a dense fog, with a flashlight, and it takes every last bit of my concentration just to see what step is coming next and make sure I don't go hurtling over the edge.  I'm pretty good at compartmentalizing one step from another (I can't think about THAT until I'm done with THIS) but I never get to enjoy the fact that I made the latest leap safely, because I'm already balancing on one leg getting ready for the next.

Every once in a while, for no apparent reason, the fog lifts and I take a deep breath and have ambitious thoughts like, "I should have a dinner party!"  If I actually do something like send out invitations during this brief window of clarity, then it happens simply because I can't back out of it.  Otherwise---the thought flutters down to join the rest of the good-intention pavers on the road to Hell, or pick your preferred metaphor. :)  Then the fog descends again and I'm left with my flashlight trying to see what's next.

It's not that I'm actually depressed (thank goodness), but just, I so rarely have time to think about anything larger.  Anything except WHAT'S NEXT, and getting through it (either well or badly, depending on how much energy I have).

And I'm not really trying to complain, because occasionally the next step is something enjoyable and it's fun to figure out how I'm going to balance my way over there to it; and even if it's unpleasant, each individual step is not really too terribly daunting in itself, as long as I successfully block out the anticipation of any subsequent unpleasant or difficult steps, and, you know, how they're going to go on FOREVER and all.  So it's fine, but it's just . . . tiring.  Sometimes I get tired of it.  I'd rather just, I don't know, float or something, and quit all this clambering around, you know?