Monday, September 29, 2008

Back-Tacking

Yo!
This is a call to those cool and crafty! Or maybe just cool and good in the kitchen!

I found this pen-pal like gift exchange called Back-Tack a few years ago, but I always seem to miss the sign-up cutoff. It's a global gift exchange organized by 2 bloggers who met via.... well, blogging. I believe they are both located in Australia, and they are of the crafty sort and thought it would be fun to connect other people who are of the crafty sort, give them a theme, some rules and pair them up with a crafting exchange buddy and let the fun begin! This year's theme is "Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh" and this year the gifts do not have to be crafty but at least one item should be made by your hands, whether in the kitchen or in another crafty way. All of the rules are here, where you can also check out past year's exchanges.

The organizers took a year off but this year's back-tack sign up starts TODAY (well September 30th @ 9am AEST)! Only space for 250 people, so if it sounds cool to you, click and go!

Time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping...

I feel like I have learned (am learning) to plan and set expectations of myself which are more easily attainable and yet I still find myself loosing time and not completing what I thought I would. Funny how a perfectionist like me would see that happening.

Last week I had every intention of posting the story of the wedding desserts, along with photos of the beautiful day. Well, I didn't take any photos at the wedding even though I carried my camera with me everywhere. It was just a little too dark and I drank a little too much wine (one glass, I know I'm a light weight). My poor hubby had a migraine and spent the reception in the car, asleep (when he wasn't dry heaving). What a trooper is was! Sticking it out so I could stay at the wedding. Honestly I don't think he was looking forward to a drive home in that condition, so a little nap did him well enough to make it home a few hours later without "incident".

I did manage to take some photos of some of the desserts as I was making them (and some after), so I'll TRY to post them for a wordless Wednesday. TRY being the poignant word in that sentence.

The rest of my week was filled with ... well, fillings and work. I went to a new dentist. The first time I had ever been to a new dentist since I was 2 years old. Nothing really happened for me to switch, except it felt like time to make a change. A 32 year stint with the same provider is a pretty good run if you ask me, and I know you did! I guess I figured it would let myself know that I could change since I often find myself doing the same old thing just because it was easier.

New dentist pointed out two lovely cavities (How kind!), so I got to see the nice new teeth people again for some fillings. I had some sort of weird reaction to the amount/placement of the lidocaine and half my face went numb. My eye wouldn't stop watering and once I got home to return to work, I found I couldn't focus that eye which made me nauseous when I focused on the computer. So we'll just say I didn't get any work done that day and I spent the rest of the day on pain killers and asleep.

The next day I was still a little droopy, the shot sites and teeth still hurt, and I was slurring my words a touch, but it wore off over the next day. We, the new dentist and I, were planning on replacing all my amalgam fillings over the next year or so... well maybe we'll just hold off on that now. Fillings as an adult are not fun! I am clearly more a baby now then I was as a kid who got fillings at least once a year. Perhaps in my 20 year cavity hiatus I lost my nerve, or grew a few new ones.

The rest of the week didn't find me doing anything else but working, so the weekend was a welcomed event! (Ok, I fit in some new season shows but it kept me up past my bedtime still!)
I was feeling like I needed some good connecting time with Eric so I dreamed up this great time of hiking and picnicking and wine and cheese and lots of talking and holding hands. I think we napped more then talked, and I finished reading a book while he napped more then I did. I also tried out a possible new Holiday gift treat recipe which proved more time consuming than I had hoped, but I'm glad I'm finding that out now as opposed to the day before gift packages need to hit the post. I diagnosed my mom's DSL network issues, always a fun time doing her tech support. Let's see, what else? Oh yea! Eric and I FINALLY selected our wedding photos! Only 15 months after the blessed day. I'm sure our photographer will be thrilled since he doesn't get the final payment from us until he delivers the selected digital files. Opps!

Not nearly as romantic of a weekend as I had hoped, but we'll try again next weekend when it's not so warm outside so I don't get the "it's already too hot", excuse. Besides, we're supposed to be going into the city (that's San Francisco 'round these parts) for a free concert/festival so that should be fun and will get us out of the house at least one time. And over there, he can't say its too hot. It rarely is.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Wedding Baking Project #1

As mentioned earlier, I am making the desserts for the wedding of a very good friend of mine. The reception is all cocktails and appetizers, so to go along with the cocktail party theme and a throw back to days past (and because they don't really care for cake), they would like a variety of small sweet treats for their guests. The groom has an allergy to milk and wants to use seasonal fruits in the desserts, so there was a bit of a challenge to come up with the dessert menu.

I'm all about abundance and making sure my friends know I love them through food they enjoy, so trying to learn from lessons past, I am keeping the complicated desserts to a minimum and plumping up the menu with some easier items to produce in larger quantities. I have been learning that I far too easily bite off more then I can chew without stress (you should see me at a buffet!) so I have been practicing restraint with this project... ok eventually I started practicing restraint. Initially I was crazy!

I had originally decided loftily that I was going to make everything without milk so that there would be no worries about the groom eating something that had touched or gotten crumbs on it from a dairy filled item. I was going to spend lots of time in the kitchen testing and experimenting to make totally awesome desserts that no one would suspect contained no dairy. Only one item would have dairy for the bride, lemon tartlets.

Well time past. Weekends slipped by and well.... this weekend was day one of trying to turn an otherwise awesome recipe which uses butter, into an awesome recipe using butter substitutes. Did I mentioned that the wedding is this upcoming Saturday? Umm yea.

So I oddly decided on making brownies non-dairy even though I know the groom doesn't care for chocolate, my non-dairy side of the menu had plenty of choices and we had already decided that a few well identified dairy filled items would be ok as long as the caterer knew to keep them separate on the display. Still, I was determined.

Many batches of brownies were made, and tasted and analyzed. I had friends and co-workers all vote and give me feedback. I messed up my little test though by having one batch of butter containing brownies to compare to. Well duh.. most people loved the butter brownies over the alternates for flavor, and some for texture. Some people liked the the alternates though and when asked to pick between the non-dairy versions there was a clear favorite (even though some people SWORE the loosing batch was awesome!). So I learned that personal preference, experience and expectations all play a very big role in what someone expects in a brownie. I spent a lot of time with these brownies and I found that the butter version was actually overly buttery and the "fake" butter version had a better color and chocolaty taste but were a bit greasier.

The bride has said I could go with the butter version if I would like, but I've already purchased the "fake" butter of the winning batch. I wasn't going to bake the brownies for the wedding until Friday anyway so I have some time to think it over.

Tomorrow...making the shopping list!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Jammin'

A few months ago I had my first jam making/canning experience and now I'm hooked. That first night, I made a batch of apricot jam and apricot curd and 3 different batches of Plum jam; 1 pureed with skins, 1 batch with no skins and 1 with chopped up plums with skins (you can see the three different hues in the photo above). I was easily up until 2am that night as I'm generally far too optimistic on how long new things in the kitchen will take me. But I went to bed that night with a clean kitchen and 20 colorful jars of gently cooling and sealing yummy goodness.

My second jam/canning experience came a week or so later when the peaches ripened up and I made peach jam and peach curd. I know what you're thinking, tree ripened peaches are so good straight up! Why would I cook them down to goo? But these peaches were special. So special that they didn't really have awesome flavor even though they were juicy and ripe. They just needed a little coaxing with some lemon juice and a touch of sugar to bring out their peachy goodness (oh and a ton of butter in the curd).

Then my third experience consisted of fixing the jam from the first jam making experience which didn't set up much, if at all. Yes, I had to fix 4 batches of jam, as thankfully by the 5th batch ,which was the peach one, I figured out that yes I do need to test how the jam sets up before canning and processing it. I went from 20 cups of basically plum juice and loose jam to about 12 cups of thick and still not too sweet spreadable jam, after I cooked them down with apple peels and cores. I didn't want to add liquid or powdered pectin, which would have been far too easy, and wanted to go with the good ol'fashioned whole food approach. One batch got renamed Plum Apple Jam, as I cooked it down with whole apples which cooked down to the point where there was no chance in pulling the pieces out. Still very plummy but with a thicker consistency.

The fourth and most recent endeavor, I was the student of my friend's mom, where she taught us how to make a simple and yummy apple sauce and her famous dilly beans. It was a great experience to learn from someone who has been preserving her own food for many years. Much more insightful then reading recipes in books and on the internets. I can't wait until I have a yard and have my own string bean plants so I can do the dilly beans again. A touch of work to make, but oh so good to eat!

All of the fruit for this canning fun came from my friend's orchard in their backyard. The main goal here is to use the preserves in their wedding desserts which I'll be making in... umm... a week. No cake, all individual bite sized sweet morsels to sweeten the couples new life together. Imagine a beautiful table piled high with flowers and a variety of sweet bites with no silverware in sight. Gorgeous I know! Then throw in the fact that the groom is allergic to milk... yup, I'm crazy but it's the kind of things I do for friends. (Don't worry, some butter will work its way into the desserts because after all the bride is NOT allergic and loves her some butter -- they will just stay well marked and far away from the groomy desserts).

Hopefully I'll remember to take pictures of the dessert making, at least on the first day before I have totally lost my mind...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Vacations Begin and End

For the last week and a half, Eric and I have been on vacation up in Victoria BC. My brother and Sister-in-Law moved there a few years ago as she's in the symphony and they love it and won't likely be moving back anytime soon (if at all). So this means we get to go up to visit them in a really great town surrounded by a whole lot of beautiful things to see.

The vacation consisted of the following activities:
- Cooking
- Baking
- Eating
- Hiking
- Soaking in their new Hot Tub
- Lots of blackberry picking and eating
- Playing xBox and Wii games (thanks for letting us borrow your Wii Ryan!)
- Eating
- Shopping
- Cooking
- Eating
- Reading
- and lots and lots of sleeping in!

The first thing we did when we got up there was make a list the activities, recipes and restaurants we wanted to make sure we hit, and I think we cleared most of the list. We didn't get out to do the bigger activities like renting bikes for a biking day or kayaking, but we'll fit them in next time. But we did manage to gain a few pounds I'm sure, as when my brother and I get together we become rather indulgent in the food eating and cooking department. We were eating chocolates and chips and making rich dips and appetizers. I was buying cheese and pepperonis and buying all of the Canada only flavors of potato chips and downing the bags far too quickly.

I finally found some time to catch up on reading some blogs and bought a few books at the used book store. I'm finally starting to feel a little bit more like me again... just in time to get lost in the craziness of returning to work and life. I even noticed this morning that those deep ravens of worry lines between my eyebrows had lifted significantly. Hopefully they don't find their way back after I face day 1 back at the office.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

So many post ideas, so little time

I've been wanting to post for weeks (no months) and sitting down to write out my thoughts has taken more effort then I have been willing to give it. I just don't do things half ass, so silence and an un-updated blog has been the result. I was even on vacation the last week and thought I'd find the time then to write some things down...but no, not even on the plane. So this week I WILL write. I WILL!
If you're lucky, I'll even post a picture or two.